Monday, 31 August 2009

Luther on the Mass

Now the nearer our masses are to the first mass of Christ, the better they undoubtedly are; and the further from Christ’s mass, the more dangerous. For that reason we may not boast of ourselves, over against the Russians or the Greeks, that we alone celebrate mass properly, any more than a priest who wears a red chasuble may boast over against him who wears one of white or black. For such external additions or differences may by their dissimilarity produce sects and dissension, but they can never make the mass better. Although I neither wish nor am able to displace or discard such additions, still, because such pompous forms are perilous, we must never permit ourselves to be led away by them from the simple institution of Christ and from the right use of the mass. And, indeed, the greatest and most useful art is to know what really and essentially belongs to the mass, and what is added and foreign to it. For where there is no clear distinction, the eyes and the heart are easily misled by such sham into a false impression and delusion. Then what men have contrived is considered the mass; and what the mass [really] is, is never experienced, to say nothing of deriving benefit from it.”
From A Treatise on the New Testament, That Is, the Holy Mass (Luther's Works AE 35:81).

Recently I've read quite a bit in blogdom on the re-introduction of the Latin Mass, most of it favourable too. A common theme seems to be that it is the young who are calling for and flocking to the Latin Mass as part of a search for reverence. Now, I'm all for reverence, but chanting in Latin, sumptuous vestments and sweet-smelling incense are no substitute for the the inward reverence of the soul that trembles before God as it awaits the word of pardon. Reference Luther's warning that the eyes and the heart are easily misled into delusion in such matters.

That the young are clamouring for the Latin Mass is the sort of statement that is difficult to judge without hard figures, but the following would seem to cast doubt on such claims. According to the Roman Catholic Georgetown University's "Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate" in Washington D.C., only one in four U.S. Catholics favours having the Latin Mass as a liturgical option, 12% oppose it, and 63% have "no opinion." Apathy was most prevalent among Catholics born after 1982, of whom 78% said they have no opinion on Benedict bringing back the Latin Mass.

At best then, the Latin Mass would appear to be an exercise in either nostalgia or esoterica, but either way one is not surprised to learn that it is clearly a minority interest. That's not to say that the Latin Mass is not an important liturgical relic (or that Latin itself is worthless - perish the thought!). But is the Mass in Latin a viable liturgical option for today? That is a question for RCs to decide, but I for one think not, and I have only touched on matters of language and style and not upon the more serious objections to the Latin Mass, the still doctrinal errors.

There is the passive piety which the Latin Mass seems to inculcate (and which I have also noticed in Russian and Greek Orthodox churches which I have visited over the years - not that I study the other worshippers closely, of course, but it is a phenomenon that is hard to miss), where the laity, because they cannot understand the liturgy, are either preoccupied with their own devotions or stare blankly into space as if waiting for an epiphany.

For an insight into the problematic piety which the Latin Mass inculcates, go to to read an interesting response to a Latin Mass by a not unsympathetic Lutheran.

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