Nike, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Ray-Ban. What do these megabrands have in common with the Traditional Latin Mass?
First, both are popular. Once seen as rigid, antiquated and possibly eccentric, the TLM has gained remarkable traction in recent years, especially among young people. At the Latin Mass I usually attend – at St Kevin’s on Harrington Street in Dublin – I am not the only person there in my early 20s. While I’m not a radical traditionalist and I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with attending the Novus Ordo, I have gained significant personal benefits from my change of form. And I’m not the only one: there’s a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that young people often feel more at home with the older form of the Mass.
It may seem irreverent to talk about the Mass as a kind of brand; liturgy is not meant to be a marketing campaign. However, brands are often popular because they respond to genuine human needs: our aesthetic sense, for example. Think how easily we are convinced of a product’s worth by its packaging, or how much more likely we are to buy a neatly arranged bouquet of flowers compared to one that is disjointed and sloppy.
Simply put, Catholics cannot afford to treat aesthetic concerns as irrelevant. If we don’t put more effort into beauty, the Church will continue to slide into cultural irrelevance. And when a Coca-Cola advertisement boasts more beauty than the space you worship in, we have a problem. Young people care about beauty. They expect it because they’re constantly targeted by brands with multi-million pound marketing budgets. So when they arrive at Mass feeling sleepy on Sunday morning to find felt banners and Power Point projections from the 1990s, it’s not exactly going to lift the soul. If they prefer the Latin Mass, it is often because it is celebrated more beautifully than the typical Novus Ordo.
The Church also cannot forget the importance of authenticity. Brands understand the importance to young people of seeming real and honest. That has an application to the Eucharist: if we really think that we are receiving the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, we had better consider whether our standards authenticate or discredit this claim.
Is strolling down the aisle to have an extraordinary minister place Jesus in our hand really the most respectful conduct we can muster? Before I offend every hand-receiving reader, let me say I don’t think it’s sinful to do so. I just don’t think it’s the best we can do, nor is it the most appropriate if we truly believe we are receiving the Body and Blood of our Saviour. One striking difference at the Tridentine Mass is that the Eucharist is received on the tongue, while kneeling, from a priest or deacon. The reverence at Communion time is tangible and, dare I say, contagious.
That’s only during Communion. The effort put into the music, the reverence around the altar, even the priest facing the tabernacle instead of the people – all help point our attention towards prayer and towards God. For myself, I have to admit that in the Novus Ordo I often find myself going through the motions, checked out, but saying all the right things; in the Latin Mass I find myself aware of the state of reverence, turning to God, and – this has been a real personal breakthrough – actually praying the Mass. On every practical and spiritual level, my experience at Latin Mass has been more authentic.
Finally, there is suitability. Just as Tesco wouldn’t go for a grungy, hipster brand, and nor would Urban Outfitters try to sell vintage clothes with the slogan “Every little helps”, so does a brand need to reflect the content of what is being “sold”.
And it appears that the Traditional Latin Mass does reflect well the content of the faith. According to a study led by Fr Donald Kloster in the US, 2 per cent or less of TLM attendees approve of contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage, compared to 89 per cent, 51 per cent and 67 per cent respectively for frequenters of the Novus Ordo. Weekly Mass attendance rate for the TLM faithful was 99 per cent, while for the Novus Ordo it was only 22 per cent. Of course, a study like this is skewed by many factors, and it’s difficult to compare two kinds of Mass when one is so much more widespread than the other. But the Traditional Latin Mass clearly appeals to those who hold fully to Catholic doctrines – and attending it may help those struggling in their faith.
Beauty, authenticity and suitability will always appeal. At the moment, many people seem to be finding them in the traditional liturgy.