A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit
The Mass was developed to celebrate the possibility of union with God through the use of symbols and metaphor. Seen from the standpoint of an adolescent, of course the original masses look like hogwash; but seen with the eyes of a mature adult, the richness of the symbolism is evident. It always surprises me that someone who can carry on an earnest conversation about the power of crystals, feng shui or astrology can immediately dismiss the symbolism of a Catholic Mass as ludicrous. Viewed as objective reality, all of these things are ludicrous; but viewed as symbols of something much deeper, they may not be.
Protestantism never understood the depth of the symbolism in the Mass. Alan Watts wrote about this:
…the (symbolism) is like a nut – a shell containing hidden fruit, a hard, concrete symbol embracing a spiritual truth. To extract the truth the nut must be broken – with reverence and respect, because without the shell’s protection the fruit would never have grown. The task of Protestantism was to break the shell, though because the Protestants did not fully realize this and did not know about the fruit inside, the job has been inexpertly and irreverently done. They have hammered away with gusto; they have cracked the entire surface; they have taken whole chunks of the shell right off, and, having thrown some of them away, have taken the rest into a corner and there tried to piece them together in a different form. But the fruit has not interested them. Protestantism has simply broken up the system of symbolism, reduced it and re-formed it, and, in these later times, has practically discarded the whole thing. The time has come for us to attend to the long-neglected fruit.Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit
To serve the spiritual needs of a mature civilization, a religion must be equally mature. Just as we outgrow the use for the symbols of our own childhood – Santa Claus and bogeymen – a society as a whole can outgrow its “traditional” religious symbols. The danger is when we outgrow these symbols but find no replacements.
A religion which does not seek union with the fundamental driving force of the universe is not a religion at all – but simply, and disappointingly, only a philosophy. And a philosophy is woefully inadequate as a basis for living a life. No one ever charged into battle yelling “Give me Kantian epistemology or give me death!”
It seems to me that the Catholic mass lost much of its power when they gave up doing them in Latin. A Latin mass is an excellent opportunity for contemplation of the nature of God, and could be a better spiritual exercise than just having someone tell you the same story every week in your native language. I’ve experienced a few Tridentine Masses in Latin and they are truly awe inspiring — which is just the effect you want in a religious service.
It’s probably important that I mention that I’m not a Roman Catholic; but, just because I’m not doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the service. The alternative to a mass is often: going to church, having someone yell at you, call you a sinner, and then ask you for money. That’s no way to spend your Sunday morning, nor is it a way to find God.
IMAGE SOURCE: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Missa_tridentina_002.jpg ATTRIBUTION: by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, available from http://fssp.org.