Catholic Identity: More than the Tip of the Iceberg

It is becoming more and more difficult to deny that there is a crisis in the Church. Statistics are available that show a decline in the Church in practically every measurable way, from Sunday Mass attendance, to priestly and religious vocations, to baptisms and confirmations. And these are just the measurable categories that show that the Church is in decline. The greater decline – and the greater tragedy – can be found in a category that is much more difficult to define and measure: Catholic identity.

The measurable categories mentioned above can be considered to be the “natural reality” of the Church. Catholic identity can be assumed to exist in this natural reality, but only on a superficial basis. Catholic identity is manifested in the natural realities – the sacramentals, the spoken prayers, the sign of the Cross, even stained glass windows depicting Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, etc. But the most important part of Catholic identity is the supernatural reality of our faith—the “mystery of faith,” the part that we can’t see and measure. It is the foundation of the natural reality. The relationship is reciprocal and cyclical, too: the supernatural reality of our faith is expressed in and gives real meaning to the natural reality; the natural reality, in turn, reinforces and reflects the supernaturality.

Consider this analogy: It is said that only 10 percent of an iceberg is visible, and that 90 percent of the iceberg is underwater. The same is true, in a sense, with the Church, and also with the spiritual life of each individual. In the natural reality of the Church, we can see the buildings, the finances, and the activities that are going on. We can see that Mass attendance is down, vocations have declined, etc., and we can acknowledge that this is a “crisis.” But these data points form only the tip of the iceberg; that is, people getting into their cars and driving to Mass on Sunday, is a natural occurrence. There is nothing necessarily supernatural taking place. Frankly, some of the Masses attended make no pretense of any supernatural happenings. And some people no doubt attend Mass only for natural reasons. Similarly, polls tell us that roughly 90 percent of both Catholics and non-Catholics use artificial contraception; but even the 2 percent of couples who are not contracepting are not necessarily avoiding it for supernatural reasons.

All of this natural activity is supposed to be “just the tip of the iceberg”; there is supposed to be another 90 percent below the water that is not visible: the supernatural part, the invisible part. For instance, since a sacrament is the outward and visible sign of an interior and invisible reality, then 90 percent of the reality of the sacrament is supposed to be interior and invisible. At a baptism, we can see the priest putting chrism on the baby’s forehead, but we can’t see God removing the guilt of original sin, and restoring the soul of the child to union with the divinity. Clearly, the part we can see is infinitely smaller than the part that we can’t see.

But in the Church today, it certainly appears that the natural activity, buildings, finances, etc., of the Church—which we can see—are not the “tip of the iceberg” any longer; they are the iceberg, and it is melting fast.

Now, applying this analogy more concretely to the current crisis in the Church, imagine that you need this iceberg to live. In places where there are shortages of fresh water, schemes have been considered such as using a large ship to tow an iceberg where there is a shortage of water. Let’s imagine this actually took place—and that your city required this iceberg for water, or else the whole community would die of thirst. Imagine that the tip of the iceberg is visibly shrinking as the iceberg melts and the water is used, but all of the citizens assume that there is still 90 percent of the iceberg remaining below the surface. However, the city fathers take the precaution of sending a scuba diver below the surface to check on the status of the iceberg, and to the shock of all, the diver reports that there is no iceberg below water. The small remaining part of the visible tip of the iceberg is all that is left, and it will soon be gone, and everyone will die of thirst.

The current crisis in the Church is like the shrinking iceberg with nothing left under the water. It is as if our Catholic identity now consists of some visible natural elements that have little or no supernatural basis underlying them. A case in point is a current Knights of Columbus program entitled “The Family Fully Alive.”1 While there is nothing ostensibly wrong with this program, it suffers from a distinct lack of Catholic identity. The emphasis is clearly on “peace and justice” items such as participation in Special Olympics, Community Garden, Parish Spring Cleaning, “Global Wheelchair Mission,” “Coats for Kids,” Habitat for Humanity, etc. The bulk of the activities suggested are for individual families, and involve working outside the context of the parish itself. The program does call for all the families to join together in the parish hall to watch a free family movie once a month—but the suggested movies, which include “Beauty and the Beast,” “Despicable Me,” “The Lion King,” and “The Incredibles,” do nothing to promote Catholic identity.

