Thursday, August 23, 2007

My TLM Experience, among other things

Over at Fr. Z's, he asked his readers, those who did not grow up with the TLM, about their experiences of it. Instead of making a huge entry in his combox, I decided to just make a post here. Plus, I have a bit of writer's block.

I was blissfully ignorant.

Ignorant of what I had missed, being born almost two decades after the council. I didn't think the way the mass was at my church was the way it had been done for centuries, the question just never came up. I had never heard of Vatican II, I was poorly catechized when I was younger, and just recently was my interest in all things Catholic picking up speed. But let's move back a few years.

I had dated a girl a couple years previous who was a non-denominational christian, her parents were apostates from Catholicism. Her parents were very kind, and the topic of religion honestly never came up. I had stopped attending church due to a rebellious streak, but even poorly catechized I still had a Catholic upbringing. I decided to seek out on my own for what truth was, although my parents had already given it to me. I'm rather skeptical by nature, so I needed to prove it to myself, not just take another's word for it.

I never really had a spiritual "moment" per se, but there was a hunger growing in me, a hunger for the anceint, a yearning to be connected with something much older, wiser, metaphysical. I started studying philosophy, and then eastern thought. I had a bit of contact with new age but that stuff emediately turned me off.

I then began studying apocryphal writings, foolishly thinking perhaps when the bible was put together something might have been left out. (I was poorly catechised, remember.) Gnosticism was interesting, but didn't quite make much sense. Kabbalism seemed interesting too but didn't really click with me.

Well with no real starting point I decided to begin with what mostly everyone else thought was good spiritual stuff; the Bible. I went to Wal-Mart and picked myself up a KJV for $4.97. (I thought all bibles were the same, plus it was a rollback :P) I had started reading it off and on starting with the New Testament. I remember thinking to myself, "Hey, that's what we say in church! And that too!" I was drawn, but not completely hooked in yet.

Then the obvious question came to mind,"Where did the bible come from?" Well, since my girfriend and her family were "bible-heavy" I thought I'd just ask them. Well, they didn't know. My mother noticed I had bougght a KJV and said,"Y'know, that's a protestant bible." I replied,"Huh? what's the difference?" Then she told me it was missing books. I thought to myself,"No way!"

Then I remembered that my grandmother had bought me an NAB with my name on it for my confirmation. I went into the rummage pile that passed as my bedroom to begin the Quest For The NAB. Peril, adventure, defeat and glorious victory awaited me within. Seriously, it's easier to find green men on Mars than anything in that bedroom. (Hence why I opted just to pay $4.97 for a new bible) This was a quest that'd make tossing a little ring into a volcanoe look like patty-cake.

Well, after much blood, sweat, and tears I found it. I quickly compared both tables of contents and the oracle's prophecy (my mom's statement) was true! (Ok, i'm done with the geeky RPG references, I promise)

Well, what to do now? The next obvious step was to find out why.

Before I could get into the thick of my detective work I had started college, taking music performance as my major. (If you like free time and friends and having a job, don't do it.) My relationship with the non-denom girl after two years ended badly, the one that followed ended not much better.

A year or so went by and I met another girl, a good Catholic girl. (All this has a point to it, really.) Her mom did a lot of work at the local parish and had a large Catholic book collection. She also had stacks and stacks of articles printed off I had found my starting place. My search for the bible's origins would now begin in earnest.

Not long after I had learned the truth behind how the canon came to be. It was a Catholic book! I then shelfed the KJV and stuck to the NAB. (Poorly catechized!) I had now found myself at an impasse. If I accept the bible as the word of God, then I do so on the Catholic Church's word. If I do that, then I must also accept everything else it teaches. It was all or nothing. I had never heard of cafeteria-Catholics but the thought of picking and choosing what I liked was blantantly intellectually dishonest. Either I accepted Catholicism or I rejected all of Christendom.

Well, God summoned up a strong breeze and nudged me off the Catholic side of the cliff. Newadvent became my new best friend. I became a sponge, wanting anything I could get my hands on. I was neck deep in Church history and loving every minute. That hunger for the ancient was beginning to be sated. I loved the strength of the decrees of Rome, it was muscular, and in way, manly. I had no father growing up so finding examples of manliness was trying, and when found I latched onto them. I admired the strength and fortitude of the ancient and medieval Church.

(Incendently, this was when I became involved with Catholic message boards, particularly in apologetics. Never before was I more embarassed with my poor catechesis, which soon changed.) Which brings us to the present in my fair tale.

