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Gamaliel’s Warning: Confusion about the TLM Crackdown and Reasons for Hope
Only a few years ago, my wife and I began attending (first monthly, then more frequently) the TLM at a local parish in our diocese. There, we had an experience that we had never had before at any previous parish. After the mass, multiple people realized we were new, came up to us, welcomed us, and invited us to join them for a potluck brunch in the parish hall after mass. Circumstances forced that parish to stop offering the TLM (through no fault of anyone), and we began a Carmelite Rite parish a little further away. After one of the Sunday masses, we again had someone introduce themselves, greet us, and invite us to brunch after mass.
A relative of mine once mentioned that he had attended the TLM once at one of these parishes. It was a beautiful mass, he acknowledged but, he said (not knowing we attended mass there regularly), “I could have collapsed in the aisle and none of those people would have cared.” (Incidentally, the one time at one of those masses that I did see someone collapse in the aisle, a half dozen people were there almost before the person hit the ground).
Our brief experience illustrates much of the divide between perception and reality that exists in the minds of so many regarding the TLM. Nice mass, but the people who go there (shudder) are rigid, pharisees, holier than thou, and generally not a very nice group of people. Such is the perception from my relative who had attended one TLM and drawn conclusions based on a whole set of assumptions, biases, and convenient stereotypes that are commonly repeated on social media and “polite” company. And yet that perception was entirely out of line with reality. My wife and I have never been so welcomed at any parish as we have been at those Traditional Latin Mass parishes. We found there a thriving community that stayed behind after mass to pray and hold potluck brunches, despite many people who had to travel some distance to attend. This was new after former parishes where people would rush out after mass (or even communion) and attempts at post-mass fellowship failed as people merely would grab a doughnut on their way out the door.
The welcoming nature of our local TLMs became even more apparent during Covid when my then current parish refused to let my small children (then 2,4, and 6) enter the Church without masks. So much for permit the little children to come to me and do not hinder them. But the TLM mass attendees (95+% masked and fully covid compliant in every other respect) had no problem with my unmasked children.
A Church can sing “Gather Us In” and “All are Welcome” as much as it wants, but our family has never been so welcomed as we had been at the TLMs.
And this is one of the things that makes the recent attacks on the TLM so confusing to us. Many Catholics who love the traditional worship of the Church have been hurt and hurt deeply by the attack on the TLM and, it seems, the people who love it. Why should some in the Church wish to hurt such people, who represent not only some of the most welcoming, but also the most faithful and generous Catholics my family and I have met?
This is not an exaggeration. Repeated surveys show declining numbers of ordinary Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Similar surveys show that large numbers are practicing contraception, many reject Church teaching on divorce and marriage, and even waffle on Church teaching on abortion.
Yet, go into a Traditional Latin Mass and one will not find this. One finds a group of people with larger families, who are far more likely to accept and follow Church teaching on a host of challenging issues. Nor can they be dismissed as Pharisees (a popular trick), I thank thee Lord that I am not like these other sinners…, for the confession lines are both long and patiently attended. These people fully understand that they are sinners in need of God’s mercy, however they may be portrayed or dismissed in the perception of others. Why attack these people and the mass that they obviously love and that so obviously nourishes them? Why the synodal “listening session” for the self-identified LGBTQetc Catholic; why so much talk about reaching out to the divorced and civilly remarried; but, why the cold shoulder for Catholics who love the traditional mass?
I wrote to a local deacon who had served a local TLM and he wrote back with a helpful reminder.
We must turn to the Lord in total surrender. I am not being pollyannaish. Either God wills the total suppression of the older forms of our Sacred Liturgy which continue to draw souls close to him, or God is permitting this crucible to bring about some other aspect of his will or plan in providence. I can't imagine that God would desire that such an ancient form of the liturgy that produced so many fruits in terms of holiness, vocations, and culture should truly be reprobated. Thus, it must be the other possibility. God is permitting this challenge in order to draw souls closer to him and achieve some greater purpose. We shouldn't fail to recall times in Church history when the faithful were deprived of priests, Masses, Churches, and fellowship. These were often the circumstances which produced stalwart heroic figures of faith. So let us not lose hope… Spend some time in prayer with Acts 5:33-39.
In Acts 5:33-39, of course, Gamaliel rises to warn the Sanhedrin, just as it is contemplating crushing the Apostles' preaching of the Resurrection.
And he said to them: Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do, as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theodas, affirming himself to be somebody, to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all that believed him were scattered, and brought to nothing. After this man, rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the enrolling, and drew away the people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as consented to him, were dispersed. And now, therefore, I say to you, refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought; But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God.
As hard to understand as are modern attempts to crush the TLM and those who love it, the deacon was entirely right. Either God actively wills that some attempt the suppression of the TLM or he passively permits their cruel attempts in order to achieve some greater good that we cannot now see.
Like my deacon friend, I cannot imagine that God actively wills the suppression of a mass that has proved and continues to prove so fruitful in the life of the faithful. We must, therefore, believe that, as confusing, misguided, and hurtful as the attempt to suppress the Traditional Latin Mass is, that God has nonetheless permitted the cruel attempt to bring about some greater good that perhaps He alone can now see.
Those who love the TLM thus should resist and protest suppression attempts when they can do so prudent; endure patiently when they cannot; and bring all to prayer in the confidence that those who would overthrow it cannot, and will find themselves in the position of fighting against God.