The program does include a few authentically Catholic elements: going to confession as a “family project” is suggested for January, and November’s suggestions include a “Sunday trip to visit an adoration chapel,” but it is telling that these are included as “special events.” Shouldn’t these activities ideally already be a part of a Catholic family’s life? And although Marian hymns and prayers are included, there is no mention of a regular recitation of a “family Rosary,” nor any special Marian traditions (crowning of Mary in May, for example, or special emphasis on the Rosary in October). In November, there’s not even a mention of praying for the dead, and there’s not a word about indulgences. Some Latin hymns are included (words only—no musical notation) which seem almost like an anomaly in the context of the rest of the promoted activities.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the activities promoted in “The Family Fully Alive” program. My point is: What is Catholic about this? Where is Catholic identity revealed, encouraged, taught? The program is equivalent to the “tip of the iceberg” discussed above. In fact, the overall impression given by the booklet provided is that we’ll have happier families if we just participate together in some volunteer projects, and watch a movie at the parish hall once a month. But we won’t build a “domestic church” in any Catholic sense until those families come to appreciate some Catholic traditions—which more effectively access that 90 percent of our faith below the surface. And while going out into secular society in order to evangelize may be part of the mission of the laity, evangelization efforts will only bear fruit if the families are well-steeped in their Catholic identity.

The cause of the crisis in the Church—the heart of which is a lack of Catholic identity—can be debated on various levels, but an honest assessment has to lay a major portion of the blame on the liturgical abuses that run rampant in the experience of the liturgy as it is celebrated in many, if not most, parishes in the U.S.. Since the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian lives, it should not be surprising that a deficient Eucharistic celebration, as experienced routinely by the vast majority of Catholics, will be reflected in the deficient lives of faith commonly observed in our Catholic parishes and schools. Those same deficiencies have also led to an incomplete and secularized understanding of social justice. (For an extended commentary on the effects of the deficiencies in our liturgical worship on many other aspects of our lives, it is well worth reading Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church.2) The bottom line is that our Catholic identity has been dealt a severe blow, and that blow is felt most keenly in, and because of, the Mass.

The problems that we face due to the current weakness of the faith, as it is practiced in most parishes, especially in the West, can be seen in the current state of society, with Catholic teaching being attacked from all sides, and many Catholics acquiescing with cultural norms that include “gay marriage,” divorce and remarriage, contraception, and even abortion. Relatively few Catholics actually stand up for the truth of Catholic teaching; in fact, teachers in Catholic schools seem opposed to some essentially Catholic Church doctrine, as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has discovered in his attempt to require Catholic teaching from Catholic school teachers, and require that their public lives not work against the teachings of the Church.3 Eighty percent of the teachers signed a petition protesting “morality clauses” in their contracts, prompting the wry observation that “San Francisco parents of children enrolled at local Catholic schools were recently shocked to discover that their children are attending schools run by Catholics.”4 The petition-signers, by their actions, are also aiding and abetting secular society in its attempt to keep Catholic schools from being Catholic. At this writing, San Francisco city officials are threatening legal efforts to essentially curtail the religious liberty of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.5

The current problems in the Church are not new, of course. In a book written over 10 years ago, sociologist David Carlin enumerated the causes, effects, and measurable outcomes of the decline of the Church. Carlin concludes that the Church is in decline because Catholic identity has been diluted to merely Christian identity; our religion “became no longer Catholicism, but generic Christianity, or Christianity-in-general.”6 And it is Catholicity, more than “mere Christianity,” that holds together the fabric of society. A notable case in point is the fact that every Christian denomination bowed to the demand for acceptance of artificial contraception—which is arguably a prime instigator of much immoral behavior—while the Catholic Church, to this day, decries and forbids the practice.

The connection between moral decline and liturgical abuse should be obvious. Lex orandi, lex credendi, as the saying goes, is often paraphrased as meaning that the way we worship reflects what we believe, and vice versa, really, in the sense that what we believe also determines how we worship. Ideally, we train our children (and new adult Catholics) to worship in a way that will adequately reflect what we, as Catholics, are supposed to believe. A problem arises, though, when the “worship environment” in which our children are raised fails to adequately reflect our Catholic beliefs. Then, our children (and new adult Catholics) fail to understand their faith, and there is no binding force to keep them “in the Church.” There comes a point where Catholic identity is so diluted, there is no reason to remain Catholic.

