|The bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau celebrated a traditional|
benediction following a traditional Eucharistic procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 2012
Photo by Katie Newton
The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, started in 1965, now has over 5,000 members. The weekly number of Latin masses is up from 26 in 2007 to 157 now. In America it is up from 60 in 1991 to 420. At Brompton Oratory, a hotspot of London traditionalism, 440 flock to the main Sunday Latin mass. That is twice the figure for the main English one.... read moreThe above article is highlighting general trends in specific places, which are duplicated pretty much everywhere, and it's turning out to be more than the "passing fad" many initially thought it would be. You can spin the data any way you want, but the facts are the facts, and cannot be denied....
- Attendance at contemporary vernacular masses is declining in the Roman Rite.
- Attendance at traditional Latin or Anglican Use masses is increasing in the Roman Rite.
- Attendance is more stable at vernacular masses celebrated according to to older traditional customs.
So what happened? Why are Catholic youth, and Protestant converts, rejecting modernist interpretations of the Catholic liturgy? It's simple really, and I touched on this in my unexpectedly popular article on Converting Protestants -- A Secret Method. The whole world is modernising, and for the most part, people embrace it. People want modernity in their cars, shopping malls, office buildings and sometimes even their homes! However, the whole world can't be modern, and even in the most modern mind, there has to be an anchor to tradition. People may seek modernity in most things, but when it comes to religion, what most people really want (whether they realise it or not) is an anchor to their past. When it comes to liturgy, they want to worship God the way their ancestors did. When it come to doctrine, they want something that is challenging and timeless. This is human nature enlightened by the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to be a Christian in the modern world.
This news has not set well with the mainline Church establishment who have gone to great lengths to update and modernise the Catholic Church over the last forty years. For them, watching these trends unfold is like watching their entire life's work go up in liturgical smoke to the sound of Gregorian chant. Some have reacted to this in very visceral ways -- even with open hostility. To them I would like to give a reminder. Perhaps they should stop and remember, for a moment, what kind of visceral reaction their generation got to their attempts to modernise the liturgy back during the 1960s and early 70s. They should remember the opposition, the contempt and the resentment. This is what their generation encountered back during those days. Now they are repeating it with the next generation. The whole thing has come full circle. The younger generation and converts are calling for "change" and it is the 1960s - 70s modernisers who are obstinate. At first it might seem like an irony that things should turn out this way, except when you consider that based on the changes that were made, this was inevitable. There is nothing more "dated" than contemporary worship. By the time the 1970s modernisations were completed in the liturgy and music of the mass, society had moved on to the 1980s. Slowly, liturgical music, style and architecture caught up to the 1980s, only to be left behind in the 1990s. By the time the year 2000 rolled around, the reforms of the modernisers were considered "dated" and "old fashioned" to the new youth in the Church, while many Protestant converts simply considered some of the music and worship styles "quaint" and even "amusing." Now here we are in 2013, and by now the modernisations of the 1970s and 80s are so ridiculously antiquated that they've become a bore. By now it should be painfully obvious to everyone, Modernist and Traditionalist alike, that there is no way the Catholic Church can possibly keep up with the modern world.
Why should it keep up? Is that its mission? It's not according to the Bible I read. Jesus instructed his apostles to go and make disciples of all peoples and nations, not to keep up with their latest fashions and novelties. There are those who ask: "How can we make disciples of all people if we cannot relate to them through their latest fashions and novelties?" This question reflects a common mistake that is not limited to the modernisers in the Roman Catholic Church. Protestantism has made this error too, but for them, the trend is much more profound and with more dire consequences. When it comes to modernising and updating, Protestants do it better. They always have and they always will. Lacking any real apostolic authority to hold them back, they can actually keep up with the fashions and novelties of our time, and they do so with passion and zeal. As a result there has been a massive exodus from mainline Protestant churches into more modernised Evangelical churches. It's worked wonders for creating contemporary mega-churches; based on marketing techniques, tailored sermons, and music customised to the exact beat and metre of the surrounding culture, complete with stage lights, theatre seating and the latest surround-sound acoustics. In terms of modernising -- it's perfect! The next generation will certainly include fog machines, laser shows and holographic images. (You laugh? I've already seen two out of three of those in one Evangelical church.) However, what is the cost? The normal behaviour of the average Evangelical is what many have called "church hopping," wherein a certain segment of the Evangelical population simply jumps from church to church, looking for the latest new thing, and never settles down anywhere. This produces children who quickly get burned out on the latest fashions and novelties, eventually seeing through it as mere marketing gimmicks. This creates a disillusionment with the faith. Some in this younger generation call for doctrinal updates (usually relating to sexual morality) to match the worship updates. Most however, simply drop out of church all together. What is lost is a sense of connection to one's Christian heritage and roots. What is lost is the sense of timelessness. What is lost is the sense of mystery. It's all gone to the flash of a strobe light and the beat of a drum. The mystery and awe of Christian worship is drown in the noise of thunderous applause. Is it any wonder why the younger generation eventually just gives up?
Modernisation is a perfect example of giving the people what they want as opposed to what they need. It can at times result in the worst of consequences. To the modernisers in the Catholic Church I do have a word of consolation. No matter how much the upcoming generation returns to older and more traditional liturgies, the Catholic Church will never return to the pre-Vatican II days. Vernacular translations of the liturgy will always be made widely available to the people, regardless of what form of liturgy that comes in. Contemporary praise and worship songs will always have a place in the Catholic Church, even if it's not in the liturgy of the mass. Youth groups will continue to make use of them indefinitely, even if it's just for bus trips and youth camp sing-alongs. Charismatic Catholic prayer groups will always find a place for them. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church will remain the definitive instruction on the Christian faith for generations to come. The same goes for the new Code of Canon Law. In other words, the modernising of the 1970s "hippy generation" has made its mark, and that mark is here to stay, even if the fashions and novelties of that generation fade away.
The best advice I could possibly give to the 1970s modernisers is this. Don't be like the pertinacious generation you so vigorously battled in your youth. Lead the next generation by example. Give in to the new traditionalist trends, and by doing so, demonstrate your progressive character. In the Evangelical tradition I came from, we had a saying, which ultimately helped me to convert to Catholicism eventually. We called it the "Great Proverb" and it goes like this: "He who is flexible shall not be easily broken." I repeated that mantra to myself constantly when converting from Evangelicalism to Anglicanism and ultimately to Catholicism. I prayed that constantly too: "Lord, make me flexible so that I will not need to be broken." The stubborn pre-Vatican II generation would have done wisely to mediate on such a saying during the 1970s, while the 1970s modernising generation in the Catholic Church today would do well to mediate on it now. The traditional trends in the Catholic Church today are not so much about a rejection of modernisation, but rather a sign that the Church has embraced the necessary parts of it (the parts that are faithful to orthodoxy and will stand the test of time), and is now enfolding them into her centuries-old traditions to take with her into the future. 1970s modernisers in the establishment of the Catholic Church should take this as a complement and a sign that the mission of their youth is now complete. They've changed the world. Now we move on.
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