Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Unsalvageable Novus Ordo


In my last post ("Converting a Novus Ordo Parish to Tradition") I spoke about situations where a mainstream, diocesan Novus Ordo parish can be "converted" to a more traditional practice of the Catholic faith, culminating in the establishment of the Traditional Latin Mass on a permanent basis. I used the example of my parish and discussed the specific conditions that all came together to bend our parish back from the brink of madness to sanity in a period of five years. I offered this sort of strategy as an option for reaching out to well-meaning Novus Ordo Catholics who are open to tradition and would be amenable to the Traditional Latin Mass.

Now it is time to look at the flip-side of the coin.

Because the fact is, this is not always feasible. It's not that a parish can be "too far gone" to ever be brought back—remember, when the reform in my parish began, we were using tie-dyed vestments, puppet masses, and engaging in liturgical dancing. Only five years later we had the Traditional Latin Mass. So it's not a matter of how "far gone" a parish is. Even so, for such a transformation to occur, a lot of pieces need to come together in the right manner, some of them fortuitously. For example, in the beginning my parish was suffering financially and scheduled to be clustered or closed. Therefore our bishop didn't really care that our pastor was raising eyebrows with his traditionalism because the parish was on the chopping block anyway. Who cares if an eccentric pastor rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic? But what would have happened had my pastor tried the same thing at one of the very large, multi-million dollar urban parishes with 4000 families? Would the bishop have permitted it to go on?

So as we can see, such a transformation is not always possible, despite peoples' best efforts. Furthermore, to try to work from the inside to help a Novus Ordo parish move towards tradition presumes there is some sort of grounds for hoping this might actually occur. But sometimes, there is no rational basis for hope. Sometimes the situation is manifestly unsalvageable.

This Christmas was very complicated for me. For reasons of family, Christmas scheduling, travel, etc. I ended up having to fulfill my Christmas obligation at a parish I never go to. What a cluster-bleep. The music was just...ugh...they had a full-band with a drum kit and the whole shebang. They played traditional Christmas hymns like Joy to the World and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing but with obnoxiously upbeat tempos and power-chord guitar riffs that rattled by teeth because the acoustics of the church amplified the already obnoxiously loud sounds so much. The homily was tripe. More rock music during holy communion as an army of EMHCs swarmed down into the congregation to distribute the sacrament so no parishioner had to undergo the inconvenience of having to walk more than ten feet to receive Jesus. 

Let me ask you, what do you think of when you think of the Novus Ordo? What vision enters your head? Maybe it's crappy homilies. Perhaps it's some form of liturgical abuse, or bad music, or some other novelty. Those things would come to my mind as well. However, it was while walking back from Holy Communion at this Christmas Eve Mass that I saw something that more perfectly instantiates the spirit of the Novus Ordo than anything I'd ever witnessed. There were these two Boomers sitting there—a husband and wife, probably in their early 60s—sitting in folding chairs against the wall because there was no room in the pews. I passed by them on the way back to my seat. The wife was half-heartedly trying to follow along, mumbling the words to Joy to the World but unable to find the rhythm within the weird rock adaptation being performed. But the husband, well, the look on his face was priceless. He was hunched over, with the most blank, expressionless look of abject apathy. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man the number of shits this guy didn't give. Total indifference. It was the quintessential "Why...am...I...here?" face.

And that, my friends, is the real tragedy of the Novus Ordo. The sheer apathy it inspires, the way (at least in its common manifestations) it siphons off so much of what is truly inspiring about the Catholic faith. If I were writing a book about the Novus Ordo and had to select a single image for the cover that exemplified every objection traditionalists have to this liturgy, it would be the lethargic, drooping face of that Boomer I saw Christmas Eve.

After the Mass ended the band broke out into another Christmas rock anthem, kids were dancing around in the pews, the pastor was doing a pathetic jig in his chasuble while parishioners guffawed and took photographs. And this is one of the larger parishes in the region—one of those very affluent churches with thousands of families, the sort of place where the bishop would probably tolerate no disruption of the status quo. As I left that night, I thought to myself, "Yeah...this parish is probably unsalvageable." The process I described in my previous article would never be permitted to unfold here.

And that's what is so depressing about the Novus Ordo. What you get is entirely dependent upon the mood, disposition, and piety of the celebrant. No matter what anybody says to the contrary, it inevitably ends up being an expression of the priest's desires and liturgical vision. This can be great if the priest is traditionally minded, but even then it's a backhanded victory, as the survival of tradition depends on the priest's good graces. Even in my parish (which I hold up as an example of how a bad parish can change), were a progressive priest to get assigned there, he could undo everything that has happened since 2005. And the bishop probably wouldn't do crap about it.

So...yeah. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Converting a Novus Ordo Parish to Tradition


There are really a lot of excellent Catholic commentators right now. I love all of the other Catholic writers out there who are promoting Catholic Tradition, especially those who don't take themselves too seriously. These are serious times and the stakes are high, but if we can't laugh at ourselves and maintain some levity, how will we enjoy even the victories we do manage to win?

Yes, I love the crop of weird, eccentric Catholic writers, even if we disagree on a few things, sometimes vehemently. One thing I am constantly lambasted for by other traditionalist writers is my assertion that if traditional Catholics are serious about actually restoring the Church, then they ought to maintain some involvement in the Novus Ordo world. I would never say a Catholic must attend the Novus Ordo Mass, of course. But what I can't support is the model of traditionalism whereby we all just hunker down in our own little traditional chapels and oratories and have no meaningful, real life interactions with Novus Ordo Catholics. I mean, if you want the Church to change, how do you think it is going to change? Do you think our blogging is going to do it? Actual Novus Ordo Catholics need to see the beauty of tradition, be educated about the faith, and fight for it in their own parishes. That's the most likely way anything will ever change. This isn't about just making sure I have "my Mass", but rather restoring tradition in the Church at large.

Now, maybe you don't think such a thing can happen. If that's your position I can respect that, and I can understand your desire to just hunker down where you are at. But if, like me, you believe the reform should come to the Church universal, then my goodness, how can you ignore the Novus Ordo world? That's where 95% of our brethren are. That's where our people are at. How can we just ignore that?

For this reason, I will never support the idea that the Novus Ordo is "not really" the Church, and I refuse to call it the Novus Ordo "sect" or infer that Novus Ordo Catholics are not actually Catholic. To be sure, even in its best moments the Novus Ordo liturgy is only an imitation of the Traditional Latin Mass, and in its abuses and worst moments it is a monstrous caricature of actual Catholic practice. But even so, despite its corruptions and deformities, the Novus Ordo Church is the Church. The Novus Ordo Church is our Mother. It is our Mother in the thralls of the a crippling mid-life crisis—our drunk mother who has ran off with a lover she met online, gotten some tattoos, went to Vegas, developed a meth addiction, and started whoring around so she can temporarily feel pretty and wanted again. But she is still our Mother. Our Mother who has temporarily gone insane due to a bad acid trip, who is beating her head against the wall and tearing her own hair out by the roots—but still our Mother. And our duty is not to write her off or try to deny that she is our Mother, but to rather seek her out wherever she is and bring her home, whatever labor that might require. Wean her off of the meth. Send her lovers away. Buy her some clean garments. Pay for the tattoo removal procedures.

I have always been in favor of the idea of working from within Novus Ordo parishes to change things. For those of you who may have only recently started reading this blog, I would recommend a series of four articles to you that I wrote back in 2011. If you think the idea of converting or transforming a Novus Ordo parish into a traditional one is ridiculous, please read the story I chronicled below. These articles talk about how we got the Traditional Latin Mass at my Novus Ordo parish and indeed reoriented the entire parish back towards Catholic tradition. In 2005 there were rainbow vestments, liturgical dancing, and puppet masses—in 2010 we were celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass and even the Novus Ordo Masses were ad orientam, Latin Mass parts, and communion at the altar rail with Gregorian chant. In five years we went from puppet masses to the Traditional Latin Mass. These articles are not short, but they chronicle in great detail how we did this. They are very worth your time if you are interested in these sorts of parish dynamics. 

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 1)

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 2)

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 3)

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 4)


I remember when all this was going on and we had just gotten the Traditional Latin Mass, a certain gentleman showed up at our parish. He was middle aged, very pleasant and intelligent. I soon saw him at the TLMs; every now and then I would see him at the Novus Ordo as well, but praying with a Latin Missal. He began showing up all over the parish. He volunteered to work at the parish fish fries. He was regularly seen helping at events when the pastor said he needed a few men to do this or that. He was always at coffee and donuts chatting with people. I had a few conversations with him. Super nice, down to earth guy. And he was very pleasant and straight forward in explaining to people why he loved the TLM. He was a model traditionalist, in my opinion. He was integrated into the parish and used his involvement in parish activities to get to know people, build meaningful relationships, and through those, evangelize for the Latin Mass in a way that was effective. If every traditional Catholic was willing to do this, we'd have a lot more tradition in our parishes.

Perhaps you may balk an disagree; I understand, and that's okay. This way I have sketched out is long and hard and depends on many factors beyond one's immediate control. And the outcome is very uncertain. It's slow, painstaking, and laborious. It's easier to just pray for change from the security of our traditional chapels and oratories while blogging about how awful the Novus Ordo world is. And it is awful out there. No doubt about it. But I think back to the example of St. Jean de Brebeuf. St.Jean's mission to the Huron did not begin with homilies to them about the true faith or baptisms; rather, it began with him sitting on a log straining to listen to the strange, guttural language of the Huron while he struggled to make out single consonant and vowel sounds, from which he could painstakingly transliterate the language so as to produce texts of the Scriptures and liturgical texts—a process which took him years. Years just to establish the framework to communicate the fundamentals of our faith. Is it too much to volunteer at a Novus Ordo parish fish fry or making some friends over coffee and donuts?

I'm not going to pontificate on how these relationships have to happen or in what context, but I will say that if we are serious about restoring tradition, we have to do the nitty-gritty, and we have to think in terms of years. And doing that sort of work is not ultimately about what's going on in the Vatican, although that is valuable information as well. It's more about working at the parish level. It's about building relationships with Catholics and spending months or years in discussion with them. It's volunteering to clean up the parish cemetery and sitting down for a break with the guy next to you and discussing traditional Catholics ideas about the dead and purgatory. It's about making friends with a Novus Ordo family and inviting them to attend a Traditional Latin Mass. It's about volunteering on parish committees and charitably working to build support for the introduction of more traditional devotions at your parish. Forget the Vatican. Forget the pope. Go be a good example for Catholic tradition in the places where you can make the most difference. And think in the long term. It took a long time for the Roman Empire to turn Christian. Think how many years it took St.Jean to sort out the Huron language. It takes a long time for trees to grow and blossom and to bear fruit. But whatsoever a man sows, that, too, shall he reap.