Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As some of you may have noticed, this coming Thursday we will be having another Traditional Latin Mass here at Notre Dame. We have decided to host another Mass, in part, due to popular demand. Last February, on a cold Monday night, we had close to 500 people come to celebrate Our Lady of Lourdes, most of them parishioners who were attending for the first time. It was encouraging to see so many who didn’t know exactly when to sit, stand, or kneel – it meant lots of faithful people were adventurous enough to try something new! And most spoke of how beautiful it was and how it was a powerful moment of prayer and appreciation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
To be honest, I hope to offer these Masses fairly consistently into the future for another reason as well, and that’s in line with the motivation for the revived support for this Mass which goes back to 2007. Then Pope Benedict XVI spoke about his desire for mutual enrichment between old and new, and emphasized the importance of a “hermeneutic of continuity” when it comes to our faith and the Mass. What does that mean? A hermeneutic is a method of interpretation, a lens through which things are viewed. When it comes to our faith then, he criticized a “hermeneutic of rupture,” where many got the idea that an entirely new Church was created after the Second Vatican Council. Viewing the Church through this lens, there was believed to be a freedom to be creative in ways that often broke with Tradition and the past. This is how we ended up with clown Masses and practices which actively demeaned the Eucharist and many teachings of our faith. This he compares to a hermeneutic of continuity, where one recognizes that the history of the Church is an important part of how we view ourselves, and as much as we change over time, we have to be true to our past and the essentials of what we believe. If the Church is the Body of Christ, the members of the past are just as much members as we are today, and we cannot ignore what they offer us.
A helpful image of this comes from Blessed (soon to be Saint!) John Henry Newman. He spoke of this sort of development as being similar to how we biologically develop. As we grew up, our arms slowly grew and became more defined, but they never stopped being arms. If they sprouted feathers and turned into wings, that would be a radical change and they would no longer be arms but wings. In the same way, all aspects of our faith, while they grow and develop, cannot radically change. We cannot change Church teaching on moral issues, on the Trinity, on all sorts of dogmas, or else we’d no longer be Catholic. We would be changing Christ which is impossible. Similarly, as much as the Mass develops over time, we cannot change it in ways that break from the past and detract from its true nature, which is that it be the bloodless representation of the sacrifice of Calvary, or it will stop being the Mass of Christ and become the mass of us.
So instead of wanting to go backward and celebrate Latin Masses every Sunday, the point of attending a Traditional Mass is to recognize where we have come from, to understand better how we got to where we are, and determine where we need to go. It is to help us learn from the past to engage with the challenges of the future. For example, there is a beauty and a mystery in the Traditional Mass that has been lost in many ways, and by attending it we can rediscover the awe that should fill us in the face of such a glorious mystery. Also, today we can often get caught up in the active “doing” at Mass, and the Traditional Mass can help remind us that the most important thing we can “do” at Mass is pray and offer ourselves to the heavenly Father united with Christ. And perhaps most importantly, as that recent Pew Survey showed, when so few believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist, there’s a power to reception of Communion at the Traditional Mass. There, we fall on our knees and humbly receive the host on our tongues, remembering that we come before God Himself, and that, in spite of our unworthiness, He stoops down to us and raises us up to be united with Himself.
Yours in Christ,