Four Things Faithful Catholics Can Learn from Modernity

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We orthodox Catholics tend to be a tight-knit bunch. We’re great at complaining about unfaithful Catholic politicians, and we love to compare shock stories about the worst liturgies we’ve attended. (“Oh yeah? Well, when we were on vacation last summer, we went to a parish and the priest and lectors acted out the gospel! And when it came time for the consecration – well, let’s just say I’d never heard that Eucharistic prayer before.”)

But our more modernized brothers and sisters, for what they may lack in doctrinal orthodoxy and moral clarity, get some things right that we often miss. Here are a few.

1. God is merciful. Orthodox Catholics are great at reminding everyone of the reality and gravity of sin, and of course we shouldn’t ignore sin or be blasé about it. But sometimes we begin painting God as a wrathful dictator, snickering as he zaps souls into hell. Haha, sucker! That isn’t the Christian God.

God is love and he doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. Sin is real and we ought to avoid it – but mercy is real, too, and we shouldn’t avoid emphasizing it. God is metaphorically sitting on the edge of his seat waiting for us to repent because he wants to forgive us as soon as we allow it.

2. Catholic morality is not actually that rigid, and there is a lot of room for prudence and personal judgment. Orthodox Catholics frequently speak out to correct the culture that wants to put actually wrong actions under the realm of prudential judgment. And this is good, because there’s a reason those actions are wrong. But some things really are left up to prudential judgment (which is not the same as moral free-for-all).

Married people should always love their spouses, for example, but what that looks like exactly requires prudence (and other virtues). It could mean cooking because your spouse is too busy in the afternoon, or deferring cooking responsibilities because your spouse enjoys cooking, or cooking together. So many possibilities! The Church is not in the business of micromanaging our lives, even in hot-button areas like modesty and NFP.

3. Jesus wants to be your friend. Before you chortle at how cheesy that sounds, let me tell you where I heard it: from Jesus. (Check out John 15:15 if you don’t believe me.) Orthodox Catholics are great at rolling their eyes at “emotional devotionals” and vague, squishy beliefs that don’t actually mean anything – and it’s true that our faith is more substantial than inspirational sayings on Thomas Kinkade paintings.

We have an impressive intellectual and artistic history that often goes ignored, and we do have good reasons for why we believe what we do. This is all good! But it’s not about that. The purpose of philosophy is to point us toward God, not to replace God. God is not a philosophical concept, but three persons who love you and want to be close to you the way a loving husband wants to be close to his wife, or a loving mother wants to be close to her child. (At least, that’s how God always puts it.)

4. Older is not always better. It’s a shame that many modernized Catholics have never been taught about our heritage, because there’s so much beauty and depth in old things like polyphony and chant, the Tridentine Mass, and the early Church Fathers’ homilies. But the twenty-first century is a legitimate part of Church history and orthodox Catholics often miss the great stuff going on today.

Some twenty-first century Catholics are composing beautiful hymns and giving fantastic homilies. Vernacular, easy-to-follow liturgies have evangelical advantages that older liturgies didn’t. Today’s thinkers are doing an impressive job grappling with issues the Church didn’t need to consider until now, and are applying timeless truths to our twenty-first-century situation in ways that haven’t been done before and that will likely benefit future generations – just like St. Francis de Sales and St. Irenaus did in their times.

In the 1200s, Muslim scholars took Greek philosophy – written 300 years before the Incarnation – and brought it to Europe. Christianity obviously has some fundamental disagreements with the ancient Greek and Islamic perspectives of the world, but that didn’t deter St. Thomas Aquinas from sifting through all of it looking for gems, while still holding to Catholic orthodoxy. He came out with the Summa Theologica.

And that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Mary C. Tillotson

Mary C. Tillotson

Mary C. Tillotson is reporter for, covering education reform issues across the country. She is co-founder and blogger at The Mirror Magazine and founder of Vocation Story. She tries to blog at The Earth and the Ether. A Michigan native, she lives in Virginia with her husband, Luke.

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32 thoughts on “Four Things Faithful Catholics Can Learn from Modernity”

  1. Avatar
    Cristina Montes

    Thank you for this article. If I may add a fifth: that the world is good. As St. Josemaria Escriva said in a homily entitled “Passionately Loving the World”, “This I have been teaching all the time, using words from holy Scripture:
    the world is not evil, because it comes from the hands of God, because
    it is his creation, because Yahweh looked upon it and saw that it was
    good. It is we ourselves, men and women, who make it evil and ugly with
    our sins and unfaithfulness. Don’t doubt it, my children: any attempt to
    escape from the noble reality of daily life is, for you men and women
    of the world, something opposed to the will of God.”.

