“In Latin America,” so the joke goes, “a mass is not valid if a dog is not present.”
Traditionalist websites are abuzz with doomsday scenarios because it seems the new Pope’s liturgical style is, well, too simple, too minimalist. There is outrage and concern being expressed, and not without a bit of arrogance. A Washington Post article quotes a canon law professor at Catholic University, who points out that “even small changes to the visible, symbolic parts of Catholic worship are noticeable to traditional Catholics, who treasure them.” Point well taken, but he continues by saying of himself and other of said “traditional Catholics” (in charity, I hope that he was misquoted): “This is the group that is the most faithful.”
I have no problem with people having misgivings about the new Pope’s liturgies. I, too, prefer a more elaborate liturgy, but, let’s face it, that’s not what most people get. And I would never presume that my preferences with regard to liturgy somehow count me among “the most faithful.”
Indeed, some of the most faithful people I know have never experienced a high liturgy, and some perhaps never a mass in which a dog was not present! The poor of Latin America, at least in my experience there, take what they can get as far as liturgy is concerned. They don’t have the luxury of driving to the nearby parish where the liturgy is celebrated just the way they like it. And, indeed, they probably would never think to do it, because for them the mass is as much about the people there to celebrate it as it is about the visible symbols, and whether they are precisely right. In fact, in Latin America I rarely experienced what I would consider great liturgy, and I can count on one hand the number of masses I’ve attended there that I would consider “high mass.” Masses there generally are more simple, especially where the poor live, and this, it seems to me, is what is reflected in Pope Francis’ liturgical style. Maybe he’ll have to step it up a bit, now that he’s on the world stage. But might we consider that the more simple kind of mass we’re seeing from Pope Francis is the more common experience for the majority of Catholics in the world? And let me be the first to admit that a lot—if not most—of them are far more faithful than I, despite my liturgical taste.
In fact, I may hate the liturgical experience, but I’ll take a mass with God’s faithful poor—and even a dog thrown in—over a high mass with smells and bells and great music celebrated with people who think that because their liturgy is more beautiful, more symbolic, in a word, better, that means that they are more faithful.
Like I said, I hope that person was misquoted. But perhaps our misgivings about Pope Francis’ brand of liturgy is an invitation to ask whether we do indeed think that our higher liturgical preferences somehow make us more Catholic than those who prefer it more simple, or simply don’t have the luxury of the choice.