Evangelization and the Need for the Latin Mass

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Franciscan University of Steubenville recently hosted a lecture by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski entitled, “The Old Mass and the New Evangelization: Beyond the Long Winter of Rationalism”. Readers of Liturgy Guy know by now that I am a big fan of Dr. Kwasniewski and consider him to be one of the most interesting writers today focusing on the sacred liturgy. Dr. Kwasniewski has called this lecture “the closest I’ve come to a sort of ‘manifesto’ of the reasons why I believe the traditional Latin Mass — and, indeed, the whole way of life and prayer that goes with it — is the way of the future, the way forward out of our ecclesial crisis.” While the entire talk is worth reading (available at Rorate Caeli), the below excerpt convincingly argues why the new evangelization must be founded upon the recovery of the traditional liturgy.

The Old Mass and the New Evangelization (excerpt)

All this may sound rather speculative, but it has decisive practical consequences for the everyday life and mission of the Church in the modern world. “The way the liturgy is treated determines the fate of the faith and the Church,” said Cardinal Ratzinger. The humanism, rationalism, archaeologism, utilitarianism, modernism, and other -isms on the basis of which the reformers worked in the sixties and seventies have yielded a liturgy inadequate to its own theological essence, unequal to its ascetical-mystical vocation, and estranged from its cultural inheritance. This modern liturgy, in the manner in which it is commonly celebrated and experienced today, reflects and inculcates an anthropocentric view of worship that is spiritually damaging, since it deviates from the evidently theocentric, Christocentric, and hagiocentric worship bequeathed by tradition. This, in turn, will continue to weaken the Church’s internal coherence, mar the external beauty of her face, deplete her doctrinal fidelity, limit the extension and intensity of her holiness, and diminish the efficacy of her missionary efforts…

Conversely, as the traditional liturgical rites and their spirituality are recovered and come to occupy an ever-greater place in the lives of the faithful, to that extent the damage of the past fifty years will be able to be reversed, staunch fortitude can be developed for the coming persecutions, and tremendous energies of evangelization can be nurtured and released.

Bishop Athanasius Schneider has given eloquent expression to the real priorities that face the Church today:

Only on the basis of adoring and glorifying God can the Church adequately proclaim the word of truth, that is, evangelize. … Everything about the liturgy of the Holy Mass must therefore serve to express clearly the reality of Christ’s sacrifice, namely the prayers of adoration, of thanks, of expiation, and of impetration that the eternal High Priest presented to His Father. … How can we call others to convert while, among those doing the calling, no convincing conversion towards God has yet occurred, internally or externally?

Bishop Dominique Rey…puts it well: “I wish to say very clearly that the New Evangelization must be founded on the faithful and fruitful celebration of the sacred liturgy as given to us by the Church in her tradition—Western and Eastern.”

This, brothers and sisters, is good news: God, having loved us first, has given us, in various traditions, optimal ways to make our response to Him in love—a work that we can do, but only through Him, with Him, and in Him. That is the great gift of the sacred liturgy. That is why the rediscovery of the traditional Latin Mass, with all of its special qualities, is vital both for the re-evangelization of Catholics and the sharing of the Gospel with non-believers: it is at the very heart of the good news that we seek to share, it is itself a powerful agent of conversion, and without it, we are in danger of talking about the good news rather than initiating people into it, as a living communion with Christ.

Think of it this way: an atheist, out of curiosity, goes to church. What will he find there? Will he be shattered out of complacency by the “shock of the beautiful”? Or a Protestant wonders what the Catholic Mass is all about, and she decides to attend one Sunday. Will she be overwhelmed by her confrontation with the majesty and mystery of Christ in his holy sanctuary, an existential contact with undiluted sacredness? It is sad to have to say that, if our atheist and our Protestant happen to pick a Catholic church at random, they face a great risk of being turned off by the banality or puzzled as to how such a religion can survive its moribundity. Or let us say that we have shared the word of truth with our neighbor; with God’s help, we have rekindled the spark of faith in a fallen-away Catholic, or started a promising exchange with an unbeliever. What is it, ultimately, that we are inviting them to share? Our faith is far more than belief in a book or a set of propositions, far more than a plan of life or a social network. We want them to come fully alive in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh; we want them to behold the glory of the only-begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth; we want them to experience “the divine, holy, most pure, immortal, heavenly, life-creating, and awesome mysteries of Christ.” Where and how is that going to happen? Do we have something truly wonderful, truly satisfying, to invite them to? Something that can make their hearts burn within them and their minds rise up to heaven, as it does for us? If our liturgy isn’t as it should be, evangelization has no real end in view.

Photo Credit: Steve Skojec

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Posted on September 12, 2015, in liturgy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Good points… you have an optimistic view of modern man which I hope is more correct than mine own.

  2. Interesting that Forming Intentional Disciples doesn’t see a connection between the Liturgy and evangelization and removed this posting from their FB site.

    • My understanding is that Sherry Weddell doesn’t like to address liturgical matters as part of her Forming Intentional Disciples apostolate. In my mind we cannot effectively address the problems facing modern man’s apathy and lukewarmness about the faith if we don’t address the banal and irreverent liturgies of the last four decades. This is also the same view held by Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Ranjith, Archbishop Sample and Bishop Athanasius Schneider.

  3. Donald Petar Jarnevic

    I think that Dr. Kwasniewski is correct in all that says here. However, his emphasis on the Latin liturgy is somewhat problematic. I understand Latin and love both the Latin texts and Gregorian Latin chant and Latin hymns. But very few Catholics of the Roman Rite understand Latin now that most of the elderly have not heard it since the 1970s and most of the young have never heard it at all. The pre-Vatican II Mass could be recovered very well in noble English translations. The common chants such as the Greek Kyrie Eleison and the Latin Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei as well as various favorite Latin hymns were readily mastered even by children and adolescents when I went to Catholic school from 1942-1954. Even if the authentic Latin text of the over-all sacred liturgy were to be translated into noble English, these great chants could still be sung in their original languages–at least sometimes. I myself follow the Byzantine Catholic rite. I am happy with it either in Slavonic or English. But our English translations are true to the Slavonic originals. When I serve as principal cantor, I frequently lead the Trisagion and sometimes several other chants in Slavonic. Every one knows these chants and they love to sing them in the “old” way. Even our translated chants are sung according to the traditional tones. And there I touch on a key problem in the Roman Rite in the USA. With the often banal translations taking the place of the formerly very reverent texts of the Ho;y Mass, not only was the noble language lost, but even the noble music was largely abandoned. One has to go to something like an ordination Mass at the Cathedral to be able to get a sense of what the Roman Rite used to be. It is a tragic situation.

  4. I’m a new convert. I will tell you this, having attended both rites. What amazes me, is the number of very young people in attendance at the Latin Mass. The number of young, growing families at these masses. The seriousness, the attention paid. I really don’t think it is much of a transition, especially having to sit through the unserious, overly casual NO that I go to. I once went to a Russian Orthodox Church, and while I wasn’t yet a Catholic, I was blown away by the liturgy. The singing alone would have converted me on the spot. I gave it some deep thought, too. But Catholic = Universal. And Latin IS a universal language, when you consider how many languages have it in their DNA…even languages that only use the Latin alphabet. I think there is an unseen hand, moving many to go to the Latin Mass. I’m one of those feeling called to attend.

  5. Is there any video of this talk or text of the Q&A that came after?

    • Professor Kwasniewski has informed me that unfortunately there is no recording of either the talk or Q&A. However, if you haven’t read the entire transcript of the talk (available at Rorate Caeli), I highly recommend it. Pax!

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