    1. Avatar
      Mary C. Tillotson

      Cristina, yes! Obviously, there are plenty of dangers in the world that we need to be wary of, but the world is good! A former Lutheran (now Catholic) I know has said she loves the tangibility of Catholicism. We have Rosary beads we can touch, relics we can kiss, incense we can smell, etc. Holiness isn’t just an abstract, airy idea, but something real and tangible.

  2. Avatar

    If ‘We orthodox Catholics tend to be a tight-knit bunch’, then we’re not orthodox (as your great article starts to unpack). 🙂

    Our priest says that if we ever hold hands as (never in) Church (accompanied by a certain ‘cringe’ look on his face!), we should only do it facing outwards, ‘ad orientem’, as it were.

    Before I go on, I have to add, I am not attacking people suffering from mental illness and any emotional pain here. The experience for them is horrific.

    But sadly, there are many deeply hurting in ‘Traditionalist’ – and its other extreme – ‘Charismatic’, circles. The trouble is, these hurting individuals in either camp are identical! They normally have deep emotional and/or psychological problems that neither group wants to admit or deal with, especially if the leader him/herself is functioning from some dysfunctional issue themselves. (“Birds of a feather, flock together”, or Homophily, to give it its technical name.)

    Their illness is what attracts them to it in the first place, but they end up not being healed unless there is a truly orthodox friend or priest – in your sense – there to help them get real healing from Christ – rather than an escape from their pain through the psychosomatic or emotional experiences at their gatherings or Masses.

    I have several (recovering) friends with mental illness, and they have been a great source of help and inspiration to me, especially in their courage and determination to fight their ‘demons’. Life is often hell for them. BUT, they don’t want palliative religion but real religion. They are not willing to compromise for the ‘quick fix’.

    Real Orthodoxy (TM), is what Fr Dwight Longenecker calls ‘True Grit’ Catholicism, and that image sums it up.

    There is too much ‘Catholicism’ out there which is riddled either with vested interests, or spiritual abuse, or else it’s simply of the the palliative sort.

    We need more articles like yours, and many of the others here, elsewhere in the blogshere, which show your level of understanding of the issues and balancing act required in being truly orthodox.

    Thank you Mary, and Ignitum Today for being a voice of well-balanced, compassionate, sanity!

    1. Avatar
      Mary C. Tillotson

      I hear you. If it doesn’t address the whole person, it’s not real Catholicism. It’s true that sometimes people (including a few I know well) need more than spiritual direction to deal with mental health problems, but what’s beautiful about Catholicism is that we *get* that. If something in your body isn’t working right, whether it’s a broken leg or an anxiety disorder, go see a doctor. We want you to be healed.

    2. Avatar

      >>They normally have deep emotional and/or psychological problems that neither group wants to admit or deal with … <<

      Okay, what deep emotional or psychological problems are these that traditionalists don't want to admit or deal with?

      1. Avatar
        Mary C. Tillotson

        Hey Brennan, I’ll let OTTF reply here because it looks like your comment is directed toward him/her, but I wanted to jump in with my own two cents. I think you can say “all squares are rectangles” without saying anything about how long the average rectangle is. Likewise, I think you can say “most people with this particular difficulty (these are the squares) tend to gravitate toward this particular group of people (these are the rectangles)” without actually saying anything about what a typical person in that group is like. I don’t think OTTF was saying *all* or even most traditionalist or charismatic Catholics have these difficulties, but that many people with these difficulties gravitate toward traditionalist or charismatic Catholicism.

        One thing that I love so much about our Church is the wide variety of saints, devotions, music, art, liturgy, etc. that still keeps to the unified orthodoxy. We all need that orthodoxy; we all need to believe the truth, but each individual person has different needs in all the “little” things. It would make sense that people with a particular difficulty would gravitate toward a particular group or culture.

        For example — if you read enough saint writings, you’ll see some of them emphasize the need to shape up, get your life in order, take sin seriously and quit doing it; others emphasize the need to not panic about sin, to know God’s love and mercy, and to quit trying to earn your way into heaven by being “good enough.” Sometimes we have greater need for the former message; other times we have greater need for the latter. Someone struggling with scrupulosity and despair needs to hear the latter message, but may get caught up in the former thinking it’s “safe” and not recognize the need for real healing. The reverse is true for someone struggling with a lax conscience and presumption.

        Does that make sense?

      2. Avatar

        Yes, I was directing my question to OTTF. Thanks for responding, but your answer doesn’t address what deep emotional or psychological problems, which traditionalists don’t want to admit or deal with, and which are on the level of an “illness”, or a “mental illness”, was the poster referring to? That’s fine, since you didn’t write the comment yourself.

        And yes, I know he said “many”, and not “all” or “most”.

      3. Avatar

        Hi Brennan.

        Sorry if you were offended, for it certainly was not my intention.

