One Family’s Journey to the Latin Mass

In 1968, I was a junior in a Catholic high school in New York. 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 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 who was 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. In fact, we DO have our own language.

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.

Fast forward to Holy Week 1998.

Our little family is at our parish to attend a “Stations of the Cross” service in the Church.  It is presented as a slide show. I look at my son’s face. His jaw is hanging open in astonishment. My husband’s eyebrows are knit into the furrows of his brow as though he is struggling to understand the meaning of what he is witnessing. I look back at the screen over the altar. Veronica’s Veil is depicted as a graffiti face on a brick wall. The music that accompanies this service is a recording of the Rolling Stones. It is so offensive that we get up and leave. Apparently we are the “brave vanguard” – others, apparently not wanting to be the first, follow in rapid succession.

On Holy Thursday, we are in our parish hall for the Mass. The music is presented by a bi-lingual choir who have exceptionally powerful amplifiers. What they lack 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 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 culture of 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 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.


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. In fact, they could get downright nasty.

Handy hints for the inquirer:

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 is now underway at our parish. We don’t expect that the Latin Mass will be offered there. In fact, we don’t know what to expect.*see update And we don’t expect that it will be a widespread rite within our diocese. 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 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’s good enough for us. Certainly there are serious questions about the translation of the parts of the Mass, but it seems that 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’re concerned, as you will be after you’ve studied the issue a bit.  For now, we believe that a reverent Novus Ordo Missae is just fine, if somewhat hard to find.

OK – sometimes next to impossible.

If we had a choice, we’d pick the Tridentine Mass.

In the meanwhile, when we go on vacation, or when we just need a little break from “creative and lively liturgy” – we can find a officially sanctioned Latin Mass 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.

*An update seven months later. Please understand that our comments are not intended as a lack of charity. It’s just the way it is. Things went from bad to worse. Under the new leadership we were permitted to sing “In Paradisum” as a final commendation for funerals. That was soon eliminated as being meaningless to 99% of the faithful as they did not understand Latin. This in a parish that has frequent English-Spanish Masses. We introduced a Marian hymn on January 1st with verses in English and Spanish, ending with a final verse in Latin for the sake of unity. We were told to skip the Latin as no one understood it. Of course 85% of those in attendance don’t understand Spanish, but … We let it go. The use of the Chant Mass was tentatively approved for Advent and Lent. That is until Advent rolled around. You get the rest of the story.

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Christine Hirschfeld

I never intended to run a Catholic antiquities and book business. Not in a million years. As a cradle Catholic, I grew up in a house that was filled with Catholic images and sacramentals not to mention an abundance of excellent books provided by family members who worked in publishing houses famous for their Catholic catalogues. The beautiful images and concepts presented in those books certainly had their effect in enhancing my identity as a Catholic. As the years passed, even in the midst of very un-Catholic settings, I became a repository for my friends’ Catholic “found objects.” Eventually, I had a family of my own. We’re a small family. There are just three of us. And two of us were born with the “junk collecting gene.” Garage sales attracted us like a magnet.
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