18 July 2013

How John Paul II Led Me to the Traditional Mass, Vol. 2

I grew up with the novus ordo, though I knew about the traditional Mass as a mere historical fact since a very young age.  As a child, I equated what I called a good Mass with one that didn't have a bunch of pop singing.  After I was married and grew more faithful to the Church and her teachings (thanks mostly to finding an excellent wife), I deplored the usual liturgical abuses one sees in most parishes.  

Of course, such a call is completely relative because, due to the sheer number and omnipresence of abuses, we tend not to notice typical abuses as abuses at all.  It all becomes a matter of ad hoc style, anyway.  Responsorial Psalms versus picking the same hymn each week is the thing, for instance-- and not that we are missing a gradual. That ad orientem worship and the retention of Latin were the demands of Sacrosanctum Concilium would never have made my radar.

Anyway, I was soft and comfortable, thinking I was smack dab in the firm center of things, while never considering that I was an unreflective pile of mush.  The Catholic faith was a set of intellectual propositions to which I had to assent, and the liturgy was just this other thing way over here that didn't have the slightest connection to those propositions.  Of course I wouldn't have phrased it that way then, but it was the reality of how I lived.

In college, a girl I knew who attended an SSPX chapel gave me a copy of a 1958 St. Joseph Daily Missal (I often pray for this person today, because she ended up marrying a non-Christian  and left the faith. I know-- let that sink in a moment.).  Anyway, it didn't take a Catholic rocket scientist to see that the prayers of the "old" Mass were way better, way more beautiful, and way more theologically Catholic than those of the "new" one.  

Though I did not know of any place that offered the traditional Mass, I began to be intrigued.

Years later, in my professional life, I came to know another traditional Catholic who took the time to belittle and scorn me into tradition.  He comments here occasionally.  The pattern was usually the same:  1) I would say something I thought true, deep, insightful or whatever; 2) He would laugh and point out I was clueless; 3) His words would shock me, and I would think he was nuts;  4) Later, I thought about things and decided he had a point; and,  5)  He would graciously make fun of me some more.

And on it went, wearying for him but fun for me.

Based on that cycle, when I learned that the Archdiocese had an "indult" traditional Mass at St. Agatha's parish, I checked it out.  Like George Costanza's shower, it "didn't take".  I went once more some months later with the same result.

And so I went on, plugged into ordinary Catholic parish life as it exists these days, being married and raising children.

So, what does this have to do with John Paul II?  Now we come to it:

As part of the ongoing deeper conversion God granted me over time, when I was still far afield, John Paul II was a factor in taking my faith seriously, for all the reasons he influenced so many others.  Now, as I said in the first post on this subject, I see a bunch of problems with his pontificate that I never saw then.  I also see some of his actions and writings in a far different light than I did then.  But facts are facts.  

When he died, it was a time of great sadness in our house.  Like many other Catholics, my wife and I woke early to watch his funeral Mass live on television.  

As an aside, some observers aren't impressed with the nature of the attributed miracles that led to his canonization.  I intentionally make no comment about this.  That day, however, April 8, 2005, John Paul II might have worked his first miracle:  he convinced me to seek out the traditional Mass.  I'm sure the irony is not lost on him, God rest his soul.

The funeral Mass was held in St. Peter's Square, due to the size of the crowd, but large outdoor Masses weren't unusual in his reign.  What was unusual was that here, in a large public Mass with the whole world watching, the Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Ratzinger, conducted largely in Latin, with Gregorian chant, polyphonic sacred music, great dignity and decorum, and with a beautiful homily from the soon-to-be next Holy Father.

Following the homily, the Nicene Creed, that great unifying expression of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, was sung in that great, unifying, timeless language, Latin.  It was sung in the official language of the Church.  It was expressed in the language deemed so "un" understandable by modernists yet the meaning of which was so easily understandable by those who knew the Creed in any human tongue.

At this moment, I turned to my wife and exclaimed, "They've robbed us of our patrimony!"  Yes, I guess that's the answer to the question, "Who talks that way?"  But so it was. 

I was upset, and I wanted to try to reclaim some of that patrimony.  So then and there I decided that the next week I would attend morning Mass at St. Agatha (now under the care of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest) every single day.  I figured that if I gave it a week I would either take to it or give it up for good.  

