NEW YORK – When Cameron O’Hearn set out two years ago to create a documentary on the Traditional Latin Mass, he envisioned it being an invitation to his fellow Catholics. What he didn’t anticipate was Pope Francis also making it a news event by restricting the Mass’s celebration a month before the documentary was set to release.
Now facing that reality ahead of the August 15 release of the first episode of his three-part documentary Mass of the Ages, O’Hearn believes his project has extra significance.
“I had no idea that it would come at a time like this, where now we’re making a statement of ‘No, this is a treasure. We love this Mass. We’re not angry traditionalist Catholics. We’re faithful Catholics. We’re giving tons of money to our bishops, to the church. We’re restoring faith in our neighborhoods,’” O’Hearn, the founder and director of Horselord Films, told Crux.
Pope Francis tightened permission for the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass in a motu proprio, meaning an addition to Church law issued on the pope’s own authority, last week. It’s titled Traditionis Custodes, meaning “Guardians of Tradition.”
Under the terms of the new ruling, priests currently celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass now have to get permission from their bishop to do so; any priest ordained from here on out who wishes to celebrate the Mass must submit a formal request to their bishop, and the bishop will then consult the Vatican before granting permission.
Francis also tasked the bishops with determining specific times and locations where the Traditional Latin Mass can be celebrated.
When O’Hearn saw the motu proprio, he said he was, and still is to a degree, confused and hurt. Though Francis consulted bishops around the world to make the decision, O’Hearn questions if there was a dialogue with traditional Catholics.
“After traveling all around the country creating this documentary trilogy, I’ve been to a lot of parishes; I’ve talked with tons of traditional Catholics,” O’Hearn said.
“Yes, I have seen the radical traditionalists angry, bitter, even some who reject Vatican II, but to say that’s most people, the majority of traditional Catholics aren’t going to Latin Mass because they reject Vatican II or even reject the new Mass. They’re going to the Latin Mass because they’re saying ‘yes’ to something for their family. They just love the Latin Mass.”
O’Hearn’s own love for the Traditional Latin Mass is what led to the documentary in the first place. That, and what he called the “kick in the pants” he got when a 2019 Pew Research study revealed that 70 percent of Catholics don’t believe in the real presence, and only 60 percent of regular Mass going Catholics believe in the real presence.
Those numbers showed him there was a crisis in the Church.
“I found Catholicism on full display [at the Latin Mass], and the world doesn’t know about it,” O’Hearn said. “There’s a lot of misconceptions about it. There’s a lot of stereotypes about the people that attend and I wanted to unpack, reveal, the Latin Mass to the Catholic world.”
The first episode of the documentary – available August 15 at theliturgy.org – is an introduction to the Traditional Latin Mass, what O’Hearn said is an “overview of why it’s important and a solid foundation for faith at a time of confusion and disorder.”
The second episode will come out later this year and focus on the implementation of the new Mass after Vatican II. The details on the topic of episode three are still under wraps.
“We’re not here to divide the church or to say one type of Catholic is better than another type of Catholic. We just want to give people the facts and show them,” O’Hearn said.
Each of the first two episodes presents the facts and history behind the pre-Vatican II Traditional Latin Mass and the post-Vatican II Mass. O’Hearn said there’s also stories of traditional Catholics sprinkled throughout, because “a spoonful of story helps the facts go down.”
Episode one, for example, tells the story of a woman named Christine who started attending Latin Mass with her four children just before her husband died. That decision, she explains, transformed her life and provided a solid foundation for her family.
O’Hearn personally raises his family in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati attending the Traditional Latin Mass, and he’s thankful his parish was chosen as the place the Mass can be celebrated. Looking ahead, he doesn’t envision a time where it will permanently disappear.
“It’s too big. It’s too powerful. People love it too much,” O’Hearn said. “There is too much good fruit and there’s so much Holy Spirit behind the Latin Mass that you can’t just squash it.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg