Liturgical Doggerel?: Pope Francis’ Mass Appeal

“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.

5 thoughts on “Liturgical Doggerel?: Pope Francis’ Mass Appeal

  1. I’d venture to say there’s a context which needs explaining in order for us to make sense of the phrase “This [the Traditional Catholic] is the group that is the most faithful.”

    Speaking only for myself, and tinted by my observations, knowledge and experience, here is how I make sense of it.

    1- This really only applies to the Catholicism of N. America and Europe, as you noted.
    2- “Faithful” is best understood, in this context as “steadfast adherence to the Magisterium of the Church.”
    3- It doesn’t, explicitly so, mean “better” or “holier” or “nicer” or “extra-awesome-er.”

    Keenly aware of the anecdotal nature of the following, both at home (which includes both my “residential” parish and my “work” parish) and during business trips (which includes NY, Boston, Chicago, LA, Indianapolis and Phoenix) the faces I see at the EF Masses and NO (in Latin) Masses are the ones I see EVERY time, especially at home.

    In my residential parish, and the surrounding ones, among the people who constitute my sphere of influence, 75% of the daily communicants I know personally are people I’d describe as being on the 25th percentile of “Trad-ness.” The overwhelming majority of the people whose Mass attendance is in the “2-3 Sundays per month” are of the more, er, folk-type Mass.

    Again, this a) doesn’t make the Trad group better, or more wonderful or b) isn’t incontrovertible proof of anything.

    That ALL said, I am very, VERY uncomfortable with the wildly uncharitable statements made about Pope Francis by some (not all, by a stretch) Trad sites and commentators. Yes, the Holy Father’s liturgical sensibilities are not quite what mine are, but I love him just the same as I did B16 or JP2.

    What a lot of those commentators fail to account for is the socio-political dimension of our preferred liturgical ways. In Latin America (and I have spent decades there, on an off, since I was 2 years old) the more High Church liturgies are associated in the popular imagination with an oligarchical caste. This isn’t right, proper or correct…but it is what it is. Priests such as now-Pope Francis, accustomed to saying Mass in a garage, in a street corner, in a vacant lot, or in a VERY poor parish are going to develop, by necessity, such an approach.

    Each successive Holy Father is a different man, but each is no less a gift to the Church. Let us rejoice in each of the Holy Spirit’s choices. One day Pope Francis will no longer walk among us, and that day it will be the the “trads” and the “progs” alike who will weep hardest.


  2. If al the popes were the same, with the same perspective, then the Church so many of of love would not grow, and never challenge us. I don’t like all the changes (“consubstantial”??), but a change of perspective really helps refocus you on what it is, exactly, that makes being a celebrant in this Church so important. And that’s what Francis is doing for me now. I hope he continues to challenge our thoughts.

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