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Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Mystery of Faith and the Catholic Church

When I was compiling my annotated "Geniuses for Jesus" post last year, I couldn't help but notice how many intellectuals either were or had converted to Roman Catholicism: Stephen Barr (physicist), Dorothy Day (activist), RenĂ© Girard (philosopher), Alasdair MacIntyre (philosopher), Gabriel Marcel (philosopher), Flannery O'Connor (writer), John Sexton (professor and President of NYU), Charles Taylor (philosopher), J. R. R. Tolkien (professor and writer). At the time I wondered (briefly) if this had to do with the Catholic Church's ability, primarily through the liturgy, to capture the mystery of faith, that is, that aspect of belief and practice that cannot be summarized in a theological treatise or biblical commentary.

Of course, my list of geniuses isn't a random sample, so one can't make too much of it and probably why I didn't pursue this line of inquiry at the time. However, when I attended the memorial mass of a good friend this past summer, I began wondering about it again. The singing, almost chanting, prior to the service evoked a sense of awe that's difficult to capture with words. In fact, I almost didn't want the priest to begin talking, not because he didn't have anything worthwhile to say (he did), but because it seemed to break the spell of the moment.

All of which made me wonder whether the Roman Catholic Church should seriously think about returning, at least in part, to the Latin mass. Not the homily, of course, but some of the liturgy. There is, in fact, a movement to do so, and anecdotal evidence suggests that Catholic parishes that use the Latin mass are highly successful (i.e., in attracting worshippers). One of the best attended Roman Catholic churches in Silicon Valley is Our Lady of Peace, which celebrates the Latin Mass and attracted worshippers from up to 100 miles away ("Parish Dreads Change"), and more and more parishes are implementing the Latin Mass ("Latin Mass resurgent 50 years after Vatican II"). To be sure, not everyone will be attracted to the Latin Mass, but what this apparent resurgence points to is that a significant portion of the religious market is.

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