If you find yourself identifying with your preferred form of the Mass more than your fellow Catholics, that's a problem. Be on guard against the Devil who loves to sow division.
Earlier this week, reports came out about members of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) disrupting an interfaith service remembering the victims of Kristallnacht. The story was, not surprisingly, picked up by news outlets across the globe, and on its heels were denouncements of the SSPX’s behavior by people who describe themselves as traditionalist Catholics.
I felt deep empathy for my Latin Mass friends. I’ve imagined that I’ve had to defend the Novus Ordo form of the Mass from so often against slurs of “Clown Mass” and “irreverent”, that when behavior that legitimately needed to be corrected came about, I felt like I was being disloyal by pointing it out. We all bring so much baggage to the Mass that finding the essential middle ground is difficult. It’s very hard not to make a particular form of the Mass part of your identity, and to feel personally attacked when people question that form.
We run the risk of creating a false idol out of the Mass, and judging its merit based on our personal set of aesthetics. That parish doesn’t have stained glass windows? They must be liberal and therefore avoided. That parish still has altar rails? They must be conservative; I’ll go elsewhere.
Then we allow the judgments to creep into our dealings with brothers and sisters in Christ. She wears a veil to Mass? She must be a radical traditionalist; best keep away from her. He receives Communion in the hand? He must be a radical liberalist – I want nothing to do with that. We’re so busy judging and setting up these strange rules for others that when something that truly needs to be spoken out about comes along, it’s difficult to do so.
I applaud all my Latin Mass friends who spoke out against the actions of the SSPX in Argentina last week. I’m sure it was deeply painful, this event that seemingly reinforced all the negative stereotypes of traditionalist Catholics. I’ve been there. I’ve walked in your shoes.
I’ve been to Novus Ordo Masses where the priest processed in with his pet dog, which then slept under the altar for the duration of the liturgy. I’ve seen evidence of liturgical dance still gleefully practiced in American parishes, despite clear instructions to stop such things. It’s hard to speak out when someone from “your” Mass does something contrary to Church teachings, and even harder to do so with charity.
The Devil loves to cause division. Division wherever possible, whenever possible. “Us vs. Them” is so easily broken up into a million different barriers based on race, nationality, religion, socio-economic factors… shoot, even sports teams and the Oxford comma. When we set up our notions on the one true way in which the Mass should be celebrated, despite Holy Mother Church herself giving different instructions, we leave ourselves wide open to the most dangerous of divisions – one cloaked in religious righteousness.
The Mass is the Mass is the Mass. Since Christ died once, and can never die again, all Masses throughout space and time are part of this original, specific event. We’re asked to bring the gift of ourselves to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; we’re not asked to make the Mass about us. When we find ourselves in an American parish, watching people ballet their way through the Alleluia, or in an Argentine parish, using the Our Father to disrupt a Holocaust memorial, we’ve made the Mass about us, and not about God.
At that point, we need to step back from the crowd, step back from ourselves, and refix our eyes on the Trinity, who alone is worthy of our worship.