Mencken on the Mass

Mencken on the Mass

Rich Leonardi gives us a fascinating quote from legendary newspaperman H.L. Mencken, who while an atheist understood what kind of worship God would want if indeed He existed. In fact, Mencken praised the Traditional Roman liturgy and dismissed any innovations which smacked of Protestantism. In many ways it’s like Hollywood’s depiction of Catholic liturgical life: They may not believe any of it, but they know what it should look like. A few selections from the whole quote, which is worth reading, so go to Rich’s site and read it:

A solemn high mass is a thousand times as impressive, to a man with any genuine religious sense in him, as the most powerful sermon ever roared under the big top by Presbyterian auctioneer of God. In the face of such overwhelming beauty it is not necessary to belabor the faithful with logic; they are better convinced by letting them alone.

Preaching is not an essential part of the Latin ceremonial. It was very little employed in the early church, and I am convinced that good effects would flow from abandoning it today, or, at all events, reducing it to a few sentences, more or less formal. In the United States the Latin brethren have been seduced by the example of the Protestants, who commonly transform an act of worship into a puerile intellectual exercise; instead of approaching God in fear and wonder these Protestants settle back in their pews, cross their legs, and listen to an ignoramus try to prove that he is a better theologian than the Pope.

Isn’t that one true today? Mencken saw this long before Vatican II in 1923, but we’ve seen the fruit of this. Sometimes I do wonder whether the homily is overvalued. That isn’t to say there aren’t many fine homilists out there, but that they are vastly outnumbered by the mediocre and bad and that too many Catholics I think put too much weight on the quality of the homily. How many times have I heard Catholics say they don’t go to Mass any more because they “don’t get anything out of it,” meaning the homily does not entertain or stimulate. But they receive the Eucharist which is infinitely more to get out of the Mass than even the greatest homily.

Let the reverend fathers go back to Bach. If they keep on spoiling poetry and spouting ideas, the day will come when some extra-bombastic deacon will astound humanity and insult God by proposing to translate the liturgy into American, that all the faithful may be convinced by it.

Alas, that day has already come.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli