Confusing Beauty with Baroque

By William Bornhoft

According to veteran Vatican reporter John L. Allen Jr., two-thirds of the world’s Catholics now live outside the West. By 2050, Allen notes, that share will grow to three-quarters. These numbers are crucial to understanding the future of the Catholic Church. They are also necessary to understanding the continued importance of liturgical reform, as well as the extent of how out of touch the ongoing resistance to reform is.

I regret not referencing the above statistics in an article I penned for the Millennial Journal, “The Latin Mass is not the Key to the New Evangelization.” The piece was critical of young Catholics who have turned against the liturgical reform initiated by the Second Vatican Council and fail to understand its historical significance and theological roots. It is common for Western Catholics to forget how truly global the Catholic faith is, but the reality of the Church’s growth in Africa and South America, and the declining role of Europe, helps highlight the ongoing necessity of liturgical reform.

In my piece, I explicitly praised Summorum Pontificum, the letter issued by Pope Benedict relaxing the restrictions placed on the Tridentine form, but I also noted some unfortunate byproducts of the decision. I wrote that Benedict’s Motu Proprio

created – unfortunately and unintentionally – a subculture of young Catholics skeptical of contemporary Catholicism and the reforms of Vatican II. They’ve grown to appreciate the Latin Mass and traditional Catholicism, and now feel as though it is the only way mass should be celebrated.

I continued on to say that

Whether they realize it or not, TLM Millennials are not on the side of orthodox Catholicism. They are at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The reactions among traditional Catholics to these points were unsurprisingly negative, though far from consistent.Some argued that the council was flawed and the Extraordinary Form really is superior to the Ordinary Form. Others claimed that what actually came out of Vatican II does not truly reflect the reforms of the council, and that traditionalists are better adherents to the council than most Catholics.

Though the criticisms were diverse and often incompatible, I did notice a recurring topic among the responses from traditionalists. After reading the dozens of emails I received from traditional Catholics, I am confident that the strongest force driving skepticism of liturgical reform is the “lack of reverence” some experience at the Ordinary Form. Most Catholics who now find themselves regularly attending the Extraordinary Form were dissatisfied with the level of reverence and solemnity of the Masses they attended in the Ordinary Form.

The concern for the Mass being holy and beautiful is significant and should be shared by Catholics of all stripes. After all, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” and also “the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium), so it’s important that the Mass remain reverent and glorifies God. Many times it isn’t particularly reverent. Everyone, it seems, has anecdotes of liturgical abuse.

However, anecdotes and bad experiences cannot override the important fact that the liturgical reform movement has deep theological roots, which in part explains the broad, nearly unanimous support for reform during the Second Vatican Council. Reform did not take place because the council fathers wanted to update or liberalize the liturgy, but rather to restore it after being unnecessarily changed and added to over time.

As Professor Massimo Faggioli has explained, Sacrosanctum Concilium must be understood as a movement of ressourcement. Ressourcement is a term coined by the French poet Charles Péguy to mean “from a less perfect tradition to a more perfect tradition, a call from a shallower tradition to a deeper tradition, a backing up of tradition, an overtaking of depth, an investigation into deeper sources; a return to the source in the literal sense of the word.” We see ressourcement taking place throughout the text of Sacrosanctum Concilium;

For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance; elements which, with the passage of time, came to be duplicated, or were added with but little advantage, are now to be discarded; other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the vigor which they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary. The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.

Indeed, liturgical reform dug deep into Church tradition, and it should be understood as a conservative movement to preserve the substance of the liturgy. But it has been misunderstand as a revolutionary movement. Traditionalists argue that the Extraordinary Form does a better job than the Ordinary Form of communicating what the Church is and what it stands for. But the things that distinguish the Extraordinary form – the chants, the Latin, the complex gestures – don’t really say much about the Church, but rather a particular time period in Church history. The Extraordinary form does not give one a distinctively Catholic perspective, anymore so than the Ordinary form, but rather a distinctly Catholic European Baroque look at things.

The difference is important. To borrow a phrase from Faggioli, Western Catholics make the mistake of exchanging “beauty with Baroque.” Liturgical reform, through ressourcement, prevented the Roman Rite from being entirely bound to its European past. Those of us who are partial to European music and aesthetics must realize that those things, though beauty, are not required to be a Catholic. As the Church experiences a shift in its center of gravity, liturgical reform is perhaps more important now than ever before.

William Bornhoft writes for Millennial, an online journal and blog that provides Catholic opinion and analysis from the younger generation. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. You may contact him at or follow him on Twitter @WilliamStPaul .


  1. Where to begin? There are numerous threads involved in the lacking-reverence situation.

    My earliest experience with liturgical dissatisfaction was a new pastor in 1972 who placed his 22-minute Low Mass model into parish liturgy. Thankfully, he was ousted in less than four months. The Low Mass mentality is a problem, especially in concert with Western pragmatism and magicalism, because we all know it’s more important to say the right words and do the right actions.

    Sometimes its easier to show reverence with things than with people. And I don’t mean laity bowing and scuffling to clergy. Are six candlesticks really reverent, or just nice table decorations? Confusing beauty with pretty decoration, perhaps.

    Sometimes the comparisons are unfair. One community’s best TLM compared with another community’s worst MR3? I’d like to see some of these TLM communities attempt multiple High Masses on a single Sunday and see what the result is. The modern Roman Rite presumes a very high standard which is rarely achieved at both a consistent and high level–unless a parish is truly committed to exceptional liturgy.

  2. William Bornhoft: “ The Extraordinary form does not give one a distinctively Catholic perspective, anymore so than the Ordinary form, but rather a distinctly Catholic European Baroque look at things.

    Is not patristic inspired ressourcement merely a confection, similar to the confected standardization of liturgies at Trent?

    I use the word “confection” as shorthand for the creation of ideologies of liturgy from an idealized vision gathered from perceptions of history. The reformed liturgies are created from an idealization of patristic/early institutional western Christianity. Similarly, the liturgies of Trent were confected according to an idealization of the peri-early-modern liturgy of the Roman archdiocese. Both are liturgical eras of the Church, but neither is “authentic” or authoritative.

    When proponents of the ordinary form return to ressourcement as if it were a historical fact rather than ideological construct, traditionalists often bristle. Indeed, why should the ressourcement model be exalted above the early modern Tridentine model if both are constructs? Any claims that a “patristicization” of the Roman liturgy is “purer” than the evolution of the Tridentine liturgy up to the eve of the Second Vatican Council betrays not a hierarchy of values but rather, as Malise Ruthven puts it, a “divine supermarket”. Put another way, the replacement of the Tridentine ideological construction with the reformed ideological construction should be viewed as a presentation of two options within an ideological marketplace and not the absolute replacement of one liturgical model with another. “Ressourcement-based liturgy as historical fact” versus accusations of current day Tridentine life as merely “baroque” or aesthetically based is an attempt by liturgically progressive Catholics to obscure or destroy not facts but confected structures.

  3. “(W)hy should the ressourcement model be exalted above the early modern Tridentine model if both are constructs?”

    Because it is more fruitful in appealing to the spiritual life of believers, and in developing the Church’s evangelization apostolate. The TLM was considered by the world’s bishops, and nearly unanimously, found wanting not only in council, but in subsequent developments.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #3:

      Todd: “Because it is more fruitful in appealing to the spiritual life of believers

      At a young age I determined that many parish celebrations of the Ordinary Form were not at all fruitful for my spiritual life. Am I a believer even if many celebrations of the Ordinary Form dessicate rather than reinvigorate my spiritual life?

  4. To me, the key factor in the reverence issue is whether the congregation and the ministers have a sense that they are there to pray, and feel that is what they are all doing together, and when the service is over feel that they have prayed big-time.

    I have heard that those who attend the Latin Mass have that sense of what they are doing, and I don’t think it makes any difference whether it is the EF or the Latin Novus Ordo (assuming one can even find the latter and make the comparison). The fact that all the attendees at a Latin Mass have had to formulate a more explicit intention to do what they are doing may affect the experience of the Mass for them.

    As we plan and carry out worship in English, it might be beneficial to ask whether we are at all times fostering an atmosphere of prayer.

  5. “(W)hy should the ressourcement model be exalted above the early modern Tridentine model if both are constructs?”

    Because, and here is what matters, the current model of reform was ordered by a COUNCIL OF THE CHURCH. Yes, Trent was also a Council, and it also called for liturgical reform and dropping accretions, although to a lesser degree. The model we have now is an advancement upon Trent’s minor tinkering. They are not merely two equal possible options anyone may freely choose between.

    Given examples such as the direct quotation from Sacrosanctum concilium offered above by William Bornhoft above, it appears that devotees of the Extraordinary Form have made sure they have an exemption from following Church Councils. They were not required to make any changes, despite the order “rites are to be simplified.” They retain the old lectionary despite the order “a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.” They ignore the order “other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored.”

    And this from people who have in the past been rabidly ultramontane in certain selected issues. Pope Paul promulgates Sacrosanctum concilium and acts upon it for years to come. Meh. Pope Benedict issues one document and people feel the clock has been turned back and they can now ignore everything about the Council, “because the pope said so.”

    It seems to me to give particular groups carte blanche to ignore the requirements of Ecumenical Councils sets a dangerous precedent, one indicated in Mr. Zarembo’s claim that reforms specifically ordered by a Council of the Church are merely one option among many one can follow — or not.

    1. @Eric Stoltz – comment #5:

      Eric Stoltz: “Because, and here is what matters, the current model of reform was ordered by a COUNCIL OF THE CHURCH.

      Sacrosanctum concilium did not call for the implementation of the ressourcement model, but rather provided an outline for liturgical reform. The ressourcement theory, which had been an umbrella ideology of various liturgical reformers for quite some time before the Council, was taken up after the Council by the Consilium, a ressourcement project given sanction by Pope Paul VI as the sole interpreters of SC. The organization of the Consilium was not explicitly called for in Sacrosanctum concilium.

      I do not reject the celebration and the legitimacy of the 1970 and later missals. Development of the liturgy, with or without my criticism, has evolved from 1570. Often Masses according to the Ordinary Form are reverent and speak to the glory of God. However, I have some significant disagreements with the use of the peri-patristic/late-antique period as a significant departure point for a new model of liturgy for the Roman rite. Why not the Caroliginian period as a departure point? Why has a patristic departure point so captivated liturgical reformers? Could it be that the patristic period is distant enough from current lived experience that it is a tabula rasa for the members of the Church?

      I am not permitted to reject a constitution (such as Missale romanum [1969]), but I am free to question the mechanics behind the decisions which created this missal and other reformed liturgies.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #10:
        Jordan wrote:

        “I have some significant disagreements with the use of the peri-patristic/late-antique period as a significant departure point for a new model of liturgy for the Roman rite. Why not the Caroliginian period as a departure point? Why has a patristic departure point so captivated liturgical reformers?”

