Amy Welborn had a post the other day in which she described going to an Ordinariate Mass. She mentioned that the ad orientem (priest facing the altar and away from the congregation) celebration "inexplicably terrifies and enrages some." It does seem to, and I'd go further: the entire traditional Mass, as it was celebrated for hundreds of years (at least) before Vatican II, and of which the Ordinariate Mass is essentially an Anglicanization, terrifies and enrages some Catholics. And that's a really odd thing.
I entered the Church in 1981, and of course had been sort of scoping it out for a while before that. But prior to the mid-1970s I had given it very little thought. Very, very, little. It had hardly any presence at all in northern Alabama where I grew up, and to the extent that it was ever a topic of discussion among my friends in college and for some time after it was only as an object of mockery. Then as someone contemplating conversion, and a bit later as a new convert, I was if anything more pleased than otherwise that the liturgy was in English. The whole idea of having it in Latin seemed at best very strange to me.
I mention all that by way of illustrating that when I did start to pay attention to the Church I had absolutely no opinion on the liturgy, much less any sort of attachment to what I soon learned was the way things had been done pre-Vatican-II, still less any desire to reinstate it. But I was at first puzzled, then downright bewildered, by the hostility to it shown by so much of the contemporary Church, from bishops on down. And the hostility was not confined to the liturgy itself: it extended to the people who lamented its loss and wanted it back.
By "contemporary" just now I meant "as of 1981," but the basic syndrome is still very much in evidence. It isn't as almost uniformly prevalent as it was, and as we all know Pope Benedict was very much in favor of making the old liturgy, now known as the Extraordinary Form, available to those who wanted it. Still, for all of the nearly 40 years that I've been Catholic most of the hierarchy have openly despised it and regarded its adherents as, to use James Hitchcock's phrase, "malicious troglodytes." At best they've been treated as pathetic souls who can't handle the modern world and are desperate to return to the supposed safety of the 1940s and 1950s. At the same time much was being made of the Church's need to be open to movements such as feminism which were actively attacking it. Why, I wondered, if these could be listened to respectfully, could not at least that much consideration have been given to faithful Catholics who only wanted to continue worshiping as they had been doing?
The more I saw of it, the more puzzled I was. I understood and if anything favored the liturgical change. But I could not understand the contempt and anger with which the old form was so widely regarded.
This really hit home to me at some point in the late 1980s, when my wife and I met a delightful old lady (probably about the same age as I am now) who attended Mass at our parish. She had snow-white hair and sparkling blue eyes. She was intelligent and friendly and informed, and we often chatted with her after Mass. But I began to notice something odd about her. Whenever the subject of the liturgy, or almost anything related to the current condition of the Church, came up, she changed. She lowered her voice, glanced around nervously, and began to talk in hints as if there was some terrible thing that she didn't dare mention.
Eventually I came to realize that she was a traditionalist who had been completely disoriented by the upheaval of Vatican II, and was at least entertaining a lot of fairly dark and paranoid thoughts about what had happened. I don't remember much that is specific now, but I think she at least flirted with sedevacantism, and with theories of Masonic conspiracies and the like. And I remember remarking to my wife that the woman had been driven a little crazy by the Vatican II fanatics. She had been treated as a crank, and she had in some respects turned into one.
Why? Why were sincere, faithful, good-hearted people like her treated with such contempt by the shepherds of the Church? I didn't understand it then and I still don't.
And why does the ad orientam posture, even in an English liturgy, provoke such sneering opposition? The description of it as the priest "talking to the wall" is pretty telling, for reasons that are obvious to me, but obviously not obvious to those who use it.
It makes me wonder whether those traditionalists who see Vatican II as a deliberate attempt to sever the Church's links with its past and turn it into something else altogether have a point. Well, I think they do have a point, actually, although I don't think what they see is the product of consciously evil intentions, but rather of various mistakes, which have been thoroughly explored by critics. In any case the desire of Vatican II progressives to stamp out liturgical traditionalism seems at the very least evidence of an unhealthy sense of disconnection from the past. And there's an obvious implication: suppose you think that much of Catholic tradition should be disowned and discarded, and that you would not want to be a Catholic if it were not. You'll be upset if you see evidence that the tradition is very much alive, and that the attempted severance of the past may be reversed.
I was going to illustrate this with some lurid thing about the smoke of Satan entering the sanctuary, but everything I found was so unpleasant (what did I expect?!?) that I decided to re-post this picture of the chapel where we have our Ordinariate Mass.