The fact that the development of the new Mass was influenced by voices seeking to make the liturgy “relevant” to non-Catholics seems to be widely accepted now; and surely it is clear that such an influence will necessarily remove some critical elements of Catholic identity! Comparisons of the new Mass with the old Mass show that some theological strengths of the former became crippled, or even non-existent, in the latter. For example, the centrality of the Holy Trinity in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which can be clearly seen in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, is diluted in the new Mass where the prayers of the liturgy seem to have been systematically edited to omit or alter references to the Holy Trinity. The Preface of the Holy Trinity is seldom used in the liturgies most often experienced by the faithful today; the use of the sign of the Cross has been reduced; and the use of the “Gloria Patri” or the “Glory be” has been purged from the liturgy. Also, the rubrics for cleansing the vessels are much less detailed in the new Mass, reflecting (and perpetuating) a decline in reverence for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic species.7

There are other changes and omissions that have struck me as detracting from Catholic identity. We’ve lost the Asperges, for instance, which is a very apt preparation for Mass in that it reminds us of our sinfulness and of God’s mercy in cleansing us of that sin. In fact, throughout the prayers of the Mass of the extraordinary form, one can find this constant reminder of the tension between our sin and the mercy of the Father. Of course, in the liturgy celebrated in most parishes, there is an opportunity to examine and confess our sins in a meaningful way. But the problem is that the flagrant disregard for the norms, set forth in the GIRM, has so marred the new Mass that the differences between it, and the extraordinary form, are exacerbated.

There are other differences between the two forms which are not abuses, but which bring the current liturgy down to a more “human” level, whereas the older prayers raise our minds and hearts to Heaven. For instance, in the ordinary form of the Mass, we find this offertory prayer:

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.”

But in the extraordinary form, the prayer is much richer:

“Accept, O Holy Father, Almighty and Everlasting God, this unspotted Host, which I, Thine unworthy servant, offer unto Thee, my living and true God, to atone for my countless sins, offenses, and negligences: on behalf of all here present and likewise for all faithful Christians, living and dead, that it may avail both me and them as a means of salvation, unto life everlasting.”

In the liturgy experienced by most Catholics every Sunday, we no longer have this reminder that God is holy, almighty, and everlasting. Those words convey a much more Catholic sense of God than “God of all creation,” a phrase which many pantheists would be able to embrace! In the old prayer, we are also reminded again of our sins, and the prayer indicates that this includes our “offenses” and “negligences.” We also see in the old prayer that we are offering the sacrifice for the dead, as well as the living, and that this is for our salvation. These are important concepts which have been lost, and which have resulted in a decrease in Catholic sensitivities.

The liturgical actions in the Mass also serve as a means of catechesis,8 and this is another case where changes have resulted in a decrease in these signs and symbols of our faith. The many genuflections and bows of the head that occur in the extraordinary form instill a reverence that is lost when they are omitted. Since these actions are much curtailed in the ordinary form of the Mass, it should not be surprising that there is a corresponding decrease in reverence for the tabernacle, altar, the Holy Name of Jesus, and Our Blessed Mother. Although that decrease may not go to the extreme of irreverence, it is clear that much less awe and wonder has been instilled in the lay ministers who traipse through the sanctuary in order to take their part in the liturgy. Think also of the Credo: even in my pre-Catholic days, I noted that while the missal indicated that all should bow at the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man,” no one did. When I asked about it, I was told: “We don’t have to do that anymore.” In the older form, the rubrics instruct the faithful to genuflect at those words, not just bow the head. The message sent is exponentially greater with the more reverential action.

In these liturgical actions of the older form, we see the tip of the iceberg undergirded by a mass of theological depth. The “tip” signifies what lies below in a way we would expect—that 90 percent lies beneath it. On the other hand, in the Mass that most of the faithful experience today, we see fewer gestures at the tip of the iceberg, and the foundation under the water has been eroded. That is, the Mass is being celebrated ostensibly as a Catholic liturgy, but with (more) words and (fewer) gestures expressing less Catholic theology. What once loomed large below the surface—the true, supernatural reality of our Catholic identity—has been steadily decreasing as use of the ordinary form of the Mass has increased.9

When Summorum Pontificum was promulgated, I had been a Catholic for just five years, and had never experienced the older form of the Mass. When I did, however, I expressed my own realizations about the differences between the ordinary formand the extraordinary form of the Mass in an article published in HPR:

We’ve had some priceless treasures taken from us: a language (Latin) that adds beauty and a sense of history to our liturgy; music (Gregorian chant) that does the same; a sense of the a sense of the hierarchical nature of the Church (cf. Lumen gentium, §18-29; Sacrosanctum concilium, §26-32); a sense of the Real Presence of Jesus; a sense of reverence, awe, and wonder associated with the mysteries of the liturgy; a sense of right and wrong; a sense of the power of God; a sense of the importance of our choice of words in speaking to him; a sense of sin.10

