The orthodox Catholic world today, while in theory united in the shared acceptance of the Catholic Church’s authority to declare binding doctrine, is not always united in practice. The greatest, and perhaps most toxic, divide within orthodox Catholicism revolves around the liturgy, and particularly the differences between the Old and New Masses.
Heck, orthodox Catholics can’t even agree on what to call these two different celebrations of the Mass—or even if they are different forms or different rites. Is it the Novus Ordo and the traditional Latin Mass? Or the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form? What about the Mass of St. Paul VI and the Mass of St. Pius V? This may seem like silly semantics to outsiders, but unfortunately just using the wrong terminology can trigger accusations of disrespect and fits of anger (which is why I’m going to stick with the generic “New Mass” and “Old Mass” here). Needless to say, it’s not a good situation.
How did we get here? Naturally, sudden and wholesale changes made to the most important activity a Catholic can participate in will result in disagreements. Many Catholics in the 1960’s had a Sunday in which they showed up at Mass and it was vastly different from the Mass they attended the previous Sunday. Such an experience is jarring, to say the least. Some Catholics loved the changes, some hated them, and ultimately many Catholics left the Church soon after the changes went into effect. No matter one’s reaction, the abruptness and significance of the changes led to a lot of emotional baggage among Catholics.
Over the years partisans of each side haven’t always been particularly charitable with one another. Traditional Catholics love to point out clown Masses, often implying that every celebration of the New Mass borders on a blasphemous travesty. Too often they utter the phrase “Novus Ordo” like the most contemptuous four-letter word in existence. Then there are the New Mass-attending Catholics who stereotype every traditional Catholic as a mean-spirited, nasty ogre who obsesses over things that ultimately don’t matter. Traditionalists are labeled “schismatic” and treated with less respect than brazenly-heretical priests like Fr. James Martin.
And if we are being honest, we must acknowledge that Pope Francis hasn’t exactly helped put out the fire; in fact, he’s poured gasoline on it. While Pope Benedict XVI valiantly tried to find a way to reconcile the camps, our current pontiff seems more intent on demonizing lovers of the Old Mass as “rigid” Catholics who only bring division to the Church.
Into this mess comes a documentary series that hopes to turn down the heat while also bringing light to the conversation. It’s Mass of the Ages, a three-part movie series about the Old Mass. Episode I was released last summer and gave a general introduction to the Old Mass (disclaimer: I briefly appear in Mass of the Ages Episodes I and II). It was a massive success, with over 1 million views at last count. Many were introduced to the Old Mass in a non-confrontational, positive way.
But it’s Episode II that really attempts to reset the conversation. In spite of the fact that the Church made significant changes in the 1960’s to her primary means of worship, very few Catholics actually understand why she did it and even what changes were made. The overall ignorance on this subject is breathtaking when you think about it….
I make no secret of where my own views lie: I’ve regularly attended the traditional Latin Mass for over a decade and so I’m firmly on the Old Mass “side.” But having attended the New Mass for 15 years before that, I know that there is much that is true, beautiful, and good about its celebration. Having seen and lived both “sides” intimately, I know there’s a desperate need for a real conversation, a real debate, about how the Mass, the center of our Faith, is celebrated….
Episode II of Mass of the Ages premieres today (May 26, 2022) at 3pm ET. You can watch it for free here.
The above comes from a May 26 posting in Crisis Magazine by Eric Sammons, the magazine’s editor-in-chief.