Some of today’s Roman Catholic ordained men enjoy walking around in public, in oldstyle cassocks and birettas; and delight in “celebrating Mass” in Latin. I guess they have a right to do that. Pope Benedict, the emeritus pope, made sure of that. I still wonder these days if all “rights” make certain actions “right.”
Mass in Latin is happening rather regularly in a parish not far from my home. Over the past year I have had some generally friendly conversations with some of the (what I call) Dominus-Vobiscum-Catholics. The “celebrants” are most often young men, born a decade or more after Vatican II. I have often asked why they have reverted (regressed) to a former era? What animates these young clerics? What animates their congregations? They seem so steadfastly sure of themselves. Some of them are absolutely arrogant in their self-righteous speech and behavior.
One of my former students (painful) is a reverted priest. He is an athletic, friendly, and outgoing young guy. He often walks around the neighborhood, however, in a sombre black cassock. (Young kids think he looks like Dracula.) When he processes to the altar for his “Sunday Mass,” he turns his back to the congregation and does everything in Latin, with abundant incense and old bells. Lots of incense. Lots of bells.
Why do young Roman Catholíc ordained ministers (“priests”) enjoy doing this Latin ritual? One fellow told me that Latin is a “holy” language. I laughed a bit and said it is no more holy than English, or Spanish, or French, or whatever…… Actually my working-knowledge of Latin is excellent. Superior to their’s I suspect. Four years in high school and four years in college. Nevetheless, I have absolutely no desire to experience Sunday worship in the old language. I like museums as well, but wouldn’t want to live in one.
Why do people gather behind these Latin Mass ministers?
You really can’t say that people gather around these oldtime-religion priests. They sit, stand, or kneel, looking at the sacerdotal derrière. OK I know. I came of age in the 1960s; but I really prefer looking at people face-to-face. Much more interesting. Human contact. And I really don’t find backsides ,draped in ritual attire, all that charming.
Frankly, I find the Roman Catholic Latin Mass people analogically akin to the Islamic sharia people. They are fundamentalists, stuck in a former time. Unwilling, fearful, and incapable of living in our contemporary world. I understand this, because I was once a fundamentalist. Anxious and unable to cope with a changing culture around me and confused about my own psycho-sexual development, I found stability and security (for a while) in an obedient servitude to a static theological viewpoint that said change is dangerous and deadly. I liked girls, for instance, but my spiritual director said they were an occasion of sin. Counseling me about “sexual feelings,” he told me they were a terrible burden, the result of Original Sin, which brought many a young man close to eternal damnation. Unquestioningly I believed him…..for a while.
One day (truly an amazing grace) thanks to one of my university professors, I started asking: why? He encouraged me. And I had a long list of “whys?” I had come to respect him as a man of faith; and he stood by me and said it was a good, healthy, and holy thing to ask “why?”
Today I ask “why?” when I am with these Dominus-Vobiscum-Catholics. In general they are not bad people but distorted believers, I am now convinced. I understand, because I too was once a distorted believer. I was ensconced in a nineteenth century Catholic ethos, where everything was nicely packaged. Catholicism was the embodiment of Christian truth. No need to think. The answers had been given. Just affirm obediently and say “yes.”
One young reverted-priest told me he liked the “sense of mystery”‘ that Latin added to “his” liturgy. He didn’t have to deal with contemporary people and issues. He doesn’t like to look at people during “his” celebration of liturgy because they are a distraction. I told him one of the greatest real-time divine “mysteries” in my life was being with my wife face-to-face, when our son was born. He replied that I obviously was a very secular man. I told him I thought Jesus was a very secular man as well, but the young cleric had absolutely no understanding of what I meant. (The Incarnation.)
Aren’t we more properly and more truly looking at God when we face our sisters and brothers face-to-face than when we only stare at the back wall behind an altar?
Chatting with another young-but-oldtime-minded priest recently, the young man told me that he was a priest because “priests are ontologically superior” to lesser “lay people” human beings like me. When I reminded him that in the Gospel Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches…..a community of equals with various roles in the community of faith, he chuckled and said (rather unkindly) that “1960s old liberals” like me were, fortunately, now dying-off. (I reminded him that resurrection follows death….)
Change is a fact of life. Pentecost reminds us — reassures us — that God’s Spirit is with us in our ongoing and ever-changing human journey. That should give us ample security and stability in our lives. We are not alone out there in space and time.
Most fundamentally, the Dominus-Vobiscum-people are Catholic fundamentalists. They are religiously frigid….frozen in the past (about which many of them are terribly ignorant). They cannot fathom that people of faith live, change, and grow in their faith relationship and their understanding of our human condition and our Christian belief and practice. Each day is a new discovery. Each day we re-evaluate and re-interpret our history.
We cannot allow fundamentalists to distort the message and run the show. That would be counter-productive and ulimately destructive of what we, as disciples of Jesus, are all about. We must be strong and active. We have to stay alert and be well-informed. On the other hand, like my old professor (close to 100, when he died two years ago) we need to befriend, respect, and challenge fundamentalists — in all religuous traditions — to study, reflect, and continually ask “why?”
This week end we hear again: “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as a wind blowing. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking of the wonderful works of God.”
And so we continue on our human journeys, amidst changes that we may or may not understand. The Spirit has not abandoned us, even when our vision seems a bit cloudy.

