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Amidst the joy that I and so many people have felt at the election of Pope Francis, I have also encountered worry, alarm, even anger from some Catholics who are afraid that the Holy Father has been hostile toward the extraordinary form of the Mass and will reverse all of the liturgical decisions of Pope-emeritus Benedict.  You can read more at any number of other blogs.

I am a bit baffled by the whole thing.  I admit that it’s not entirely clear to me what the Holy Father’s stance is on the EF.  I’ve read that the attempt to implement it in Buenos Aires crashed and burned.  I don’t know if that can be blamed on the Holy Father.  Here are some things that do seem clear to me and give me reason not to be too concerned:

1.  He loves and respects Pope Emeritus Benedict.  At the very least, I can’t imagine him tossing Summorum Pontificum into the garbage.  I can’t imagine him disparaging or discouraging its implementation.  Its implementation may not be a priority for him.  He may not say Mass ad orientem or repeat everything that Benedict did.  That’s a far cry from destroying the liturgy.

2.  Something I have not seen yet in the discussions about liturgy is the fact that he served as bishop to Eastern Rite Catholics in Buenos Aires, as well as Latin Rite Catholics.  And apparently he is well-liked and respected by the Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch, who says, among other things:

I would first like to say that the newly elected Pope Francis was mentored by one of our priests, Stepan Chmil who is now buried in the basilica of St. Sophia in Rome. Today’s Pope, during his time as a student of the Salesian school, awoke many hours before his classmates to concelebrate at our Divine Liturgy with Fr. Stepan. He knows our Tradition very well, as well as our Liturgy.

If Pope Francis has a love and understanding of Eastern Divine Liturgy, surely he can’t be all that antagonistic toward the traditional Latin Rite liturgy.  It seems to me that anybody who hated the EF would not touch the Divine Liturgy with a ten-foot pole (nor would anybody want them to!).  Am I wrong?  Has anybody read or heard anything else about his relationship with the Eastern Catholics?

3.  The Holy Father seems pretty traditional to me overall.  He preaches about the devil, for crying out loud.  And that’s a good thing!  That’s something that the modern Church needs more than anything.

Mostly, I just think that we need to give him a chance to show us who he is… to not make any hasty judgments… and to not compare him with Pope Emeritus Benedict at every turn.  We have to know and respect him on his own terms.  To know him based on what we see him do and hear him say.


I attended my first High Mass in the Extraordinary Form (EF) this morning.  It was glorious!  I’ve been wanting to attend one for a while now, but there’s a story behind why I went today.

Basically, I did something really stupid last night, such that I really, really needed to go to Confession before Mass!  The only priest I could think of who offers Confession before Sunday Mass was our FSSP chaplain.  So I dragged myself out of bed before 6, and mustered up my courage to go to a new place, for a new kind of Mass, and to confess to a new priest.

I got to the monastery chapel where the Sunday EF Masses are said, and I got there in plenty of time.  But I couldn’t tell where the confessional was, and I had not seen the priest around.  I finally asked a young man sitting behind me, and he told me I needed to go outside to an adjoining building.  Well, by the time I got there, there was quite a line.  And about 20 minutes until Mass was to start.  The priest had to cut us off.

I stood there, crestfallen and uncertain what I should do.  The young lady who’d been in line ahead of me told me that Father also hears confessions after that Mass.  That was well and good, but I felt I would have to refrain from receiving the Eucharist if I confessed after Mass.  I thought about going somewhere else, in hopes of possibly finding a priest to hear my confession.

But I felt oddly compelled to attend the high Mass.  It was something more than interest or curiosity that compelled me.  Something much more powerful… something supernatural, which came from within me and from without at the same time… if that makes sense.  The phrase I have long used for it is a gravity upon my soul.  An ineffable, external force which also ignites a great longing within my soul, a willingness and eagerness to respond to the force.

So I walked back over to the chapel, which by that time was standing-room only.  I stood in the doorway, not sure where I should go or whether I could possibly find a seat.  I was feeling very uncomfortable and hot and self-conscious.  Honestly, I just wanted to disappear, and in fact, I was about to turn and slink away when a young man came and told me there was a seat up front.  I didn’t like the idea of having to refrain from Communion in front of the entire chapel (as if it were all about me, right?).  But I also didn’t want to be ungrateful for the consideration shown to me.  I hesitated, but again, I felt that compulsion.

I followed the boy to the empty spot, sat down and tried to pray, fumbled around for my missal.  All while being devastated that I couldn’t in good conscience receive Communion.  I felt sort of like there was an earthquake going on inside me.  I wondered if the people around me could tell–it seemed impossible that they couldn’t.

