When I was an altar boy in the mid-1960s, we said the Mass in Latin and liked it. Now, Pope Francis, like Frank Sinatra, Connie Francis, Frankie Valli and Frank Zappa before him, is trying to deal tradition a mystical and musical death blow.
As reported by Fox News, the Bible of retro Catholicism, the Pope is taking measures to shut down Latin Masses in New York. Damn.
Around 1969, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the Mass experienced a literal 180-degree revolution, manifest in 666 ways. 1) The priest turned around to look at us (ugh). 2) In consuming the blood of Christ, communicants could now drink wine -- not even decent wine. 3) Women were allowed inside the altar railing, even if they were menstruating. 4) "Et cum spiritu tuo" became "Back at ya"; "Amen" became "Duh." 5) We started singing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," a hymn composed by (gasp!) Martin Luther. 6) "Kumbaya" and "Jesus Is Just Alright With Me" replaced Gregorian chants, a change particularly odious to the Gregs of this world.
In the '70s, the One True Holy Catholic & Apostolic Church was clearly pandering, and its motives were suspect. Vatican II was looking like a Vatican Coup by godless Methodists and Presbyterians, a slippery slope if ever there was one -- 40 years later, the Pope was even apologizing to Jews. Who but a Protestant would circumvent priestly mediation in favor of a shameless direct connection with the Divine? Who but the Devil would open cathedral doors to folk/rock Masses? (To counterbalance Latin Masses, Massachusetts Berkshires Catholics now even have "Beer & Hymns.") Who but a heretic would desire to jettison Latin, the language of the empire that brought Jesus to the attention of mankind by crucifying Him?
If Latin is good enough for popes, who write encyclicals in that tongue so everyone can understand them, it's good enough for the Mass. I attended a Latin Mass in Alhambra couple of Easters ago; although my altar-boy Latin and my eight years of high school and college Latin did not permit me to comprehend most of the liturgy, the incense and the pleasant ripple of syllables deeply enhanced my sense of awe.
Awe, rather than faith, is the hallmark of traditional Catholicism. Sistine Chapel, anyone? Virgin of Guadalupe? Mel Gibson? Bill O'Reilly?
Beyond awe, consider beauty, a factor every commentator mentions when tolling the virtues of the old Tridentine Mass. Few would dispute that English is less beautiful than Latin, any more than they would choose constipation over obstipatio alvi.
Similarly, physical beauty, de-emphasized since Vatican II, augments the Catholic spiritual experience with an earthly dimension -- gold crosses, gold croziers, gold censers, gold tabernacles, gold vestments, gold leaf (gold credit cards gladly accepted in lieu of tarnished denarii). Why did Jesus praise poverty and overturn the tables of the moneychangers? To encourage believers to put the gold where it belonged, in the church.
But the most persuasive argument for retaining the Latin Mass, with all its pomp and spectacle, comes from observers who note an increased youth presence at old-line services. Baez, Byrds and beads were their grandparents' thing; today it's video games. When it comes to eternal salvation, kids love a show.