Just your basic low Mass.   

Monday. Nothing.
Tuesday. Nothing.

Wednesday.  Damascus Road.

God's grace hit me like a ton of bricks, and I am not ashamed to say that I wept openly.  It felt as though I had finally tapped into the Vine that contains all graces.  I had found the pearl of great price, and would sell everything I owned to possess it.  

Before the Institute moved to St. Francis de Sales Oratory in July, my family was with me for most Sunday Masses.  The ultimate transition of wife and children from the parish they had known to the way of Catholic tradition took some time, but far less than I would have thought. The truly surprising thing for me was that the movement was given great momentum by our children.  They instinctively gravitated toward the beauty and truth of the traditional Mass, and were not satisfied with the alternative available at the local parish.

Thinking back on that Wednesday Mass 8 years ago, I cannot distinguish anything about the particulars of its celebration that would distinguish it from the hundreds of other low Masses celebrated by Canon Lenhardt, or even by most other celebrants, that would affect me so deeply.  It was truly the grace of God.

Also, though I am aware that John Paul's funeral Mass serves as an example of that elusive, "reverently celebrated" novus ordo, I am saying there is more to the power of the traditional Mass than its mere "reverence", as though aesthetics were everything.  John Paul II's funeral Mass was a bridge to something better, an impetus.  A bridge is not a place on which to live.  It can get you home, but home is where you can rest.

After committing to the traditional Mass, I noticed spiritual progress in overcoming certain habitual faults that had plagued me forever. As anyone who knows me can readily attest, it is an ongoing project. But there is no avoiding that certain behaviors are inconsistent with assisting at this Mass.  Christ's expiatory Sacrifice is always before you.  It demands a response of faith, hope and love. 

I am grateful to God for His kindness to me.  I add nothing to the Mass-- but it has the power to sanctify me.  Mass is the worship owed to God as a matter of simple justice, and the sacrifice of Christ is the satisfaction for our sins.  It is beautiful and terrible.  In a sense, it doesn't matter whether I "get anything out of it", but I always do.  

The Mass is the only thing on Earth that gives us some foretaste of the inexhaustible depths of God Himself.  I could contemplate the Mass for my whole life and never plumb the depths completely.  This Mass informs the faith, safeguards the faith, and reflects the faith in a way that the novus ordo cannot do-- though the substance of the Sacrifice is the same, the novus ordo has been denuded of much of the beauty in its accidents and has stripped itself of history in a jarringly inorganic way.  To me it is as plain as day.  The traditional Mass is the gift of the Holy Ghost to us, lovingly handed down over the centuries, fully embodying the faith of the Church in its ever ancient, yet ever new ritual.

And John Paul II led me to it.  Really, though it seems ironic, I  mean it when I say that I believe he had a part in it.  God will use all things unto good for our sanctification if we will but let Him.  If and when the canonization is official, I will again thank John Paul II for this "first miracle".  In Heaven, he no doubt will pray for the restoration of Catholic Tradition as much as anyone.


Peggy R said...

I don't know whether I had the precise aha you did, but I DID indeed notice the Latin chant at JP2's funeral and wondered why we can't do that as well.

Knowing that Gregorian/Latin was urged to be give "pride of place" and no word was said to encourage versus populum has made the NO hard to take. I haven't gotten the family to the EF. (Wives are more likely to follow husbands than vice versa, I've noticed.) Your Institute priests staff our Log Church. They do a nice job.

A recent architectural change has made it impossible for me to give the parish the benefit of the doubt. A month ago the beauty and necessity of the silence hit me at the EF. I "got it".

thetimman said...

My mother is in your parish, I believe. That new church is most unfortunate. God bless you on your efforts over there.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I must say I like teaching PSR. I worry about what other teachers tell my kids, however. The new DRE is a nice well-informed layman, raised on guitar masses, however. Sigh.

Has your mum complained about the "full stewardship" bullhockey? Very controlling and intrusive. That ain't helpin' my attitude. I get enough of that controlling biz from Obama et al.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing this very good read! Your story was wonderful. I would be very happy if Pope John Paul II would be canonized as he did great things for me too. Thank you and May God bless you!.