In that same article, I wrote about watching a video of the extraordinary form of the Mass. Here are the words of a mere neophyte (me!):

I was in awe as I watched the video. I saw how much is lacking in the way many parishes celebrate the forma ordinaria. I understood why the alleged percentage of Catholics who actually believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is so alarmingly low.The forma extraordinaria leaves no doubt as to his Real Presence, while the behavior of many of the ministers in the forma ordinaria Masses I have attended has often suggested that they are oblivious to him.

I became very, very much aware of the fact that we have been robbed.11

Whatever the intentions of the reformers of the liturgy, it is clear that what has become the standard in American parishes is simply bad liturgy, which has prevailed ostensibly as a way to make the Mass and the Church “relevant.” By the numbers, this approach is clearly a failure. We have been seeking to keep people in the Church through methods that weaken Catholic identity, using the old saw “we have to meet them where they are” to justify the introduction of bad music, inappropriate use of guitars and tambourines, and other liturgical abuses at Mass. These abuses are meant to make the Mass more “contemporary,” and thus to keep the pews full by making the people “feel good” (or at least “comfortable”). Not only is that the wrong approach, it hasn’t even worked, as evidenced by the low levels of Sunday Mass attendance in most parishes.

Of course, the Mass is for the people, too—though not simply as a pacifier, but as a means of spiritual growth! Spiritual nurturing is not properly accomplished by providing banal music and pandering to the desire of the laity to “be involved” in the liturgy, any more than children receive proper nutrition from candy and cake. The pandering to the desire to make people “feel good” at Mass leads to liturgical abuses, and those abuses are an affront to properly formed Catholics, making them “feel bad.” So, whose “feelings” matter more? At times, the “war” between New Mass adherents and traditionalists seems to boil down to whether a Gregorian chant schola or a guitar group should provide the music at Mass. That’s not the real issue, of course. The re-introduction of Latin, Gregorian chant, and the use of the organ—all of which do, in fact, convey a Catholic identity—will not, in and of themselves, do justice to the Real Presence. But neither should tradition-minded Catholics always be required to “offer up” the pain they feel at the typical poorly-celebrated Mass when guitars and tambourines replace the organ, and “contemporary” Christian ditties replace Gregorian chant.

The Mass should form us and teach us how to worship, and why to worship, and it can be argued convincingly that the extraordinary form of the Mass accomplishes this more efficaciously than the ordinary form. Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, in the book mentioned earlier, makes a good point about the liturgy and its effects on us:

… By attending poor liturgy one implicitly accepts it—that is, one says to it: “Shape me, shape my soul, form my spirit. Make me like yourself.” But this is what one must not allow to occur with experimental, horizontal, anti-sacral liturgy; its habits, as it were, must not become my habits. Sadly, the vast majority of Catholics who still attend Mass, including their bishops and priests, have been habituated precisely to this poverty, so much so that it is no longer possible for most people to be made aware of the impoverishment, let alone convince them of its remedies.12

It is in becoming “habituated to this poverty” that we have lost our Catholic identity, lost the sense of Catholic morality, and lost the capacity to implement Catholic values in the society in which we live. As I noted above, this loss became for me a sense of having been robbed; but in a sense, we’ve been victims of a kind of “shell game,” where our valuables have been replaced by cheap imitations. I wrote in my 2008 article:

But the thief did leave something behind to replace some of the treasures lost: humanity has replaced divinity; “egalitarianism” has replaced the hierarchy; familiarity and contempt have been substituted for reverence, awe, and wonder; “innovation” has replaced tradition; “relevance” has replaced the essential mystery of the liturgy; “tolerance” has replaced our sense of right and wrong; moral relativism has replaced our sense of sin.13

What has brought us to this state? It seems we have lost a sense of our own Catholic tradition, which is an essential part of our identity. The traditional Latin Mass was squelched for decades, and despite the stipulations of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the use of Latin and Gregorian chant were all but eradicated. Even secular society recognizes those as essential elements of Catholic identity, to the extent that one can scarcely find a movie that mentions or alludes to the Catholic Church without hearing some of each!

