If my best choice for a reverent, God-centered Mass were the Extraordinary Form, I’d be a traditionalist. Devin Rose has up a piece called “The Rise of the New Traditionalists,” and I think it’s fairly representative of what I’ve seen and heard in regular life. As I wrote over at this blog’s discussion group:
Here’s my life: On the internet, someone is always pointing me to some guy who needs a rabies shot and also colors himself a traditionalist. In real life, my traditionalist friends are some of the sanest people I know.
Then again, people with sanity problems usually get tired of me, fast. So there’s a definite selection-bias in real life.
Clergy, I imagine, tend to have the opposite problem: I think there’s a crazy-magnet hidden in the Roman collar.
As it happens, I live in a diocese where you can get nearly any rite you want if you’re willing drive a bit, but also one where a good Novus Ordo isn’t so hard to find. That, combined with a guarded suspicion of the Venemous Traditionalists Who Are This Close to Schism, And That’s If You’re Lucky, probably dampens the enthusiasm for already-busy pastors of souls to take on one more thing, extraordinary-form version.
For that reason, one argument from Devin Rose’s post bothers me. He writes:
Other Catholics suggest to forget about the TLM and instead focus on reforming the Ordinary Form. Make it more reverent, they say. Get sacred music in there. Throw in some ad orientem. That sort of thing.
I’m sympathetic to this suggestion, and I know of a group of people quietly working behind the scenes to accomplish this noble goal. (Interestingly, they are also new traditionalists, not Catholics who self-identify as traditionalists). I think it should be attempted, but also I know how deeply rooted many non-reverent practices are, so much so that they have attained quasi-traditional status. It will take a long time.
The reason it bothers me is this: The Novus Ordo doesn’t have to bad in order for the Extraordinary Form to be good.
Running Away or Running Towards?
Imagine a marriage proposal that went like this: “Honey, I want you to know that I don’t think I’d be able to get along with our bishop if I went into the diocesan priesthood, and I’m too old to join the one religious order I particularly like, and the other orders around here are either too disorganized, or focused on a charism that doesn’t interest me, or gosh, well, we all know what those Dominicans were doing last summer, let’s not go there, but I really can’t move to another diocese because my mom hasn’t died yet and she’d miss me — so I think we should get married. All my other options stink, and that leaves you.”
You’d better be joking and she’d better know it. Though God can work wonders in the Sacrament of Matrimony, starting with a bad foundation shows no respect for your intended spouse and for the solemnity of your union. Even if you did pass through a stage of discerning a religious vocation before realizing you were called elsewhere, marriage is not meant to be the refuge of the desperate.
Likewise, we can’t say we’ve truly embraced a particular aspect of the spiritual life until we are in fact running towards what is good rather than merely fleeing what is bad.
The Extraordinary Form Has Merit in Its Own Right
When someone shares their story of how they came to this or that decision, it’s a personal narrative. It’s going to include obstacles and adventures that are worth telling even if they don’t bear any universal truth. That you, personally, prefer your local TLM because the Mass times are better, the donuts are fresher, and you can’t stand the paint job at the Novus Ordo parish around the corner — those things aren’t untrue. They are worth knowing. But what if St. Modernus fixes its scheduling and donut and decorating problems?
Was that really what it was all about? Because you can’t ask your local clergy to take on the significant chunk of work involved in offering a second form of the Mass if it’s really just all about paint.
What we need to hear are all the reasons, and there are such reasons, that the Extraordinary Form is worth the effort even when beautiful, reverent, awe-inspiring Masses are available in the Novus Ordo.
Your wife is beautiful in her own right, not because all the other women are ugly. She has a personality, and a style, and way of being that’s distinctive, and precious, and worth cherishing.
So it is with the liturgy of the Church. When the NO is rendered in all her proper beauty, the EF remains beautiful in a different and also-valuable way. When the NO is said in Latin, the Latin of the EF doesn’t lose its merit, any more than you would toss a great work of literature on account of how you’d gotten a new book written in the same language.
We don’t quit praying the Rosary because we’ve found our souls are stirred by the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Likewise with the Mass: Our souls are rightly stirred by the treasures of both the old and the new.