And then…

And then the music began, organ and choir.  A simple hymn before Mass, but it was so beautiful that I could imagine the angels in Heaven appearing and becoming audible.  Then a bell rang, and the splendidly-attired servers and priest filed in.  The priest began the chanting of the Asperges Me, and the choir and congregation took it up while the priest sprinkled holy water on everybody.  I recognized the text of the antiphon as a passage from that most excellent prayer of penitence, Psalm 51:

Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow.
(Angelus Press 1962 missal translation)

As I felt a small shower of water come down around me, I felt God’s mercy wash over me.

And I was transported.  Transported out of my worry and discomfort, transported out of my nervousness and the internal earthquake.  Transported out of everything dark and worrisome and into a marvelous light.  The chanting, the Latin language, the incense, the splendor of the chapel and the vestments and the finely choreographed movements… it all transported me.  It wasn’t about me at all, and yet I found myself in a most wonderful place.  “It is good that I am here,” I thought, echoing the sentiments of St. Peter as he stood before the transfigured Christ, dazed but fully conscious of the blessing he had received.

Yes, of course, I found the liturgy a bit strange and hard to follow along with (I still find even the low Mass challenging at times).  But it didn’t matter.  I was aware of what was going on.  A great mystery, to be sure, but a mystery into which we are meant and indeed created to enter, without fear or hesitation.  I had been compelled to do just that, and I was now part of it in some small way.  What my feeble mind didn’t grasp, my soul certainly did.  It resonated with every sound, smell, sight, and motion.

And then there were the Scripture readings and the homily.  As I listened, I thought and prayed:  “OK, Lord, so this is why You compelled me.  This is all exactly what I needed to hear, and what You wanted to tell me.”  We heard Galatians 5:16-24, where St. Paul speaks of the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit and how we must live in the Spirit and crucify our flesh together with Christ.  Yes… I suppose I needed that reminder.  The Gospel was Matthew 6:24-33, where Christ warns that one cannot serve both God and mammon, and that if we have faith and trust in God, we will not be anxious about provisions for the needs of the flesh, for God knows us and provides for us, as He does for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field–and then some.  “Seek ye therefore first the Kingdom of God, and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Yes… I definitely needed that reminder!

As part of his homily upon these exhortations, Father encouraged us to pray the Rosary.  It was probably the best and most inspiring preaching on the Rosary I’ve heard!  It really moved me, almost to tears.  My prayer life of late has been… shall we say… a bit weak.  Not because I’ve been unable to pray, but, honestly, because I just haven’t made praying a priority.  (Gosh, maybe that’s why I’ve been falling to pieces lately.  Do you think?)

The Mass proceeded.  I implored the Lord for a spiritual Communion.  After Mass came Adoration and Benediction.  I once again bewailed my sins and begged for mercy.  I was still painfully aware of my separation from Him.  And the fact that it was I, not He, who had caused it.  A hard conviction to pass upon oneself.  But not a death sentence.  God doesn’t hand out death sentences (despite some all-too-popular misconceptions about Him).  Rather, I felt Him say to me, “My child, I know that you came here to be reconciled, and although things have not gone as planned, I have kept you here so that you might receive hope, healing, and encouragement to sustain and re-fortify you.”  I thanked Him profusely and reaffirmed my intention to get to Confession as soon as possible and to do better.  I marveled at how He brought that beautiful morning from the previous day’s pitiful failing.

I tried to go to Confession again after Mass, but again, there were too many penitents and not enough time.  At the time, I was still disconsolate about it.  But I decided that I would wait until Tuesday morning and go to Confession at my parish church, to my parish priest, my usual confessor.  And in the meantime, I would trust in God’s tremendous mercy and providence.

That’s what I am doing now, and with considerable peace of mind, thanks be to God. But perhaps that raises another question:  So, why go to Confession anyway? I’ll address this question in a separate post.  I was planning a similar post anyway, and what happened today provides a good context for it.

Let me just close by saying:

1. Mortal sin IS. NOT. WORTH. IT. So avoid it at all costs and save yourself a whole lot of grief!

2. But if you can’t avoid it, DO. NOT. DESPAIR. Be humble, honest, and contrite before God, and get to Confession ASAP!

A kind reader and correspondent of mine, Mark at Joe versus the Volcano, has encouraged me to read the work of the great 19th-20th century Dominican theologian, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP. I’ve slowly and gradually begun to read his The Three Ages of the Interior Life, which is available online.

Well, actually, I’ve only just begun reading the introduction–but have already have found lots to think about! Below is an excerpt from the 2nd section of the intro, called: “The Question of the One Thing Necessary at the Present Time.” (The “one thing necessary”–a phrase Christ uses with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:42–is the interior life, which Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange says “consists in hearing the word of God and living by it”; “the life of the soul with God”).

The “present time” for Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange when he was writing this work was the late 1930s. As we know, Europe was approaching what was to be a horrific catastrophe. However, as I read, I kept thinking to myself, “My goodness, this could have been written this morning!”