An interesting notion of Kwasniewski’s is that a “threefold amnesia” has gripped the Church: the attenuation or negation of traditional liturgy; the downplaying of integral Catholic social teaching; and the dismissal of the authority of St. Thomas Aquinas.14 Indeed, in theological and philosophical disputes in the Church today, Aquinas is often set on a dusty shelf in a dark closet, the Traditional Latin Mass is forced to sit in the back of the bus, and Catholic social teaching is now all about “Peace and Justice”—the by-words of those following a liberal/progressive agenda. Personally, I experienced this “amnesia” time and again with commenters on my own blog. Those who disagreed with my take on various subjects (particularly NFP and Theology of the Body) relied heavily on Vatican II and post-Vatican II documents, while often seeming to casually dismiss Fathers and Doctors of the Church like Aquinas and Augustine. My references to popes as recent as Pius XI and XII even met with resistance, on occasion. The common perception these days seems to be that the Church came into existence in 1965!

The tension that exists between opposing views of the value and weight of tradition is yet another symptom of the decline of Catholic identity, and, I think, boils down to an emphasis on natural reality, and a dismissal or unawareness of the supernatural reality of the Church. Too much emphasis on “relevance” leads away from the time-honored traditions of the Church, and away from their supernatural foundation—the 90 percent of the iceberg that is invisible to us. The monumental task to be faced in rectifying the crisis in the Church lies in acknowledging the fact that the invisible supernatural realities, such as the state of people’s souls, are so much worse than even the visible natural realities, such as the fact that 98 percent of Catholics are using birth control, or 80 percent are not attending Sunday Mass regularly.

What is true of the Church is also true of individuals. Each one of us has his own spiritual life which consists of visible activities, such as attending Mass on Sunday. We assume that the visible, natural, exterior part of our spiritual life is just the tip of the iceberg, and that there is another interior, invisible, supernatural part of our spiritual life which is many times larger than what we can see.  But if we sent a scuba diver down to check on the status of this submerged part of our spiritual life, what would he find? Would he say that this iceberg still has an underwater connection to the infinitely large stores of fresh water from which it comes? Or would he say that there is no “there” there, and that “what you see is what you get,” that it exists only on the surface?

To resolve the crisis in the Church, it seems we must find a way to restore the 90 percent of that dwindling iceberg, that invisible supernatural reality, to the lives of the faithful who have, for too long, been fed on an impoverished faith that relies primarily on visible realities. One way to do that is to promote and catechize the faithful on the majesty and beauty inherent in the extraordinary form of the Mass. To be sure, this is not the only way to restore Catholic identity, but because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian lives, this is where we must begin.

One of the most frequently visited posts on my blog is entitled: “Seven Reasons Why You Should Not Go to the Traditional Latin Mass”15 (the title was, of course, tongue-in-cheek). Here’s a partial list:

  • You’ll wonder why we have lay ministers of Holy Communion (and why so many receive Holy Communion in the hand).
  • You’ll become more aware of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
  • You’ll wonder why we have guitar music at Mass.
  • You’ll gain a new understanding of the liturgical worship of the Catholic Church.
  • It will make you hunger and thirst for true worship every time you attend the typical impoverished Mass at your parish.

In short, I was “warning” that the extraordinary form of the Mass will make the faithful more aware of their Catholic identity! But such an effect takes time, because of our “habituation to the poverty” of the liturgies most of the faithful experience every Sunday:

 … if you go just one time, you might feel like a fish out of water; it may seem odd and quiet and just plain different. … you will quite likely say, “I guess it’s fine for all those trad types, but it’s just not for me.”

…If you really give the TLM a try, though—because maybe you seek a greater “actual” participation in the Mass, and you are a Catholic who wants to truly be Catholic—you will experience all of the above effects, and they really are good things and not bad.

The answer to the current crisis in the Church is to restore Catholic identity. In order to do that, the extraordinary form of the Mass must be introduced, explained, promoted, and provided for all the faithful. Why? Because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian lives, because the Mass is our highest form of worship, and because the Sacred Liturgy is who we are as Catholics.

The tools for true renewal of the Church are available; it is only for the shepherds of the Church to begin to employ them.

