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Preserving Catholic Traditions for Tomorrow's Faithful

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One Family's Long Journey to the Latin Mass

Updated January 2011

In 1968, I was a junior in a Catholic high school on Long Island. It was not unusual for our class to gather for the celebration of the Mass. During that pivotal year, most high school and college students -- and teachers, too -- were a little caught up in what we thought of then as the freedom that embodied the spirit of the age to one extent or another.

I will never forget the Mass on one spring morning. The jarring folk music and happy-go-lucky spirit of the liturgy were so astonishingly inappropriate to the celebration of the Sacrifice, that I was shocked and horrified. A trite phrase, but one that is appropriate to that occasion.

The liturgy was prepared by the two communities of religious sisters who were in residence at that school. Two years later, nearly all of them abandoned their orders for the secular life.

Thirty years later, I was married to a wonderful man, a recent convert to Catholicism.  Our son, was 11 years old.  Unhappy with the quality of our local Catholic school and the CCD program at our parish, I elected to home school him in the faith. He attended public elementary school and had several Jewish and Hindu friends.  Exposed to their prayer practices from time to time it was natural that he asked, when returning home from dinner at a Jewish friend's home,

"Why do the Jewish and Hindu people have their own special languages to pray in -- and we Catholics don't?" 

Funny thing you should ask, son. We DO have our own language for worship.

As I began to research this question for him, I was astonished to learn that there were large, active Latin Mass communities all across the nation. Who knew?

Fast forward to Holy Week 1998.

Our little family was at our parish to attend a "Stations of the Cross" service in the Church.  It was presented as a slide show. I looked at my son's face. His jaw actually hung open in astonishment. My husband's eyebrows were knit into the furrows of his brow as though he is struggling to understand the meaning of what he witnessed. I looked back at the screen over the altar. Veronica's Veil was depicted as a graffiti face on a brick wall. The music accompanying this service was a recording of the Rolling Stones. It was so offensive that we got up and left. Apparently we are the "brave vanguard" - others, apparently not wanting to be the first, followed in rapid succession.

On Holy Thursday, we went to Mass which was held in our parish hall. The music was presented by a bi-lingual choir who had exceptionally powerful amplifiers, purchased a couple of weeks prior along with their instruments. What they lacked in talent and training, they make up for in vigor and volume. An ear-splitting rendition of the Gloria to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic complete with drums and clanging cymbals was a prelude to a spectacle involving everyone washing each other's feet by pouring water from plastic beer pitchers into colorful plastic dish basins, followed by a dab from a roll of paper towels. I turned to my husband and said, "That's it. I can't take anymore."

That Easter Sunday our family joined others in a little chapel to celebrate that glorious feast with a Latin Mass.

It was the start of a long journey.

As much as that Mass was a welcome respite from the over-the-top creative liturgies, there were problems at this particular chapel that we found to be disturbing - like general absolution during the Mass.

Clearly we had to do more research.  That summer we attended the annual conference of the Saint Benedict Center.  There we met several of our friends from across the country and proceeded to learn more about Traditional spirituality.

The following year, our son attended their Montfort Boys camp where the Latin Mass was celebrated. For the first time in his young life he saw Priests and Brothers in cassocks, and was surrounded by the day-to-day culture of traditional Catholicism.

Aside from the celebration of the Tridentine Mass, there were notable differences between this group of Catholics and those we had come to know in our home parish and diocese. The traditionalists were a very close knit community centered on faith. They were educated in apologetics, church history and all matters of faith and were ready, willing and able to instruct and defend it.

The women wore chapel veils and were modestly dressed and the men wore appropriate attire to Mass. A huge difference from the somewhat scandalous short shorts and flip flops we were accustomed to seeing at our parish.

The children - even the toddlers - who attended these Masses were silent. Unlike those in our own parish, who shouted and talked out loud, ate snacks and played noisily with toys, these children knew that at least for the next hour, they were in Church and they had to behave with "Church manners."

There was also a huge emphasis on devotion to Mary in the de Montfort tradition - an emphasis that we later learned was deliberately removed from the modern Catholic church so as not to "offend" other faiths. On a superficial level, we smiled to note that these Catholics wore their scapulars on the outside of their clothing. Before lunch at noon, the Angelus was prayed. On a much deeper level, my husband and I were so moved by this spirituality that we eventually became Third Order Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and made our consecration to Jesus through Mary using that formula.

As much as we enjoyed our visits to this New England community and others that were a few hours away, it didn't solve our preference for a more traditional spirituality for daily and weekly worship.

At the time, our Bishop permitted only one Latin Mass each month. While it was in a setting where the altar and tabernacle were not properly oriented for the rite, the major draw back was a lack of community.

