The Most Rev. Emil A. Wcela, recently retired auxiliary Bishop of my home Diocese of Rockville Centre, has an article in this weeks America Magazine. The somewhat ironic piece is entitled “A Dinosaur Ponders The Latin Mass”.
In this piece, Bishop Wcela chronicles his personal journey from the Traditional Latin Mass to the new Mass along with some very telling observations. Take a look at this paragraph and tell me how many tired and used up cliches you can spot.
During the first years of my priesthood (I was ordained in 1956), I knew and celebrated only the Latin Mass. Since the congregational singing was not especially notable and since the priest had his back to the people [can’t miss that one!], the only way to gauge how deeply they were involved was to listen for the rustle of missal pages being turned.[This is just one variant of the typical silly definition of active participation] One accepted the self-contradictory ritual of proclaiming the Epistle and Gospel in Latin toward the back wall and then going to the pulpit to read the Gospel again, this time in English. The same readings were repeated each year, instead of following today’s three-year cycle that presents so much more of the Bible. [I am a fan of the three year cycle. However there are things to be said about hearing the same readings each year. My problem is with the tone here. It smacks of “Can you believe how backward we were then?”]The quality of music, some Gregorian chant, some English hymns with different degrees of theological and aesthetic value, varied from parish to parish. In some, the experience was inspiring, in others, just plain awful.[Yeah, we are much better off with mostly awful now.] A good test for music directors was the Dies Irae, the long lament at funeral Masses. Too often, the standard that really counted was how quickly it could be sung, especially if another funeral was to follow.
That was tiring. My cliche-o-meter was working overtime. Bishop Wcela goes on to admit that maybe there were some abuses after the reform, but he never really saw them. Diogenes treats this argument with the proper disdain, so I will not address it here. He goes on to admit that:
It must be acknowledged that there are still priests who look upon the Mass as a showplace for their dubious creative talents rather than as the shared worship of the community of which they are a part. I find such do-it-yourself liturgies very off-putting. There are still music directors who believe that their own compositions are exactly and only what is needed for good worship. Trying to participate in those parishes calls for special dedication, because one encounters music known only to the local parishioners and to God. It has never been and never will be the case that all music used in churches makes the theological and musical grade.
He finishes by citing two articles of young people expressing their attraction to the Latin Mass mostly due to dissatisfaction with watered down sermons and those famous “arbitrary deformations.” This is not a good enough reason to have an attraction to the “extraordinary form.” but it is a good enough reason to be condescending:
But I can only shake my head in puzzlement when I hear people talk of how good it is to celebrate Mass in a language they do not understand, while I continue my struggle to learn Spanish so that members of a different congregation can celebrate Mass in a language they do understand.
Now I know why God made the dinosaurs extinct. He couldn’t stand the condescension.