Friday, February 20, 2009

In Defense of the Traditional Latin Mass

I am elated to be able to attend a special retreat this weekend, sponsored by our local Una Voce chapter. Una Voce, for those unfamiliar with them, is a Catholic organization devoted to promoting the Traditional Latin Mass. I am blessed to have a parish in town that offers not only a weekly Sunday Solemn High Mass, but several Low Masses throughout the week.

As I have mentioned before in "My Long Story," I am a very surprised devotee of the Traditional Latin Mass. I did not intend for this to happen. I was simply encouraged by the only Catholic I knew in town to at least visit because she believed everyone needed to experience the TLM at least once in their lives. I went out of curiosity more than anything else.

I was stunned to find that I fell in love with this beautiful Mass immediately. The silence, the Gregorian chants, the priest facing liturgical East and the solemnity - all spoke deeply to my heart. I knew then that I would not be able to attend regular Mass at a much closer parish because my spirit had found its place of nourishment. This is not a statement to mean that I think I'm a better Catholic for attending the TLM nor anyone who doesn't understand the TLM is spiritual dunce. I simply prefer the TLM because for me, it touches me.

A recent article in a U.K. Catholic newspaper called "The Tablet," recently printed an article against a very fine priest, Fr. Tim Finigan. Now I don't know Fr. Finigan personally, and unless God arranges it, I don't imagine I'll ever meet him. However, Fr. Finigan is one of the few British priests who offer the TLM and for that, he has been branded. It does not seem to matter to the writer of this article that the Blackfen parish has three (count 'em, THREE) "regular" Masses. (I deliberately placed the word 'regular' in quotes since she did the same in her article with "tradition." It also seems that the regular Mass is assumed to be the "normal" Mass while the TLM, which has stood solid for centuries, is viewed as "irregular" or "abnormal." Go figure.)

I have finally reached my tipping point on this issue. I am fed up with seeing those who enjoy the TLM either brow-beaten into apology or ridiculed for finding that the TLM connects with their desire to worship, best. Enough. Below is an open letter to Ms. Curti, the writer of the article. I will be emailing her the link as well as Fr. Finigan. Fr. Zuhlsdorf and Fr. Finigan both engaged in what they called "transatlantic fisking" as they addressed the article paragraph by paragraph. Fr. Z's response is here. Fr. Finigan's response is here.

And now, my response:

Dear Ms. Curti,

I am not unfamiliar with your articles since I have often seen them on the Internet. However, as someone who has written a few newspaper articles herself, I must say that your journalistic endeavors leave much to be desired, especially when you tackle the topic of the Traditional Latin Mass.

Next month will be my one-year anniversary of returning to the Catholic church after 25 years. During those years, I was a member of mostly non-denominational churches. Whatever infractions are perceived by Catholics with the liturgy, it is multiplied ten-fold within non-denominational churches. Non-denominational churches don't have a liturgy. The church service is pretty much is up for grabs, depending upon the senior pastor. Perhaps it is from years of observing the excesses of extreme emotionalism and self-centered church celebrations that created a fertile ground for my appreciation for the TLM. Or it could have been the egos of church leadership that often seeped into a Sunday morning's service. However, whatever propelled me toward the Catholic church, the bottom line is that I am back and the TLM helped me connect once again with my Catholicism.

What exactly is your beef? I mean, honestly - why spend so much energy on a Mass that is at best 10% of a Diocese's Mass offerings? (If even that. From what I hear, the TLM is almost extinct in the U.K.) What truly stunned me was how the article seemed to slam Fr. Finigan for even daring to offer this option to his parishioners while still offering three other "regular" Masses. So in essence, your article is complaining that 25% of what this parish offers is still too much. It sounds like you think the TLM shouldn't be offered at all. Is that correct? If so, I don't understand the logic of this position since the Pope himself made it clear that parishes and priests could offer the TLM if there was interest by even a few people. And isn't it ultimately the decision of the priest to decide whether he wants to offer it or not?