        Oh, I think it’s clear why they favored the pre-Carolingian era, and why their critique sets in especially with developments beginning in the Carolingian era: liturgical ecclesiology. By the Carolingian era, the liturgy had become a clerical drama, no longer an act of the whole community. That surely was decisive.


      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #12:

        Thank you Father Anthony for this information. This is the crucial puzzle piece I’ve been looking for with regard to the genesis of the reforms.

  6. The items of discipline of an ecumenical council, such as “For this purpose the rites are to be simplified,….” are not immutable or beyond reexamination and reform in light of 45 years of practice. SP has begun that process, the new Roman Missal for the Anglican Ordinariate continues it. While there are many, many reasons for the dramatic drop in active participation in the Mass in the lass 50 years, some places with 88% of Catholics not participating in Mass at all, one would think that the powers to be would examine this drop, not only with those today who don’t go, but why people stopped attending Mass and rather quickly after reforms started to trickle down in the mid to late 60’s thus causing subsequent generations to remain inactive. While we can blame some of it on the sexual revolution and Humanae Vitae, we really need a good liturgical study going back 45 to 50 years to ascertain the liturgical problem that has now led to 88% of Catholics not attending Mass and thus not participating in it. The 12 % who do participate are important and we need to know why they have stayed, but the 88% in the peripheries are more important to understand liturgically speaking.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #6:
      45 to 50 years is not enough. We need at least a century. At least in the US, liturgical reform saved us from a deeper hemorrhage. Why do people leave the Church? Largely because of consistent alienation–in this country, the bungling of Humanae Vitae, clergy sex abuse, episcopal cover-up, institutional secrecy, the culturewar, and other blunders.

      I think many Catholics are indeed considering a drop in Catholic attendance and involvement. The solution is evangelization. Not the 50’s–either 20th or 16th century.

      For all of its blessings at the time, the Tridentine approach is singularly ill-equipped to listen, confront, and address the problems of today. These problems do not include parish-hopping at the slightest offense taken or given in an effort to indulge one’s personal tastes.

      The failure of the late Medieval/Tridentine approach is not necessarily with, for example, Francisco Xavier baptizing 30,000 Asians, and chalking them up as saved. (Though there is certainly room to quibble with what that communicates about a theology of redemption.) The problem is that 30,000 lay Christians did not evangelize and invite to grace another billion or more.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #7:
        We are now a liturgically diverse Church which includes the EF Mass but also a variety ways of celebrating and singing the OF Mass to include EF sensibilities brought to the OF Mass. Not to understand this tremendous pastoral shift is to completely miss the unity in diversity Pope Francis acknowledges in the Church today and for pastors and pastoral musicians not to acknowledge and accept this is passe. We are still able to interview people my generation and slightly older who recall very well the 1960’s and early 70’s and what happened to our Catholic families formed in the 1950’s and the subsequent practice of the faith by the generations since then.

    2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #6:
      I honesty think that the debate over SP is pretty much irrelevant. Assuming traditionalists make up 1% of Catholics (and I think that’s generous) — people seem to be pretty scared about it.

      Why? Well, look at the trends when it comes to ordinations. France is a perfect example where the trend line shows that fully 1/3rd of ordinations are currently going to traditional orders and if the trend continues, traditionalist ordinations overtakes the new rite by 2043.

      Now, I am not a traditionalist myself I do prefer the old rite,but attend both forms of the Mass. But,quite frankly, I think the ordination trends are much more important and show us where we are going – whether we want to or not.

      In some respects, I find it amazing that Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae when he did, because I think it also applies to clergy in some sense. If he Bishops are married to their diocese and the pastors to their parishes, one would expect a generative mentality when it cam to begating seminarians Yet, thy dried up almost overnight — yet hopefully we have turned that corner.

      With that said, one person above mentioned that going to the old rte was intentional and it had results for those people because it was intentional. Well, it also seems to follow that the intentional aspect of it results in more Priests from those communities and more children (per family) in those pews. I have been to far too many Ecclesia Dei communities not to notice that they are generally filled with young families with multiple children.

  7. As for other reasons why there has been a drop in Catholic practice from the heady days of the 1950s, it seems clear that a major part of this is because Catholics have becoming a thinking people.

    We no longer take things on trust “because the Church/Father says so”. We require intellectual assent as well as emotional assent. Rote learning of a catechism is no longer sufficient. We need to know why. As well as belief in mysteries, things need to make sense.

    Today’s Catholics are far better educated than previous generations (surely a cause for rejoicing) and their understanding of their faith is therefore that much stronger. But with that has come a disregard for the old maudlin, sentimental ways, which were always accretions. Catholics don’t do blind obedience any more, nor do they do excessive devotions. They examine the tenets of faith and test them — sometimes to destruction. They prefer strong, clean modes and houses of worship, rather than over-ornamented rococo stylings and buildings full of stuff.

    (Of course that is not yet universally true. One has only to look at the very clear differences between, say, the Anglo and Latino communities in the States.)

    All this is part of what worried Ratzinger and others, with the student uprisings of the late 1960s, the mass anti-reaction to Humanae Vitae, etc. All the blustering about relativism was a way of concealing an anxiety that not only would the old, unthinking ways no longer be sufficient for Catholics but that the Church, now a thinking Church, was therefore out of control of its leaders. He could not see that what was required was not an attempt to impose the old but rather dialogue to strengthen the new. That is why the CDF’s tactics of suppression and condemnation have not worked and will never work again. A body that cannot talk intelligently to people, and even learn things it did not know, is doomed to fail in this age.