Jeannie Holler said...

When you realize that the Traditional Latin Mass is THE MASS, the most beautiful thing this side of heaven who wonuldn't "hunger" for this solemn liturgy.
I was so "out of it" for most of my life, I didn't even know that the TLM was still allowed . I just went to the parish Mass and went through the motions ...not thinking about too much of anything . But all that changed when I walked into the solemn HIGH MASS at St. Franics de Sales...I wept for joy myself . Everything chnged , everything ! Thanks be to God!

Athelstane said...

In college, a girl I knew who attended an SSPX chapel gave me a copy of a 1958 St. Joseph Daily Missal (I often pray for this person today, because she ended up marrying a non-Christian and left the faith. I know-- let that sink in a moment.).

I think I know of whom you speak - and yes, it was a sad tale, and prayers are in order.

That was, in fact, the first time I had ever heard of the SSPX myself. In those days, the Old Mass was not even on my radar.

Scott Woltze said...

It's always wonderful to read about a deep conversion--especially when it involves the TLM. I found it interesting and unusual that you had your moment of grace at a Low Mass. I wish we had a daily Low Mass here in Portland, OR--maybe Archbishop Sample will change that?

thetimman said...

Scott, yes, the Low Mass, which I love for its true "noble simplicity". I love the High Mass even more, with its layers and layers of worship, singing, contemplation, etc.

Athelstane, do you know if she is ok these days?

Anonymous said...

Is the young woman who gave you the missal an "A"?

If so, I still pray for her too.


thetimman said...


I am too slow on the uptake to get your reference. Please help. :-)

Anonymous said...

I assume, from past writings, that you attended Wash U and that you are roughly my age and that we might in fact know each other. Which leads me to believe the young woman you referred to has a name that begins with an "A." Just curious, as I continue to pray for her as well. If so, I can fill you in on some of the details of that sad case, which actually had less to do with doctrine and more to do with a whole lotta family issues.


thetimman said...

Hmmm, I went to Law School at Wash U, college elsewhere. This was college, and the A is neither first or last name. Thought you were going for adjective-- I was in a Hawthorne place.

I'll pray for her, too. You can email me for more discreet info, FYI. Thx.

Bsdouglass said...

Listening to Fr. Gruner on Coast to Coast AM on a car radio as JPII was dying and his talk about Fatima is what not only brought me to the Mass, but also back into the Church entirely. I don't recall being that touched by the funeral Mass (I was too busy reading up on Fatime), but I do recall the feeling of seeing Cardinal Ratzinger coming out. Deus vult!

Anonymous said...

I have tried to email you, but the email you provide seems to be a dead link.


thetimman said...

The email at right is an image, not a link or text, to discourage spambots. It is correct: saintlouiscatholic [at] hotmail [dot] com

Dr. Malcolm C. Harris, Sr. said...

This is a beautiful story of grace.

I can imagine it was most beautiful and I can not think of anyone who would be better equipped to celebrate and plan that liturgy than Joseph Ratzinger.

You piqued my curiosity and I hope what I found does not disillusion you. I searched to find out more about John Paul's funeral. There is a link on EWTN laying out the rites (below) and it was celebrated as a Solemn High mass in Latin according to the Ordinary form of the Roman Rite which I think is mislabeled as the Novus Ordo.

Then Cardinal Ratzinger could not have provided more eloquent testimony to the reality that the Mass of the missal of Paul VI is the traditional Latin mass revised.

It is a tragedy that priests celebrating according to the Ordinary Form do not draw on the treasury chest of twenty centuries as called for by Vatican II.

The link:


Athelstane said...

Hello Timman,

Athelstane, do you know if she is ok these days?

I'm still in touch with her, actually. One of those recent "Facebook reunions" after years vanished into the ether.

By all appearances, she seems contentedly married with children. I could say more, but it might be best to say it by email.

I greatly enjoyed both of your essays on how you came to the TLM, by the way (which I read aloud to my best half, who enjoyed it greatly as well). I found the TLM a few years before that myself, thanks to the FSSP parish in Kansas City, KS, but your story sounds better than mine.