HAVE NOTICED A STRANGE assumption woven into almost all of the writing done by liberals, progressives, modernists, and aging hippies on the resurgence of the traditional Latin Mass. They seem to think of this Mass as a rarefied museum piece of Baroque fastidiousness, celebrated by unfeeling rubricists, for congregations of uncharitable nostalgics, in an atmosphere of dogma and superfluous income. But maybe it is not surprising that such stereotypes thrive among those who have so little experience with the contemporary traditional scene.
Although some may find it surprising, I find it utterly fitting that the Missionary Servants of the Poor of the Third World—an heroic apostolate whose priests, nuns, and laity work with people of desperate poverty—have in recent years discovered the treasure of the usus antiquior and have embraced its celebration as a potent source of life and energy for their work. The same has been true for other congregations, such as the Missionaries of Charity and the once-flourishing Franciscans of the Immaculate. As for the congregation, it is well known that the poor, contrary to all the prognostications of clergy and experts, have flocked to Masses in the usus antiquior. The manifest reverence, pregnant silences, and redolent symbols of the old Mass speak eloquently to simple souls who find in it an encounter with the Passion of Christ that can give meaning to their own sufferings.
The traditional Roman Rite has a purity of focus and a strength of passion that make it particularly suitable for radically poor missionaries to the poor. It is a liturgy that pulls down the ego of the celebrant by plunging him into a ritual that is his demanding master, not his plaything; and yet, it is a liturgy shot through with a lover’s gestures: the altar is kissed many times, and telling phrases are repeated, just as we often do in intense situations. This Mass has the virtue of purity of heart, which Kierkegaard defined as “willing one thing.” It wills the Sacrifice of the Cross, and subordinates everything to that. As such, it is an incomparable school of poverty of spirit, conforming the worshiper to the single-hearted Christ.
Among poor people huddled in a hut, before whom a scrubby priest dressed in rags celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice with total focus and passion―here, amid woes that drive desperate souls to meaningful prayer, there is likely to be a real participation in the ecstasy of the crucified and risen Savior.
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