This section caught my attention by its talk of “the seriousness of life.”  I’m a pretty serious person.  I think one thing that defines a mature adult human being is a certain awareness and observance of the gravitas of life–and certainly the gravitas of religion and the spiritual life.  I would consider being serious a virtue.  Of course, I’ve also been accused of being a dour, joyless, uptight, crotchety hag.  I’m not sure when that became the definition of “serious.” Is it really so awful to ponder what is most important and deserving of devotion?

Without further ado, here is Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, with some reflections of mine interspersed.

Without God, the seriousness of life gets out of focus. If religion is no longer a grave matter but something to smile at, then the serious element in life must be sought elsewhere. Some place it, or pretend to place it, in science or in social activity; they devote themselves religiously to the search for scientific truth or to the establishment of justice between classes or peoples. After a while they are forced to perceive that they have ended in fearful disorder and that the relations between individuals and nations become more and more difficult, if not impossible. As St. Augustine and St. Thomas have said, it is evident that the same material goods, as opposed to those of the spirit, cannot at one and the same time belong integrally to several persons. The same house, the same land, cannot simultaneously belong wholly to several men, nor the same territory to several nations. As a result, interests conflict when man feverishly makes these lesser goods his last end.

I think of the modern Church as I’ve found it so often today: entertaining liturgy, no reverence at all, no talk of the Cross of Christ nor of the need for us to carry our own crosses, no talk of sin and repentance, no Confession lines, no whole-hearted devotion.  Replacing all of that tends to be so-called “social justice” activism that is divorced in some way (or in many ways) from Catholic moral teaching and obedience to the Church Magisterium–most often at the expense of unborn children… because what are they going to do, fight back?

I think also of the dreadful insistence on “tolerance” which actually means, “Hey, Catholic Church, you have to tolerate me no matter what I say or do or think or believe or how I define ‘Catholic,’ and if you don’t then I get to scream at you for being a bunch of backward, intolerant bigots.  I mean, how dare you stand up for absolute truth and for your own sense of identity!  And if you even think the word ‘excommunication,’ you’ll only prove yourselves to be medieval fossils.”

Related to the insistence on tolerance are the insistence on relativism and an indifferentism that favors just about everything and everybody except the Church.

The Church is discriminated against in the name of non-discrimination.  The Church is wronged in the name of justice.  And it’s done most often by people within the Church–it is what they have chosen as their serious mission in place of a serious Catholic faith.  Like the material things Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange mentions, the Church as a human, earthly institution, cannot belong to more than one group of persons at the same time.  It either belongs to Catholics, or it belongs to non-Catholics (even if they call themselves Catholics).  Until it belongs either to one or the other, interior strife and chaos run rampant.  There is nothing but division.

It is very ironic that dissenters scoff at the notion of the “institutional Church” (for them, a code phrase for the real, faithful, orthodox Church they despise).  In reality, they are seeking to steal the institution for themselves, to ensconce themselves as the institution, as the face and the voice of the Church on earth.  To once and for all have their definition of “Catholic” win out and be universally accepted.  “God?  Bishops?  Ordained priests?  Pious laypeople?  Who needs them?  We are church. [sic]  Like it or leave.”

One often feels that they have very nearly succeeded today.  “Oh, yes, there are still a few people who blubber over crucifixion, obey the pope, consider abortion the greatest evil ever, hate sex, think only men can be priests, and pray the Rosary.  But they’re just crazy extremists.  Pay them no mind.”

St. Augustine, on the other hand, insists on the fact that the same spiritual goods can belong simultaneously and integrally to all and to each individual in particular. Without doing harm to another, we can fully possess the same truth, the same virtue, the same God. This is why our Lord says to us: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Failure to hearken to this lesson, is to work at one’s destruction and to verify once more the words of the Psalmist: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it.”

True unity, true justice, true tolerance can only exist where there are shared spiritual goods.  In contrast to the false tolerance mentioned above, the Church embraces a true tolerance based on shared beliefs and absolute truth.  There is a genuine diversity within the Church.  In addition to the various liturgical traditions, there are individual people of all races, nationalities, ages, states in life, political viewpoints, socio-economic status, sexual orientation.  What binds us together as one Church is our belief in and devotion to “the same truth, the same virtue, the same God.”  What unifies us is our common goal of worshiping, knowing, loving, and serving God and seeking the kingdom of God.

This common ground is built into the Catholic Church via Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the Magisterium, and of course the Holy Spirit’s rule and the discipline of infallibility He exerts over our human leaders where the faith and morals of the Church are concerned.  When this spiritual common ground is abandoned and Catholicism is put up for grabs and torn to shreds like a piece of meat by various contenders… when the spiritual common ground ceases to be the most important, most serious part… then we get the chaos described above.

We conclude logically that religion can give an efficacious and truly realistic answer to the great modern problems only if it is a religion that is profoundly lived, not simply a superficial and cheap religion made up of some vocal prayers and some ceremonies in which religious art has more place than true piety. As a matter of fact, no religion that is profoundly lived is without an interior life, without that intimate and frequent conversation which we have not only with ourselves but with God.

