Excerpts from the Providence Journal:
In a New York Times story about the renewed interest in the Latin (or Tridentine) Mass (“Latin Mass Draws Interest After Easing of Restrictions,” Nov. 10), a professor at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology offered an intriguing caveat. Referring to the enthusiasts for the “old” mass, the Rev. John F. Baldovin commented, “A lot of them think this is the way to go, back to the future, because it is really going to revive Catholicism. You can produce a Tridentine mass, but can’t reproduce the world it came from.” Since this quotation concludes the article, many readers may imagine Father Baldovin’s words to be the final say.
In some ways he’s right.
But I wonder whether nostalgia is the only explanation for the fascination with the Latin Mass. I wonder whether this fascination might not be a part of a much larger cultural trend: our modern hunger for mystery. I mean by mystery our encounter with what is “other” — what Rudolph Otto called the mysterium tremendum, the numinous. That “other” which provokes in us both terror and fascination: the sense of the holy.
Unfortunately, the last few centuries in the West have not been fond of mystery, especially the century just ended. And in the 1960s two things in particular coincided to try to banish the numinous altogether... To be religious is another way to be a nice person...
Second, the reduction of religion to moralism found an unwitting ally in those committees that sought to “reform” religious worship — to simplify the language, to return to some imagined primitive idea of how-it-used-to-be, to stress the communal nature of church or synagogue. All good ideas, perhaps. But in our drive to make modern worship demotic, we forgot several things.
The human response to the numinous can never be the work of a committee. Poetry can never be pre-programmed. Like making love, rites and rituals demand time, attention and humility. Moreover, even if we could dismantle or alter a mystery, we risk sawing off the very limb on which we’re sitting...
And so we return to Fr. Bladovin’s caveat. True enough, restoration of the Latin Mass is not going to revitalize the Catholic Church in America.
But those who dismiss the renewed fascination with the Latin Mass simply as a matter of nostalgia or of curiosity would do well to consider. Whatever the motives of these seekers, their actions remind us that there just might be more things in heaven and earth than were ever dreamt of by a liturgical committee.
Read the complete article here.