In college, an entire year was dedicated to studying four-part choral harmony. We'd write out a few bars using the rules Back had developed and then it came time at the end of class to see if ti worked. The professor would dedicate one side of the room to soprano, another to alto, and the same for tenor and bass. And then we sang. Granted, not everyone in the class was a vocal major, but we managed to hold a pitch. It sounded amazing to me. I'm a doublebass player by trade, so I had zero experience with choirs. This was trully the music of angels.

I had studied a bit of palestrina, and after I had heard Bach's mass in B minor I was sold: I wanted to write a mass. All of the CD"s I checked out fo the library had beautiful selections of Palestrina, but they were all like "Best Hits" and not a mass form beginning to end.

I asked my girlfriend's mom if she had a copy of the mass in latin. (Yeah, I kinda grew up knowing latin was a "church thing" but never knew why since I never heard latin in mass. Go figure.) She handed me a Marian missal, which to my surprise had both latin and english in it. (I had never owned a missal before.)

After some flipping of pages I finally found the order of the mass. I began reading. Wait a second... This isn't the same... This isn't the same at all... What mass is this?

Rather stupefied I put my project on hold and scrmbled to find out why the mass in this book is co different from the mass I grew up with. I asked my girlfriend's mom, she said the mass was changed at Vatican II. I remember seeing two large blue books with that name on her bookshelf. I pulled them down and started searching through them.

I found Sacrosanctum Concilium and began reading. So far so good. Then I got to that one part. Yes that one.

"Particular law remaining on force; the use of latin is to be preserved in the latin rites."

Huh? The mass I go to doesn't have any latin. Then another body blow:

"The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."

Chant? I thought that was something only monks did on those CD's. I never knew it was supposed to be in mass.

"In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things."

Pipe organ? We had one years ago, when I was little, but not anymore.

After a bit more research I found that the old mass, the one in that marian missal, had been replaced by a new mass. One that in practice not only didn't resemble the old, but didn't even follow what was written in Vatican II. Where was the latin? Where was the chant? Where was the organ?

One of the main reasons I became so disenchanted with church in the first place was that it was so damn cheesy. And now I knew what had happened, and how it got that way. That the mass used to be in all latin with chant and incense, and all the pomp and ceremony. But now it was gone.

My heart sank.

If I may be honest, I felt cheated. I really did.

I had finally found the ancient, a connection with history, with something old and transcendent, metaphysical. And now it was mere dust; after being in use for centuries I missed my opportunity by a mere decade and a half.

I was angry; angry at the Church. Then it dawned on me that I was being selfish. Selfish and arrogant. That I somehow could take the Church to task and point out how wrong it was that it wsan't even following its own documents. That somehow I knew better.

If God trully guides the Catholic Church like I believed it did, then for some reason, beyond my understanding, God willed or at least allowed it to be like this. This episode taught me a good lesson: surrender.

I had always relied on reason and logic to back up my reason to believe, especially in my budding love for apologetics. (Something I feel I'm good at, logic and reason, due to my mother.) If there was something I didn't understand, I researched it until I did. There was always a reasonable answer for everything. Well, this was something I couldn't reason my way out of. Sure, people were obviously abusing Vatican II, but why didn't anyone stand up? Why was God allowing it to happen? I couldn't find an answer. So instead of relying on my merely human intellect I resigned the fight to God. Instead of trying to plow my way through a mountain I'd let God gently lift me over it.

And let me tell you, such resignation I was not used to. As any other family, especially one with me being the only male and in adolescence, we had our fair share of arguments. I must admit, I got good at arguing. Submitting and backing down weren't even in my vocabulary. It was like teaching a shark how to sing.

Well, this shark sang.

Shortly after this time my girlfriend's mother told me that at a church not very far away they offer the old mass. Not knowing enought to put two and two togther at the time, I had known that we had gotten a new bishop after our old one had casued a bit of scandal, but I knew nothing about how our old bishop forbade the old mass from being celebrated, and I had the new one to thank now for having it.

I was elated!

Finally, I could experience the Mass of Ages, I could experience that connection to the ancient. My Lord had heard my cries. My prayers were answered. Perhaps I should try that surrender thing more often...

But I wasn't about to hop into it blindly. I had my missal. I had my directions. Then I heard you dress a little differently for this mass. So I called up the parish office and inquierd about the dress code. I jotted it down and went to the mall, and got myself some nice duds. (Which my mother, just happy to see her only child so excited about church again, kindly bought for me.)

