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Wouldn’t you know… just as I was feeling that I had nothing to write about tonight, I find that a kind correspondent has given me something to share!  And it is something most wonderful!

Many thanks to Mr. Richard Collins from the UK for giving me this story and photos from a very special Mass that took place in celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and–as he reminds me–the 2nd anniversary of Pope Benedict’s motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which has liberated the 1962 Mass, what we now know as the Extraordinary Form (EF) of the Latin Mass:

Latin Mass on the Feast of the Holy Cross celebrated in ex Italian PoW Chapel

Mass in the Extraordinary Form was celebrated, on the Feast of The Holy Cross, in a Nissan hut in Henllan, West Wales. The hut is the framework to a small Chapel created lovingly by Italian prisoners of war in the final years of World War II. The original Nissan hut is part of a PoW camp where both German and Italian servicemen were held.

One of the main artists responsible for creating images of St Joseph, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Papal Flag, Mario Polito, died only this year. He and his fellow servicemen made pigments from vegetable juices and painted the aisle arches in a fresco style and the sanctuary area and pillars (made of corrugated cardboard) with a faux marble effect.

Tin, from corned (bully) beef tins was used to make candle sticks which look uncannily three dimensional despite being totally flat.

All artwork in the Chapel leads the eye to the primitive painting of The Last Supper in the apse, a lasting testament to the devotion of men held prisoner many miles from their families and loved ones.

The Missa Cantata, in thanksgiving for the second anniversary of the Motu Proprio was celebrated by Father Jason Jones, Rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady in Wales at nearby Cardigan and whose parish embraces Henllan.

What a perfectly beautiful and fitting way to celebrate this feast day and this anniversary–and to honor men who made something good in a bad situation!  Here are some of the photos:

Italian Prisoner of War Camp Mass

Italian Prisoner of War Camp Mass

Italian Prisoner of War Camp Mass

Well done to those who created that sacred space, and to those who still preserve and use it today!

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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!

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!

Father Z shares a snippet from an online chat with Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles:

Ann Scolari: What are your thoughts on the Trindentine [sic] mass?

CardinalMahony: Ann: The Tridentine Mass was meant for those who could not make the transition from Latin to English [or other languages] after the Council. But there is no participation by the people, and I don’t believe that instills the spirit of Christ among us.

My very first thought on this is:  Huh?!

That first sentence is bizarre!  It sounds as if the cardinal is under the impression that the Tridentine Mass was invented after the Second Vatican Council as a way of catering to the poor, ignorant, cowering folks who couldn’t bear the difficult transition to… their own native tongue.

That might make sense if:

1.  Latin was the native tongue and was being replaced by some strange foreign language,

2.  The Tridentine Mass had not existed for hundreds of years prior to Vatican II, and

3.  Vatican II had declared that Latin should be completely done away with in the Mass.

In fact, the transition Cardinal Mahony speaks of was abrupt, forced, and not at all supported by the documents of the Council.  We’re only just now starting to correct that mistake by re-introducing the Latin prayers.

But for the most part, that first statement of his was just weird and confusing.

Unfortunately less weird and confusing is the second sentence.  I don’t know what was in the cardinal’s heart when he said that, but the message I get is that people who attend the TLM are soulless drones who do not encounter Christ in the Mass.  The lack of participation thing is a tired, vapid accusation, which my own experience soundly refutes.  And I definitely felt the spirit of Christ too, in a very profound and vibrant way.  So, sorry, Cardinal, I’ll stand by my own lying first-hand experience, thank you.

I have always been rather taken aback by the swift, eager, and yet uncritical manner in which people attack the TLM and its supporters.  I’ve never understood it.  Even amid all the wonderful comments I received when Father Z kindly shared my first TLM experience, I received one really nasty and very personal comment from one person.  Quoth she:

This encapsulates perfectly why I refuse to attend a Catholic church. This person is not worshipping God herself, she’s passively delegated the job to a priest. Anyone who delegates worship to another person will abdicate all other responsibilities of adult citizenship to her “betters” whenever she gets the chance. I don’t want a society made up of such cowards.