        It is a very complex area, and manifestations are manifold, but that’s not trying to be a cop-out. One just gets ‘a nose’ for it.

        Mary has replied from a ‘Spiritual’ perspective’, whereas my critique is from a ‘psychological’ one, therefore a more ‘analytical’ one. I am not condemning, and I hope I made that clear. We are all broken.

        My issue is more with people who want to go around ‘fixing’ everyone else whilst they are, paradoxically, often the most ‘broken’ (schismatic) themselves.

        (Chapter 14 of Scott Hahn’s excellent new book, Evangelizing Catholics, makes the point well about the hubris that might be implied in the language of ‘us’ and ‘them’ often used in parishes by those who consider themselves ‘in the know’, for example.)

        In other words, it’s important to be able to see and admit any ‘games’ taking place. The difference is between sound judgment and judgementalism. To make a judgement doesn’t imply a condemnation, just the affirmation of reality, whereas judgementalism does. (Bernard Lonergan is useful here.)

        In the ‘Traditionalist’ realm, apart from various forms of Projection and Religious Addiction, a high percentage of the issues focus around Rigourism and Scrupulosity, to the point where breaching rubrics, for example parallels a sort of ‘OCD’ mentality where stepping on the cracks in pavements, will ‘bring bad luck’. Some condemn a ‘Church of Nice’, whilst being ‘blind’ that they’re, in essence, a member of a ‘Church of Nasty’, etc.. Anyone can see this playing out by watching some of the toxic spume in comboxes! 🙂

        I would suggest the places where these issues are seen most are in codependent/clericalist relationships.

        I drew up a table some time ago for some students called the Clericalist Matrix which outlines the objectified relationships.

        From the direction of the Clergy:
        1) Infatuation with the laity leads to Progressivism (dissent)
        2) Condescension towards the laity by the priest and wanting to usher in the Restorationism of a ‘Catholic Golden Age’ of oak panels, bicycles and Capello Romanos.

        3) Obsession with the priest as ‘saviour’ or restorer of ‘True Catholicism ‘(TM)’, kowtowing to whatever Father wants.
        4) Disdain for Holy Orders in general (‘lay ministries’)

        All four are actually Clericalist as they all focus on the power of the clergy, positive, or negatively. One enamoured with it, the other, despising or pushing against it. 2/3 consume each other, whilst in 3/4 the other sets itself in contra-distinction.

        The ‘Traditionalist’ (Cleric or Lay) of this type is more likely to follow the ‘Restorationism’ Line, whilst Charismatic, the Progressivist. The former overstressing ‘Law’ and ‘rules’ to bend things back on track, the other, somewhat antinomian, as ‘the Spirit’ led, but which can often end up confused when ‘the Spirit’ contradicts Tradition, and they choose ‘the Spirit’ as it ‘feels’ more ‘authentic’.

        One rejects ‘the New’, the other, ‘the old’. Both miss the point of the development principle – ‘vetera novis augere et perficere’ (Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris).

        In short, the ‘clericalist’ that focusses too much on the laity, is often found in the ‘Charismatic’, and in the other direction, the ‘Traditionalist’.

        The problem is when communion breaks down and becomes collusion from either direction. It then becomes mob-like.

        It’s difficult to sum it up in a combox, as there’s far much more to it, but rest assured, my critique is focussed on being objective in order to deal with the realities sensitively, rather than clash with them.

      4. Avatar

        Hi OTTF. First, please rest assured that I was not in the least offended by your post, I merely thought the characterization of many traditionalists as having some sort of deep psychological problems or mental illness as simply absurd.

        But thanks for your thorough response. And I do understand that you are unable to go into all the details your analysis warrants in a combox, so I don’t fault you for that. Nor am I maintaining that there are no traditionalists who might have certain spiritual or psychological issues just as certain charismatics might or certain regular, conservative Catholics might.

        I understand what you are saying in regards to Michael Voris and his use of the term “Church of Nice”. All I can really say is that I don’t follow Michael Voris closely at all and I do not consider him a traditionalist. His focus on “bashing the Bishops” so that they will hopefully start disciplining wayward Catholics and priests is not really a primary focus of traditionalists (although some traditionalists may agree with some of his points, of course). Thus I simply leave him aside in this discussion.

        The bottom line is that I simply don’t recognize traditionalist thought as you’ve portrayed it thus far, from either the clerical or lay standpoint. And when I say traditionalist thought I am talking about it as portrayed in authors such as Dietrich von Hildebrand, Dom Alcuin Reid, Martin Mosebach, Romano Amerio in his book “Iota Unum”, speakers such as Dr. William Marra and others at, The Latin Mass magazine, and also some authors at blogs such as The New Liturgical Movement:

        For instance, I don’t recognize, first of all, the focus on clericalism (and certainly not a corresponding disdain of the laity) in traditionalism. Thus one of the benefits, as noted by Thomas Day in his book, “Why Catholics Can’t Sing”, of worship ad orientem is that it takes the focus off of the individual personality of the priest, whereas worship with the priest facing the people naturally puts the focus more on the individual priest.

