ATICAN II SAYS that “care should be taken that people can sing in Latin these parts of the Mass.” Why? Because they are our heritage. They come to us from centuries of faith and prayer and art. Our heritage defines who we are. And frankly, it’s not too much to ask people to know the songs, poems, and prayers of their ancestors. How hard is it to learn that “Kyrie eleison” = “Lord, have mercy”? One figures that out in about three seconds. Or the Gloria—this is a hymn that has not changed at all in 1,500 years. We say it week in, week out. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to learn what the Latin words of the Gloria correspond to in English (e.g., “miserere nobis” = “have mercy on us”). So, the idea that we must never use a sacred language for worship because it would prevent “active participation” is simply ludicrous—a thinly-veiled excuse for not making an effort to embrace our heritage, as the Council itself and the Popes before and after it have continually asked us to do.
My experience, in many different settings, has been exactly the opposite. When they are finally exposed to it (as the Council demanded), young people are proud to be the possessors of such a rich tradition: it makes them think about their faith even more, react to it as something obviously different than what the world has to offer, and embrace it more fully. In general, when we give Catholics more to take pride in and take possession of, we are surprised to find that they rise to the challenge and glory in the result. Making things “accessible” by simplification and modernization has been tried and found wanting, again and again. One wonders, with not a little vexation at human myopia, how many more decades will have to pass in which trite tunes and superficial verbiage will be shoved down the throats of Catholics around the world, while the crisis of the mainstream Church continues, escalates, radicalizes, and implodes. I see in my mind’s eye the pathetic spectacle of a Mass, ca. 2035, in which an ancient priest preaches to an empty church while, just off to his left, three or four elderly women croak out Haugen-Haas tunes to the accompaniment of a broken-down piano.
I am even aware of dioceses where the new translation of the Roman Missal has occasioned the choice and imposition of musical settings of the Mass that are even worse, in their discontinuity from tradition and their egregious lack of good taste, than the tripe that was being served up before. One asks oneself: Is this what the new translation has gotten us? One wonders if the operative motto might be: “Boldly Leading the Way into the 1970s.” Quite as if Sacrosanctum Concilium 116, Blessed John Paul II’s Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis, and a host of other documents had never even been written and promulgated! The strategy of the dying liberals is to ignore, ignore, ignore the Magisterium in the hopes that it will just go away.
“This, too, shall pass.” Meanwhile, the chapels of traditional Catholicism will continue to expand and multiply, bursting their seams with countless children in homeschooling networks, altar boys in cassock and surplice, choirs and scholas, sodalities, and so many of the trimmings and trappings of a genuine Catholic culture (or, I should say, counterculture). The grim watchmen of the liberal Church try very hard not to notice this demographic shift and, when they notice it, bitterly dismiss it as reactionary nostalgia and postmodern escapism. We can be patient and put up with the whining and hand-wringing of our foes, for they will live only a few short years on this earth, but the Tradition of the Church, already 2,000 years old, will effortlessly outlast them—indeed, will never die, and will live on in the hearts of all who love the beautiful and the eternal. Daily winning to herself converts and champions, the traditional Church in her perpetual youth is the real answer to the crisis of our wayward age.