I feel particularly sorry for Tolkien that the Latin Mass, which was the focus of his life and something he saw as eternally dependable, was taken from him (and millions of other Roman Catholics) by the unforced error that was Vatican II (an elite-led 'liberalization' of the Church by dominant Leftist Catholic clergy and religious orders).
Vatican II was a real body blow, and I suspect the most deeply dismaying event of Tolkien's whole life.
His friend George Sayer said that when participating in a modern English-language Mass in the late 1960s/ early 70s, Tolkien spoke-out the Latin words, loud and clear - presumably continuing this protest to the end of his life.
Unless and until the truly dread-full lapse and fall - a negative event of world historical significance - represented by Vatican II and what followed, is explicitly repented and reversed by the Roman Catholic Church; then that institution will certainly continue to dwindle and dwindle as a spiritual force for Good in the world.
I understand Vatican II changed a lot of other things, too (getting rid of purgatory, etc.), but it's hard for me to see anything disastrous in the switch from Latin to the vernacular.
The early Roman church used Latin -- rather than a more "historically holy" language like Greek or Hebrew -- because it was the language of the Roman people. Now, centuries later, Latin is a dead language with well-established gravitas (like Greek and Hebrew), and the niche once occupied by Latin has been largely taken over by English.
The early church used Latin for one reason, and some moderns want to keep using it for a totally different reason. It could only be a coincidence if they were both right.
I see something similar in the Mormon church's insistence that God always be addressed using the archaic pronouns "thou" and "thee" -- in order to show respect! (Of course there is a long tradition of called God "thou," but for most of that tradition's history the word implied familiarity, not respect.) Is it really so important to cling to forms when the meaning of those forms has changed so completely?
@WmJas - Careful! That sounds like the defining progressivist attitude of "well, *I* can't see anything wrong with junking (insert tradition or human instinct), so let's get rid of it".
Tolkien and almost all the RCs I respect saw or felt (among other things) that 1. The Latin Mass combined beauty and truth, 2. Was a vital basis of the universal nature of the Church, 3. was being gotten rid of by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. 4. The process would open the door and encourage to endless fashion-driven revisions to the language and ritual.
And so on. Vatican II was an absolutely typical piece of strategic modernist legislation, unstable in itself and putting the Church on a slippery slope towards hedonic secularization.
I have been attending various churches after a long stint of atheism (I grew up as a horrid fundamentalist Protestant).
I have attended both Roman Catholic and Orthodox services recently for the first time. The Catholic mass made me rather depressed. It just felt dead. I think it was a combination of the postmodern architecture of the building, combined with the lame modern liturgy, the unemotional feel of the parishioners and the priest in recitations, and the fact that the lobby (or whatever its called) was decked out with flyers for "social justice" for third worlders (aren't there needy people in your own community?) It was almost like seeing a once proud and great man trying to look and act like a young trendy liberal. If they would just BE who they are, they would be so much more respected and appealing.
The orthodox service felt real. It felt old and almost other worldly. It felt like there was a conscious disregard for modernism, and the contrast with convention made it have dignity. It was incredibly beautiful and uplifting. I also noticed there were a lot of young Anglo-Americans who were apparently converts. They stood out sharply compared to the ethnic types you would expect to see in an Orthodox church. I'm not sure if this was peculiar to this parish, or if Orthodox conversion is new trend. If so, I can understand why.
The Orthodox service was essentially what I always assumed Catholic mass was, and what I hoped the Catholic mass would be.
The explanation you give for why moderns want to retain use of Latin doesn't match the reasons why traditional Catholics want to return to the Latin Mass. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with those arguments before passing your judgment? Please note it is not simply about language, but the form of the Mass itself, which is radically different in the vernacular Mass. A good starting point for you is The Heresy of Formlessness by Martin Mosebach.
Vatican 2 did not "get rid of" Purgatory btw.
I'm a Catholic who regularly attends the Latin Mass. I've also attended many vernacular Maases over the course of my life. There is no comparison. Forms matter. Our little Latin Mass community, only a few hundred, has five vocations to the Priesthood and religious orders currently; my parents' parish with over 10,000 hasn't had a single one in many, many years.
Bob - I take your point.
Of course we should not imagine that services are supposed to be 'fun' or designed for pleasure - but there is a particular quality of spiritual deadness, and indeed sometimes evilness, that is the nature of badness in some of the changes which have been made to church services in the past several decades.
What horrifies me is that Christianity has so sytematically subordinated itself to 'politics'.
Vatican II was a systematic, one-sided attenpt to harmonize the RC Church with modern society - it's basic motivation was wrong, and that is why it went so wrong (and not because it was hijacked by a minority of clergy, or misinterpreted and twisted - this happened, but only because that was the direction in which Vatican II had already impelled the Church).
"Please note it is not simply about language, but the form of the Mass itself, which is radically different in the vernacular Mass."
Yes. Retranslate the whole Novus Ordo back into Latin, and you'd still have bizarre things like the congregation kneeling in front of the newly consecrated host, suddenly standing up in order to chat and shake hands with each other, and then suddenly kneeling again.
Not to mention that the translation is *wrong*, as anyone with a week of Latin study can figure out. This is only now being fixed.
I sometimes attend an Eastern Catholic church whose mass is 90% in English. But it's a respectfully and beautifully translated St. John Crysostom Divine Liturgy, and the Vatican II damage isn't there. It could have all been this way, had Vatican II just been about Latin vs. the vernacular.
A badly-translated classic novel would get hundreds of rage-filled reviews on Amazon. But do the same to our ancient Mass, and we're meant to sit and bite our tongues.
Bob - I am a former Episcopalian and no stranger to liturgical innovation. However, I found even the Episcopal parishes at least stuck to their prescribed 1979 rite, and most bishops would let parishes use the 1928 rite.
By contrast, I have been to a number of Roman Catholic parishes, and one cathedral, that couldn't even be bothered with the Novus Ordo.
When I attended my first Orthodox Liturgy, it struck me what an immense and awful theft the Roman hierarchy had perpetrated against their own flock.
Thank you for posting this!
That Tolkein was dismayed by the new Mass is no surprise, considering the love of ancient traditions you see in his works. I have always thought that Gimli’s description of the way the Dwarves would tend the halls of Aglarond to be both the way that liturgical change should be performed and the exact opposite of the way it has been.
It also reminds me of how my father (now three months in his grave) used to mutter the Latin in our Sunday Masses. He loved the Mass when he was young and never made his peace with the Novus Ordo.
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