Is the Latin Mass a safe haven for queer Catholics?
This question, though not phrased so directly, arose in an essay recently published by the National Catholic Reporter. Written by Stephen Adubato, a New Jersey religion teacher, the piece, “Do you think everyone Latin Mass is an ideologue? You may be wrong,” explores why some communities of people are more drawn to the old rite (which Pope Francis just last weekend issued further restrictions on). The communities named include autistic people, leftist Millennials, deaf people–and gay Catholics, including, perhaps, Oscar Wilde.
Wilde, the nineteenth-century writer once jailed for his homosexuality converted to Catholicism on his deathbed. His interests in medieval liturgy pre-date that conversion. Adubato claims Wilde’s “countercultural sensibilities,” both in being gay and a fan of Catholic ritual, “derive from a similar ‘queer’ impulse.”
Of more contemporary queer people, Adubato writes that while groups exist for both affirming and non-affirming LGBTQ people, not all needs are met:
“[M]any Catholics who experience their queerness more as a spiritual or aesthetic sensibility don’t find their experiences implicated in the construal of gayness as either an identity category or a moral condition. This reflects the concerns of the many self-proclaimed ‘liturgical queers’ or ‘liturgiqueens’ — one of whom I spoke to, Albertus Jung, told me he ‘only attends the TLM.’
“Grant Cook, co-host of the Contra Gentiles podcast, says that ‘as a gay person who doesn’t necessarily feel like I fit into a strict binary between totally masculine or completely feminine, I feel like Latin Mass gives me the opportunity to forego all of the social politics involved with more contemporary services. The fact that Latin Mass is structured, so reverently and pointed, so wholly towards God, means that I can remove the things I struggle with in my sexuality and gender from the equation for just a minute and experience God in a way that I haven’t elsewhere. It’s not about me.'”
Adubato also quotes Sarah Sparks, a gay Catholic who is deaf and prefers the Latin Mass, who said, “One of the gifts that has come from my sexual orientation and other aspects of difference in my life is that I don’t worry much about what other people think of me.”
Adubato’s apology for these Latin Mass attendees is framed as a caution to those who would judge traditionalist attendees as simple reactionaries. He writes:
“Those who feel outcasted or alienated from parishes that only celebrate the ordinary form, including myself, deserve to have their sensibilities and experiences taken into account. . .I can only hope that the recurring back and forth in the liturgical wars will be a provocation to all parishes to work on creating more inclusive liturgical and social environments.”
I cannot speak to the experiences of every person identified in the article, but I can speak as a queer Catholic deeply invested in the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. Adubato’s argument about LGBTQ people has two fundamental flaws.
First, liturgy is not, foremost or even centrally, about aesthetics. While good liturgy is generally marked by good aesthetics, such as high-quality music or tasteful decor, aesthetics are a secondary matter. Some of the most sacred Eucharistic celebrations I have experienced happened with poorly-sung hymns in someone’s living room or sans music outside in nature. The hallmark of a good liturgy is whether the faithful, in whom Christ is present, are engaged in full, active, and conscious participation, as Vatican II’s constitution on sacred liturgy taught. I will not challenge the self-identification of those who are, in their words, “liturgical queers.” But no amount of incense or chant can compensate for a congregation whose role is muted.
Second, if participation is a hallmark of good liturgy, then the problems identified by some in Adubato’s article about alienation and ostracization are indeed quite real. Grant Cook’s desire to step away from the “social politics involved with more contemporary services” is something to which I can relate. Too many LGBTQ Catholics avoid Mass for fear of anti-queer homilies or transphobic language, and with good reason. But the solution is not a retreat to what should be an abrogated old rite. The real problem is the institutional church’s historical unwillingness to create truly participatory spaces for LGBTQ people in liturgy and in all areas of church life. The Vatican II liturgy is more than sufficient to meet this need; indeed, it is the only rite which can today.
By now, my stance in the “liturgy wars,” as they are commonly referred to, is clear: I fully support the reforms of Vatican II. If the liturgy is indeed, in the Council’s words, the source and summit of our faith, then getting it right is paramount. Others may disagree. But I hope they will not use queer Catholics as the grounds on which such retrograde arguments are made. Latin Mass communities have caused great disunity in the church (and are often steeped in white supremacy). They continue to foment reactionary elements doing great harm to LGBTQ people.
Still, I do agree with Adubato in one regard: more parishes need to work to create communities, and liturgies, which are inclusive of all people.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, December 23, 2021