Harrison Butker kicked the winning field goal for the Kansas City Chiefs at Sunday’s Super Bowl. He is also militantly evangelical in his devotion to the Latin Mass. Put that in the Vatican chimney and smoke it at the next conclave.
I have never watched a Super Bowl game, never knew the teams, never cared which of them won or lost. But this kick came to me the next day and has stayed with me for reasons not limited to football.
On Monday, a friend emailed to tell me that the Chief’s kicker is a Catholic traditionalist. And a husband and father. On Tuesday came a valentine from the Catholic News Agency: “Saddened By Restrictions, NFL Star Speaks Out in defense of Traditional Latin Mass.” CNA interviewed Butker the day after the game:
Why are you speaking out about the restrictions to the Traditional Latin Mass?
I think God has definitely given me a platform. He’s given me a voice for a lot of people that aren’t able to voice their opinions. I put so much into being the best kicker I can possibly be and for whatever reason, God has allowed me to continue to be successful as a kicker. I’m so thankful for that. … My success in football has given me a pedestal and I feel a responsibility to raise awareness to different issues that I think God wants me to bring to the forefront. And the Traditional Latin Mass is definitely one of them. It’s an issue that I’m passionate about, and again, I feel I need to bring a voice to a lot of people who are frustrated, who feel like they’re outcasted, and who don’t have the outlet to say anything. I feel like I can be a voice for all those who feel like they’re being persecuted for their love of the traditional sacraments.
You used the word “persecuted.” Is that really how you feel?
I do. I feel like I’m almost not welcome in the Church for wanting to go to the Latin Mass and for wanting to have a traditional confirmation for my children. I feel like I’m a lesser-than Catholic and not part of the Church because I want to attend the traditional rite. But that’s not the reality at all. I want to be obedient to the Church. I want to stay within the Church. It seems like I’m getting persecuted just because I have a love for the traditional rite. And that rite is getting taken away, unfortunately, which is very sad.
Reference to persecution (from the Vatican) over-eggs the pudding somewhat. Nevertheless, the interview is engaging. Butker’s generosity is in stark contradiction to the fever-dreams of off-balance zealots in the FBI who fret over domestic terrorists at Latin Mass. Particularly inviting is the star player’s comment on the appeal of serving at Mass:
I got into altar serving when I was in Kansas City and I was at a parish attending the Latin Mass, and there were no servers. So I decided, having an engineering background, that I could probably pick up all of the different details that are involved with serving the Traditional Latin Mass, and then maybe some more boys would want to learn. I absolutely fell in love with it. I had a great priest friend of mine help teach me and give me different resources to learn how to serve. And then we had a lot of boys that started serving. It was a ton of fun. After we were done with the training, my experience was that all the boys didn’t want to serve the Novus Ordo Mass anymore because they loved the rigor that was involved with serving the Latin Mass and enjoyed how many different processes had to be followed. They loved the discipline. They loved the challenge of it. They really fell in love with it.
What Butker says next is the part that speaks—or could if it were granted voice—to the heart of a boy. Arguments for introducing girl altar servers have won the day since Paul VI’s taffy-pull on the liturgy. Feminist insistence has succeeded in making the sanctuary unisex in Novus Ordo parishes. By contrast, Butker’s candor fields one word that bypasses fashionable egalitarian Goodthink:
[Latin Mass] is the same Mass across the whole world. And it’s very beautiful. And it is kind of, I guess, militaristic in the sense that you have to be very regimented in your movements and in everything that you’re doing. So I fell in love with it and all the boys loved doing that.
Militaristic. That single word sounds a masculine tone. And a corresponding sacrificial one as well. We all know the old maxim that men seek “the moral equivalent of war.” It is routinely applied to sports, especially contact sports. Football epitomizes that agonistic masculine play that unites struggle, exertion, endurance—even suffering— for a contest in which something is at stake.
The nature of that something—the prize, the victory—determines the moral content of the match.
Winning matters. When Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the football field this January, he had to be resuscitated back to life. Coming out of a coma, his first words were: “Who won the game?” In Corinth during the Isthmian games (51 AD), St. Paul phrased his fidelity in a sports analogy: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race.” Paul was fond of reference to sports:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Cor. 9:24-25)
The unknown author of Letter to the Hebrews echoes the Pauline challenge: “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The ancient author of the Book of Jeremiah asked: ““If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?”
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“Sport is war minus the shooting,” wrote George Orwell. He knew shooting war first hand. Our battleground is different but no less decisive. So we pray: “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.” The singular qualities associated with conscientious manhood belong on the altar. What better protection against “the wickedness and snares of the devil” than an assertion of self-sacrificial masculinity. On the altar, as in the home, it serves a civilizing function.
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There has never been a shortage of altar boys in my small Latin Mass community. At the same time, they have disappeared from the two much larger Novus Ordo parishes nearby. Even before the Covid disruptions, boys were withdrawing. As the server role extended to girls, it lost its appeal as a masculine activity. A photo of Harrison Butker in cassock and surplice suggests itself as a recruiting tool among boys in parish youth groups. One picture is worth a thousand rounds of Bible Trivia.