    For my money, this is why Francis is such a good thing and why the challenge that he has set us needs to be taken up, not rejected. Francis sees that dialogue is the key to outreach, that conversation is the route to evangelization, that openness is the key to development.

    His problem, of course, is that he is trying to make up for lost time — the 50 years of lost time since Vatican II during which back-pedallers have tried to put the toothpaste back in the tube — and so what he is doing is seen by some as too radical because he is moving so fast. In fact it is what we should have been doing in the 1970s. If we had, what we are living through now would have been seen as a logical continuation of what the Council started, and this particular blog conversation would probably not now be taking place.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #14:
      While the 12% of Catholics who still attend Mass may well be more savvy than the 90% who attended Mass up until the early 1960’s, I don’t think one can say that the 88% who don’t attend Mass are more knowledgeable about the Catholic Faith than their forebears. I’d like to see a real sociological study on that! In other words, what you write may certainly be applied to the 12% who are still engaged in Mass but not to the 88% who aren’t. For the most part they may well be stuck in elementary school as it concerns religious knowledge and maturity. And I really wonder about the educational level of many people today who are formed by the culture of entertainment and celebrity. Are they really more educated than their forebears? Really?

    2. @Paul Inwood – comment #14:
      Where to begin?

      Did you really mean to imply that the piety of Latino Catholics is maudlin, sentimental, and focused on peripherals because they are so poorly educated? Maybe they’re just not Anglo Saxon.

      Did you also mean to imply that the better educated Catholics are in their faith the more they dissent from it? This seems to mirror the secular bias that a “thinking Catholic” is clearly one who rejects the Church’s teachings and conforms to the culture’s norms (with nary a thought that such a conformity might itself be unthinking).

      Finally, to echo what Fr. Allan said, the statement that, “Today’s Catholics are far better educated than previous generations…and their understanding of their faith is therefore that much stronger” is a complete non-sequitur. While Catholics might have more undergraduate and graduate degrees, very little of this education has anything to do with the faith. Most have degrees from secular institutions, and even those who go to Catholic colleges and universities get only the smallest smattering of theology. Of course, I have no experience of teaching in the pre-conciliar Church, so I cannot compare generations, but from my experience of teaching undergraduates for 20 years I can assure you that most arrive in our classrooms with almost no grasp of the Catholic faith other than the belief that Jesus was a good person who taught us not to judge, that if they are good they will go to heaven, and that there are seven sacraments, of which they can usually name about five (one of which is often “First Communion”). I’d like to think that they leave knowing a bit more, but those who go to Catholic colleges still constitute a minority of the Church.

      Perhaps you didn’t intend to say any of this, and I apologize if I misread your post. But it does seem to me that Catholics today as a whole are no better educated in their faith than they were in the past, because it would be hard to know less.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #16:

        Well, what I was trying to do was indicate that we need to find a balance of heart and head. I think it’s fair to say, without too much caricaturing, that before the Council Catholicism was largely a gut thing, sentimental if you like. You didn’t have to know anything, but merely recite parrot-fashion the answers to catechism questions. You certainly weren’t expected to think about anything. The faith of many was quite infantile, I would say.

        Today, you may be right that a proportion of Catholics know less about their faith than before (no catechism these days, you see), but they are certainly thinking for themselves, know a lot more scripture than they once did, and have to a certain extent left behind the “gut” emotional response to religion. I am not saying that the better educated they are the more they dissent, but certainly the less they take everything for granted. (I still encounter priests who try to squelch different opinions by saying “Well, Canon Law says…” when it doesn’t in fact say anything of the kind. Now that so much documentation is available online and search engines are so sophisticated, that is a risky strategy.)

        I hold no brief for the undergraduates you teach, but your description seems to me to be an exaggeration when set alongside the undergraduates that I routinely encounter. Yes, there is ignorance, but what there also is, which we didn’t have before the Council, is a willingness to question. I encourage this. We need to know why we believe what we believe. With questioning comes greater understanding, and with greater understanding comes a stronger faith, in my view.

  8. Isn’t reverence an inner disposition? It should have nothing to do with the particular liturgical form.
    Surely the question is whether the worshipper approaches the liturgy in the correct frame of mind.

  9. Alan Johnson : Isn’t reverence an inner disposition? It should have nothing to do with the particular liturgical form. Surely the question is whether the worshipper approaches the liturgy in the correct frame of mind.


    To take it a step further, the person who accuses other people, liturgies, etc. of irreverence is not being reverent.

    Reverence appreciates what is good rather than revile what is wrong. It reaches out compassionately to a crying child with a harried parent, rather than bemoan the “distraction” the child causes. “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

  10. Alan Johnson : Isn’t reverence an inner disposition? It should have nothing to do with the particular liturgical form. Surely the question is whether the worshipper approaches the liturgy in the correct frame of mind.

    Thank you! Reverence is what is in the heart, not about all the externals. What I have never understood about the so called “traditionalists” is this insistence that only THEIR way is valid. If they don’t find something “reverent” then it is and “abuse” and must be done away with. “I know what’s reverent and you don’t.”

    In a church of 1.1 billion is there not enough room for those who find guitars, contemporary songs, and the venacular “reverent” and those who find organs, chant, and Latin “reverent?”

  11. Tom Lehrer summed it up well in his 1965 Vatican Rag when he roasted the Council as an effort “…to make the Church more commercial.” It wasn’t just the dismissal of Latin, altar rails, ancient music, old fashioned vestments, veils, etc. It was throwing it out all at one time to see if it would reverse the Church’s downward membership.

    It hasn’t yet.