What comes to mind here is the sometimes hotly-debated notion of “active participation” in the Mass by the laity.  Some claim that the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite by its nature engenders active participation, as opposed to the Extraordinary Form, which by its nature stifles active participation.  This claim is only true if “active participation” means exterior actions, such as speaking words and singing songs and shaking hands with your pew-mates.  Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange is saying that such exterior actions by themselves are meaningless, “superficial and cheap.”  They do not by themselves constitute “a religion profoundly lived.”  They may or may not be an indication of a religion profoundly lived.  What constitutes a religion profoundly lived is the interior life.

In my experience, both forms of the Latin Rite can inspire, foster, and deepen the interior life.  Both forms can also stifle it.  The difference lies not so much in the liturgies themselves.  The difference lies chiefly within each and every one of us.  How willing are we to dedicate ourselves body and soul, exteriorly and interiorly, to worshiping God?  That is, how serious are we about worshiping God?  If we worship half-heartedly, lazily, and without seriousness, which liturgy is used at the Mass isn’t going to matter one bit!

This is what it comes down to, dear ones: It comes down to each of us asking ourselves questions.  How seriously do I myself take practicing the Catholic faith?  How seriously do I take God?  How seriously do I take the Mass?  How seriously do I take orthodoxy?  How seriously do I take the institution of the Church?  How seriously do I take the tradition that has been handed down by the Holy Spirit through men?  How seriously do I take unity with my fellow Catholics?

We all take things seriously.  Our souls are driven by meaning, purpose, and importance.  We either take the truly important things seriously (which I think happens only when we take a serious attitude toward life in general), or we take lesser and even foolish things seriously.  Such as flawed notions of tolerance, for example.

Let’s get serious and make the right choices.

I began my day by attending the TLM at my parish.  The TLM is always a transcendent experience, but this morning was even more so because of the chanting!  Usually, we have a simple, very quiet spoken Mass, but today, parts were chanted, and it was so… captivating!  I felt that my senses were lifted to a completely different sphere.  It made the Mass even more other-worldly.

It’s no wonder that the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed Gregorian chant’s pride of place in the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium 116).  It’s a shame that that little declaration of the Council’s is often overlooked or disregarded.  As with so many liturgical treasures, many, if not most, Catholics have no idea what they are missing… or being deprived of.

Once again, I count my many blessings!  To be able to enter into another world without leaving my city–that is something truly amazing.

And yes, I realize that it happens at every Mass, simply because the Mass is the Mass.  But without the liturgy to fully direct us and transport us into the other world, to break the chains of the ordinary world, to liberate and enlighten mind, soul, and senses–without proper liturgy, the Mass can seem empty or boring, or else it can seem like a chore because we have to work so hard to find our own way into the other world, while being snatched at or pummeled over the head with distractions.  That’s assuming that we already know what that other world is like–if we don’t, then we might never find it.  We might be led to mistake the Mass as a place to socialize and be entertained.  Or we might just leave altogether because there is far better socializing and entertainment to be had elsewhere.

I remember back when I was first starting to consider returning to the Church.  I had begun doing a little exploration at Catholic Answers and other Web sites and radio programs.  I read and heard people exclaim how the Mass is Heaven on Earth, an entry into eternity and another world.  I remember thinking to myself:  “Are these people really talking about the Mass?”  I was skeptical… I had never experienced the Mass as something earth-shaking and other-worldly.  But I was also intrigued…  and after just a couple of times attending Sunday Mass at my parish, with my parish priest, I was utterly convinced!

I thank God always for bringing me to the right parish, and the right priest, at the right time.  And I also thank Him for nudging me on to the TLM!  I know I still have a lot to explore and learn and soak in!  It is so unreal that I ever considered the Mass, or Catholicism in general, to be boring!

The Triduum is ended with the holiest night of the year and the most sacred and splendid of all liturgies: the Easter Vigil.

The liturgy begins in darkness.  The sun has set, and all the lights in the church are out.  And then a new fire, begun from a spark of flint, emerges.  The great Paschal Candle is lit, and from it scores of other candles, the flame being passed throughout the church.  A new dawn breaks!  Not with the light of the natural sun, but with the light of the Sun of Justice, Christ, our risen Lord.

And then, in the golden, dancing glow, the chanting of the sublime Exsultet (or Paschal Praeconium) begins:

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

Oh, the Exsultet!  It is truly one of the highlights of my entire year.  One of my favorite parts is:

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

“O happy fault”!  Sure, life would no doubt be easier and better had Adam and Eve not eaten that fruit.  But their fall didn’t only bring about hardship.  Their fall ultimately brought Christ to us.  Under the circumstances, what more could we hope for or desire than for God to become one of us, to come in Person to pay our debt and raise us up, to restore us to divine life?  To allow us once more to behold the face of God!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
“The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy.”

