Thinking Anew: Pope’s rules on Latin Mass right for our time

Why live in the past, adopting styles and vocabularies appropriate to long gone times?

I’m forever asking myself and others what is life about. Indeed, at this stage when people see me coming, they are waiting for my question.

In tomorrow’s Gospel, John quotes Jesus: “I am the bread of life, he who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6: 35). Here I am, a Catholic priest, ordained in 1974 and I’m still asking myself what life is all about. But the older I get the more I realise my questioning may not at all be too far off the mark.

Our journey of faith is a lifelong one and it makes no sense at all for anyone ever to think that they have captured God. That is idolatry. Yes, I see the emptying churches. I hear the footsteps of people as they walk away from churches. I’m acutely aware of the growing divisions and tensions within the churches with specific reference to the Catholic Church, which has been my home all my life.

The Mass has been in the news over the last few weeks for different reasons. On the one hand Pope Francis has issued new rules on the celebration of the Old Latin or Tridentine Mass. PersonallyI am delighted with the Pope’s Francis’ brave announcement. On the other hand there has rightly been great concern expressed about the appropriateness of conduct at funeral Masses in controversial circumstances. The Eucharist is, above all, the Christian community in prayer with one another and Christ at the centre. It is that moment when people and God are communicating life in a most extraordinary manner.It is fitting that we do so in the language we use every day, just as God is present in our daily lives. The Mass is a central source of spiritual nourishment. And of course everything we say about the Eucharist presupposes our acceptance that we are a people of faith. We should come away from Mass inspired and impressed by the presence of God in our world. The deepest and most meaningful conversations I have with people are conducted through the medium of English because that is where I am most at home.


I cannot fathom why people with a very limited knowledge of Latin celebrate the Tridentine Mass. Is the Latin phenomenon some sort of attempt to escape into a past that is no more? Why choose to live in the past, adopting styles and vocabularies appropriate to long gone times? Shouldn’t we think more about the present?

In 47 years of priesthood I don’t think I’ve ever been encouraged to attend any sort of workshop or seminar on how best to celebrate the Eucharist. None of us priests can put our hands on our hearts and say that we have perfected the way in which we celebrate Mass. Priests and bishops should, I suggest, make greater efforts to make the vernacular an inclusive celebration that makes those present know thatthey come face-to-face with Jesus, who is the bread of life. How often have people left church understanding that in believing in Jesus they will never thirst?

Every day I meet young, old and sick people, good and decent women and men who have been alienated by church and churches. I find it most frustrating because I see how wholesome and good they are and how broken the institutional church is. The big question we must ask ourselves is why people have walked away. There are myriad reasons, but I keep saying to myselfthe institutional church does not do enough to pass on ownership to all baptised members. And people are wise and perspicaciousenough to see all the shadow boxing that takes place.

ButI am heartened by tomorrow’s Gospel when Jesus tells his followers that it is not Moses who gave them the bread from heaven, but rather his Father, who gives us the bread from heaven. Our celebration of the Eucharist always has to be dynamic and real, a faith-filled experience that has clearmeaning and availability for us. It has to be celebrated in such a manner that we will be enlivened with the word of God and nourished by the body and blood of Christ, and subsequently be enthusiastic in living it out in our everyday lives. The life of a good man or woman nurtured by the bread of life leads to God.

For many Christians the Eucharist is that source of nourishment but why have so many walked away? The bread of God gives life to the world. Jesus Christ spoke to us in the everyday language of his homeland, and it is in our daily lives that his message of love and salvation, the bread of Heaven, belongs.