  1. See
  2. Kwasniewski, Peter. Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church (Angelico Press, 2014).
  3. See, for example,
  5. See Fr. Z’s analysis at
  6. Carlin, David. The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America (Sophia Institute Press, 2003), p. 377.
  7. See Chapter 6, “Offspring of Arius in the Holy of Holies” in Kwasniewski’s book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church. (Angelico Press, 2014).
  8. Ibid.
  9. Kwasniewsi notes: “When such gestures were radically stripped away in the name of simplicity and greater ‘transparency’, the moving musicality of the Mass as an ascending hymn of praise to the Trinity was gravely damaged. It became flattened out and socialized, taken over by wearisome wordiness that has to explain everything from start to finish, usually with a goodly dose of ad libbing.” (In Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church, Angelico Press, 2014, p.88).
  10. Boyd, Jay. “We’ve Been Robbed!”, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, May 2008.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Peter Kwasniewski’s Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church (Angelico Press, 2014), p. 73-74.
  13. Boyd, Jay. “We’ve Been Robbed!”, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, May 2008.
  14. Ibid., p.182.
  15. See; see also my book Zeal for Thy House: Suffering Through Mass, available at Amazon.
Avatar About Dr. Jay Boyd, PhD

Dr. Jay Boyd earned her doctorate in psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1989. She was received into the Catholic Church in 2002. Her blog, "Philothea on Phire", features many posts on the liturgy, NFP, and other topics. She is the author of two books: Natural Family Planning: Trojan Horse in the Catholic Bedroom? and Zeal for Thy House: Suffering Through Mass.


  1. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    I am sure you have heard all the arguments pro and con about your position on the liturgy, so there is no point in repeating. I just ask that you pray Ps 98 and make rejoicing with organ or Guitar and make justice and fairness the core of Catholic identity. I am 75 years old, I experienced liturgy in Latin before Vatican II. I do not want to go back to praying the rosary while the priest said the Mass in Latin with his back to us. I do not want to go back to the 15 minute masses with one alter boy. The Joy of the Gospel is what will and does bring people to ask what is the source of your joy.

    • Avatar Francesca Heartfield says:

      Tom, those were my thoughts also. I am 73 years old and remember the joy I felt when the priest began to face the congregation. I understand what Dr. Boyd is talking about, but also do not want to return to those years when the congregation was left out and in the dark. I grew up in central Mexico, and most of the church goers had no access to education. Had the priest been facing them and speaking in the vernacular, they would have learned some things. The churches were dark, dimly lit, and the sacrifice of the Mass was a mysterious going on.

      • Avatar Richard M says:

        “…the joy I felt when the priest began to face the congregation.”

        This is something that has always been perplexing to me. What is it that is so desirable about having the priest face us during the Mass?

  2. Avatar Nicholas Postgate says:

    If fewer devotees of the Extraordinary Form were dour and unfriendly, perhaps they’d start a renewal. The circular dialogue among the few devotees only serves to divide the Church.

  3. Tom, Why would you pray the Rosary during the Latin Rite? The English translation of what the priest is saying and doing is readily available. We pray the Mass along with the priest. True, he may be a little ahead of us or behind us, but it is not off my much — because we know the Mass and gestures so well. Oh, how much more beautiful are the prayers of TLM! You will be praying the Mass and it will blow your socks off.

    I actually do attend the Novus Ordo. I do try to pray it mystically but it is so much harder. I have to concentrate — and with the circus atmosphere, it challening. The prayers in Novus Ordo have been watered down to pablum. We say them rote. I couldn’t count the number of times I mouthed the words and I said what I was supposed to say to ‘participate in the Mass” but in my head, I am thinking about work or family or something else going on. Most people in the NO community are present and going through the motions but their head is checked out to somewhere else. I bet 5% are placing themselves into the mystical prayer of being present from the Praetorium to the Resurrection. They are not in the upper room. They are not at Golgotha. They are not at the tomb after the resurrection. They don’t know what is going on mystically – let alone try to pray it as the daffy women are trying to get you to hold hands and sing the lame songs filled with protestant theology.

    I love the Novus Ordo because Christ Sacrifices Himself before me and I draw the properties of His Divinity. But I can be honest and say it is so much easier to pray the Mass in mystical prayer without the hubbub.

  4. I’ve struggled for awhile, since this article was published, to discern how best to respond to it. I’ve finally rested on this point of criticism: it seems the article focuses on a symptom, not the fundamental cause of the problem. The basic problem is not the loss of a Catholic identity. The dramatic decline in Catholic presence, and identity, and proclamation in the wider secular culture, is (in my opinion) due to the dramatic decline in supernatural faith within us, and among us.