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

These are just a few excerpts from the Exsultet.  But I’m sure you can see how enchanting it is and why it is something I look forward to and cherish deeply each year.  It always brings tears to my eyes!  It summarizes so beautifully and perfectly what this night means… and, really, what our Christian faith means!

[UPDATE]: Father Z has an excellent post dedicated to the Exsultet, including an audio file of him chanting it in Latin.  Truly beautiful and not to be missed!  [END UPDATE]

This is also the night when many people become new Christians and new Catholics.  Bearing witness to that, standing in support of them, and welcoming them into the Holy Church is always a profoundly moving and humbling thing.  I had the special privilege of sharing in the joy of my friend Susie and her husband as their son was confirmed and received Communion for the first time tonight!  God bless him and all of our new brothers and sisters!  They’ve been on quite a journey, and it won’t be ending any time soon!

It’s the most powerful possible testament that, despite what our society might look like and what our media might tell us, the Catholic Church isn’t old and dying.  Every year she becomes younger and fresher.  The Church may not be “popular,” but she still draws people to herself and to the Lord.  She still has power over people.  People still long for her, desire her, and strive after and pursue her.  People still embrace her.  She makes human beings more, much more, than just Homo sapiens sapiens.  Calls us to sublimation and heroism.  And people still want to be heroes and heroines, not in the eyes of society, but in the eyes of God and His Church!  She makes the weak strong and the humble glorious.  Who wouldn’t want that?

The neophytes aren’t the only new, fresh blood in the Church.  The Easter Vigil renews all of us!  It certainly renews me.  I was telling Susie as we walked to our cars that I always feel so alive after the Easter Vigil Mass!  It breathes new life into me.  I come from it an entirely new person.  We all do.

Let us praise and thank the Risen Lord for His tremendous blessings!

Christus resurrexit!  Alleluia!

One of my favorite Saturday pastimes is watching Antiques Roadshow.  I love seeing the huge varieties of antiques, whether valuable, or maybe not-so-valuable.  I like collecting little antique things myself–especially Catholic items.  Nothing huge, just little books and things.  Sometimes I rescue them from used bookstores or shops.  I want to make sure they find good homes.

Dearest of all, of course, are things handed down in my family–such as the little 1940s Sunday Missal that belonged to my Grand-uncle John (who was also my godfather).  I’ve mentioned this missal before (see “Related Posts” below).  It’s not anything spectacular or materially valuable; an antiques dealer or collector probably wouldn’t pay me anything for it.  But it’s precious because it has been treasured by my family–it was important enough to my godfather to keep it, it was important enough to my father to keep it, and it is important to me to keep it and hopefully be able to pass it to somebody in the next generation.  This little book represents my bond with my family, and our shared bond with our Church and our faith.

As dear as material mementos and heirlooms may be, our liturgical traditions are even more so because they are alive.  They are suffused with the life of God and with the life of every creature, human and angelic, who participates in them.  In them past and present, Heaven and Earth converge.

I can’t understand why any of them were ever abandoned, neglected, or rejected.  If our ancestors left us chests of gold and priceless jewels, would we just suddenly one day toss them out, let them be scattered and lost, as if they had become worthless?  Would we look at them and say, “Oh, all of this stuff is so old, it has no place in my life today, I’ve moved on to newer, better things, I just don’t care about it any more”?  No.  We might preserve them, sell them, spend them, admire them, pass them to descendants, or squander them–but all of those acts would be based on the notion that the gold and jewels were still valuable.  We may have different ideas about how to best use them, but their value would not be disputed.

The value of our religious and liturgical traditions have been disputed and denied, and yet, in reality, they are far more valuable than inanimate objects like gold and jewels.  Gold and jewels can be preserved or spent, admired or squandered.  But our liturgical traditions can be lived, experienced, acted, and participated in!  They can be used this way every day, or even every moment, in every part of the world, without ever being spent–indeed they can grow and spread and become even more valuable the more they are used!

Fortunately, as we are seeing now, even if one or more generations ceases to regard them as valuable, later generations can revive and rediscover them and restore them to their proper dignity and worth–and restore them to even greater life than they knew before!  I am so very happy and grateful to see this happening in the Church today, with the Tridentine Mass, and with the Dominican Rite also.  And I am so grateful for the efforts of our Holy Father Pope Benedict and all of the priests and laypeople who have seen our liturgical traditions for the infinitely valuable things they are.

Related Posts:

Holding my heritage in my hand

Missal pics

Well, it’s just after 9 AM–the time when I might just be getting out of bed on any other Saturday–and I’ve just returned from my first Mass in the Extraordinary Form (EF)!  My parish offers it every morning, Monday-Saturday; or rather, an FSSP priest offers it at my parish.  I figured the familiar surroundings would make me less nervous about going, and that the daily Mass might be simpler to start out with.

