Saturday, June 28, 2014

Let's Not Discourage Latin Masses: Reflections on Brian Moore's Novel and Recent Events in the New York Archdiocese

I recently finished reading Brian Moore's short novel, entitled simply Catholics, which is set in Ireland in a fictional future time. Vatican IV has taken place, and the Church no longer believes in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist. Latin masses have been banned along with private confessions, and clerical dress has been abandoned.

Nevertheless, an abbey off the western coast of Ireland continues to celebrate the Latin Mass and to receive believers for private confessions. The Vatican dispatches an American priest by the name of Father Kinsella to tell the Abbot that the Latin Masses must stop.

Father Kinsella arrives on the island by helicopter, and Father Manus, one of the monks, confronts him almost immediately, outraged by the thought that he and his fellow monks might be banned from celebrating the Latin Mass.
The Mass! the Mass in Latin, the priest with his back turned to the congregation because both he and the congregation faced the altar where God was.  Offering up the daily sacrifice of the Mass to God. Changing bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ just the way Jesus told his disciples to do it at the Last Supper. 'This is my body and this is my blood. Do ye this in commemoration of me.'
Later, after the Abbot informs Father Matthew, another monk, that Rome now considers the Mass to be merely symbolic, Father Matthew rebels. "That is heresy, pure and simple!" Father Matthew cries.

And why is that, the abbot asks him. 
Because the Mass is the daily miracle of the Catholic faith. The Mass, in which bread and wine are changed by the priest into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Without that, what is the church?
Reading Brian Moore's novel, I was struck by just how fragile our Catholic faith is.  Although it seems timeless, the very Rock of Ages, just a few simple variations in our core beliefs would destroy us in an instant. To proclaim that the Mass is merely a symbolic act would be the end of us.

I confess, however, that I have no deep attachment to the Latin Mass, having come into the Church as a post-Vatican II adult convert. But I am fiercely attached to the notion that the Latin Mass should continue in those places where there is a longing for it.

Thus, I was disturbed that the Archdiocese of New York might stop the Latin Mass at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan, the only Catholic church in New York City where the Latin Mass is celebrated. Indeed, Father Justin Wylie was dismissed from his post at the Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations after speaking in defense of the Latin Mass.

Our Catholic leaders may believe that the Latin Mass will disaffect youthful Catholics who might prefer guitar Masses and more contemporary liturgies.  But I think the opposite may be true. As I observe the young Catholics at my parish church, which serves the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge, I find many of them are quite traditional. Some LSU students disdain the kneeling benches, for example, and kneel on the floor during the Mass.  And a few young women even wear the mantilla.

These traditional young Catholics make their older coreligionists nervous, but by their actions I think they are telling us something important.  Do not water down the ancient faith to make it fit the fashion of the day, I believe they are saying.  Do not compromise our deepest beliefs in order to accommodate ourselves to the postmodern age.

In fact, I will go further. I think there is a great longing among young people for truth and certitude. If Catholics were to witness to their faith unapologetically, even militantly, if we were to proclaim our belief in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, our reliance on the saints, our devotion to Mary, and our confidence in the natural law as explained by St. Thomas Aquinas, I believe a great revival would occur and that millions of young Americans would flock to the Catholic faith.

But we will not evangelize today's postmodern generation by compromising with it. That is the underlying message in Brian Moore's novel, published more than 40 years ago. And if we need further confirmation, we need only contemplate the Episcopalians.


Brian Moore. Catholics. Chicago: Loyola Classics, 1972

Sharon Otterman. New York Parish Fears Losing Daily Dose of 'Spiritus Sancti.' New York Times, June 28, 2014, p. 1.

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