Rorate Caeli

A Letter from a Reader: “It’s so refreshing to be able to let go of useless baggage from recent decades”

St. Josemaría Escrivá (Oct. 2, 1968)
One of the most interesting and gratifying aspects of carrying out an apostolate of writing is the letters received from readers, conveying a wide range of observations and questions, difficulties and disagreements, suggestions and requests. Occasionally I receive a letter of such superlative quality or penetrating insight that I feel it ought to be shared with readers.

What follows is one such letter, whose sender gave me permission to post it anonymously. It is in many ways a sad reflection on our times, and yet it has the virtue of eloquently expressing the growing awareness among Catholics of the abysmal failure of churchmen to address the real problems facing the Church today—problems that handicap and tranquilize the dreamt-of New Evangelization before it can even get off the starting blocks.

Here, then, is the letter. I reproduce it without comment.

* * *

For many years I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the dismal lack of “Catholic sense” in general in any church I go to—all Novus Ordo, in west-central Minnesota. I am convinced the core issue affecting fruitful participation at Mass is just plain lack of understanding of and reverence for Christ in the Eucharist, both in His real presence in the church building and also in His divine action in the Holy Sacrifice. I’ve gotten to where I literally have to cringe and close my eyes pretty much throughout Mass.

In discussing with a sympathetic young priest my frustration with this Protestantization of our churches (happening for many decades now), he mentioned that my desire to see the faithful wake up to what it really means to be Catholic was essentially the goal of the “New Evangelization.”  Having heard of this but not really having a working knowledge of it, I brushed up on the “New Evangelization” and found that, ultimately, it is calling us to be… well… Catholic, and to get out there and live it and share it. Which I thought we were supposed to be doing anyway.

But it struck me as odd that, while the popes stressed the need to start this evangelization with knowledge and love of God and of the Sacraments, most of the other commentaries I read seemed to just swirl around trying to find the mysterious answer to how we can go out there and bring people back to church. I thought it odd, since the answer seemed obvious to me: give the people good liturgy, truly reverent liturgy, and you can bet some good evangelization will follow. What good are books, CDs, DVDs, evening classes, and rousing seminars going to do, if the people just go back to Mass and see and hear the same Protestant social-event banality as always? There is nothing inspiring in that. Now let them truly see, hear, and smell the action of God in the sacred liturgy, and they cannot fail to contemplate eternity and be moved.

It seems to me that the Novus Ordo was spoiled from the start, that the modern abuses (such as bringing creativity and spontaneity into the liturgical rite) are inextricably tied to this form, that it is a sudden invention of men that has no inherent beauty of its own but exhibits beauty only insofar as it reflects and draws from the ancient Mass that has been alive since the apostolic age, growing to maturity over the centuries and still living and breathing with divine vigor. It would seem, then, that in a future age, the Novus Ordo will drop out as an aberration of our own climactic age, while the living, breathing Mass of the Ages will simply continue on.

It has been encouraging to me, in spite of my hardships finding a reverent Mass to attend, to see that there is in fact a growing sensus fidelium—at least some of the fideles, anyway—across the globe, a consensus about the causes of the crisis as well as the only path forward. Certainly many wise and perceptive people have thought so for a long time, and even I have always thought the Mass of the Ages was the only “real” thing, although I never actually experienced it until I was in college. Largely due to having access only to the Novus Ordo, for most of my life I have swallowed the premise that “the Church did this, who am I to question—let’s just pray things can get straightened out with a reform of the reform,” etc. But over the last year or so it’s all just hit a wall. Crudely put, it’s come to the point of slapping ourselves in the forehead and saying: “How could we have ever thought this would work out?” It seems so obvious now that this liturgical chimera has no real future, except to give way to timeless truth once again. There are myriad products of our modern age that I trust will fall away like this in due time, to be buried as failed experiments.

I am realizing, in retrospect, that what held me back from just admitting the truth which I now see so clearly was an unfortunate fact, namely, how often “the side of tradition” seemed to be represented by harsh, pharisaical voices (at least those were the voices that came across loudest to me), such that the “traditionalists” gained a bad reputation of holding on irrationally to old ways and rejecting anything new. But the rising new sensus fidelium is in fact that of a new generation that never personally experienced the liturgical “break” and all of its ideological baggage. The older generation couldn’t let go of either the excruciating pain of seeing centuries of tradition suddenly thrown overboard or the absolute euphoria of seeing the Church finally “get up to date,” and that generation sparred for the rest of their lives in that confused atmosphere of pain and euphoria. Of course, there were always reasoned voices pointing out what we are discussing now, but the public debate seemed dominated by the polarized fight, the struggle between trying to preserve the old and pushing on with the ever-evolving new.  Now, as that generation ages, new generations are discovering anew the beauty of truth in all things Catholic, and we are simply seeing that “hey, if we just look at the truth here about Jesus and His Sacrifice and what He asked us to do with it and how we can save souls by it, well, there’s really only one way to go about it—you do what’s been around for centuries in East and West… There’s no room for novelty and no need for it, either.”

It’s so refreshing to be able to let go of useless baggage from recent decades. It’s as if one is remodeling one’s home, stripping away the tasteless wallpaper and carpet to expose once more the beautiful original walls and floors, and bringing back the noble furniture that had been stored in the cellar or the attic. It is becoming possible to think freely and deeply, not by Orwellian mantras and slogans (like “Making All Things New”!). One can breathe the truth, which has guided and nourished saints century after century.