Happy Pentecost

21 thoughts on “Dominus Vobiscum Catholics

  1. Thank you for posting this insightful piece. In particular, your comment about Original Sin resonates with me; in retrospect, I find it chilling that some folks actually believe that babies are born into a state of sin. How very sad, and ironic also, given the fervent degree to which many of these same folks seek to protect life that they call “innocent” when it suites their social/political (as opposed to their theological) agendas.

    Best Regards,
    – Steve Albert

  2. Jack,

    Given the tension between the old and the new Catholic religion, I wonder what the future holds for the Roman church. I would be very interested in reading your speculation about what the church might look like fifty years from now. Would you give this some thought and write an extended piece on this topic?

  3. While I agree with the fundamentals–and most details–of your article (esp. in regards to the horrendous feeling of superiority by a priest!), I also think that, like Tibetan Buddhists, some older people, like, use and profit from a kind of mechanical praying–a meditative situation like the rosary and/or a mantra similar to the rosary during a Latin Mass. Your article–and I speak as one ordained in Latin, and who used a gold-threaded chasuble for the First Mass–speaks well of the need to change. In my opinion–to comment on the last suggestion about 50 years from now, I foresee a change as cataclysmic as “The Great Transformation” of which Karen Armstrong wrote (and which I taught in a seminary some 40 years ago–finally seeing Jesus, the Jewish man, as the incarnation of the human as much as the incarnation of the Godhead, of discovering sacraments as secular rituals –currently transformed into magic ones, of realizing much more the equality of the community.

  4. Amen, Jack! Amen! The “bells and smells” Catholics take solace in the “mystery and solemnity” of the Mass like watching a beautiful Italian opera. The sounds and aura make for an hypnotic event but demand nothing—let the priest, the holder of all truth, do the magic while I watch. I remember in my childhood Lithuanian parish the elderly ladies in the back pew loudly reciting the rosary during Mass while Fr. Klimas muttered the Latin up front. Good theater—bad liturgy. Interesting that Latin was actually the language of the populace (the vernacular). Don’t the retro-Catholics know that St. Jerome fought to translate scripture into text that was accessible to all? Latin is beautiful in the way that Egyptian mummies are beautiful—connection with the past, but dead. There must be some comfort for people who want detachment from their God. I prefer to pray WITH my community. Peace, Jack.

  5. Very well said, Jack, as always. I am frequently bemused by these “retros”. They have no idea what it was like before and assume that they were somehow halcyon days. Contrary to their perceptions, Catholics were not better then. They were minimalists. They spent much of their time trying to find legal loopholes in the teachings and relying on “father” to tell them when they had sinned. Ignorance is not bliss; it is just ignorance.

    1. So well said yourself Pat. The retros are terribly ignorant….One young fellow I know rather well (a relative) has now become a member of the NEW EARTH movement, i.e. the earth is only 6,000 years old! God revealed it to them…..

  6. An excellent commentary and conversation. Yesterday’s referendum in Ireland on same-sex marriage is a good indication that those Dominus vobiscum Catholics are an increasing minority.

    Of greater concern to me are the John Paul II priests coming out of diocesan seminaries today.No one else is entering. What a shock Pope Francis must be to them. Their focus has been on smelling of incense and now they are told to smell like the sheep. Can Francis live long enough to make a lasting impact on them and their seminary professors. I presume the charism of the Jesuits and Franciscans is strong enough to overcome the influence of John Paul
    and Benedict. But diocesan priests? Only if mandatory celibacy is ended. Let us pray for Pope Francis. Happy Pentecost indeed.

  7. I remember being a retro-Catholic school girl with Mass 6 days a week and the priest chanting Latin and not looking at us. Then in my late 20’s, I became a member of a group of high school religion teachers who showed me by example that it was alright to ask “Why?” And “why not.” Thanks, Jack, for that. I realize that was my rebirth, as a “grown-up” Catholic. I have been liberated from all that old nonsense for decades. And as others commented above, I pray for Pope Francis to be safe and healthy. (I can name at least four factions that would want him gone!)

  8. Thanks for a fabulous article! I am a life-long Catholic, 92-years old, the widow of a Permanent deacon. My husband, a convert to the faith, would have cringed at the thought of reverting to Latin and the “parading around” in cassocks. I have absolutely NO desire to return to the Latin of my youth and I, too, wonder about the priests coming out of the seminary today.

  9. As a caregiver for the elderly & handicapped, I wonder more & more how these new Priests (with a capital P) types are reaching out to such people??
    Mostly, they are being ignored!!
    It is not only the young who are being written off, but everyone but the unborn & the rich comfortable ones…
    Leaner & meaner Church indeed!!

  10. Thank you for a great commentary to a great topic. I do not consider myself to be a pure “modernist”, maybe I am somewhere in the middle. I have some “vobiscum” friends and I feel that the church does not need to erradicate the traditionalists: it needs to find a way to grow them together with modern branches – maybe in a way similar to that used to get together Jewish and Greek christians at the beginning of the church. The circumcision turned unnecessary 2000 years ago – what will it be now?

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