First, I want to say that before Mass, while praying and making my petitions and offerings, I remembered in a special way those who have inspired me to explore the EF–Pope Benedict, Father John Zuhlsdorf (Fr. Z), Seminarian Matthew, and of course, all of you dear readers who responded to my recent post with so much encouragement and advice!  :D  I might not have gone to Mass this morning if it weren’t for all of you.

And now for my impressions…

Well, it was very different from the Ordinary Form (OF), and I felt a little clumsy and a little lost at times.  That didn’t trouble me, because it was only to be expected, right?  Maybe I could have taken more time to prepare myself a little better beforehand, but I didn’t want to start coming up with excuses not to go!  I felt like this was something I really needed to do.  And as with all the “threshold-crossing” moments of my life, the devil was already giving me enough grief about it, trying to discourage me and distract me–I wasn’t going to give in!

No matter how clumsy and lost I might have felt, I did not feel like an outsider.  Reading some other people’s accounts of attending Mass in the EF, I’ve gotten the impression that they have felt sort of like outside observers, like aliens in a foreign land.  I think that is wont to happen if one regards the EF as something foreign or alien.  I regard it as part of my own culture and civilization, part of my patrimony, my inheritance, my treasure.  This is the kind of Mass my family and ancestors knew.  Like many things handed down from previous generations, it may seem new and different, maybe strange or hard to understand in ways, but it’s still mine.  It’s part of me and I’m part of it.

More than anything I was fascinated and full of wonder!  I don’t know if I will ever let another Saturday go by without attending morning Mass in the EF.  I feel drawn to it now.  I want to leave behind my clumsiness and disorientation.  I want to know and understand it better.  And I want to participate and enter into it even more fully.

I’m baffled at how some people have said that they don’t get to participate in the EF.  If anything, I think it demands much more focused and alert participation than the OF.  The priest prayed most of the prayers silently, and I was reading them to myself.  Reading is a different process than listening, a different encounter with the words and, in this case, the prayers.  I consider it a more active process.  While I read along, I was carefully listening for cues like bells ringing and the priest’s uttering aloud the opening words of certain of the prayers.  I also glanced up to watch for gestures like bows or genuflections or what part of the altar he was standing at.

The overall effect that this process had on me was a dual one:

On one hand, through the act of reading, I felt like the prayers were more my own and that I was playing a more personal, individual, and active part in the Mass.  In the OF, it’s easy to sort of shut down and slip into a more passive watching and listening to the priest, as if he’s the one who actually “performs” the worship, especially the Eucharistic Prayer, and we’re just the “audience.”  I suppose that’s possible with any Mass, but by reading the prayers myself, I felt more unified with the priest, more like I was acting with him and imitating him.  He read the prayers, I read the prayers.

On the other hand, I felt more that I needed the priest there.  I needed him there at the altar to pray on my behalf.  I needed him as a leader and as a much more experienced pray-er.  I wanted and needed him to stand for me and to cover over all the imperfections in my own praying: the clumsiness, the distractions, the getting lost.  I needed to put my trust in his prayers and actions.

Now obviously, we always need our priests, and we always need to entrust to them sacrificial duties that they alone can fulfill, and the mysterious sacramental works that their prayers and actions alone can bring about by the grace of God–such as the consecration and transubstantiation of the Eucharist.  We always have to have faith and trust in the priests’ Holy Orders.  Otherwise they’re  just these guys dressed up in fancy frocks, serving up bread and wine.

But this morning’s Mass really emphasized that for me.  I saw the priest and his role in a different way.  And I realized what a blessing the priest is–what a leader, an advocate, and intercessor we have in him.  And I realized how much I needed and wanted him there for me.  As he prayed before the Crucifix, I sensed that he was carrying my prayers and those of everybody else on his shoulders.  I’ve never been to a Mass celebrated ad orientem before, so I’d never really thought about that before.  Acting in persona Christi, he was bearing all of our prayers, as well as anything else we were thinking of or carrying in our hearts and souls–any troubles, any petitions, any needs.  He was bearing them for us at the altar.  That was a pretty awesome realization.

By far my favorite part of the Mass was when the Host and the chalice rose above the priest’s head.  It looked almost as if they did so by their own power!  In those moments, the priest sort of disappeared, and the Body and Blood of Christ appeared, among the ringing of the bells.  It was a beautiful, mystical experience.  I’d heard people talk about that, but I couldn’t have imagined what it was really like to behold it!  The elevation of the consecrated Eucharist is always a powerful event for those who have the eyes and the faith to see… but with the priest facing ad orientem, it was… more mysterious!  You can’t actually see the priest raising his hands–that might not sound like a big deal, but it really does have a big effect.

There were many other things I was impressed with:

For one, the altar boys–yes, I can say altar boys, because that’s who they were!  There were two young men, and three little boys, all dressed in black cassocks and white surplices.  Not only did they look very sharp, they really knew their stuff!  They were all focused and very reverent and dignified in the way they carried themselves.  While the older ones assisted at the altar, the little ones sat and read along in their missals.  I was extremely impressed by how responsible and well-trained they each were!

