What Do People Do With the Latin Mass?

In my continuing response to Msgr. Charles Pope’s piece about stagnating attendance numbers at Latin Masses (http://www.ncregister.com/blog/msgr-pope/an-urgent-warning-about-the-future-of-the-traditional-latin-mass), I decided that it would be useful to examine what Latin Mass advocates do with their preferred liturgical form and what they hope to achieve by increasing the number of Latin Masses available to the public.

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The Joy of Sects

I can’t believe I only just found out about this one. In a rare flash of insight and self-reflection, Msgr. Charles Pope wrote an article for the National Catholic Register about how the numbers for Latin Mass participation seem to have stagnated and how Latin Mass communities need to actively evangelize to increase their numbers and their clout.

It seems that a ceiling has been hit. The Traditional Latin Mass appeals to a certain niche group of Catholics, but the number in that group appears to have reached its maximum.

Some traditional Catholics I speak to say, “If only the archdiocese would promote us more,” or “If only the bishop would celebrate it at all or more frequently.” Perhaps, but many other niche groups in the archdiocese say the same thing about their particular interest.

At the end of the day, for any particular movement, prayer form, organization, or even liturgy, the job of promoting it must belong to those who love it most. Shepherds don’t have sheep; sheep have sheep.

And once again we are back to the fundamental point: numbers matter. Groups that seek respect, recognition, and promotion in the highest places need to remember that numbers do matter; it’s just the way life works. If we who love the Traditional Latin Mass want to be near the top of the bishop’s priority list, we’re going to have to be more than one-half of one percent of Catholics in the pews


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Pentecostalism as Liberation

Readers are probably aware of the common quip that the Catholic church in Latin America decided to have a preferential option for the poor, and the poor decided to have a preferential option for Pentecostalism. Conservotrads and traditionalists use the huge inroads made by Pentecostalism and evangelicalism in general in Latin America as proof that the liturgical and theological laxness of the post-Vatican II church was/is driving away people who just wanted Jesus and not Marxism in Christian clothing (i.e., liberation theology). But is this a correct assessment? Let’s take a look.

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What We Mean When We Talk About the Pre-Vatican II Era

The Second Vatican Council began in 1962 and officially ended in 1965, and for many Catholics, church history is completely defined by this event, regardless of their political or liturgical orientation. There is the pre-Vatican II era, and everything that came after it. For conservotrads and traditionalists, the pre-Vatican II era was when everything was swell, and then everything went to hell in a handbasket after Vatican II. For progressives, the spirit and promises of Vatican II liberated Catholics from a rigid, oppressive, and narrow-minded obscurantism. However, the pre-Vatican II era, strictly speaking, covered almost 1,900 years of history in a variety of different cultures. When American Catholics in 2015 discuss the pre-Vatican II era, they probably aren’t talking about the devotional practices of ninth century Anglo-Saxons. So what does the phrase “pre-Vatican II church” mean in current Catholic discourse?

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Summorum Pontificum, Eight Years Later

When Pope Emertius Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum first came out back in 2007, I remember there being a lot of excitement at St F’s because we widely believed that it would cause a proliferation of Latin Masses in the archdiocese. Eight years later, the number of officially sanctioned Latin Masses in the Archdiocese of Atlanta is the same as it was then: one. I checked the Latin Mass Times site for all Latin Mass sites in the state of Georgia, and it lists three “independent chapels” (whatever that means), the SSPX parish up in Roswell, an official Latin Mass once a month at a parish in Macon, a weekly official one at the cathedral in Savannah, and St. F (http://www.latinmasstimes.com/Georgia). For those of you who aren’t familiar with Georgia geography, Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah are all in completely different parts of the state. When I was still “orthodox,” I visited the church in Macon where the Latin Mass is held, and the woman who ran the parish bookstore told me that it’s mostly attended by elderly people. If Catholics are demanding the Latin Mass, as traditionalists claim, they don’t seem to be in Georgia.

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