The Extraordinary Form of the Mass and the Evangelization of the Culture

Screen-Shot-2014-06-08-at-9.17.01-PMBy: Msgr. Charles Pope (Archdiocese of Washington)

We tend to think of evangelization as focused on individuals. But cultures need evangelizing too, perhaps even more so, due to the influence of culture on so many. In her strongest periods the Church has been instrumental in forming the culture and ethos around her. In her weaker periods the Church begins to parrot and reflect culture which, without her leadership, is too easily ephemeral, disedifying, and at worst, debased.

It is hard to contend that we are in a period in which the Church has a key influence on culture. It is rather more the case that popular culture has far too greatly influenced us. Few Catholics get most of their information or influence from God, the Scriptures, or Church teaching. Most are far more aware of and inclined to listen to secular leaders, pop musicians, entertainers, sports figures, and the general cultural din. And this is where they develop even their most critical insights about God, family, sexuality, and many significant moral questions.

Liturgically, too, there are many problems associated with the triumph and primacy of modern and popular culture. Most of our modern trends in liturgy reflect the preferences of our culture, rather than the ability to challenge and influence people. And thus liturgy must be convenient, fast, entertaining, youthful, “relevant,” accessible, completely understandable even by the smallest child, warm, comfortable, respecting of diversity, friendly, etc. To be sure, most of these are not bad qualities. But the emphasis on them to the exclusion of balancing principles (such as mystery and tradition), and the often shallow understanding of those balancing principles, shows that popular culture rather than the Church is really in the driver’s seat.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know where exactly to draw the line. When exactly is a song too secular or in bad taste? When does something go from being understandable to being “dumbed down”? When does emphasizing a warm and welcoming environment become too anthropocentric and unprayerful? When does respecting diversity become a Balkanization and “stove-piping” of communities? When does “youthful, vibrant, and relevant” do harm to what is ancient, enduring, and time-tested?

Somewhere in all this concern for evangelizing the culture, as opposed to being dominated by it, is the quiet and stable presence of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, often called the Usus Antiquior (the older use or form), that was in use, largely intact, from antiquity until 1970.

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4 Responses to The Extraordinary Form of the Mass and the Evangelization of the Culture

  1. Ponder Anew says:

    Msgr’s sentiments really speak to me given that today, I read Bishop A. Taylor’s opinion, “Building the Kingdom of God involves much more than fostering personal piety and getting our souls into heaven, and so Vatican II sought to redirect our focus outward, to the vast majority of the world’s population who do not yet believe in Jesus and who without even knowing it, hunger deep to their souls for what we have to offer.”

    But, excuse me your Excellency, this sounds something akin to a ‘ chicken or the egg’ type dilemma Msgr alluded to. If I am understanding the mission to evangelize correctly, I must cultivate at least an attitude of reverence, faith, (and yes, hunger?) towards the Bread of Life of Whom I am bringing forth to the culture at large. I have to know Jesus. And how am I to go about knowing HIm, and develop holiness, which by the way, Vatican II called for?

    so far as I can tell, no altar in any parish has been moved out into the streets… His holy Presence in the tabernacles still reside in the sanctuaries. argh..


  2. GEOFF KIERNAN says:

    You cannot hand on that which you don’t have


  3. 000rjbennett says:

    A short time ago, I returned from the traditional Latin Mass that I attend every Sunday here in Dusseldorf, Germany, celebrated by an FSSP priest. I found Monsignor Pope’s writing and the article he comments on in my mailbox. I can only say that it is all so brilliant and true that I am left practically speechless. I’m afraid that if I tried to describe exactly HOW brilliant and true it all seems to me, the words would just gush out in a kind of emotional storm, and I would wind up sounding like a babbling idiot. What I CAN say, though, is this: “Monsignor Pope is completely, absolutely, one hundred-percent RIGHT!”


  4. kathleen says:

    Robert, thank you for your impassioned affirmation of Msgr. Pope’s detailed analogy between the EF Mass and the evangelisation of the culture. I found his article revealing too, and it’s good to hear it from someone like you who has such strong connections with the Traditional Latin Mass.

    Just in case anyone might have missed it, here is an excellent post on Rorate Caeli on much the same lines, but showing how we have become almost apologetic (or at least rather wary) of promulgating this sublime Mass of the Ages among other Catholics, who are not so familiar with it! And we shouldn’t be, as Father Richard Cipolla discovers!


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