Is the Latin Mass a Safe Haven for Queer Catholics?

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

15 replies
  1. DON E SIEGAL
    DON E SIEGAL says:

    One of the reasons that I came into the full communion with the Catholic Church was because the mass was celebrated in English. I do not understand Latin; therefore, liturgies in Latin are meaningless to me. I could not fully participate in a Latin Mass.

    Reply
  2. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    Maybe the question should be about what people are doing when they participate at Mass instead of what their different needs are. Can we say that, no matter our other differences, we all have a human need to gather with our kind to praise and thank our creator and offer our world for transformation toward union in Spirit? If that is what we are doing when we take ourselves to Mass, we can glory in the massive diversity of humankind, all coming together to grow in compassion. Isn’t it about humans growing up?

    Reply
    • Paula Ruddy
      Paula Ruddy says:

      I could add that the ordinary form has to be celebrated by the Eucharistic minister and people with the consciousness of a priestly people joining with the priesthood of Jesus. If it is not, it is no wonder people prefer the old rite.

      Reply
  3. Keith Henry
    Keith Henry says:

    Recently, The Pillar collected a great and statistically validated survey about Religious Attitudes and Practices among Americans generally, Catholics, and ex-Catholics. They graciously gave me access to the source data, and I was delighted to find that they asked survey respondents about LGBTQ identity. (Yes, the guys are the same ones who used/abused location-based data from Grindr. This is a different data set.)

    Anyway, . . . among other interesting conclusions about LGBTQ Catholics, I calculated the following tidbit. About 6% of Heterosexual-identified Catholics prefer Latin Mass (either novus ordo or vetus ordo). There was a very small, and thus statistically insignificant, contingent of queer women and non-binary people who prefer Latin. But fully 13% of Gay Male Catholics prefer Latin Mass. These same men were also the most likely to agree with Pope Francis’ opinion that the typical Latin Mass community has become too politicized.

    These two data points re-enforce the tension (cognitive dissonance perhaps) that the MCR article notes. I count myself among this number. The aesthetic of the Latin Mass is a draw, yes. The singular focus on Jesus Christ Present, even more. Both inspire – in my soul mind and body – a very active participation in the Mystery, especially as we sing full-throated chant.

    But the people in those congregations, once the incense clears and the coffee is served, they, well, seem to forget anything but the latest talking point from Cardinal Burke or Archbishop Vigano’. The lunatic fringe is also a margin, and the crazies are a periphery as much as we queers are. But I don’t have the stomach to attend their coffee hour, and I quietly slip to my car after praying a most-mass Salve.

    Reply
    • Paula Ruddy
      Paula Ruddy says:

      Hi, Keith. The conflict you point to is the heart of the matter. How do you think the ordinary Mass ritual could be designed so that its Vatican II life affirming meaning would be clear and at the same time it would be effective in developing the culture of the participants? Who could make that happen??? Maybe seminaries have to do a better job in producing Eucharistic leaders?

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      • Keith Henry
        Keith Henry says:

        Excellent thoughts, Paula. Here in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, there are several parishes that are deliberate about providing many “flavors” of mass. The effect is – to your point – that many different cultures are affirmed. It’s more than just offering mass in English, Spanish, Latin and Tagalog. It’s about the “quiet mass” with no music, the Sunday morning “family mass” with kids catechesis, the “solemn mass” with chant and polyphony (with a high % gay assembly) that follows, the late evening Sunday Taize-style mass, and a myriad of special celebrations throughout the year. Parishes like mine (and the other SF parishes on the New Ways resources page) find unity in diversity. Yes, different types of folks prefer different styles, but there’s a real community formed as we come together.

        I think the “who can make this happen” is split equally between a good pastor and a critical mass (pun intended!) of parishioners who want to be involved. The critical success factor – on both counts – is that the liturgy is NOT contrived, not an outlet for any one person’s ideas or one pastor’s political agenda. The “ordinary mass ritual” is designed already, and it’s designed well. The gifts that pastors and people bring to it – good preaching that reaches many levels, good music of many genres, deliberate and consistent ars celebrandi – these are the gifts that enhance people’s prayer, reverence for the Body of Christ in Eucharist, flowing out into owning the fact that we – a big broad Church of “here comes everybody” – are the Body of Christ sent into the world.

        Seminaries, yes. On-going priestly formation, yes. Sore need of both! That would ensure more liturgical leadership from clergy.

        But the other half, the liturgically engaged corps of volunteers, this is a harder task for formators, I think. In my experience, folks in the pews respond well to slow soaking in good example. It’s only by experiencing the awesomeness of prayerful, community-building worship that Catholics become aware of what is ours by right of baptism.

