Traditional Latin Mass: Combating Secularization through Sacralization

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The secularized society of the West is in a state of massive disintegration – it is enough to analyze the demographic and economic statistics and the forecasts for the coming decades by demographers and economists.  Not to mention the high suicide levels, massive numbers of Europeans and North Americans on anti-depressants, the collapse of marriage, the family, parental authority.

If one were to philosophically trace the roots of the crisis and the roots of its solution, one would necessarily arrive at the crucial reality of man’s ability to love. Love in our times has largely been reduced to lust.

The true nature of love can be seen in Catholicism where human love’s nature is made known by the light of God’s love revealed above all on Calvary.

It is through the sublime Sacrifice of the Mass that man is empowered to connect most transparently that human love in order to be authentic love must be self-sacrificing!

This is the truth that the most ancient form of the Mass, known today as the “traditional Latin Mass”, communicates most eloquently. As the author of Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build – and Can Help Rebuild – Western Civilization wrote:

“The key truth that the Ancient Rite thunders is that the Mass is Sacrifice! In this emphasis it renews in man’s soul his intuition that it is necessary for him, somehow, to express his sense of dependence on the Deity through the channel of a sacrificial ritual. As the history of civilizations illustrates, man has always felt this need, as Christopher Dawson and other historians have shown. The Ancient Rite, by expressing the nature of the Mass as the mystical and sacramental presence of the Sacrifice of Christ, prefigured and prophesied in ancient Israel, thus forcefully confirmed universal human intuitions and gave voice to existential needs deeply felt by the Romans, Celts, and Germanic pagans she sought to convert to the Gospel.

Thus, men related to the Mass not as a type of religious lecture-service, but as a sacrificial action. By its texts and ceremonies the Ancient Rite emphasized the intrinsic connection between the Mass and the dramatic events of Good Friday on Calvary and between Christ’s self-offering to the Eternal Father for man’s salvation and the Christian’s self-offering in union with Him during the Mass. It clearly presented the Mass as a mystical sacrifice occurring visibly through sacramental signs. It lucidly unfolded the nature of the Mass as the perpetual commemoration and recurring application of the merits acquired by the Savior’s action on Calvary, mystically prefigured in the Last Supper when Christ had used the sacrificial terms “my body which is given for you” (Lk 22:19) and “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28).

The Ancient Rite by emphasizing the nature of the Mass as the mystic and sacramental prolongation of the sacrificial deed of the Crucified Christ poignantly touched the hearts and minds of men. For it enabled the deepest aspirations of the ancient pagans to become reality since the Holy Communion of the Sacrifice “does not only allow us to ‘receive’ the soul, the body, the blood and the divinity of Christ Jesus but it unites us in a sort of symbiosis to the cultic act of the well-beloved Son [of the Eternal Father] as it unfolds in the heavenly sanctuary: we are one with the acting person of Christ priest and victim. The knowledge outcomes into co-action in an order of reality where the frontiers of the earthly and the heavenly world are erased.” (Dom Gérard Calvet, La Sainte Liturgie par un Moine Bénédictin)

Moreover, the Ancient Rite clearly articulated in its texts, symbolism, and ceremonials why it is a sacrifice, and why this Sacrifice of the Mass matters. Both in the unchanging parts of the rite and in those that varied (as, for instance, with the liturgical seasons or in commemorations of the saints) the Ancient Rite spelled out the key reasons for the necessity of the sacrifice: God’s honor and man’s salvation as its purpose; damnation as the reality from which it saves man; sin as the deadly danger because it impedes participation in the sacrifice and thus bars the way to salvation; spiritual warfare against the forces seeking man’s ruin as life’s serious business; eternal life as possible only through the Lord Jesus Christ and only through the Church founded by Him.

The Ancient Rite, by facing Catholics toward the east, gave a clear sense of direction to their existence. They were alert to the fact that they were facing toward history’s watershed, the Sacrifice of Calvary—but also toward Paradise, and in the direction from which the Lord of history would one day return “at an hour you do not expect” (Mt 24:44). Thus, the Ancient Rite’s texts and symbols immersed them in the ultimate meaning of time and eternity. They knew that history is His story. Time is not merely kronos, the juxtapositioned succession of moments, but is kairos, the divinely determined order of events intersecting kronos in function of man’s salvation. And the climax of the divine interventions was the death and Resurrection of Christ in which they mystically participated through the Mass.

The Ancient Rite’s emphasis on the Mass as Sacrifice was inextricably bonded to its implication—the spirit of sacrifice. This was the rock on which the new civilization that became known as Christendom was built. The Ancient Rite’s call on man to sacrifice himself, modeling his daily existence on the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary and drawing strength from it, became the truth that more than any other inspired the heroism and genius of the Christians of those centuries. It imbued zeal to missionaries; fortitude to martyrs; solace to hermits; inspiration to artists, musicians, and architects; motivation, strength, and peace to the multitudes—century after century, generation after generation, for almost two millennia.” (William J. Slattery, Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build – and Can Help Rebuild – Western Civilization, Ignatius Press, 2017)

Hence the radical solution to the disintegration of global civilization is in uniting men to the source of true love in the Sacrifice of Calvary mystically enacted in the Mass.

(See also Carl Wolk, “Nominalism and the Possibility of a Modern Liturgy ” and  “The Flight to Eternal Rome and the Mass of the Revolution.”)