Friday, February 23


Tradition and Traditionalism

Or, why the Tridentine Mass doesn't catch fire among the youth

Picture yourself, for a second, as a young Catholic, with decent catechesis, who hears that there's an indult Mass in a nearby town and thinks, well, why not? After all, the whole idea of the Tridentine Mass sounds fascinating. The ritual, the ancient language, the vague notion you heard growing up that this was gone forever. There is, on this level, a great appeal. Who wouldn't like the notion of participating in something so ancient and fascinating?

Yet, when you show up at the local indult parish, you discover something very different from what you expected.
- Participation is discouraged, except perhaps on a few chants
- It is very hard to keep track of anything for those who haven't already gotten it down
- The whole experience has a vaguely dusty feel
- Many pamphlets and literature around the Church, with the exception of maybe some natural family planning materials, feel frozen in time somewhere around the 1920's.

What I am arguing, then, is that the Tridentine Mass, as currently celebrated in indult parishes, at least those I have seen, is celebrated in such a way as to necessarily become an "acquired taste." Furthermore, an approach is often taken to make it seem as if the indult is carte blanche to act as if nothing in the Church has changed since the early 1940's, and to make such completely orthodox movements as the nouvelle theologie or even Vatican II itself as a council, seem suspect. This is not a good approach, and it works very much against integrating traditional liturgy into the present day life of the Church. This approach is not one that, in my experience, easily appeals to young people looking for beauty and transcendence, unless they're already convinced to keep coming for other reasons, or have someone to explain everything to them in detail and keep them coming back.

So what I'm asking is this. Is there any reason we can't revisit the notion of the dialogue Mass? That kind of thing was being done in the 1940's and 50's, yet seems to have disappeared completely? Is it really healthy not to be able to develop in this way? I say this because the traditional Mass carried out as a museum piece from the 1920's does not have a future in the Church. Rather, I think a dynamically celebrated form of this Mass has greater potential as an evangelical tool, reaching out to those who are interested but might be turned off by the present celebration of the traditional rite.

In other words, why can't we have "tradition" without "ism" in these quarters, and be willing to have the Tridentine Mass and Vatican II and new developments in theology? This, to me, would be much more of a leaven for the Church than my experience of the Tridentine Mass and its celebration to this date. It would also, perhaps, be a way of picking up where the Church left off in liturgical development, rather than letting those who didn't like good innovations like the dialogue Mass from trying to move the Tridentine Rite to a previous purity. (I think, for example, of the indult parish whose website was adamant that under no circumstances must the laity join in the singing of the Lord's Prayer). To seek this bygone purity is to make the same mistakes as the innovators who have abused the Missa Normativa, and set up a dichotomy of traditionalism and progressivism that has no justification and no use for the future of the Church. The time for extremism is over, and those on both sides of these dichotomies who cannot find an integrated vision may find themselves relegated to the dustbin of Church history.

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