    Jesus asked a piercing question of His disciples: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith upon the earth?” The context of His question suggests a terrifying darkness in the world in those days, but yet He can still promise fidelity guarded among His elect:
    Luk 18:7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?
    Luk 18:8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

    Faith is in decline, secularization and worldliness grows in His Church! Of course Catholic identity will be in decline when Catholic faith is weakening, and in a continuing condition of compromise with the world and the values and concerns of the world. Our Church in America, once sent to evangelize, more readily becomes “devangelized” (de-evangelized) herself than risk being disliked and rejected by the world.

    Our problem, it appears to me, is far beyond a need to better worship God in the Holy Mass. We need first to learn what worship is by finding it face-flat on the ground before Him, as if a dead man, impoverished of life itself. We first need, personally, experientially, in naked openness of soul, to encounter God in Jesus Christ. We need to be changed, to wake up, to come alive, to find the fire of His life – then, then we can worship and recognize Him in the Eucharist. We need to hear and be pierced to the heart by His Truth: “Repent and believe the Gospel!”

    Then, I believe, we will begin to worship Him as He deserves and desires – worship in spirit and in truth.

  5. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    Carol M you missed my point. I am 75 years old. I remember the Mass in Latin. I do vividly remember the 15 minutes Mass; that was the one you went to because it did not take so much of your time from other pleasures or work. The Latin Mass was not perfect way to celebrate Liturgy of Eucharist. My reflection was based on those memories. Today, I participate in liturgy in English and though distracted know that I am taking part in the Paschal Mystery, the greatest miracle ever. O yes, I am a sinner, distracted sometimes, misguided at others. But my greatest hope is that Jesus came for sinners like me. Let us not try to find the perfect religion.

    • You missed out on the Solemn High Mass, then, and other great things. You unfortunately were put in a Low Mass culture, with 15 minute Masses, which is a big abuse. The High Masses I sung were at least 1 hour 30 min.

  6. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    I am no theologian or expert, but it raises lots of questions for me. One, from which the bulk of the others follow, is how much, or even whether, we can judge intentions (invisible) from behaviours (visible). Yet how many people seem to talk as if this is possible, that we can mind-read?

    Are right behaviours or right beliefs necessarily signs of a spirit-filled life? This leads to another question: can we judge who is in, and who is out, like some recent method gaining traction, which claims only about ‘2%’ of our congregations are ‘real disciples’, but based on what? Observation of exteriority? That is, how can we judge the spiritual depth of people we see about an hour a week, and at a distance?, those we can’t even be bothered to get to know because we’re so wrapped up in ourselves?, so we make wild generalisations about their interior lives, and the other 165 hours in between, but based on what, when we don’t even know their names?

    Is grace algorithmic or somehow in our control, like a vending machine? Can we say that this, or that, practice, if enacted, will result in a ‘successful’ outcome: spiritual/numerical growth? Can we condition providence? Is God’s blessing tied to mechanical performance of rites, number of prayers, or the accuracy of the wording/teaching, etc.? Are we seeing a resurgence of a Jansenist-like superstition?

    Might it be the case we’re using fundamentally ‘modernist’ categories by trying to ‘measure’ the quality of church life and spirituality? ‘Experience’, knowledge, ‘induction’/empiricism, etc.? That is, is there a certain irony that the modus vivendi of a lot of ‘Traditionalism’, is actually modernism – Post-Enlightenment analysis, categorisation, and solutions – based primarily on the senses and reason?

    Is the crisis narcissism, self-absorbed Promethean neo-pelagianism, a mistake in what ‘identity’ means? Are we confusing self-esteem or self-importance with spiritual maturity? A hubristic sense that me, or the coterie, cleric, or Catholic celebrity, I follow, know where God is leading the Church, and ‘those others’ don’t? That I have been given a mission by God to fix all the erroneous beliefs and practices of everyone else, because I am just so special?

    Is our focus on woes elsewhere – e.g. vague attacks on liturgical abuse – giving us a scapegoat, providing us with something to not see the problem with ourselves?

    In short, might the mindset of many about the crisis in 2015 smell a lot like the ferment around in 1515, with self-appointed reformers all thinking they’ve got THE answer to the Church’s woes…? ‘If people would only…then…’ A quixotic quest for ‘silver bullets’?

  7. Avatar Jim Foley says:

    I also am old enough to remember the Latin mass. It nurtured me and I found it very uplifting. Yes, the older ladies did recite the rosary during the mass, but they were very reverent and came regularly to mass. I think it foolish for us to judge their spirituality inferior from our supposed superior vantage point. The shepherds at Bethlehem probably didn’t fully grasp what was going on either but who can doubt the superabundant graces they received.
    With that said, I find nothing negative about a Novus Ordo mass celebrated with due reverence. I also deeply appreciate the beauty of the Byzantine rite. The mass is good period. Why get hung up about superficialities rather than concentrating on the core of our belief?