    In fact, the acrimony, name-calling, scandals and constant battles have harmed the Church far more than a challenge between beauty and the baroque. It has gutted a lot of our churches.

    Adult education for Catholics is a joke. I’ve attended four parishes, every one of which teaches its Catholic adults (not just RCIA) using The Gospel According To Scott Hahn. “Here’s tonight’s video. See you next week. Preach the Gospel; if necessary use words.” [chuckle chuckle]

    In the time leading up to and during the recent Vatican synod, not one word about it was spoken from the pulpit at either church I attended. Was this an indication that our people are smarter and needed nothing or that we need to keep them stupid?

    So are our congregants now truly smarter? Or are they just less willing to accept the Church’s teachings (or ‘be the sheep’ if you prefer)?

    It’s much much more than merely Confusing Baroque with Beauty.

  12. “Today, you may be right that a proportion of Catholics know less about their faith than before (no catechism these days, you see), but they are certainly thinking for themselves, know a lot more scripture than they once did, and have to a certain extent left behind the “gut” emotional response to religion. I am not saying that the better educated they are the more they dissent, but certainly the less they take everything for granted. ”

    I would suggest there’s more continuity in this regard than you may realize. It’s just expressed differently. The comforts of habit s and avoidance of hard thinking remain very much with us. Aspects of what some call Moral Therapeutic Deism are not new at all, but enduring, just with different window dressing.

    And avoiding implied or overt triumphalism about Great New Catholics is as apt as for Good Old Catholics.

  13. May I recommend a careful reading of William H. Johnston’s “Care for the Church and Its Liturgy: A Study of Summorum Pontificum and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite” (Pueblo/Liturgical Press, 2013)? Johnston is by no means a major proponent of the EF nor does it seem to be his own preference, but he fairly, calmly, reasonably, and generously seeks to understand why Benedict XVI did what he did and what benefits may accrue to the Church from it.

  14. The Saturday Night Live caricature of the Ordinary Form Mass’s lack of beauty may tell us why 88% of Catholics no longer participate in the Mass. Could it be that 45 years of experience of the OF Mass that this SNL parody captures in caricature is a significant part of the Church’s liturgical crisis and empty Churches? It would seem the Baroque doesn’t really enter the picture in any serious way or even the EF expression of the Mass. Perhaps the real problems need to be named for what these really are.

    1. @Father Allan J. McDonald – comment #25:

      No. No across the board, No.

      The reasons for increasing secularization and falling church attendance are very complex. It involves culture, history, education, economics, politics, globalization, and on and on. To say that people don’t attend the new Mass because it’s not Baroque enough or beautiful enough is simplistic, bordering on fundamentalist.

      Nowhere have they done Baroque beauty better than in Austria and Bavaria. But church attendance from 1900 to 1965 plummeted there, with hardly a change in the liturgy. It was already low by the 1950s, before the Holy Week reforms. According to your theory, this couldn’t have happened and shouldn’t have happened.

      It is true that some EF celebrations are growing in size. But it is a tiny, tiny fraction of the population that is getting a bit bigger. It is not attracting the remaining 99% of the population, it is not attracting hardly any of the vast majority of Catholics and others who don’t go to church.

      Maybe there is something about the liturgy that attracts some people to magical thinking, to superstitious beliefs about what would work. When the evidence says otherwise, we must resist this robustly.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #27:
        I acknowledge in an earlier comment the complexity of Mass attendance decline and in the comment @ 25 no where do I suggest Baroque or EF are solutions. However when perhaps 1% of the 12% actually attending Mass desire the EF Mass not for the caricature you make it to be but for beauty, stability and ordered reverence, then that 1% is important. The greater problem is the general perception of the Church’s OF Mass by the non practicing Catholics and non Catholics in general as signified by the SNL parody.

      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #27:

        but that’s the problem. It may not attract the 99%, but a large number of vocations come from there, which seems to indicate where we will head, regardless of what we want.

    2. @Father Allan J. McDonald – comment #25:
      I had to watch the video and after doing so, I wonder if the caricature is about the OF. Is the part about the singing pastor varying speeds a parody of the OF? The organist? The 44 verses (including all the Latin?) I don’t think so – I think it is more of a parody of liturgies that take anything and everything to extremes, including the fact that it is aimed at people attending their “annual” Mass. It cuts several ways, imo.

  15. This comment will be largely anecdotal and personal; I’ll readily admit that. But here goes.

    I’m a Millennial. Things change around me constantly: politics, technology, the price of milk and gasoline, etc. To give but two examples, when I was four, it was thrilling to play a game with two buttons that let me jump around, slide down pipes and flagpoles, and shoot fireballs. Now, children play games with daunting levels of verisimilitude.

    When I was four, if music producers wanted to repeat a chorus in a song ad nauseam or add layers of complexity, they had to make physical copies of the tapes, overlay them ever so carefully, and make a new tape. Now they just Cut’n’Paste in ProTools.

    “Half of marriages end in divorce,” the saying goes. And while the divorce rate is possibly dropping, it’s because the cohabitation rate is increasing. Children are more and more often born out of wedlock, with very little stability for their mentors, role models, parents. Economic uncertainty abounds.