        Nor do traditionalist arguments focus around “not breaking the rubrics”. In fact, I would say they don’t focus much on liturgical abuses at all, such as the argument some Catholics will make that if only we celebrate the New Mass according to the rubrics everything will be fine. The traditionalist arguments regarding the liturgy go more to the actual reform itself rather than the abuses of the reform.

        You wrote: “Laity: 3) Obsession with the priest as ‘saviour’ or restorer of ‘True Catholicism ‘(TM)’, kowtowing to whatever Father wants.”

        Again, I simply do not recognize this in traditionalist thought. A number of traditionalists get castigated for promoting the idea that the pope himself is not infallible in regards to prudential decisions, such as on the liturgy, and can in fact make horrific blunders. If this is the traditionalist attitude towards the pope, there is also a corresponding attitude that you can also have bad priests, good priests, intelligent priests, dense priests, etc., and even before Vatican II.

        Thus I recall Dr. William Marra pointing out that one of the benefits of the traditional Latin Mass is that yes, you did have priests who simply “ran around with the Mass” prior to Vatican II but fortunately it was difficult for a priest to screw it up too badly because of the nature of the old liturgy.

        Regarding a “disdain” for the laity in traditionalism, again, I simply do not recognize this. In fact, one of the frustrating arguments one hears regarding Latin in the liturgy is that it is simply too difficult and the “people didn’t understand what was going on at Mass.”

        The traditionalist would argue that yes, people did understand what was going on at Mass even if they could not speak Latin, as the liturgy isn’t just the spoken word but there’s also the rubrics, the gestures, the setting, and also, (hopefully), catechesis.

        And that argument becomes even more antiquated now that we are in the age of printed bi-lingual missals. Not to mention the fact that traditionalists assume that most of the laity have the capacity to learn enough Latin to follow along with a mostly unchanging liturgy.

        This also goes with the traditionalist preference towards sacred music such as Gregorian chant, beautiful architecture, and art. In all of this there is the assumption that lay Catholics should be able to participate in this heritage and they are not so dumb that everything in the liturgy needed to be made more simple, easy and understandable. To me that is an attitude that demonstrates much more of a condescension toward the laity.

        And traditionalist thought is not a simple rejection of the “New”. As I noted in a previous comment, church architecture such as that evidenced in “La Familia Sagrada” in Spain may be relatively new, but no traditionalist would have a problem with it because it is in line with the entire genus of traditional church architecture. It is a “catechesis in stone”. Whereas the issue with the Los Angeles Cathedral is not that it is a new type of architecture, but it is a type of architecture which represents a rupture with traditional architecture (whether that be Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, etc.) and thus is not a “catechesis in stone”.

        This is the same type of analysis that traditionalists would use towards the liturgy. Not that the liturgy can’t (and has not) developed, just as doctrine has developed, but that not all developments are good or beneficial.

        Thanks again for your response and I will leave off with a recommendation to read “The Case for the Latin Mass” by Dietrich von Hildebrand (

        The article of course does not encompass all of traditionalist thought but it is a good example of it and the type of arguments traditionalists make (though there’s not many that can do it as well as von Hildebrand).

        God bless.

      5. Avatar

        I think I need to say that I have no problems with ‘Traditionalism’, if by that we mean something that is faithful to the Magisterium, and not something Crypto-Sedevacantist or ‘Feeneyite’.

        I don’t think I said anything about the liturgy, because I do not see the two inextricably linked. In fact, if all ‘Traditionalism’ means is that one is focussed on the EF of the Mass and plainchant – a sort of liturgical purism – then it seems to me there are serious issues with that ‘Traditionalism’. That is if we are, as Mary says, “a tight-knit bunch”, and that means a faction of ‘narrow concern’ (which is exactly NOT what she means as soon as you read what follows), then there are, indeed, problems.

        The issue for me is that Michael Voris considers himself ‘a Traditionalist’, whatever you might think. He puts himself in ‘your’ camp, as it were.

        The biggest difficulty is, dare I say it, that the reason ‘Traditionalists’ don’t see these characters I’ve outlined is that people often use the ‘No True Scotsman’ approach to the ‘Traditionalist’ (and ‘Charismatic’) Movement. You say to me, ‘I simply don’t recognize traditionalist thought as you’ve portrayed it thus far’.

        That is exactly my point. The denial, or eliding, of any of those who spoil the purity of ‘my Traditionalism’. ‘No True Traditionalist…’.