        Reply
        • Paula Ruddy
          Paula Ruddy says:

          Keith, it sounds like there is a lot of respect for differences in San Francisco. As there should be. I’m trying to dig down a little to the most common consciousness we have as human beings, creatures in an evolving universe, for the experience we have at Mass. Our other differences–languages, aesthetic preferences, social familiarity– don’t matter so much in the light of our common mission to evolve our humanity toward union with God. The kingdom of God transcends individual and group identity though we are individuals with group identities. Do you think that understanding is too abstract for ritual expression? Maybe the worshiping San Franciscans have that consciousness. Wonderful.

          Reply
          • Keith Henry
            Keith Henry says:

            Spot on way of thinking about liturgy, Paula, when you ask: “… our common mission to evolve our humanity toward union with God. The kingdom of God transcends individual and group identity though we are individuals with group identities. Do you think that understanding is too abstract for ritual expression?”

            I think the liturgy of the Church (Eucharist, the other sacraments, other devotions and sacred habits) has grown up as the framework of unified ritual expression around communities with diversity of experience of the love of God. That understanding is not too abstract. In fact, I would say the liturgy is the unified CONCRETE expression of a diversity of ABSTRACT experiences.

            Liturgical action is beyond words, although there are words involved, as our minds assemble the experience. It is beyond sights and sounds and smells, although our senses make “sense” of the ritual.

            It MUST be abstract, else we impose ourselves upon our worship and community. The abstract nature of liturgy – well done, uncontrived liturgy – is what allows the unconditional love of God to have a voice that can be felt and understood by the many.

            Queer folk, I think, just “get it” in a way that straight folk don’t. We don’t feel so contrived, do we? We don’t feel like it’s a moral imperative to conform to someone else’s understanding of gender expression. We don’t force our love for partners and friends and family to fit into the tiny boxes that secular society imposes. In liturgy, we are naturals at claiming true Christian freedom, which is the freedom to choose what is Good and True and Beautiful.

  4. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    If God is present in silence– then surely he is present in Latin, or any other language–
    and if a person finds closeness to God through an ancient language, even one he does not understand, so be it.

    Reply
    • Paula Ruddy
      Paula Ruddy says:

      Hi, Duane. Thanks for saying that God’s presence doesn’t depend on language. Isn’t the question about the difference between private prayer and public prayer? Mass is supposed to be the public prayer of the Church, all of us together, each country in its own language. Do you think that the ritual is supposed to have a meaning, sort of like a play has a coherent meaning? Everyone who participates has his/her/their own take on it, but there is some meaning in common to everyone? I think the common meaning is about us as humans, creatures in this universe, immersed in consciousness of our creator and why we are here. If the meaning of the traditional rite is about God locking us out without the sacrifice of Jesus, then I can see why Pope Francis is trying to unite us in a public prayer with a different vision. See what I mean?

      Reply
  5. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    Has Pope Francis made a statement about why he is restricting the use of the traditional Latin Mass? I know he has said that the exceptions to the Vatican II reforms were meant to help people adjust to the reform, and not to encourage dissent from the reform. But I wonder if he has pinpointed the theology in dispute. Does the traditional form express a theology contradicted by Vatican II Eucharistic theology? Is the underlying theology clear in either form? I’m thinking that is the question to start with.

    Reply
  6. Keith Henry
    Keith Henry says:

    “Yes” is the answer to your question. When Pope Francis issued the restrictions on the pre-Vatican II missal, there was a cover letter accompanying the official Motu proprio. Link here:
    https://adoremus.org/2021/07/accompanying-letter-to-traditionis-custodes/

    There isn’t much liturgical theology, per se, in his reasoning. The theology dear to his heart is the theology of unity. He scolds those who are fans of the Traditional Latin Mass as having made it political: they defeated Pope Benedict’s hope that more access to traditional liturgy would help people transcend political divisions.

    Reply
    • Paula Ruddy
      Paula Ruddy says:

      Since I asked the question I have read the Pius X Society’s critique of the ordinary form to see why the Traditionalists object. The theology of atonement, the Mass as memorializing the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, seems to be what is lost in the ordinary form from that point of view. That would account for the silence and solemnity of the Traditionalist congregation. I can see that the Vatican II reformers wanted to change the theology. Though the theology may not matter to many people who use the Mass for private prayer, the politicizing and disunity caused really do matter. I’m thinking the theology behind the ordinary form could be explained and emphasized in the rite to persuade people to participate. It could be as beautiful and solemn and serious as the old rite, as you described happening in your diocese, Keith. Onward.

      Reply

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