    With all that shifting uncertainty, some of us, myself included, are highly attracted to a liturgy that changes but slowly, that looks like it generally has in a tradition stretching back centuries, that doesn’t condescend, but makes demands and uplifts. I may have to have the book in my lap with Latin on one side and English on the other, but at least it isn’t going to be different every week, and at least I won’t need years A, B, and C to follow it, and at least it won’t get pitched out come Advent for the next letter’s cycle. Baroque may be old, but paradoxically, the ubiquitous old fellow with the acoustic guitar standing there as an alter-James Taylor seems older and more out of touch. There’s a comfortable distance between Mozart and me; Mozart doesn’t sing over everyone. Mozart doesn’t imagine I’m too foolish to read the bulletin and say “And now we’re going to sing number XYZ!” The music is just there, washing over me, rapt to my pew or nailed to my kneeler. These old things transport me in ways…

    1. @Shaughn Casey – comment #26:
      Dear Shaughn,

      Thanks much for this well-written and heart-felt comment. It’s a great contribution to our discussion to have all this named, especially since you’re not the only one who shares these sentiments.

      I understand the desire for stability in a complicated world. This is a very strong emotional longing. My caution is that, if carried too far, this is exactly what leads to fundamentalism. I’m not saying that you’re there yet, but some of your sentiments are tending in that direction. Fundamentalist religion has stronger identity and more committed individuals, but I do not think it has long-term viability. It will only ever attract a few people on the edges, and so it is unworthy of the Church’s evangelical mandate.

      Second, in speaking of preferences, aesthetic or otherwise, I think it is helpful to frame the question in the way the council Fathers implicitly did: what is more faithful to the Gospel, to the nature of the Church, to the Kingdom of Heaven which Jesus preached? Framed in this way, the answers start to look a lot different, and one starts to think a lot differently about whether Mozart is more beautiful or it is a hassle to sing with others or the Sign of Peace is disrupting and all the rest.

      And to bring my two points together, the allure of fundamentalism is best evaluated against the standard of the Gospel. It does not hold up well, however alluring it will be for some in our very secularized world.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #28:

        Your concern about fundamentalism is well-taken. If I can put on the semiotician’s hat for a moment and self-disclose a bit more, perhaps I can better explain what I find attractive about the older form. It isn’t that “older is better” or “stricter is better,” but rather that “permanence is better” (for me, anyway). I’ll give a few examples just from church architecture that have been discussed before, but perhaps not from the point of view of a 30 year old looking at them semiotically.

        The sorts of things that suggest permanence, to me, are fixtures that aren’t easily moved, materials that don’t wear out easily, and an Ordinary that doesn’t vary much week to week or place to place. Propers do vary, but that’s why they’re Proper. So, when I look into a nave and a sanctuary, and I see pews nailed into the floor, a hard wood or stone altar with no wheels, or the veiled tabernacle there on the altar, it says to me, “This isn’t going anywhere.” Silk, brocade, etc vestments have a similar effect. They look well-made and like they will be around for a while. Pipe organs aren’t going anywhere. The tabernacle fixed in the center of the altar tells me, semiotically, that Christ is present, Christ isn’t going anywhere, and Christ isn’t something kept off to the side. There are theological arguments for and against putting the tabneracle here and there. I’m aware that pews are a relatively recent, but useful innovation. The symbolism looks that way like to me. I’m as close to being a Platonist as a post-modern can be, and so permanence attracts me as cleaving more closely to the heavenly, eternal ideal (cf. Heb 8:5). Chairs that move around, industrial carpet, an altar made of synthetic materials, and pew missals that get thrown out every year communicate a temporary nature. The OF can be done in a way that looks permanent; I just don’t encounter it that way terribly often.

      2. @Shaughn Casey – comment #30:

        it says to me, “This isn’t going anywhere.”

        And the irony of that statement is that it can just as easily be negative as positive.

        There are those who think that because all the post-conciliar reforms are in place (if only!) we can now all sit back and live happily ever after and nothing else will ever change again. The news is: that 400-year post-Trent period was nothing more than an artificial stasis in the life of the Church. Prior to that, change and development had been the norm, and, now that the Council has microwaved God’s Frozen People, change and development have begun anew. As long as we are an organic body made up of real people, it is inevitable that things will “go somewhere”. The monolithic, unchanging Church is a myth.

      3. @Paul Inwood – comment #46:

        I’m happily not one of those who thinks the Mass should never change, and if you’ll see my original post, it reads “but slowly.” If by “change and development being the norm,” you mean every century or so, something “new” like the the Agnus Dei, the Gloria in Excelsis, and so on would wander into the liturgy, I’ll go along with that understanding of “change and development.” Organic growth with minor trimming here and there does not equal ripping out pews, destroying reredos, getting rid of the organ (an instrument praised rather explicitly in SC), and pillorying people who liked those and would rather not have them gone.

        Nowadays, however, change is rarely a minor tweak here and there every century, in organic fits and starts, but radical. It’s interesting to me that liking the more permanent things is likened to fundamentalism. Being from Georgia, I experienced the Protestant side of the movement regularly. It was characterized by iconoclasm and, frankly, getting back to the fundamentals of the faith (as thought of by them, of course), so worship became stripped, not unlike many a sanctuary. I don’t think anyone could accurately say that liking the EF is a return to something simpler. I’ve too much extra, actual participation to do in an EF Mass for that to be the case.

        You know, I was once at Notre Dame de Paris, and I did my level best to sneak a peak at the high altar. It had dips in the stone from centuries of use. The six candles on the high altar looked like they hadn’t been lit in ages, which may or may not be true; I don’t know. The sanctuary looked lonely from desuetude, but at least it was there for people to see what once was and not ripped away. I bowed as I passed the center of it, and tourists there looked at me like I’d grown three horns. To see a high mass there with incense and a full choir chanting the Minor Propers must have been quite a sight. Why deride people who find the thought of…

      4. @Shaughn Casey – comment #47:

        Go to any number of the great French Gothic cathedrals, historic monuments maintained by the State, and see the new free-standing high altars, bishops’ cathedras and other furnishings that have been installed in them — often very beautiful (but sometimes, alas, very ugly). Look around those buildings and see how the way they have been used has changed, sometimes dramatically, over the centuries. Those buildings are imbued with prayer, sure, but their interior layouts, fixtures and fittings have been consistently updated as time has passed and tastes have changed, and as different needs for prayer became apparent. Their function as houses of living prayer has taken precedence over any antiquarian considerations.

