A brief thought about the Traditional Latin Mass this morning, as I made the mistake of looking on Twitter and seeing the calculated and sneering tweets of anti-tradition careerists.
I've mentioned it before but here is it again: when I was in elementary school, official religious instruction dwindled to art projects and more time was devoted in making stoles for my class's Confirmations (yes, stoles) than to our instruction as to what the Sacrament meant. Having found an old catechetical textbook in the classroom's back cupboard, I divined that there was a lot more to know about Confirmation than what we were being taught. In retrospect, assigning us the task of making ourselves priestly garments was actually advanced theology of the dodgy sort. However, what little was taught seemed shallow, basic, and wholly inadequate.
I told my mother my concerns, and she brought them up with one of our parish priests. He was apparently impressed with my fourteen year old's sagacity, but he said that as long as I knew the Apostles Creed, I would be fine.
But the idea that there must be something more stuck with me for my adult life, especially as my religious education continued on lines rather different from those taught to every generation of Catholic schoolchildren previous to my own. Nobody ever talked about the Old Mass, and I really didn't know anything about it except that it was very long and in Latin and, according to Brideshead Revisited, people prayed the Hail Mary aloud at the end.
Wait--that's not entirely true. Without associating it with the Old Mass, I knew that past generations of great composers had written beautiful liturgical music, and the one place in my city you could hear it (I thought) was the Cathedral and that was thanks to the Cathedral Choir School, which was founded in the 1930s. I'm barely musical, but I understood that this music was of a much higher order than the hymns we sang from the official hymnbook which were themselves of a higher order than the hymns in "Glory and Praise." (Incidentally, I still like many of the "Glory and Praise" hymns in a nostalgic, sentimental way.)
There must be something more than this, I continued to think, and thought I had found it in theological studies until I went to Boston College. During that dark period, the greatest solace of my spiritual life was actually the excellent traditional liturgical music of St. Paul's Catholic Church, Harvard.
I emerged from my BC-caused depression long enough to go on holiday to Scotland where I was taken to the Traditional Latin Mass, which I thought distinctly odd and most definitely confusing. However, in it--and in the whole blessed traditional Catholic ethos--I found the something more. Indeed, I found the romance and the poetry of the faith celebrated by my Catholic literary heroes.
Oh, gosh. Not the sadomasochism of Graham Greene, though, and thank God for that. No, I'm thinking of Waugh at his happiest and Chesterton at his most brilliant. All those lovely Anglican converts! Where would I--where would we--be without them?
A curious thing: part of the historical (but apparently not Grade I listed) wooden church the FSSP has been permitted to use for the past 15 years or more was recently altered. A piece of wood whose name I can't remember but was over the sanctuary was removed, presumably because it was in Latin and had irked anti-Latinists. It was also part of a prayer from the Old Mass, so presumably someone couldn't see the point of it. It was replaced by a new piece of wood that has the text "
Lord Master, where do you live? Come and see" painted on it.
BA and other purists tutted and sighed over having a question mark on that particular piece of church furniture. I wasn't too pleased myself and wondered if "owning the Trads" (even to the point of flirting with the architectural heritage preservations laws) had been the motive. However, over the weeks that Come and see has taken on a significance in my mind for the preservation and propagation of the Traditional Latin Mass.
Curious about the Traditional Latin Mass? Come and see.
Wondering what spiritually fed the saints up until 1965? Come and see.
Anxious to find the something more? Come and see.
It will probably take you three tries to fall in love with it--and then you will drink and drink and never get to the bottom of the glass.
UPDATE: Here's a terrific article by the Latin Mass Society Chairman, Dr. Joseph Shaw.