        Now I know what I’m about to say adds another term that adds to the complexity, but I refer to myself as a ‘Confessional Catholic’ when asked.

        Sadly, Evangelical Protestants understand that idea better than a lot of Catholics, but it means I’m no compromiser of doctrine, I have very clear Credal and Doctrinal boundaries, but I am not a member of any faction or narrow interest group that claims it’s the ‘pure’ version of the Church. It is, I think, what Fr Robert Barron means when he talks about Catholicism being ‘a big tent’. And, because of that, I am fundamentally open to human solidarity with all ‘creeds and colours’, even if I am not in communion with them.

        People are judged ‘latae sententiae’, so I don’t have to worry about what they are, or are not, getting up to, as it were.

        It makes my job in the New Evangelization far easier. I am not the ‘Defender of the Faith’. That’s the Magisterium’s job. My job is simply to help woo them further into the Kingdom, which is what I believe is similar to what Mary is advocating: anything which enables that.

      6. Avatar

        Hi OTTF,

        Thanks for the response. First, in regards to Michael Voris, I am aware of no instance where he calls or identifies as a “traditionalist.” In fact, on the Church Militant TV website, they published an open letter naming traditionalists such as John Vennari and Christopher Ferrara and calling their publications Catholic Family News and The Remnant “ecclesiastical porn”.

        Their main criticism is that traditionalists and publications such as these openly criticize the Holy Father which they, as a policy, think awful and refuse to do. They also note in the letter that they law the onus of the crisis in the Church at the feet of priests and bishops, which is not something traditionalists do.

        Here is the link:

        Of course I recognize that there are certain things traditionalists and Michael Voris may agree on, just as there might be between traditionalists and some conservative Catholics. So no, Michael Voris is not a traditionalist and, as I’ve said, I’ve never heard him claim to be one.

        As far as the liturgy goes, yes, the Gregorian rite and traditionalism are inextricably linked, although I agree with you that that is not all that it entails, but it is the sine qua non. So all traditionalists believe the Gregorian rite is objectively superior to the New Mass (and not as a mere “preference”).

        I would probably take a step further and say that pretty much every traditionalist would agree with this quote:

        “The Traditionalist instinct, however, that the post-Conciliar liturgy had something to do with it, has an important supporter: Pope Benedict XVI. Writing before his election, he explained: I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy … ”

        The quote is from the blog of the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, Joseph Shaw (great blog, and he is a self-identified traditionalist).

        While the importance of the traditional Latin Mass is a sine qua non for traditionalists, you rightly noted that it is not restricted only to that. I would say the best work which encapsulates traditionalist thought on a wider range of subjects

      7. Avatar

        Sheesh……we even get pictures…..what comes to mind after reading all of this mess is St’ Joan of Arc’s comment…..About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.

      8. Avatar

        I agree.


        …then why does the Church have Catechisms and Creeds? Maybe it’s because it’s not only about knowing that Christ and his Mystical Body are one? We affirm that every Mass when we say the Creed. But, don’t we also affirm a whole lot more too at that point in the Liturgy?

        The ‘simplest’ forms of religion (as opposed to ‘complicated’) are those one finds in the ‘New Age/Spirituality’ section of one’s local bookshop, because they make few, if no demands, aren’t they?

        The closer these ‘religions’ are to therapy and ‘finding yourself’, the ‘simpler’ they are, because you don’t have to look too far to find yourself! In fact, it’s worrying if you think you have lost yourself in the first place! But most don’t do that if you look closely, they go even further, and talk one into creating a ‘new self’, don’t they?

        Religion is not complex. God is simple (undivided). But, the issue comes with Mystery, that which we cannot know without positive Revelation.

        That’s where Tradition, where ‘complication’, comes in, or else religion is whatever I think it is. Whatever is ‘revealed to me’, whatever I sense, ‘my gut feeling’ tells me or, whatever the Bible says to me, which is the New Age religion, above, no?

        For me there is a difference between transcendence, and idealism, and that’s why the Saints are so important.

        Transcendence is a matter of Mystery, of Revelation. Idealism is a product of fancy, a projection.

        Transcendence is the experience of being guided along a narrow path by the maps of those who have gone before. Idealism, is going wherever one’s own mind wants to go. That’s why some would call Catholicism ‘aspirational’ because has a specific object outside of oneself, rather than mere Idealism or wishful thinking, which is a product of self.

        Obedience and docility is what uncomplicates the matter, whilst ‘Mottramism’ is the false sense of ‘simplicity’:

      9. Avatar

        Hi Johnny.

        I’m a catechist. These things matter to me.
        Do you think I respond in the same way to people in RCIA? No.