Second, the priest’s vestments were absolutely gorgeous.  He had a beautiful bright red “fiddle-back” chasuble, embroidered with gold, with a cross on his back–which helped me visualize him bearing our prayers.  He wore a biretta with a pompom as he entered and exited the sanctuary.  And after Mass, he gave us Adoration and Benediction dressed in a gleaming ivory cope, also trimmed in gold and with a cross on the back.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say again: vestments matter.  And it’s not because I’m shallow and just think they’re pretty.  I regard Christ as my King, and I also regard the priest as His official representative on earth.  If the priest wears rich, beautiful vestments, I see it as an image of, and a tribute to, Christ the King’s glory.  Even if a priest were vain or prideful about his vestments, that’s not how I would see them.

Third, the beauty of the language–both the Latin and the English translation I read along with.  It was so elevated and reverent.  Uplifting and, well, sacred.  Perfectly befitting prayer and worship.  Now I really, really can’t wait for the new translation of the OF missal!

Well, these are my main impressions of the EF.  As I said I do want to attend more Masses in this form, including some Sunday Masses!

If I have any additional thoughts, I will post them too!  Thanks again for your help and encouragement!  :)

Last night at scripture study, we were looking at this Sunday’s Gospel reading.  After miraculously curing the leper, Jesus tells him not to spread word of what has happened–to keep the “Messianic secret.”  The cured man, however, does publicize the miracle, and Jesus is forced to withdraw to deserted places.

I always had trouble grasping the meaning and importance of the Messianic secret.  Last night, it finally made sense when our priest explained that Jesus wanted to avoid any “hoopla” that would 1) distract Him from His mission and 2) distract mankind from His mission.  Jesus did not perform miracles for their own spectacular sake or for His own glory.  The true purpose for His miracles was to show His divine love and mercy.  Jesus is not just a miracle-worker–He is the One who brought God’s mercy and tenderness to heal mankind.

Then Father drew a connection between the miracles of Christ and the liturgy.  Just as Jesus didn’t want any hoopla to distract from the true meaning and message of His miracles, so also God doesn’t want any hoopla to distract us from the true meaning and message of the Mass and of our own worshiping.  The point of our prayer and worship is not to perform actions for God, or to entertain ourselves.  The only thing God wants from us is for us to offer ourselves to Him, to open ourselves to inner transformation.  And prayer and worship exist solely to help us do that–they help us to offer and to open ourselves.  Liturgy is only good insofar as it helps us to reach and to seek for God.  Anything that distracts us from that, anything that comes between us and God, is to be avoided.  Like Jesus, we often need to withdraw into silence and solitude–these can be extremely beneficial and necessary for our spiritual growth and well-being.

Also yesterday, I was reading Msgr. Guardini’s The Art of Praying, the chapter on “Inward or Contemplative Prayer.”  Msgr. uses the term contemplative prayer broadly to include our acts of meditation as well as the passively-received grace of a more mystical union with God.  Here is some of what he has to say about this kind of prayer:

[It is] a form of prayer which moves, as it were, away from the spoken word and toward silence.  [It is] a form of prayer whose main feature (or trend) is to draw away the soul from the manifoldness of mental activity and to enable it to become single-pointed. …

Contemplative prayer … is concerned with the truth as such.  It tries to apprehend the nature of God, to grasp the meaning of the kingdom of God, to gain insight into the condition of man and an understanding of one’s own place in the pattern of things, to obtain a true picture of the world.

By contemplative prayer we seek to strengthen and to give direction to our will in order to master the confusion of life and to create the conditions for better and more fruitful action.  Contemplative prayer must not induce a state of dreaminess and unreality; on the contrary, we must remain alert throughout, conscious of the relationship to God which we are trying to establish.  Contemplative prayer should be a living encounter between man and God in which man strives to get nearer to God and in so doing to become purer, simpler, and more substantial.

So we see that contemplative prayer is all about focus, concentration, silence, seeking, discerning, relating, simplicity, and purity.  It’s pretty much the antithesis of hoopla.  It is about connecting to God as He is and as we are.  It is about being with God, coming to know Him better, and through Him to know ourselves better.  It is a spiritual withdrawal from all the confusion of life, as Msgr. says–not to shun it, but to master it.  And Christian contemplation is not like Eastern contemplation where people seek to just sort of fade into nothingness; rather it is all about reality and truth.  Encountering God isn’t like achieving Nirvana; it does not obliterate us as individual persons, but rather makes us more the individual persons we were created to be.

A little later, in his chapter on “Divine Providence,” when talking about how we each have a role in bringing about the coming of God’s kingdom, Msgr. Guardini says:

Herein lies the gravity of being a Christian: the inescapability of the call, in which no one can take another’s place because everyone has his appointed part.