    • It isn’t superficial. Even Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still Cardinal, deplored the destruction of the liturgy wrought by the Novus Ordo. The liturgy concerns right worship of God, and the Novus Ordo is a break with previous liturgical development!

  8. Avatar Martin Drew says:

    Remember the mass was first celebrated in greek then in latin which I attended. Then from Pope Paul VI the vernacular could be used and the central act remained the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ by the celebrant. The important selections from Sacred Scripture are a source for catholic identity. And The present English form of the Nicene creed is excellent and I’ve seen all bow at the incarnation words. The Our Father from Jesus is important and the receiving of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus from the celebrant or an EM is the same whether in the hand or on the tongue. This article on Catholic identity I find rather uneven and not Theologically correct.. I have a licentiate in Sacred Scripture and all Theology from the University of Dallas and the Lateran. It is doctrinally healthy to follow Pius XII, Paul VI and St Pope John Paul II on liturgy.

    • I am sorry but the Pope is not the arbiter of liturgy; he is only the custodian. He doesn’t have the right to impose new rites on the Church and forbidding old ones. And it is true that the Novus Ordo isn’t as uplifting as the TLM and represents a break with Tradition. The Eastern Churches’ liturgies are more in sync with the TLM than the Novus Ordo. The ORder of Readings is a new fabrication and not derived from older Lectionaries. All that the Novus Ordo retains, the TLM does far better!

  9. Avatar Corinne says:

    Thankful for the good article by Faithful servants! Faith, hope, and love: our ‘Prayer Warriors’ and ‘soldiers for Christ’ rise in leadership, courage, and strength in Catholic Citizenship and Catholic Identity, communion and fidelity to our Holy See, Pope Francis, Magisterium, Catechism. We are protecting souls and battling for souls – the end of “false compassion”. Hence, the reality is Saint Louis De Montfort, Pope St. John Paul 2 the Great , Holy Spirit, and Blessed Mother Mary intercede in Brittany, France -conversion of hearts and open ears to leave Pope St. John Paul 2 statue up – the visible and invisible sign of a ‘Culture of Life’! God bless, Corinne , EWTN Media Missionary.

  10. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    The more I reflect on this article, the more it seems to fall foul – like most catechesis – of the ‘Socratic Myth: that if only people knew the right thing to do, they would do it.

    The irony is that the article argues against relevance, whilst firmly trying to make the Mass relevant:

    You’ll wonder why we have lay ministers of Holy Communion (and why so many receive Holy Communion in the hand).
    You’ll become more aware of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
    You’ll wonder why we have guitar music at Mass.
    You’ll gain a new understanding of the liturgical worship of the Catholic Church.
    It will make you hunger and thirst for true worship every time you attend the typical impoverished Mass at your parish.

  11. Avatar Melissa says:

    Thank you for this article. We have indeed been robbed! You are absolutely right in what you say about the abuses and the lack of reverence. It is very distressing. In twelve years of Catholic school I did not learn the faith, but have learnt it as I have homeschooled my children. My life has been changed through this experience, however, without the Latin Mass. As you say, the Eucharist is everything and we have the Eucharist in the Novus Ordo. I have attended the Latin Mass and I like it, however I know, through my own experience, that the transformation of the soul that you speak of is entirely possible without the Latin Mass. It is the Lord who touches hearts and the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies. God’s Grace is as available now through the Church as it ever was, but the faithful need to be taught to ask for it and to make themselves worthy to receive it. I think the real key to transforming the Church back to what she ought to be is properly teaching the faith. Catholic homeschooling families have reclaimed their children and are doing just that. God bless.

    • Hello Melissa – I think you hit it exactly: ” I think the real key to transforming the Church back to what she ought to be is properly teaching the faith.” Amen. And – It is a beautiful lesson that you shared in your post, that you learned the faith as you have homeschooled your children. The whole Church, as “mother”, ought to be able to say the same: if she would teach, maybe she also would learn.

  12. Avatar Catechist Kev says:

    I, too, have hesitated commenting on this article by Dr. Boyd.

    However, I think she is spot on with it.

    Here, too, is an article by a priest who says the TLM that affirms Dr. Boyd’s piece – in my mind, anyway.

    Peace to all,
    Catechist Kev