Love Letter to the Traditional Mass

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You intransigent mule! How can anyone understand you?

I came to you the other day, with those mantilla’d ancients sighing secret prayers (they had no books – can they even read?) and there was a guest choir there to sing professional Renaissance study pieces “in the original context,” and when you were over they clapped for themselves.

Clapped! For their art!

And the old ladies sighed and shook their heads, and you laughed at them.

You are intractable!

You dusty old dungeon! You reliquary of ancient bones and indelible marks, you threshing floor. Only those grave enough to bury themselves, toss their degrees and bright ideas, weigh enough to abide while the chaff blows off.

You stone! Hard-hewn, but not by hands. You have a history none can tell! You’ve leveled out since Trent as if there were nothing further to say, nothing new for tech wizards like us to chew up and tweet out! #stuckinyoways.

Obtuse!

We tried a petition last week (1,000 signatures) and the priest just laughed and you did not change. You frighten them off, you stranger! Don’t you see, they’ll go become Protestant ministers and share their blessing cup at a rock-bottom price… don’t you look at them like that! They too will go away. And if I have to chase after them, catch them back to you… well, you know how that will go. You cannot be explained.

You are all backwards, you ad-oriented dinosaur! With your endless accretions of medieval piety, where is your noble simplicity? Your original humility and purity, your contemporary relevance, your brevity-the-soul-of-mirth, holy mirth?

You fraud! Surely no first-century Jew would recognize you. How can anyone enjoy fellowship and community in your ominous presence, like some impossible stone giant rearing out of the sea, ancient and blinking at we sightseeing come-latelies?

Upon returning, they ask me how you were, as if I could explain.

I have nothing to say! Me!

You make us lick the dust and bewail our sins! You command us to be silent! You tell us we need rescue from danger, salvation from something other than our blasé distractions! Are we not to stand on our own like adults, free in the hand of our own counsel, celebrating in ways meaningful to us today?

Hopelessly exculturated! Who even knows Latin? It’s fake news or a fluke of history that you converted millions; you couldn’t even speak their language. Who’s seen a ligature before? I had to look it up on some gadget just to know what to call that thæng. You’ve got weird, unpronouncable syllables and Saints that nobody’s heard of (Vitalis et Agricola? Gesundheit!) and you bid us to sursum? Do I even have a corda?

Your preposterous chant! You know we speak English and like our guitars with a good backbeat. How to follow that tiny kyrie, when the notes go all over an eight-note page, like little square footprints of dancing angels? How am I supposed to pray when I don’t know the words, don’t care for the organ, can’t match that outlandish intonation, can’t find the right page? Am I supposed to learn all over again, as if prayer were anything more than an inner upswelling, my own?

Your incessant repetitions! Like an old schoolmarm, sanctus x3, signum crucis xamillion, Gospel x2 (and that last one the same every time!), all those et cum spiritu tuos… I close the little book bewildered, wondering when I’ll get to sing or say something on my own, out loud and oh, we’re kneeling now. Okay.

You ask Him to judge us. For heaven’s sake He doesn’t do that anymore, as if anyone were really wicked, deep deep down – as if there were any real goats out there.

Keep quiet, you discriminator!

Someone may hear of your strident attitudes, and you’ll make no friends if you go on reminding us of our faults, faults, grievous faults.

Bare-breasted mother! You effuse mystic nourishments that are better left covered up and decent (and in church, of all places)! All that smoke and sacramental are really just reminders, anyway – as if H2O with asperges could really change this wretch, make me a better man ere you begin.

Best sequester yourself with the dull and uneducated. You know, the workaday folk of yesteryear, still lingering about downtown with knit scarves and furrowed brows. You do seem to take dreary lives and make them rich, color them in a bit… and I suppose you’ll point out that doctors and lawyers and philosophers are in here every week, but so what? You can’t offer something for everybody…

Greedy bugger! To let them hang their twopence and gold ornaments about you like that – look at all your shining embellishments, while the poor go hungry! Okay, they’re in here too, but still.

Even where they tried stripping your glistening raiment and furniture, they still found you underneath, and yes, you were just as bothersome as ever. Best remain in obscurity, you outdated fossil.

It’s why we got a new you, see. They couldn’t reform or abrogate you like they wanted, so they built a better version: improved and ever-improving, semper reformanda, see? Ha! Latin!

You should have stopped your sad smiling right then, your knowing little smile… we need new, for crying out loud! New perspective, new springtime, new Pentecost, new evangelization, new values, new programs, new pajamas, whatever – and you were stark there sitting, right in the road! Right in the way!

Yes, Schutte and Haugen were a rough start. But we’ve got plans.

So hidden away, why won’t you just die? You go on, hang it all.

You know I’ve heard priests talking about you, after they find you locked in a closet somewhere. They say you’re tough to pull off.

See? Even they know you’re difficult, unyielding! Why won’t you just let them get you over with, quick-like? As if God really cares that your priest’s knee goes all the way down for the umpteenth time. Those poor fellows hardly have any personality up there – it’s like they disappear! Even their homilies are transparent (what, no props?), and I catch you in the midst, hiding there… It’s just you peeking out, all the time.

You brook no creativity, iron-monger! All your narrow, dogmatic formulas… you’re simply shot through with them, rigid and stern as death! Lighten up!

And your Canon! Your earnest, perilous Canon as silent as He was on the Cross with everyone just staring and hushed… You’re really serious about all this Divine Sacrifice stuff, all this ineffable stuff.

…but if you’re that serious, He may just take you at your word.

No, don’t!

Don’t let Him in here! We never meant it to come to that.

Who can live with the consuming Fire?

 

I bow to your terror, that moment – every moment you’re around – I hear Him approach. Ad altare Dei. Does it please you? You were made for this.

I hate you.

I love you.

I will never be without you again.

And your suscipe is written in my heart.

 

 

“I will destroy thy graven things… and thou shalt no more adore the works of thy hands.”
(Micah 5:13)

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