I just love that, because it highlights one of the distinctively Judeo-Christian conceptions of what it means to be a human person–that each and every one of us is irreplaceable and un-interchangeable.  And we each have to take action in accordance with God’s will (or not, as we may choose).  We each have responsibility to unite ourselves with God–nobody can do it for us.  Passively or loosely being part of a parish or other religious community won’t cut it.  We don’t just absorb the faith.  We each have to live it out.

Which ties  back into what my parish priest was saying about liturgy, prayer, and worship…  It is very clear that going to Mass doesn’t consist of just passively going to this certain place at a certain time and saying certain words and singing songs.  It does not consist of socializing and leisurely enjoying ourselves in an average, worldly way.  It does not consist of some kind of drab obligation where we’re compelled only by our family ties or what our community expects of us.

No.  No. No.

Going to Mass is a way in which each of us as individual persons presents ourself before God, offers ourself to Him, and receives Him as He offers Himself to us.  We must treat our attendance and participation at Mass as a prayer, both an oral prayer and a contemplative prayer.  We must not merely say the words and sing the songs–we must listen and ponder for the entirety of the Mass–the proclamation of the Word, the homily, and every single prayer–especially the Eucharistic prayer.  No reading the church bulletin or writing out our checks for the collection basket or whatever.  If we’re not listening and pondering, then we might as well be somewhere else, because we are not availing ourselves of what God and His Church are offering us through the liturgy and through the sacred space of the Church.

Obviously, the Mass is also communal.  But it can only be truly communal insofar as we are all united in our will and in our purpose for being there.  And yes, there will be little incidental distractions, or even major incidental distractions, but that doesn’t give us leave to be distracted, and certainly not to promulgate distractions of our own. That breaks the community.

And then, of course, there are the multitudes of my unfortunate fellow Catholics who approach Mass reverently and for the correct purposes, longing for that sacred encounter with God… only to have to deal with a bunch of HOOPLA foisted on them by priests and/or liturgical directors and/or musicians who don’t get it.  Some of them may have some vague understanding that their job is to help people to encounter God–not distract people from encountering God.  But they just don’t get how people encounter God, and therefore they do the completely wrong things to help bring it about.

No matter how well-intentioned they might be, it’s no excuse.  That’s because the Church tells us what to do in order to encounter God.  The Church tells us how to pray and worship.  For that matter, Christ Himself shows us how to pray and worship, as we saw in looking at this Sunday’s gospel reading, among other things!  The Church gives us liturgical rules and traditions.  Not to limit us, but to liberate us.  We have to remember that the Holy Spirit guides and conducts the Church.  He constantly works in and teaches the Church.  Nobody in the Church has any business disregarding that!

So… this is all stuff that’s been going through my head since yesterday.  Is it a coincidence, then, that today I decided the time is right for attending a TLM for the first time?  No way, no how.  Now, in my case, Deo gratias, it’s not that my usual parish Mass is deficient in some way.  That’s not it at all.  I’m just exploring the TLM as a new and additional avenue, as a nice supplement, and as one more part of the great treasure and patrimony that is mine and every Catholic’s.  I feel I would be remiss not to do so.

And just to say it one more time:  I really highly recommend Msgr. Guardini’s The Art of Praying.  Everything I’ve said about going to Mass is intimately related and intertwined with the personal, individual prayer life.  We absolutely have to pray, for:

Without prayer, faith becomes weak and the religious life atrophies.  One cannot, in the long run, remain a Christian without praying, as one cannot live without breathing.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker posted this conversation he had with some high school young men about ad orientem celebration of the Mass; that is, with the priest facing “east” with the congregation. Or as some put it, “with the priest turning his back to the people.” Go read the whole thing–it’s brief and quite humorous!

But this little excerpt really stuck out to me, as I’m sure it has to others:

[Student] “I think it feels more, well, manly. Do you know what I mean. Is that dumb?”
[Father] “That’s interesting. No, I don’t think it’s dumb, but I have to think about why it might be true.”

I think I understand partly why it might be true: it places the priest, in a very real way, in a leadership position.  It places him firmly at the head of the congregation, as the one who is leading us forward, leading us toward God and ultimately to Heaven.  Leading confidently and reliably, truly like our Good Shepherd.

I am not saying that priests who face toward the congregation during Mass are less manly, or weaker leaders.  I’m just saying that the physical position of the priest has a real effect; it’s not just a matter of staging or ceremony.  And I can see where the ad orientem position could really reinforce the priest’s role as spiritual father and spiritual leader.  I also think it could actually strengthen the bond between him and his children, his flock.

When it comes to a person I depend upon greatly for my spiritual well-being and eternal life, I like to see a certain amount of strength and power and, yes, manliness.  For me, as a woman, it provides a special kind of security.  I’m sure that it has many benefits for boys and men as well–they need strong leaders, men they can identify with and admire.  Who knows how many more young men would be inspired to become priests themselves?  Maybe some of Fr. Longenecker’s students will be among them!  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised!  :)

Finally, it also has real effects on the priest (also from Fr. Longenecker).

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