        Do you not think discussion on these matters are important for those who discuss them? I consider the people here, like Brennan, people to debate with seriously. I can appreciate his point of view. I disagree, but I try not to insult him or make fun. What’s more, he takes the burden of proof seriously, and he addresses the challenge, like I try to with him, too.

        Why post at all if you think it’s not worthwhile? Isn’t that self-refuting? 🙂

        Even your comments aimed at me are actually giving me your point of view. You are not neutral.

        The trouble is, the burden of proof is on you to show why you think it’s pointless, not merely make fun of me/us and quote a slogan, like those who quote ‘St Francis’ on ‘only using words when necessary’, when he didn’t even say it.

        Great sounding quotes, or ‘oy vey’, aren’t arguments, they’re just ridiculing. Is that the example you are trying to set us?

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    >>Vernacular, easy-to-follow liturgies have evangelical advantages that older liturgies didn’t.<<

    Like what? (And I'm not sure if you're using the word evangelic in the sense of "evangelistic" or not).

    1. Avatar
      Mary C. Tillotson

      Thanks for your comment, Brennan. I mean they can, in some ways, be better tools for evangelization. (Did I use the wrong word by mistake?) I knew some people in college who were awed by the beauty of the Tridentine Mass, and that’s great. I think it would be wrong to totally banish the Tridentine Mass. But I know plenty of other people who went to a Tridentine and had an experience more like “what the heck is going on?” They were much more open to considering Catholicism when they went to a liturgy where words were spoken clearly in a language they could understand. And I don’t mean a clown Mass — I think too often “novus ordo” is equated with “clown Mass” and I am *all for* totally banishing clown Masses. I’ve been to many reverently-celebrated, beautiful novus ordo Masses; this is the sort of thing I’m talking about.

      1. Avatar

        I don’t mean to say you used the wrong word, you just used the word “evangelical” and I was wondering if by that you meant “evangelization.”

        I would say that the great majority of the Novus Ordo Masses I have been to I would not consider a tool for evangelization. And I am not talking about clown masses either, but rather the typical Novus Ordo Mass most Catholics attend.

        I will concede that a traditional Latin Mass with Gregorian chant, especially if done in a beautiful church, is a greater tool for evangelization than, say, a low TLM in an ugly setting. And yes, of course many people, especially if they come from a low church Protestant background, are not going to immediately be able to follow and the whole service may seem “alien” to them. It would probably seem alien to most Catholics nowadays as well.

        I am reminded of this quote from Fr. George Rutler who is old enough to have experienced the liturgy both before and after the changes:

        “… We seem to slip out of that golden sense of ultimate truth in two ways. The first is by losing any real awareness of the holy. The second is by denying that it has been lost. Without lapsing into criticism that would be out of place, suffice it to say that the worship of holiness is weak in our culture, and the beauty of holiness has been smudged in transmission through the revised liturgy. For without impugning its objective authenticity in any degree, its bouleversement [Complete overthrow; a reversal; a turning upside down] of the traditional Roman rite marks the first time in history that the Church has been an agent, however unintentionally, in the deprivation of culture, from the uprooting of classical language and sensibility to wanton depreciation of the arts.

        … It is immensely saddening to see so many elements of the Church, in her capacity as Mother of Western Culture, compliant in the promotion of ugliness. There may be no deterrent more formidable to countless potential converts than the low estate of the Church’s liturgical life, for the liturgy is the Church’s prime means of evangelism. Gone as into a primeval mist are the days not long ago when apologists regularly had to warn against being distracted by, or superficially attracted to, the beauty of the Church’s rites. And the plodding and static nature of the revised rites could not have been more ill-timed for a media culture so attuned to color and form and action.”

        (“A Crisis of Saints”, Ignatius Press pp. 107-108)

      2. Avatar
        Mary C. Tillotson

        Hi Brennan, I get where you’re coming from. I get just as frustrated when I see dumb stuff going on at Mass. The example from the beginning of my article? We were there a couple months ago. We actually weren’t sure it was valid, left without receiving Communion (because we didn’t know what we’d be receiving), and found another parish that had an evening Mass.

        But I think it’s important to remember that not everyone needs the same thing. We all have different temperaments, experiences, life situations, etc. There are some saints I don’t read because I end up spiraling into despair or envy (though others find them extremely helpful in their own spiritual growth), and other saints I read often because they push me spiritually in ways I need to be pushed and help me grow.

        Something similar, I think, can be said for liturgy. A friend of mine had a rough experience with traditionalist Catholicism and almost left the Church; now she says she prefers attending reverent, English novus ordo Masses because she doesn’t get bombarded with resentful memories and doubts that came with that experience, like she does when she attends Tridentine or Latin novus ordo. Another friend (who grew up before V2) says he has a huge struggle not to daydream during the Tridentine, and he really appreciates the back-and-forth responses and English in the novus ordo, because it helps him focus on what’s going on.

