There is room in the Faith for both the Extraordinary Form and the kind of Franciscan austerity embodied by the Pontiff
I would die for the Tridentine Mass. Were it ever to become a crime punishable by death to attend Tridentine Mass, I’d still go.
Some years ago, after I had decided to leave Ireland, I chose to move to London because of the availability of daily Tridentine Mass. And I usually go every day.
For me and the many others who are heavily invested in spreading awareness of all things Tridentine, 2013 has been a disorientating year. We are in grief for Benedict, and almost like a step-father, Pope Francis has been met with a certain amount of suspicious aggression.
Much of the cause of this hostility is defensiveness: we want to protect the hard won gains in making the Tridentine Mass accessible.
Now, the current Holy Father was always going to have a hard act to follow. But certain motifs of Pope Francis have struck fear into the hearts of more traditionally minded Catholics. Compared to Pope Benedict’s papal chic, Francis has a deliberately minimalist style.
And it is deliberate. Francis may only have been Pope for four months, but already some people are lamenting that their faith is diminishing because Pope Francis does not wear enough ceremonial dress. But perhaps it is time for them to ask themselves how dependent they are on papal decorations, and how much they truly rely on Our Lord?
It may seem very haughty of me to point the finger at other people who are having doubts in their faith. But I know the pain of a crisis of faith. Some years ago, my crisis of faith happened suddenly.
I was very disturbed when I saw an extremely pious Catholic gravely mistreating another woman. How could this devout Catholic be so cruel to another child of God?
Hard as it is to admit, I suddenly lost confidence in the Lord, thinking that He and His goodness must not be real, because why did someone who said they were so influenced by Christ, behave so viciously?
I wanted to delete my blog, The Path Less Taken, and put up a Facebook post to say that I had abandoned Catholicism.
I asked myself if I still loved the Tridentine Mass, and yes, I did, because it was the most beautiful way to worship God that I had ever encountered. But what if there was no God and no reason to love Him?
Two friends helped me through my crisis, and prevented me from writing something regrettable on Facebook. It was only by making a reluctant act of will to love God unconditionally that saved my faith.
It’s now some years since my faith nearly sank. And in the years since, I can honestly say that I have grown to love the Tridentine Mass more, as God is worthy of such reverence and magnificence.
From Francis’ vantage point, he knows that his utmost responsibility is to rectify our callous coldness to God. To do so, he has embodied an austere Franciscan existence, so that the Pope might decrease and the Lord increase.
In the Catholic world we truly can have both. The proliferation and greater availability of the Tridentine Mass – and a Pope who embodies Franciscan austerity. One case in point is that Cardinal Pell, a dynamic promoter of the Extraordinary Form, has been chosen for Francis’s inner cabinet of eight advisers, “the super-cardinals”.
In both austerity, and liturgical lavishness, we have to be certain that whether it is giving up trappings or embracing them, that both are done with a mind to promoting love of God.
Personally, I am all for every sophistication of the Papacy, from the fanon to furs. Nothing is good enough for the Pope. But, the present Pope must do as he sees fit, in order to grow the seed of faith.
True, people are developing a fascination with aspects of his personality, his integrity, his supple intellectualism, and most of all his disquieting humility. So, already the defining achievement of Francis’ pontificate is that his characteristics that are most Christ-like are those that are seizing the imagination of us ordinary people.