        I agree that the thoughtless ripping-out of a reredos or the wilful destruction of an organ is not a good thing (though getting rid of pews may well be so!). Good judgement and proper research are always necessary.

        I’m not deriding anyone, but I am suggesting that those who grew up thinking of the Church as unchanging need to realize that the unchanging-ness of the period between Trent and Vatican II was artificial, not typical, and that their perceptions of how the Church ought to be may have been coloured by that atypical experience.

      5. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #28:

        And to bring my two points together, the allure of fundamentalism is best evaluated against the standard of the Gospel. It does not hold up well, however alluring it will be for some in our very secularized world.

        One may also take a fundamentalist perspective of postconciliar liturgical practice. Certain liturgical actions such as congregational singing are often uplifted as a summum bonum. An insistence on certain aspects of progressive liturgy as if they are axiomatic also obscures the Gospel message. It is true that man is not made for the sabbath, but he or she is not also required to adhere to the prominent liturgical ideology of their day.

        Fundamentalism often manifests itself in the transformation of liturgy into a way of life. By this I do not mean the deepening of the Christian life, but rather the notion that wearing veils, dress codes for either gender, or certain physical actions mark one as a “true” follower of the EF. I agree that true adherence to the Gospels transcends a certain sartorial or behavioral Christianity. An uneasiness with the reformation of the Roman rite and the ideology behind this reformation is not, in my view, a fundamentalism but a (hopefully) reasoned objection.

  16. Certainly the fastest growing parish in the Baltimore area, Church of the Nativity, does not put a premium on aesthetics (at least not in the high-culture sense). In the sequel to Rebuilt, Tools for Rebuilding, the authors write:

    Once you start focusing on who is not here, it gives you a perspective on here. Probably not many lost people are ever going to show up and be impressed with your beautiful vestments, expensive chalice, or elaborate sanctuary furniture–at least if the unchurched people in your community are anything like the ones in ours. Churchpeople like those things and will often gladly pay for them, but people who are not in church do not. In fact, obvious expense on church stuff is a turn-off for many, if not most, unchurched people.

    The Pastor, Michael White, goes on to say that there is much about the beauty of Catholicism that should be preserved and promoted (in the proper context), but that such things are very much secondary compared to things like making people feel welcome and having clean bathrooms.

    I don’t know that I entirely agree, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating and at least in terms of numbers many people seem to be finding the pudding at Nativity quite tasty.

    In contrast, a friend of mine who occasionally frequents the local EF Mass has told me that in the past year or so numbers seem to have dropped off. I suspect that this is in part because of more EF Masses being celebrated in the DC-Baltimore area, so people are going closer to home rather than making the trek to Baltimore, as they did when it was the only such Mass in the area. But it also seems to suggest that, at least around here, there are not rapidly growing numbers of people seeking out EF Masses.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #31:
      Being familiar with the area, I would challenge you that there are not a rapidly growing number of people attending the EF Mass.

      In fact, I AGREE with you that people are staying closer to home, and that’s probably why there has been a drop-off. Additionally, there are now TWO sites in Baltimore for the old rite, not just St Alphonsus, but Mt Calvary Church of the Anglo Catholic Ordinariate, Chair of St. Peter.

      Additionally, now you have regularly scheduled Sunday Masses in

      Silver Spring (2 Seperate Parishes have Mass.)

      Sometimes Sunday Masses in:

      Ellicott City

      Are all these Masses full? No, but over time, most seem to be growing.

      1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #34:
        A minor point of information: they don’t do the EF at Mt. Calvary. They did for a brief time, but their ordinary made them stop. I believe one they stopped having their own EF Mass the former Pastor there used to do the Friday EF Mass at St. Alphonsus, but I don’t think the current one does.

      2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #37:
        Thanks for the correction. I had been there once with a friend. I didn’t realize they had been told to stop.

        It’s an interesting canonical question as they are part of the Roman Rite, with a Rite proper to their ordinariate how SP applies.

        Oh, well…. I still think it’s been growing in terms of the number of people attending it. Admittedly a different diocese, but I was stunned to see 60 kids confirmed in the old rite this year by Bishop Loverde. One figures many people who attend the old rite wouldn’t necessarily have their kids confirmed in it. I was taken aback.

        And, when I looked at the congregation, it was very clear that the majority of parents there had between 4 and 10 kids. It was startling.

      3. @Todd Orbitz – comment #38:

        Todd Orbitz: “And, when I looked at the congregation, it was very clear that the majority of parents there had between 4 and 10 kids. It was startling.

        This is not startling. The large family sizes you cite are similar to my local EF parish. Single persons are often pushed to the periphery of EF communities precisely because we are not wed or wed with children. Often adults with large families ostracize me outright, or are unwilling to socialize with me beyond small talk.

        As much as I cringe at the hymn “All Are Welcome”, one of the aspects of the progressive liturgical movement I admire is an often sincere desire to include everybody who desires to worship in a community. Sometimes this devolves into saccharine behavior, but at least the intent is there. This is quite commendable compared to the cold shoulders I’ve often experienced from EF adherents.

