It's always worse when you have high hopes for something and have gone out of your way to do it. So how was the Latin Mass I attended today in the Diocese of Arlington?
I wanted to walk out half-way through it. The priest talked a mile a minute, the altar servers were in creepy harmony as they responded, and the pre-Motu Latin/English guide had apparently nothing to do with the actual Mass. Even knowing the order of the Mass and the basics of the Kyrie, Credo, Agnus Dei, Gloria, and so on, I got really lost very quickly and the fact that 75% of what was said was said silently (with most of the rest being obscured by kneeling benches being put down as the priest faced away from the congregation). Some awful-sounding overly-loud bells got rung every few seconds as well. Is this really what all the fuss has been about for the past forty years? I'm baffled as to what anyone sees in this form (especially as hardly anyone in the crowd would have even have hit adolescence by the time of Vatican II). By the end I wanted to declare my own Reformation.
This is why Catholicism is so poorly-regarded in English-speaking countries: the Novus Ordo is like a subpar Methodist service and the Latin Mass is impenetrable. I'm starting to understand why there was so much trepidation about Kennedy becoming President. If I wanted to come up with something designed to horrify Protestants into the belief that they should be suspicious of Catholics are secretive foreigners, I couldn't do a better job than the Latin Mass. The beauty of Palestrina's and Byrd's sung Masses were utterly absent; it was just a dark ampitheatre with plaster statues and a priest speaking a foreign language while we looked at his back. About the only thing I can come up with to commend it was that the presence of hair lace among the women let's me report that there was a scintilla of mantilla present.
This is why it's so important that the Holy Catholic Church find a place for Anglican worship. Evangelicals are going to be less-than-enthusiastic about Novus Ordo folk Masses and creeped out by the Latin form. Mainline Protestants are going to be horrified. The culture gap is just too wide. There was a chance back when everyone's stereotype was of folks like Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Catholicism was seen as being Anglo-American with an Irish brogue, but ecclesiastical Latin sounds menacing to my English-language ears. An Anglican form or Rite would give English-speakers (by this I mean as a culture, not as a language group) something to latch onto. The Episcopal Church is going down in flames, but Episcopalianism/Anglicanism offers something that Catholicism doesn't have: a sort of familiarity that allows it to at least get its foot in the door with Protestants and Evangelicals. An Anglican High Mass is a truly beautiful thing (if you're ever in London, attend the one at St. Paul's Cathedral) and even a Low Mass has a certain dignity to it that speaks well. It's not a matter of content, but how it's communicated.
For whatever reason (pick your favorite), Catholicism in this country pretty much only expands through reproduction, marriage, and a very small number of people who study history and theology enough to decide to convert. Evangelicals (including Pentecostals/Charismatics) may not keep as many of the folks the draw, but at least they get them in the door.
I'll probably give the Latin Mass another shot at a different parish; it's entirely possible that I simply was there on an off-day. However, what does it say when someone who knows what's going on and is inclined to give as much benefit of the doubt as possible comes away from a service upset and even slightly angry? For those who suggest that new Catholics might like the various Eastern rites: I'm not being blasphemous here, but for the love of God don't send them there. If the Latin is this atrocious, what chance do they have with Greek, Russian, or Syriac?