We began to look at various Latin Mass chapels that were within a relatively short drive from our home.  I soon realized that there was a lot more to attending the Latin Mass than just finding one and going.

You had to ask questions.

Lots of them.

Not all Latin Masses are created equal, as we soon learned. 

(continuation)

 

Most did not have the approval of their local Bishops for a variety of reasons. Some say, so what?  But as we soon learned there were ramifications.

Were they valid?

Were they licit?

Not having a Canon Lawyer on hand to ask, it got confusing.

"Are you loyal to the Magisterium?" we asked at one.

"Yes, of course."

Uh, oh.

We forgot to ask one critical question.

"Who do you think the Magisterium IS?"

Somehow our viewpoint on the succession of the chair of Peter didn't agree.

Take your pick from Pope Michael I or Pope Pius XIII who lives in a trailer in Montana.

We soon found out that the leadership at most Novus Ordo parishes had a lot in common with some traditionalists:  they didn't like you asking questions.

Handy hints for the inquirer: (Note: this refers to the pre-Motu Propio years)

1. Never, ever dare ask your Novus Ordo Missae Pastor about Extra Ecclesia Nula Salas if you wish to avoid being called a bigot and shunned for the rest of your life in the parish.

2. Never, ever dare question a traditionalist in detail about their chapel's standing with the local Bishop unless you want to be accused of a slanderous lack of charity and shunned for the rest of your life in that community.

In both camps the motto was: Go along to get along. Don't ask, don't tell.

Eventually we gave up.

We resigned ourselves to attending Mass at the parish we started from. And that meant no Latin. Ever.

That was OK.

It was the reverence we missed.

Oh ... and the catechesis.

And the fidelity to Church teachings.

For a time we found a very conservative parish where the new Mass was offered in a very reverent manner - complete with the "bells and smells" and Roman vestments.  Although the pastor there viewed traditionalists as "Protestants in mantillas," we found rest and renewal there for a time.

We also found that in many of these little, unusual parishes a cult grows up around the priest, taking the focus off the High Priest - Christ. Just as it did at that original chapel where the faithful now gather to watch a video of the Mass each Sunday.

We left.

Take up your Cross and follow Me.

Who says we're exempt from suffering? Even if it meant suffering through whacky feminist theology and pagan rituals with cheesy plastic accoutrements arranged around the altar of sacrifice.

We offered prayers of reparation.

A wonderful deacon we know who also suffered at this parish said, "This is your Good Friday. Easter is coming."

A transition of leadership came about. We didn't expect that the Latin Mass would be offered there. Ever. In fact, we didn't know what to expect. It wasn't good and went from bad to worse.  We left and began attending Mass at another parish on our island for the next two years. There, at least, High Mass (in English) was offered with a choir that sung traditional hymns in Latin. There were still some oddities that made us uncomfortable. No parish is perfect, but then none of us is either.

We didn't expect that TLM would be a widespread rite within our diocese. It wasn't. It is sad, however, that modern Catholics, for the most part, have had no exposure to or understanding of the old rite. They are completely unaware of the rich liturgical history and mystery we enjoyed until not so very long ago. 

It seems that the pendulum has begun it's descent from the wild swing to the liberal left. Perhaps we will begin to see the Ordinary Ministers of the Eucharist take precedence over the gaggle of female extraordinary ministers. A new young breed of Priests is coming into leadership roles in our parishes and for the most part, they seem to be a conservative and holy bunch. After all, it takes a lot of faith, hope and charity - not to mention courage - to consider a vocation to the Catholic Priesthood in the post-Conciliar era. 

Is the Latin Mass the only true Mass? The Holy Father assures us that they can exist side by side. That was good enough for us. Certainly there are serious questions about the translation of the parts of the Mass, but it the Vatican is addressing that matter. Not a lot slips by Pope Benedict XVI even in the face of his ultra-liberal opponents.

Yes, we were concerned, as you might be after you've studied the issue a bit.  We believed that a reverent Novus Ordo Missae is just fine, if somewhat hard to find.

In the meanwhile, when we went on vacation, or when we just needed a little break from "creative and lively liturgy" - we found a officially sanctioned Latin Masses through a reliable source in keeping with the Magisterium (the true successor of Peter) and that is Una Voce. (Please visit them. You'll be glad you did.)

There is a happy ending to this story. The sanctioned Latin Mass in our diocese that was relatively close by was moved to another location that is more suited to the rite. It is a forty minute drive which initially seemed inconvenient in comparison to the other parishes which were only five minutes away. But that minor inconvenience was quickly forgotten as we were fed with the incomparable beauty of the Latin Mass.

Deo Gratias!

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