Latin Strikes Back  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I was born in 1949 and baptized a Roman Catholic, which means that I grew up with the Latin Mass. I became an acolyte exactly 50 years ago this month, and I've been doing it--in both the Roman and Anglican communions--ever since.

The Latin Mass is currently experiencing a resurgence in Catholicism. This is part of a worldwide trend towards the recovery of tradition that can be seen in all Christian communities, even evangelical Protestantism. An informative source of documentation for this is The New Liturgical Movement, a site run by Catholic guys (they all seem to be guys, at least) who post stories about the Pope's vestments, Gregorian chant workshops, and church remodels in which worship spaces that were realigned in a modernistic fashion after Vatican II are now reverting to their original configurations. Of particular interest are stories of Latin Masses celebrated at Catholic universities such as Georgetown and Notre Dame. A very insightful recent post is "Why is chant making a big comeback?", which is available here.

One reason for this is that the Latin Mass provides an alternative for Catholics fed up with liturgical business as usual. In many Catholic parishes the music is still controlled by aging boomers who still sing pseudo-folk ditties that were already showing signs of wear by 1973. They are aided and abetted by jovial Fr Chuck in his rainbow stole and chasuble with pasted-on butterflies. If I were still RC and the choice was between one of these and the Latin variety, I'd start relearning the Confiteor.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 19, 2008 at Monday, May 19, 2008 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Too often traditionalism and this restoration (hooray) are presented as mostly about Latin - which is why I avoid saying 'Latin Mass' - but other than that yes.

I like Latin - proto-Italian, a very pretty language, and given all its words we use every day not that hard to learn - and understand its place (in a multi-lingual church, and having a template in a dead language, that is, unchanging, for all posterity ensures accurate vernacular versions as vernaculars change over time) but of course have no problem with the vernacular.

One of the appealing things about the Anglicanism that baptised me (and raised me with eastward-facing services, Tudor English and chant which I like to say 'Vatican II-proofed' me for life) and received you is that even when it goes liberal it usually has better liturgical sense and taste than worn-out pseudo-folk hymns and rainbow stoles. You'll find even liberals (like Fr Tobias Haller) defending the eastward position and using brocaded, orphreyed chasubles and liturgical language and music that are foundational in Western culture. I understand the Episcopal Holy Week services are more like Pius XII's 1955 ones than the Novus Ordo and the 1979 BCP psalter is nicely pointed to be sung with... Gregorian chant.

Know this and read Thomas Day and you'll understand why most liberal RCs don't become Anglicans even when their theologies match. A lot of it is bound up in ethnic and class identities: culture. (Especially among the historically persecuted Irish who of course dominate English-speaking RC cultures: anti-English and anti-Anglican.) Most of them stay put and are really liberal Protestants but on their terms culturally - anti-high church as Day explains - even as they dissent from Rome and, as part of that, what I call Catholicism theologically. But possibly retaining the odd ethnic devotion - a rosary here, a saint there - to mark them as name-the-ethnic-group.

May 20, 2008 at 5:39 AM

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