The Latin Mass Kicker

Super Bowl LVII will be played today in Glendale, Arizona between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles. I should be rooting for the Eagles, since I went to college in the suburbs of Philly and lived and worked there for a year after graduation. I still remember a few things from that time: the Mummers, which is a cross between Mardi Gras and a drag show; Frank Rizzo; Valley Forge; and jogging in Fairmount Park (see The Dance).

I also remember my college girlfriend, who was from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. That relationship reminds me of the relationship in Philip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus, which did not end well. Somebody got hurt. Maybe somebody always gets hurt. I don’t know. Actually, I do know.

There was also the class I took as an eager seventeen-year-old on the history of the Pennsylvania Dutch. For a kid coming from New York City, you might as well have been talking about Babylonian taxation policy. Still, it made such an impression on me that I count it as the best course I’ve ever taken. It introduced me to Mennonites, hex signs, scrapple, and funnel cakes. As I write this there is a jar of apple butter sitting in my refrigerator. I kid you not.

Unfortunately, I have to disappoint. Some from my past may call it betrayal, treason, a stab in the back. I wouldn’t blame them if they did, even though it’s been so long I doubt anyone cares. But I have to side with Kansas City, not for any informed reason or out of loyalty. After all, it’s not as if I follow football. I hardly watch games during the regular season and know only a few players on the San Francisco Forty-Niners.

But I have a particular reason for rooting for the Chiefs. In fact, it’s so particular, it really has to do with one player: Harrison Butker (#7). Butker happens to be a talented kicker for the team and a “trad” Roman Catholic, meaning he attends the traditional Latin Mass of the Roman rite. Actually, he does more than attend; he assists as an altar server.

The traditional Latin Mass existed in more or less the same form for nearly two thousand years before the liturgical reforms of Vatican Council Two (1962-65), which sought to make the church relevant to the modern world. In the traditional Mass the priest speaks in Latin with his back to the people. Gregorian chant accompanies the celebration. This is the version you see in horror and exorcism movies, because of its ritualistic elements (e.g., genuflecting, signing, kneeling, standing, incensing).

Now, I am a trad Roman Catholic, too. It happened five years ago when I started going to a Portuguese parish to improve my Portuguese for an upcoming trip to Brazil. Never mind that the Portuguese in Portugal is a far cry from what they speak in Brazil. Still, I kept going and noticed that they offered a Mass in Latin every Sunday. I remembered the Latin Mass circa 1962 and had studied Latin in college (with that Pennsylvania Dutch course). So, I started going to that Mass and have been attending ever since.

The church’s effort to make itself more relevant to modern people included a shift in its worship from sacrifice to participation by way of the word, or scripture. Less ritual, more conscious response from the people, so they thought, would engage the faithful, calling them to a deeper relationship with Christ.

The numbers, unfortunately, do not bare this out. Since the council, the church has suffered a decline in participation and vocations that may be unprecedented in its history. Some have reacted by going back to traditional worship. The hierarchy has resisted this and even taken steps to prevent the growth of traditional communities. This has deprived a small but growing portion of the church the richness and depth of the church’s spiritual inheritance.

Harrison Butker agrees and has objected openly. He has not been afraid to speak about the role of traditional faith to him personally and in football. I don’t like athletes taking political or social positions and then using their platform to lecture the hoi polloí about how wrong we are. But Butker isn’t doing this. He just wants to be left alone to practice his faith. I can appreciate that, which is why I’ll be rooting for him on Sunday.

Image credits: feature by Mick Haupt; Harrison Butker by Jeffrey Beall, CC BY 4.0; two players by Tennessee Titans, CC BY 3.0; priests by Michel Grolet; Mass by Josh Applegate. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”

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