The very next sunday I went to the church that offered the old mass. I walked in, blessed myself, genuflected, and found a seat. The church was surprisingly packed. Mantillas everywhere. Skirts and slacks and dress-shirts, and none of those vile bright0green rubber gardening clogs! Then a familiar scent that I remembered from long ago wafted near me. It was incense. I remembered the scent from when I was an altar server and we used it so rarely. Little did I know my very first TLM just happened to be a high mass.

The chant was amazing, the structure of the movements, the preciseness, and above all the solemnity! This was the definition of ceremony; the apogee of worship! It felt old, yet it was new. My hunger was abated; this was the connection I was looking for. And it was more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined. I thought to myself, "After experiencing this, how could anyone ever doubt Jesus Christ is trully present here?"

I could do something here I couldn't really do before in mass; pray.

I never realized how much of the mass in practice had become a show. I went through the movements, recited the prayers, mostly on robotic reflex. My spirit wasn't in it, I was merely on autopilot.

But what should I pray? Then I remembered seeing in the front of the missal, the words of St. Pius X, "Pray the mass."

Then I realized that the missal wasn't just a program, but a prayerbook. A book of the most holy prayers dedicated to the mystery of our faith, the summit of our belief. This wasn't just a script for the priest, but a prayer all of us say in worship to God.

As I read through, I was touched by the absolute humility and humbleness of the prayers. The Judica Me, the prayer before the Gospel, the prayer at the offering of the bread and wine, all expose the infinite gulf between the greatness of God and his most beloved creation, man. I was especially touched by the words, "holy and venerable hands." That phrase so small, carried such a powerful meaning behind it. Knowing that the priest acts in persona Christi, the sacredness of his office became apparent.

I found out that you didn't have to be doing anything or saying anything to be a part of the mass, that offering up our sacrifices doesn't require gestures or scripted replies. It all must first come from within. I could just read along and pray the mass like Pius X said I should. No one else needs to see me do it for it to be true. God knows.

I was breathless, and almost in tears it was so beautiful. I never looked back after that. I guess if I had to pick a "spiritual moment" everyone talks about that would be it.

Part of that is why I named this blog what it is. After I learned of the many abuses of the new mass, including that of the "people's altar" I decided to stick up for Altare Dei, the altar of God. Not the altar of the people.

After that experience, I became enthralled with everything traditional. I quickly learned the current situation with the indult, and that of the SSPX. And that like before our new bishop, there were many dioceses whose bishop refused permission to offer this mass. I was sad for them, and a little angry. Why would anyone want to refuse this to the people? I thought well, perhaps if God wills it, he will find a way.

Enter Summorum Pontificum.

I thought to myself, "Wow, I'm on a roll." First a desire to experience this mass when I thought it was too late, poof there's a TLM in town. How neat I think it would be if the TLM was more widespread and granted more freedom, poof out comes the Motu Proprio. Then when I didn't think it could get any better, poof a muscular document from the CDF saying the Catholic Church is the one true Church, in the strong language of old.

And as if that wasn't good enough, poof it comes out that the pope celebrates to old mass in private and it's rumored the pope will publicly celebrate the old mass.

I'm on cloud nine!

Then, as I mentioned in a couple earlier posts, someone on CAF had said that we wouldn't be seeing a TLM on EWTN because the bishop there had made it so only Pauline masses facing the people could be televised. "Maybe when the get a new bishop" I thought.

Poof, they get a new bishop.

I thought then, "Hmm maybe now they'll have a TLM, but I dunno..."

Poof, there's a TLM scheduled on EWTN on Sept. 14th.

Now I don't consider myself a righteous man, God knows I need a lot of improvement. But for some reason my prayers availeth much! Of course there's many, many people who are praying for the very same things as I do. Indeed, the Lord hears the cries of His people.

Anyways, if you've made it through my tirade without waking up a couple times in between, you have a gold star in my book. Thanks for reading and God bless you all, and God bless Pope Benedict XVI.

Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.


paramedicgirl said...

That was a really interesting story! No, I didn't fall asleep once...I like the way you showed that God hears our cries. I prayed for access to the TLM, and now we are moving to Vancouver, where currently there are two FSSP Masses offered. I may never have to attend a NO Mass again. Yes, He hears our cries.

Unitas said...

Gold Star for you! :)

God must hear them, this has all happened so fast, one right after the other!

Tom S. said...

Fantastic story, Sir. And inspiring in so many ways. Thanks for writing.
I pray now, with Summorum Pontificum, I too will get to see and smell and hear, and PRAY the old mass.

Deesis said...

That is fantastic story. One I can relate too.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!