Sixteen Year Old Convert’s Passion for Latin Mass

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Julien Green (1900-1998), an American writer who became the first non-French national to be elected to the prestigeous Académie française, converted to the Church at sixteen years of age.

Eight years later, he expressed a passionate impatience with Catholics who were not awestruck with the traditional Latin Mass, “the greatest poetry that has ever been and that is the reflection of God”[1].

“The people who return from Mass talk and laugh; they think that they have not seen anything out of the ordinary. They did not suspect anything because they did not take the trouble to see. They would say that they had just been present at something straightforward and natural ‒ something that if it had happened just once would be enough to ravish an impassioned world into exstasy. They return from Golgotha and they talk about the temperature.…. If one were to tell them that John and Mary came down from Calvary talking about trivialities, they would say that its impossible.

“However, they themselves do not act differently…. They would say that what the eyes see not has no importance; in real life there is only that which is, and there is only that which exists. They have been 25 minutes in a church without understanding what was happening. They have seen a priest in chasuble enter and not for an instant have they suspected that it was the Christ of the Scriptures….There are those who remain standing  during the elevation and I don’t know which is the more astonishing, the elevation itself or the attitude of those who see it. If this elevation were only a symbol of the truth! But it is the truth itself presented under an appearance that is proportionate to human fragility.

“The Jews could not bare to see the radiance of the face of Moses, and Moses was only a man. Manoah feared he would die because he had seen the face of his Creator, but he had only seen an angel.  What is there hidden beneath the species of bread and wine? Certainly more than an angel and more than Moses.

“One of the most astonishing qualities of the Mass is that it does not kill the persons who are present. They hear Mass calmly, without tears, without interior turmoil; it is remarkable. What would it take to move them then? Something commonplace. In order to perceive the extent that they are poor of heart, one must examine what has been done because of them, what is done every day, in every part of the world, in order to save their unmindful souls….

“If they were capable of being astonished they would be saved, but they make their religion one of their routines, in other words something vile and natural. It is routine that damns the world.”[2]

[1] Julien Green (1900-1998), in his essay, “Ce qu’il faut d’amour à l’homme » in Julien Greene, Pamphlet contre les catholiques de France (Paris: Gallimard, 1982), p. 176. My translation. This essay was published for the first time in 1978 and in it the author vehemently expresses his adhesion to the Ancient Rite for the transparency with which it makes visible the Mass as the Sacrifice of Calvary.

[2] Julien Green, Pamphlet contre les Catholiques de France (Paris: Gallimard,1982), pp. 35-38. My translation. Written by the 24 year-old Julien Green under the pseudonym of Théophile Delaporte, on October 15, 1924.