Pope Francis’s remarks on the “rigidity” of some attendees of the Extraordinary Form have sparked a great deal of comment. While much of this has been lighthearted – I have Facebook friends for whom “rigid” is now a proud self-ascription – it is undoubtedly true that many traditionally-minded Catholics, not surprisingly, feel genuinely affronted.
The thing is, the Holy Father is perfectly correct. As someone who attends the EF on a regular basis – two or three times a month, maybe – I reckon I know exactly whom our Pope must have in mind. Not, of course, all those “who are too young to have lived the pre-Conciliar liturgy, [but] who want it nonetheless”. That criterion would apply to any EF-goer under 50 or so, which, at our little village church at least, means a clear majority of them. But the small-but-vocal minority of them who are “too rigid”, who have indeed ” an attitude of rigidity”? Oh yes, I know them very well.
In fact, at nearly every single EF Mass I’ve ever been to, there has been at least one person there who fits that bill perfectly. At our regular Mass there are two of them – both, as it happens, young ladies.
While I have seen them both at other Masses, I know for a fact that both prefer – vastly prefer – the Tridentine. In fact, far from considering it Extraordinary, I’ve even heard them call it “normal Mass”. Why that is, I’ve no idea. Maybe it’s a social thing: there are, I admit, always a good number of bright young things of similar ages there (which, to be fair, isn’t true of every Mass). Once Mass is over, they only want to talk with those in their little clique.
Tellingly enough, they also like the “trappings” of Catholicism: they seem to spend forever lighting candles, visiting statues, and all that. It’s not so much as I mind that kind of devotionalism per se, in moderation. But these two take it to an extreme. Every Mass those sitting nearby are constantly distracted by their getting out endless rosaries, prayer cards, statuettes, and all manner of ostentatious accoutrements. (They have an actual rucksack – a rucksack! – full of such paraphernalia.)
I’m referring, as you may have guessed, to my beloved daughters, aged five and two. And in some ways, they fit the Holy Father’s description very well. These are young Catholics who know that they are right, and will brook no objections. What could anyone older than they are possibly know? Moreover, if something – anything – is not to their particular taste, they feel no disregard in loudly criticizing it. Many times, in the middle of Mass, I have been publicly told off – a “fraternal correction in the form of shouting and screaming – for doing something “wrong”. I have even sometimes, though thankfully not for a while, been forced to leave Mass early.
So let’s simply admit it. The Holy Father is, as so often, absolutely spot on here. The Latin Mass is certainly very attractive to a certain too rigid, attitude-masking-insecurity type of worshipper. But hey … that’s just what you get with very young children. They can be quite charming much of the time too.