A ridiculous mountain of red silk

I've been holding back all week for fear of stirring up a hornet's nest, but my only response to the Latin Mass celebrated last Saturday at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington has to be: Really? Seriously? (You can read the fawning CNS coverage of "ancient chants and pomp, splendor and majesty" here.)

Who thought it was a good idea to dress up a bishop in a cappa magna and parade him around triumphantly in celebration of what Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahoma referred to as "the fifth anniversary of the ascension of Joseph Ratzinger to the throne of Peter" while the church is in such a profound crisis of confidence in its leadership? Ascension to the throne, eh? Are we speaking of the "servant of the servants of God" here or the Emperor Augustus?

Now is not the time for the "church militant" to be trying to pass itself off as the "church triumphant," especially when so many princes of the church seem hell-bent on steering the Bark of Peter onto the rocks. (I don't know what the plans are for his throne.) Remember that the original presider for this "celebration" was supposed to be Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the former head of the Congregation for Clergy, who had to withdraw because he wrote a repulsive letter to a French bishop congratulating him for shielding an abusive priest from the civil law.

And I have to ask: If we're going to get stuck on a particular period in church history and its liturgy, does it have to be the 16th century? It was hardly a time of–how to put it?–liturgical modesty, much less the "noble simplicity" that is, after all, the historical hallmark of the Roman rite. Unless His Excellency is going to wrap that cappa magna around his waist and start washing feet, as Jesus did in John's gospel.

It's one thing to seek the mystery presumably embodied in ancient forms, but I hardly see how frippery of this magnitude glorifies God, who has no need of such things. In fact, when sackcloth should be the defining couture, silk is a stumbling block and an obstacle to the proclamation of the gospel. If anything, the sex abuse crisis is a call to a renewed humility.

So I still think this question needs an answer: Without reference to the reformed liturgy, how did Saturday's "solemn high pontifical Mass in the extraordinary form" bear witness to the kingdom of God Jesus announced? 

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.