  17. Let’s keep in mind that every Vatican II bishop was confirmed in the old rite. Maybe something was in those olive trees last century. I’m always amused at people who wait on the so-called genetic solution to the Church’s ills. The 70’s did not see a second generation of Eisenhower Americans.

    One or two people used to kid me that my kids would grow up to be Latin and chant Catholics. Maybe those 7.0 children per family will start a new counter-culture as their act of rebellion.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #40:

      Todd, I believe you have touched upon an insight when you note that inevitably the children of large families will grow to be adults in large families. My parents allowed me quite a bit of liberty in my late adolescence and early adulthood, even if they knew that my behavior was potentially unwise. The closed nature of EF communities might well portend rebellion from strict protocols in later years, as the strict boundaries of these communities are nonexistent in the secular world.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #43:

        I know a handful of families who grew up in large second or third generation immigrant Catholic families in the 1950s-1960s. The ones who are presently unchurched almost invariably tell me something like, “People kept telling me I had to behave a certain way, but never explained why. I never understood the whole sit-kneel-stand thing.” It’s an experience I can confirm; in my Catholic school days, things were rarely explained beyond “this is what we do. Now shush.” I was a bit more stubborn than most, and so I majored in Ancient / Medieval History and Latin, with my fair share of Greek as well, to find out the answers to those questions. Net result: Homer for me, and a deeper appreciation for liturgy than I’d have had otherwise.

        It’s a shame, really, because most of those sorts of questions aren’t really more than trivia that take two or three minutes to answer. Under the old system these families protested against, the congregation knelt to pray, sat when hearing lessons or sermons, and stood for the Gospel and for singing. While some sit or kneel during hymns immediately after communion rather than stand, that practice hearkens back to when the choir would chant the communion sentence. It’s not arbitrary, mysterious, or capricious. Similar brief answers abound for rosaries, confession, fasts, feasts, etc.

        The good news is, at least in America, ignorance about liturgical trivia is mostly self-inflicted. A quick Google search yields the answer more often than not.

      2. @Shaughn Casey – comment #44:

        Shaughn: “ I was a bit more stubborn than most, and so I majored in Ancient / Medieval History and Latin, with my fair share of Greek as well, to find out the answers to those questions. Net result: Homer for me, and a deeper appreciation for liturgy than I’d have had otherwise.

        I majored in Classics as well. Unlike you, however, I came to the conclusion that Greek and Roman life, and especially late antique Roman imperial life, was not that much different than our own. This is particularly true after I read Martial in its unexpurgated brilliance (horror?), and decided that the so-called decadence of our society critiqued by priests and preachers both has always traced a ribbon through history.

        The reformed missal matured in a very turbulent time for youth culture in “western” societies. My parents were young adults then, and vividly remember the way war and protest sent shockwaves through a generation coming-of-age. I do not think that the reformed missal is the direct cause of the religious indifference of many in my parents’ generation. Rather, the abrupt shift in many of the institutions of the time caused a certain weary indifference to authoritative structures (including religions and liturgy).

        It’s fascinating that some children of my parents’ generation have embraced a very stylized and rigid liturgy. Perhaps this is because of the relative political and social calm after the storm of the 1960’s and early 1970s. The early modern can be explored as the fog of ideological warfare rests. The interest in Tridentine liturgy is often not a conscious choice, or a return to “roots”, but rather part of a cycle of stability and upheaval.

      3. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #45:
        Well, I’ll chime in as another who majored in Classics, then went on to get a degree in Early Christian Studies and another in Liturgical Studies — with pretty much everything done for a canonical degree too.

        With that said, if one wants to get an historical flavor of the period before during and after the Council, I would recommend getting copies of the annual Liturgical Week Conference, put out by the Benedictine Liturgical Conference. Just buy the annual copies from 1955-1968. They are about $3 a piece on

  18. Jordan:

    I have seven children, and go to both rites…though the old one more often because my children do better with it.
    Yes, of course there are several large families at the EF I go to. I would say we have at least 13-18 families as big as, or bigger than mine at Mass.

    However, there are also plenty with one or two kids. What was startling about the Confirmation is there literally were No Families with less than four children.

    1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #41:

      I apologize that I misunderstood you Todd. I do not presume to judge you and your family. I admire the parents of large families for the sacrifices they have made to have a large family.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #42:
        I never took it that way Jordan. I feel a certain empathy for your position as a single Catholic and feeling left out when attending the EF. I remember similar experiences when I was in college and shortly thereafter.

  19. Every once I a while I turn on EWTN to see their present “celebrity.” I’ve been doing this practice off and on for a few years. I remember the pews being filled in their Chapel at one time, but now the numbers have declined somewhat. And I ask, Why?

    My take on it is a spirit of Intentional choice. What drives people to the EF or to Mass in general? While I strive to Celebrate well all year, I make an extra effort during Holy Week. Again, why? For myself it’s because people choose to actively participate (don’t get me wrong, they do during the rest of the year, also, but, maybe, not as enthusiastically). That choice invigorates me, which invigorates them. For myself, the Easter Vigil is great; people who attend choose to go to it, rather than going because of obligation. What makes Worship great? One can have the best programs, etc, and Sunday Worship can still be bad. One can have nothing, and the Liturgy is still good.

    Setting aside the particulars of HOW Mass is worshipped and the valid reasons for using the EF or the OF, what would happen if the EF was inundated with people who were less enthusiastic about the whole thing, like a regular Parish setting? What would happen if a Mass in the OF had everyone actively participating? Would others be attracted to it? Or would it become another ho-hum experience?

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