Image (c. 12th century): Saint Benedict of Nursia entrusting his Rule to the monks, with an exhortation to their central task of divine worship in the sacred liturgy: “Therefore let nothing be put before the Work of God” (RB 43)
The Missus has written eloquently on her own experience of discovering the riches of the Latin Mass here. As my own journey to the traditional rites has been largely the fruit of study, my account will take the decidedly less interesting and more scattered form of a timeline spanning the past twelve years, interspersed with questions I asked myself along the way, for the record.
- Received great consolations in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, following grace of initial conversion as a young man. Continued in the Novus Ordo parish experience, raised by a faithful Catholic parents. Troubled by sporadic liturgical abuses, could not yet label them as such. Question: “If this is indeed the Incarnate Lord of Heaven and Earth, then why ____ [insert whatever example of irreverence]”?
- Summorum Pontificum issued by Pope Benedict XVI, prompting the thought: “Two uses of one rite – interesting!” Had no direct experience of the Latin Mass, but a general notion that “little groups here and there” preferred it to the “normal Mass.”
- College study-abroad program. Assisted at first Latin Mass: High Mass at the French Benedictine Abbey Le Barroux, on high feast of St. Benedict. Woah. Mass with the monks brought keen and singular realization that I had been in heaven for the preceding three hours (or seconds)? Incomparable. Question: How long has this been going on, and where have I been? Growing theological interest in the rites, yet continued to view Traditional Latin Mass as something of a tourist attraction, an “event” with limited availability for special groups (monastic communities, for instance).
- Began research on Catholic sacramentals in undergraduate theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Latin Mass rarely offered. In FUS program, the party line from many (though not all) professors regarding the current state of the Church was essentially: “The Second Vatican Council is an act of extraordinary magisterium consistent with tradition in the text of its decrees, although poorly implemented since that time – but thankfully, the Church has almost fully recovered by now; insert Pope Benedict XVI’s ‘hermeneutic of continuity‘.”
- Question: “Where might I find this continuity in actual fact?” Seemed to find instead that change was everywhere visible, in every facet of Church life (sacred art, liturgy, canons, discipline, catechesis, etc). Cursory study of Vatican II texts was offered in course of study, but without great examination of their history or development – and rarely measured against previous magisterial teaching on certain subjects, most notably: ecclesiology, liturgy, and ecumenism.
- Closer study of hagiography. Struck by continuity of belief and praxis even across multiple centuries and different cultures – nowhere more evident than in the Saints’ writings about Holy Mass… perhaps due to Church’s lex orandi having gone so long essentially unchanged, particularly after the codifications of the Council of Trent in the 16th century; following this Council, every Roman Catholic Saint across the globe had been formed in one, unified form of worship.
Latin Mass. Every saintly one of ’em.
- Sensed that these Saints of prior ages would likely not feel quite “at home” in the contemporary Novus Ordo Missae. Question: Why is it even a possibility to look for a “more reverent” celebration of Mass – as though the Holy Sacrifice were something we make ourselves, rather than the Church’s worship? All the words, gestures, tone, and seemingly endless “options” in the Novus Ordo appear to hinder rather than foster that unity of belief and praxis that has ever been a Mark of this true Church… Come to find out this was by design. As in, committees sat down in the 60’s to create a rite that would be adaptable to the “needs of our own times” and the sensibilities of the local congregation – and they came up with the Novus Ordo.
- Question: “If liturgy could be impacted so dramatically, is there more? And if real continuity exists, why don’t I hear (from prof or pulpit) about Church teaching according to the First Vatican Council, or Pope AnybodybeforePaulVI?” Focused study on sacramentals revealed dramatic shift in postconciliar “reform” of these rites, too. Difficult to see anything but clear rupture with Catholic tradition in many of them, contra “hermeneutic of continuity” concept.
- Married, started having children. Requested traditional rite of Baptism for our kids – it was awesome (more on that here). Drafted a little “read-and-follow-along” piece for those we invited to the Baptism, which generated profound conversations before and after among friends and family: “Wow, we never knew!” I know, neither did we!
- Pope Francis elected – odd papal remarks begin. Chalked these up to bad press at first, then some began to evidence clear contradiction to previous magisterium (false exegesis, repudiating need for conversion, etc.). Add a sequence of open heresies and scandals in immediate surround (not-so-Catholic schools, hospitals, parishes, etc.) amid little or no Church response, and I began to wonder if something significant might be amiss in the Church at large. More prayer for clarity.
- Relocated for work. Found parishes swimming in liturgical abuses, heterodox preaching, banal decor, Disney music, and congregational irreverence to a sad degree. Parish-hopped and found a Byzantine monastic community (water in the desert), but this wasn’t quite… ours. We’re Roman for keeps, I suppose.