Fr. Finigan is meeting the needs of some Catholics for this Mass. Your article accuses Fr. Finigan of not thinking of what people want but yet you have a Cardinal who thought so little of the Latin Mass Society that he overrode (or steamrolled) the choice of the LMS to invite Archbishop Raymond Burke to preside over the TLM in the Westminster Cathedral and dis-invited him, invoking Canon Law of all things. So when you speak of "not thinking of what people want," I'd say turnabout is fair play. However, I see no fairness when it comes to giving those who love the TLM an even break.

I think what is really at issue is the surprise (and perhaps, dread?) of the TLM becoming popular, as it already has. Many who criticize it would like to relegate it to few elderly people who have "refused to move on" after Vatican II. But guess what? I was born during the year Vatican II was put into play. I'm not old (at least, compared to a 80 year-old.). I'm not inflexible. In fact, I'm not any of the stereotypes often assigned to those who attend the TLM. And interestingly enough, there is a good amount of "twentysomethings" and "thirtysomethings" who attend our weekly Sunday TLM. Hardly the crotchety, stubborn old people usually associated with this service.

I have my suspicions as to why the TLM, and the priests who support it, are persecuted. Because it is proof that some Catholics are tired of seeing their liturgy twisted into a cultural experimentation of self-centeredness. The Mass is not about me, nor you, nor anyone. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a reminder of who God is, who His Son is, and what Jesus Christ did for us over 2,000 years ago on a barren mount, surrounded by people who hated Him. It is a reminder of the fact we are sinners in need of saving. It is a reminder that God is God and we are not.

It is unfortunate that from reading Fr. Finigan's response, you did not seem to have your facts straight. It was rather presumptuous to insinuate that his clerical garb was obtained by any other measure than saving for it or working within the budget to purchase used vestments. Smaller errors such as not correctly reporting that people do have the ability to "mingle" outside of the church was also regrettable.

It is my hope and prayer, Ms. Curti, that you will use your talents for building up the Church, not tearing it down. Controversial articles such as this may bring more attention to you and your publication but does little for encouraging the Body of Christ. I hope to read something more positive from you someday.

In His Grace,

Mary Rose Maguire


zetor said...

Wonderful post. My family(myself, husband and daughter)all attend the Traditional latin Mass twice a week at our church(including Sunday morning). The parish priest also says 3 other 'regular' Masses every weekend. The TLM's are not attended by many of our own parishioners but people are willing to travel to our church from around the county.
The TLM fulfills many of my spiritual needs, I feel priveledged to attend .
I enclose the address for the Latin mass society, Fr. Finegan often writes an article for them,
God Bless.

joannaB73 said...

I think it would be nice if there were enough priests that could do the Latin Mass to have one in every parish at least once a week. I find it more sacred and more unifying - less broken up than the normal Mass. My older sister remembers the Latin Mass from her youth but I was too young really - we went to a Catholic school. We are both Converts now!

X said...

MR, you wrote, "I am fed up with seeing those who enjoy the TLM either brow-beaten into apology or ridiculed for finding that the TLM connects with their desire to worship, best."

In my experience it goes the other way too. I have attended the TLM and if it was offered where I live it would probably be my regular Mass. However - my priest and my parish offer a good NO Mass. I am just thankful that I can even go to Mass.

I know you were not browbeating those of us who are content with the NO - I'm just saying I have experienced some real nastiness online from the TLM side.

Mary Rose said...

Dear Angela, I know and agree with you. I've heard those stories, too. It would be nice if there were some sort of a truce.

You know, at this moment, I'm on the Una Voce retreat and already convicted. My heart is already becoming softened. I sense that personally, I'm going to be challenged to speak more gently on a lot of issues. :-)

God bless you richly!

Jenny said...


X said...

MR - God is good - but you knew that!