        I’m 100% with you when you say the Tridentine Mass is beautiful. I know plenty of people who find it easier to pray and grow in their spiritual lives when surrounded by traditional things, and I think that’s great. We all need the Eucharist, for sure, but sometimes, granting a certain baseline of reverence and orthodoxy, a particular liturgical style is better or worse for an individual person in their situation.

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        Hi Mary, thanks for the response. I would say the liturgy is supposed to encapsulate the faith and is one of the prime factors in forming Catholics, as well as evangelization.

        Hence the question goes beyond what particular Catholics want or think they need. A group of Catholics may want heavy metal music played during Mass because they find this type of music more “engaging” and it rivets their attention. But naturally it would not therefore be proper to play heavy metal music at Mass as it is not the type of music which lifts hearts and minds to God or is characteristic of the sacred. (I’m just trying to make a point, I’m not assuming you personally think heavy metal music would be OK at Mass).

        I am not opposed to some diversity. Obviously there have been various rites within the Church such as Dominican, Carmelite, Eastern rites, etc. in addition to the traditional Roman rite. Good, thank God for them.

        Similarly, there have been various architectural styles such as Gothic, Classical, Baroque, etc. Good. Yet we are confronted with something altogether different with a church such as Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles (I’ll assume you’ve seen it, at least online).

        Here we don’t simply have a different style of church along the lines of the Gothic or neo-Classical, but something which seems to be a break altogether from past forms and is not a “catechesis in stone” the way past forms have been.

        Here we have an ugly church (and I’m sure we can both come up with more examples of these) which does not attract people (and thus does not evangelize) and does not instantiate the faith the way previous forms do and thus does not “teach” Catholics the faith the way previous forms did.

        I am not, of course, opposed to new forms coming into being. La Sagrada Familia is architecture of the type I’ve never seen before and yet it is beautiful, it attracts, and it is a “catechesis in stone” the way so many mediocre, ugly, modern churches are not.

        I am not arguing that the new liturgy is invalid in any way, any more that I would argue that the Los Angeles Cathedral is not a validly consecrated cathedral. Yet the question (and I’m not trying to get into the entire argument here) is beyond whether the New Mass is valid but whether, particularly as it is celebrated in most parishes, it lifts the heart and mind to God and thus also evangelizes. These questions go beyond the personal preference of particular Catholics. Some Catholics might just love the Los Angeles Cathedral, that does not mean we should have built it.

        I should also note that probably the best traditional Latin Mass (in the Dominican rite), which actually promotes the “actuosa participatio” called for, was one in which the laity (along with a schola and the priest) sang the parts of the Mass proper to them. Thus there is no genuine barrier between the traditional Latin Mass and the laity actually participating in the Mass itself. Fr. Joseph Fessio has an excellent article on “active participation” in regards to the sacred liturgy here:

        And thus a further question is whether the new liturgy is an organic development from the older forms, as it was supposed to be, or a genuinely new rite (albeit valid). As I said, I’m not trying to open up that whole argument here. One author, Dietrich von Hildebrand, wrote an article which sums up the issues with the new liturgy pretty well (and these are arguments which could apply to music and architecture as well). Here it is if you want to take a look:

        God bless.

      4. Avatar
        Mary C. Tillotson

        Hi Brennan, sorry it took me longer to reply — I’ve been a little busy with other projects. I do want to say, I appreciate your courtesy in this conversation. As I’m sure you know, this is a touchy issue and often spirals downhill into rudeness (on both sides).

        Just to clarify, I’m not arguing for banishing the EF. I think if we’re going to compare the two forms of the liturgy, a fair comparison would be either “EF as it ought to be / OF as it ought to be” or “EF as it is in most parishes / OF as it is in most parishes.” I don’t think it’s fair to compare the ideal EF with the typical OF.

        I’ve been to a few OF Masses where downright awful things happened, and I’ve been to plenty of OF Masses where things (music, hymn selection, homily, architecture, etc.) were not strictly speaking heretical, but were just fluffy and not that uplifting. I think all of that is bad and should be changed. I think you and I are on the same page here.

        The main point I wanted to make is that the OF is good in itself (that is, sans the bad music, etc.). I don’t know the details of how the OF liturgy came to be, but I do know that it is now the ordinary form of the Church’s highest and most important prayer, and I have every reason to believe the Holy Spirit, who knew what the world and the Church would need in the coming years, was guiding that decision. He has worked in odder ways before (cf Tamar) and with less cooperative people (cf salvation history).

        The Mass — in fact, the whole point of Christianity — is a meeting of God and people. We ought to do what we can to “move up” — that is, have reverent music, etc., and conform ourselves to God. But God has a long history of reaching down to our level. He became man and now comes to us as physical food. I’m not saying we should turn the Mass into a beach party; I am saying that when God reaches down, we should let him. And I think that is what he is doing in the OF — and of course it is our job to do our part, which includes treating the Mass like an important, serious event and not like a beach party.