- Found traditional Latin Mass community some drive away – unsure if we could make the haul each week, and the rite itself was still quite foreign… but here at last was a profound sense of worship in spirit and truth, and the congregation was clearly “all in,” down to the last child (and there were lots of those!). They got it. Question: Why do I suspect that any child in here could recite the Ten Commandments backwards in Latin, but I have yet to attend a Novus Ordo Confirmation with a single confirmand able to name the Seven Gifts (or else it’s regarded as a huge achievement)?
- Synod on the Family – seriously troubling direction, episcopal contradiction surrounding the documents, interpretation, and application. Growing conviction in prayer that Christ is trying to wake up his faithful, plus desire to DO SOMETHING… maybe permanent diaconate?
- Investigated married diaconate through diocese. Surprised to find that Canon 277 is still in force (prescribing perfect and perpetual continence for all clerics) but isn’t exactly followed. Studied more on history and theology of the Sacrament of Orders as a whole, and found even more questionable changes per Vatican II – most striking to me being this quasi-invention of a non-continent, married diaconate. More study showed other striking shifts in canon law. Decided to put the lid back on that box. Forget diaconate, anyway.
- Began regular family attendance at Latin Mass parish. Beautiful, Christ-centered liturgy, solid community, orthodox homiletics – commute a pain but totally worth it. And the rite itself… wow. The more we pray it and learn it, the more we love it. Question: Just incidentally, why does there seem to be an inordinately high concentration of gallant and debonair gentlemen in here, both married and single? Does the Latin Mass attract and grow men as men?
- Heard news of Rome reaching some understanding with the Society of Saint Pius X, which I had previously perceived as being (not sure where I learned it) some kind of schismatic heretical sect. Learned that a formal recognition of the Society has been in the works for some time, pursued on understanding (read: admission?) that not all of the content of Vatican II need be regarded as binding. Question: Wait, what? So they may just be plain ol’ Catholic after all?
- Amoris Laetitia promulgated, and bishops across the globe begin issuing “guidelines for pastoral implementation” of the document – many of which contain theory or praxis on the Sacraments that are clearly contrary to the Faith. Tragic implementation in some sectors. Pope Francis explicitly or implicitly confirms some of these interpretations/applications of the document. Question: Whaaaat? More prayer and fasting for the Holy Father and our bishops.
- Closer dogmatic and historical study on fallout since Vatican II, trying to “see the form” of what precisely has gone wrong over the past five decades. Becoming more aware of the bigger picture – the trajectory of this crisis promises to be quite difficult, though our forebears have doubtless suffered through worse. O Lord, spare Thy Church.
In the midst of all this, our little family has found the heart of the Church opening up before us through regular attendance at a traditional Latin Mass parish (although I seriously dislike the couplet “traditional Catholic,” as if tradition were optional for Catholics). We are greatly consoled, reveling in the fullness of Christian life maintained in sacred liturgy, doctrine, and discipline: all of it has remained intact here, and beautifully so. The more we discover this lost patrimony and our rightful heritage, the more we become enamored of her beauty. Here is our true refuge.
Can’t resist some Eliot:
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is
…I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.”
For me, discovering the traditional rites has been a kind of homecoming to a country that I once learned of and was taught to look for, but had never really seen with my own eyes, much less lived with body, mind, and spirit. Now I rejoice in the midst like a child in the surf, wading in that “fullness of grace and truth” entrusted to the Church by Christ our Lord. These are divine treasures, begging to be shared.
Spread the Traditional Rites at Your Parish!
The profound human integration and spiritual growth that has occurred for both my wife and I through worship according to the traditional rites has been truly amazing. For us, this journey grew in earnest after requesting the traditional rite of Baptism for our children – so we got an idea!
We aim to foster wider liturgical and catechetical renewal in the Church by promoting the celebration of traditional Baptism at parishes. The rite itself is a fantastic experiential “intro” for the faithful unfamiliar with traditional liturgy, and it goes great lengths in teaching the Faith as well, simply by its own prayers and inherent structure (particularly if you have some accessible explanatory notes to follow along).
Thus we designed our little Traditional Baptism Program booklet, and having been asked again by a priest to add a “parish subscription” model, we now offer that as well in our store: folks can now give their parish unlimited annual access at one shot. We’re happy to give individual discounts as well, so please contact us if you’re interested.
Bravo the restoration!
Excellent account of your journey to the Real Thing. Truth and Beauty are mighty attractive, aren’t they?
I got a new job and moved two years ago in order to live near an FSSP parish. Two years on, and I can’t imagine going back to the Novus Ordo unless traveling and no TLM available. If you can do so, consider a move yourself so you can be involved in the parish more often than just on Sunday. Our parish is growing rapidly; we are gaining about three new families a month.