Again, my first thought was:  Huh?! Didn’t she even read what I wrote?  And who is she calling an irresponsible citizen and a coward?! At first, I broke a sweat trying to come up with a charitable response.  But after the initial shock and spark of rage, I realized that she was just a fuming bigot using me as the stone on which to grind her axe against Catholicism.  And that I was OK with that.  It’s simply part of being a practicing Catholic.  A little droplet of white martyrdom here and there is a good thing–it brings us to life.

Cardinal Mahony may not have taken the same tone as that woman.  But coming from a cardinal of the Church, his statement was just as injurious, and probably more so.  I just think it’s appalling and irresponsible that any cardinal would make such a statement publicly, to the Catholic faithful.  So maybe the TLM is not his “thing.”  Maybe it’s not a lot of people’s “thing.”  Fair enough.  But to disrespect it and insult it like that is beyond inappropriate.  If nothing else, we can all respect that it is part of our very long, very rich heritage.  We can also respect that our Holy Father clearly sees a great deal of value in it, and so do many clergy and laypeople.  I certainly do.

What is the cardinal saying about us, what is he saying about the Holy Father, what is he saying about our liturgical heritage, when he dismisses the TLM in such an offensive, thoughtless manner?

It’s one thing to be attacked by an angry bigot.  Is it unreasonable for us to expect better from our own spiritual fathers and leaders?

And have I said lately how grateful I am for Pope Benedict, and how much I love him?

I’ve been under the weather lately.  I got up early to attend the TLM at my parish this morning, but my throat was so sore and I’d gotten so little sleep last night that I went back to sleep for about 4 hours.  I’m disappointed because I’d been looking forward to going all… week… long!

I’m feeling better this evening.  I think I might go to the TLM tomorrow at the Carmelite nuns’ chapel.

I had no idea just how compelling the TLM would be for me.  I never thought that it would be such a big deal.  I never saw myself regularly attending it.  I certainly wasn’t prepared for the longing that has awoken in me.  Normally I might think, “Oh, it’s just that it’s something new and different.  I’ll get over it soon enough.”  But I really think it’s something much more than that.  I’m captivated by it not because it’s some kind of novelty, but because it’s something great, something good, true, and beautiful.  And it’s a mystery… something that can be delved into perhaps endlessly.

I think I’m leaning toward one of these for head-covering.  I like the eyelet, and it will be cool in summer.

I feel sorry for all the wildlife around here.  It’s been so mild of late that all the plants and animals think it’s Spring.  But it could very well snow in March or April!  It must be confusing.  I just hate to see flowers get killed by cold after blooming so beautifully.

I wish I had some binoculars or a telescope so I could go out, find a dark spot, and track down Comet Lulin as it swings by on its way back into space.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  I wonder what lessons and developments await me this Lent…

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!  :)

…for me to attend my first Tridentine Mass.  I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.  But now I just feel the time is right.  Just as I felt on 12 May 2007 that the time was right to join the Lay Dominicans.

I like it when things happen this way, nicely, without any trauma or drama.  The phrase I’ve always used for it is “a gravity on my soul.”  A gentle yet irresistible drawing toward something.  Just when the time is right.  And all I have to do is allow it; I learned long ago that fighting it is futile and usually painful.  The trauma and drama start up when you fight the gentle gravity on your soul.

Of course, if you’re being gently pulled toward something evil, then you fight!  The devil is smart and capable of great subtlety.   He tries to imitate the gentle, holy gravity God exerts on us.  He tries to imitate the still small voice, the little whispering sound.  And we are all too willing to accept it.  This is why it is so important to stand by the Church’s teachings and form your conscience in her light.  Otherwise, you’ll be all out to sea.  You might end up fighting God instead of fighting the devil as you should–that is not a good situation to be in, and believe me, you can’t win in it.

But I digress.

I’ve also been thinking about getting myself a head-covering of some kind.  I don’t think the lacy veils are my style.  They were my style back in my goth days.  But then, I wore them out on the town, not to church.  I wore them to be eye-catching, not humble.  I don’t have anything against other ladies wearing lacy veils.  They just have a different “meaning” in my life, and one that doesn’t really belong at Mass.

So, I’m thinking that either a simple hat or maybe a plain, solid scarf will work better for me.

Does anybody have any words of advice–either about the Tridentine Mass or about the head-covering?  Words of encouragement will be appreciated also.  :)

I think I’m going to try to go this weekend, with or without a head-covering.  Unless somebody tells me that it would be incredibly gauche or inappropriate to go without a head-covering.

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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