On July 7, 2007 His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, issued his motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum effectively freeing the Extraordinary Form of the one Roman Rite. Prior to this historic document, the Extraordinary Form or TLM as most adherents prefer, had been implemented in only a very few parishes throughout the United States and indeed, the world. The purpose of this little essay is not to explore whether one form is better than the other…there are passionate supporters on both sides. I’d simply like to share how this exquisite Mass, this liturgy of antiquity has captivated the mind, heart and soul of every member of my family.
So here goes:
I’m a convert. Born and raised protestant, baptized in a Pentecostal Holiness Church (yep, that’s right folks…they speak in “tongues”, though I never did!). I spent the majority of my young life “church shopping”: Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, Methodist…you name it, I tried it. I memorized scripture, attended weekday fellowship meetings and competed with other little kids to see who could bring the most visitors to church. It was fun. The music was upbeat, everyone was “saved” and Sunday attendance was never mandatory.
The first time I ever visited a Catholic Church was with my Baptist grandmother. She had always loved the Church, but had never converted due to her staunchly Baptist parents and the fear of upsetting them. So she would pay friendly visits to Our Lord in the tabernacle and light candles. She needed no catechesis. She knew Who was there. From the very beginning I was mesmerized by the beauty, the mystery that surrounded me in that Church. Altar rails, pews with kneelers, hauntingly beautiful statuary and brutally rendered crucifixes provided a backdrop that filled the holes that existed in my “bible-believing” background. By the age of ten, I knew…knew that once saved always saved simply wasn’t true. It couldn’t be. The bible certainly didn’t confirm it, and I had memorized all the pertinent verses to help others on the road to salvation. The bible spoke of a Church that was the pillar and foundation of all truth. All truth…goodness the bible didn’t even make that claim for itself! What Church could this be? I’d been to so many…
It would be many more years, before I would receive that answer. I began reading, reading, reading. And pestering a Catholic friend. I peppered her with questions. In frustration, this same friend finally insisted that I attend an inquirer’s session at a local Catholic Church. I was 25 years old. The meeting was quite informal. I basically assaulted the priest with every question I could dream up…I’m quite sure that I monopolized that particular session. Satisfied with the answers I’d received, I quickly signed up for RCIA.
Now…here’s where the story gets interesting. The first time I entered my local Catholic Church, I was horrified! What happened? Where were the pews? The kneelers? The statues? The tabernacle…oh, there it is…in the corner…wait! Where’s the Crucifix? Why is there a large banner of a butterfly over the altar? This lovely Church had been wrecked…I saw the photos of the old Church in the vestibule. I imagine the purpose of that picture was to show everyone how the Church had been “modernized”, but what I saw was a Church “de-Catholicized”, in fact, it appeared far more protestant than the Methodist church I was attending with my husband and children.
Perhaps you’re wondering why I signed up for RCIA? Why hadn’t I attended Mass a few times to see if I “liked it?” Folks…this wasn’t about “like” or “love”, but about being right. The Catholic Church was the answer for me…the right one. And I needed to be right. Are you following this? I made a “head trip” not a “heart trip” into the Church. My real conversion wouldn’t occur for many years…a story in and of itself.
It took me two years to enter the Church. No annulments or messy things to clean up…I simply couldn’t reconcile a lot of the things I would hear in RCIA with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The DRE (who was a Franciscan nun) told us many things that were irreconcilable with the faith. She basically negated the necessity of Confession, insisted that women would one day be priests and referred to God as Mother/Father.
The Hound of Heaven is quite persistent. I had to persevere. After much suffering, many tears and the weekly agony of RCIA, I finally entered the Church. What a relief! I was so thankful that I had finished that I didn’t go back for at least two weeks. Shocking, isn’t it? Where was my fervor? I had received my Lord and my God into my very self. I was a member of His Body, and yet I never wanted to go back to that Church…I wanted to find out what happened to the Church that I had seen as a child, read about in books. I wanted to find the beauty of the faith that had been captured in centuries of art. I knew it existed. Somehow it had been misplaced.
So I searched. I visited other Catholic Churches. Many of them were very orthodox but none were close to home. By this time, my husband, grandmother (yes!!! The same grandma that always wanted to be a Catholic) and my mother had joined the Church. We had begun to attend regularly, and I must admit, that Mass was sometimes a near occasion of sin for me. I was so angry at the liturgical abuses. So angry that no one seemed to care. Frustrated and feeling very much alone. My husband, on the other hand, was the model Catholic…he always felt at home, no matter what kind of “hospitality” he received…how much I could learn from him! Though he too lamented what our weekly Mass had become, he remained encouraging to me and the children. His faith has always been one of the heart, a heart full of generosity and goodwill.