        I am all for more reverence in the liturgy, and I’m all for getting rid of certain hymns (you know which ones). Personally, I love that I’ve learned Missa de Angelis from singing it at Mass (OF, actually) because it’s beautiful and probably the most commonly sung Mass in its genre, so I hear it at other parishes as well. But I think those things can all be accomplished in the OF, and I think they *should* be. This is the prayer of the Church; I think we should pray it reverently and beautifully and let God work the way he has asked to.

        That said — I think people who find the EF more uplifting, who find it easier to conform themselves to God and pray at the EF (it sounds like you may be one of these people), I think it’s great that the EF is available for them to attend. I think it makes total sense to go where God meets you, and of course do your part to meet him.

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        Hi Mary, please disregard the above reply. It was from me but I can’t delete it. My full reply is below. Thanks.

      6. Avatar

        Hi Mary, I know you have a lot going on, so you are under no obligation to respond to my comments.

        We are both in agreement that liturgy should lift one’s heart and mind to God; in fact this was one of the primary arguments in von Hildebrand’s article, “The Case for the Latin Mass:

        I have no problem comparing a regular Gregorian rite with a normal Novus Ordo Mass; that is fair.

        “I don’t know the details of how the OF liturgy came to be…”

        Well, you know the saying, “the devil is in the details” (and no, I’m not calling the New Mass satanic).

        Traditionalists aren’t really focused on the abuses of the New Mass (everyone can agree those should go wherever possible), but rather on what happened with the prayers and rubrics themselves.

        “… I have every reason to believe the Holy Spirit, who knew what the world and the Church would need in the coming years, was guiding that decision.”

        This is where we have a strong disagreement. One has every right to believe this, of course, but no Catholic is under any obligation to. Von Hildebrand made an important point:

        “… The point, of course, is that obedience to the practical disciplinary decisions of the pope does not always imply approval of them. When such a decision has the character of compromise or is the result of pressure or the weakness of the individual person of the pope, we cannot and should not say: Roma locuta: causa finita. That is, we cannot see in it the will of God; we must recognize that God only permits it, just as He has permitted the unworthiness or weakness of several popes in the history of the Church.”

        (“Belief and Obedience: The Critical Difference” in the book “The Charitable Anathema”)

        Fr. John Parsons made a similar argument here:

        Scroll down to: “Fallibility of Prudential Judgments”.

        I do make a significant distinction between what most of the Council Fathers wanted and thought they would get, and what was actually produced by Archbishop Bugnini’s committee.

        I realize you may have no interest in researching what actually happened with the reform of the liturgy after Vatican II (again, not the abuses, but the actual reform itself) but if anyone is, a good overview was provided by Cardinal Ottaviani here:

        Dr. Lauren Pristas gets into the details of the revision of the liturgy and what motivated the reformers here:

        (Just scroll down to Articles and Translations).

        As I said, this subject area may be of no interest to you, I simply offer it to point in the direction of more information.

        God bless.

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        I know your reply is not addressed to me, but it seems to me it’s a matter of whether the Mass (whatever form, but within certain parameters) is enabling transcendence and encouraging growth – as you outline – or an instrumental function of sentiment, addiction and/or escapism.

        As a thought experiment, I wonder how many people would be committed to a parish and regular assistance at Mass where they knew it celebrated only ‘Low Mass’ (i.e., said) which ‘did the red and said the black’, EF or NO? In other words, Masses which stripped out the factors which have the potential to pander to the self.

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        “… an instrumental function of sentiment, addiction and/or escapism.”

        Yea, how on earth does the Gregorian rite with Gregorian chant where a priest, the people, and a schola all sing parts proper to them “an instrumental function of sentiment, addiction and/or escapism” or a pandering to the self?

        Was the Council of Trent fomenting addiction or encouraging pandering to the self when it wrote:

        “And since the nature of man is such that he cannot without external means be raised easily to meditation on divine things, holy mother Church has instituted certain rites, namely, that some things in the mass be pronounced in a low tone and others in a louder tone. She has likewise, in accordance with apostolic discipline and tradition, made use of ceremonies, such as mystical blessings, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be emphasized and the minds of the faithful excited by those visible signs of religion and piety to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice.”
        (Session 7 Chapter V)

        But just for the record, I would happily attend a Gregorian rite low Mass entirely in the vernacular, in an ugly building, with no (or poor) music rather than the New Mass in Latin with Gregorian chant in a beautiful church (not that I actually have this choice, of course).

        And I’d venture to say a lot of traditionalists would agree with me on that one.

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