A few years later, I experienced a “Saul on the road to Damascus” kind of conversion. Sounds tantalizing and I promise to share it, but not now. It’s a long and mystical journey, better suited for another time…
My heart was on fire. Consumed with a burning love for my God, my Faith, my Church, I struggled to make the best of what was before me. For ten years we lived in a desert, one of constant battles to protect the innocence of our children when immoral materials were introduced in CCD, battles to obtain the sacrament of Penance before First Holy Communion, as dictated by the Catechism. My husband and I taught CCD, trying desperately to correct the errors that were being promoted in the classroom. We began homeschooling. We watched a succession of priests, with no essential change. None would stand up to the DRE. (*this DRE has since been reassigned to another country, and an orthodox Bishop is slowly but surely trying to turn the tide of modernism*)
We prayed for a miracle. And it happened.
In the midst of this desert, two friends arrived. They were our solace, our comfort and the “manna” that we desperately needed. And then they moved. My dear Sandra would write, telling me of the incredible new parish they had found, the Mass was in Latin, the priest was an angel…in other words, they had been lead out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
At least that’s how it seemed to me. I was still in Egypt, wandering, looking for solace, reminding myself that my Lord is just as present at a badly handled Mass, as He is in the most orthodox ceremony.
But it was hard.
Back to the miracle! These wonderful friends invited us to check out their parish, with the offer of a rent-free dwelling if we were willing to chance a move. In other words, a whole new life. New home, new job, new parish. It was enticing, to say the least, but quite frightening for a family that owned a home and had lived in a community for more than 17 years. We scheduled a weekend off and paid our friends a visit. We loved the community, but were anxious for a visit to the Church, we decided that if God had something to tell us, we would best hear His Voice there.
I remember donning my veil for the first time. I’ve worn one ever since. There was something so beautiful, so humbling about approaching the doors of the Church, unfolding the mantilla, carefully situating it, even feeling a bit self-conscious. Those feelings soon passed as I entered Holy Family Catholic Church. Breathtakingly beautiful…the heady scent of incense filled the air. We were a bit late and had to sit in the back of the Church. No missal, no expectations…just the extraordinary beauty, the exquisitely lovely words that transcend time and space, the “smells and bells” as some would call them.
I wept. I needed no missal. I knew these words. I had heard them in my heart. This was the song, the beautiful love song that time had woven. “Organic development” is so unromantic, but that was exactly what this Mass was. Something natural, something that had grown, developed and yet still maintained the roots of its origin. There were no words necessary. Roger and I shared a single glance and we both knew, we had heard that Voice.
We moved. Stepping out in absolute trust and faith, believing firmly that this was what we were called to. There were ups and downs, but the blessings and graces were and continue to be, immeasurable. The faith life of this family has changed so completely. We long to go to Church, we hunger for it! Yes…even the children. When we first moved, we lived across the street from an amazingly beautiful Catholic Church. There were the inevitable days (bad weather, car troubles) that would require our attendance at this local church. The children would weep. Weep. They could sleep in two hours, didn’t have to travel a half hour into Columbus and didn’t have to sit for an hour and a half. They didn’t care. They wanted their Church. They weren’t looking for friends and donuts. We had all stumbled upon a beautiful mystery, a story of such historical depth…we’re all still waiting for the surprise ending!
The fervor remains. All four boys now serve on the altar, begging us to leave as early as possible every Sunday morning. They sprint up the stairs of the sacristy, young knights ready to don their vestments to serve the King. Every weekend, we watch the sanctuary fill with young men, seminarians and visiting priests. Twelve vocations in the past ten years from this small inner city parish…that is the fruit of this beautiful Mass. It is our prayer that our own family may be graced with a vocation or two. What an honor it would be to give back to God these children He has so generously placed in our care.
The Traditional Latin Mass is alive and well…large families, lots of babies and little ones, as Father says: “It’s my youngest and best attended Mass…I believe the average age is somewhere around 4.”
We still occasionally attend the Ordinary Form. It’s important that our children recognize the validity of this Mass as well as the rubrics. But it’s always different, everywhere we go. Ultimately, we recognize that the only continuity we will experience will be that which exists in the Traditional Latin Mass…there is no room improvement. None is needed.
If you have a chance to attend a Latin Mass, give it a try. It is lovely to remember what was, what is and what will always be…