Monday, July 02, 2018

The Witness of a Young Catholic in Love with Traditional Liturgy

Receiving letters from thoughtful NLM readers is one of the most rewarding parts of being a contributor to this blog, and although I do not always have the time or the wherewithal to respond adequately, I am grateful for all well-intentioned reactions, both positive and negative. I would say the same thing about the comments posted here on the blog, which lately have been surprisingly numerous, detailed, and intense. This is all to the good, as far as I’m concerned.

Not long ago, I received a remarkable letter concerning two articles I had published in close proximity. It is from a college-age Catholic who wanted to explain how her own experience resonated with my observations about the appeal of the traditional liturgy to young people. The letter has such a winsome freshness that it seemed only fitting to share it with NLM readers (of course, having previously secured the author’s permission).

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Dear Dr. Kwasniewski,

Thank you for your recent New Liturgical Movement article titled “Divergent Political Models in the Two ‘Forms’ of the Roman Rite.” Each one of your points resonated with me very much. I am a twenty-five year-old woman who discovered the Traditional Latin Mass only a year and a half ago, but prior to that I attended the Novus Ordo Mass, prayed my Rosary daily, and benefited from weekly Eucharistic adoration. As a cradle Catholic, my upbringing took place in a fairly “mainstream” American parish. I donned my white altar-girl alb to serve Holy Mass, served as a lector, and played St. Louis Jesuit tunes on my clarinet in the sacro-pop choir. I think this upbringing in the “normal” Catholic world puts me in a good position to comment on the points made in your article. For what it’s worth, I would like to tell you I agree with everything in it.

Your following statement is, for me, a lived reality: “The Novus Ordo can be fruitful for those who already have a fervent and well-ordered interior life, built up by other means.” Those other means in my life were the catechesis I received as a homeschooled child brought up in a large family with two revert parents who, although not acquainted with the traditional Catholic sphere, had an innate respect for dogma and unwatered-down truth. You mention in the essay that the faithful will bring other things to the Novus Ordo Mass. I certainly did. I brought explanations of Church dogma that I heard on Catholic radio, I brought lives of the saints that I read in the many books my parents supplied, and I brought my own imagination that I developed in reading fiction and poetry to beautify a liturgy that I began to find increasingly bare. By these means, I never forsook my faith, but I must say the banal liturgy began to feel like a veritable ball and chain on my interior life. So perhaps the only nuance I would add to your thesis is that the N.O. does suffice for those who are able to supplement their faith life from other sources, but as they grow in their faith, they will most likely become increasingly discontent with the N.O. liturgy.

This brings me to your insightful statement: “The people who attend [the N.O. Mass] are assumed to know how to pray, how to ‘participate actively’ (as if this is at all evident!), and how to be holy. They come to display and demonstrate what is already within them.” I could not agree more. All the years I attended the N.O., I didn’t realize the enormous effort I was making to foster an awareness of the profundity of the Sacred Mysteries. I fostered this awareness by prodding my interior senses to recognize the beauty of the Holy Mass, the sacrificial splendor of Calvary re-presented, the absolution of my sins, the priest as the figure of Christ, the participation of the angels and saints, the awesome wonder of adoring the consecrated host, and the time-bending transcendence of the Holy Mass. The liturgy, which by working on the external senses ought to enliven and assist the interior senses, offered me no help at all in contemplating these mysteries and often even offended me.

In the fall of 2016, I attended my first Traditional Latin Mass. My life has never been the same since. Although there were many things in the traditional liturgy I didn’t understand on an intellectual level, it had an amazingly natural feel to it. Given my understanding of the Eucharist, it was natural that there should be solemnity, reverence, and grandeur. It was natural there should be profound silence, wonder, awe, and radiance. This liturgy not only corresponded with the understanding I brought in my interior, it surpassed it, nourished it, and fed it. My cradle liturgy, the N.O. with its casual minimalism, contradicted my knowledge of the reverence due to our Lord in a jarring banality that could only ever feel foreign even after thousands of Masses I attended in the course of my life.

At the T.L.M., I was astonished by how easy it was to pray. I just watched the breathtaking reverence and listened to that indescribably full silence. When I acquired a hand missal, I encountered yet a new layer of prayer. The psalms and scripture became living organisms like flowers growing in a spiritual ecosystem, my Eucharistic devotion skyrocketed after suffering stagnation so many years, my love of the Sacred Priesthood, my reverence for priests, and my deep gratitude for them reached heights I had never imagined possible. These men who stood before God, facing God on my behalf filled me with wonder.

This quantum leap in my spiritual life should not be surprising to you because you should see that I was simply feeling the liberating effects of attending a liturgy that “is not leaning on you to supply it with force or relevance.” It does not require me to be a responsible citizen in a rigid governmental framework, but rather allows me to be a daughter in the court of my King and my Father. It truly is a liturgy that is, as you say, “inherently full and ready to act upon you.”

I must also tell you how much I enjoyed reading the related essay, “Traditional Liturgy Attracts Vocations, Nourishes Contemplative Life, and Sustains the Priesthood.” Again, I could not agree more with your observations, and the experience in my life seems to confirm your hypothesis. Since my family’s discovery of the Traditional Liturgy, I have seen two of my sisters join religious communities that pray the old Divine Office and assist at the Traditional Mass daily. They could not be happier. My two brothers who had discerned for several years in a diocesan seminary both decided to leave the seminary at large financial cost to themselves in order to join seminaries and orders in which they could offer the T.L.M. regularly. These stories describe nothing other than the seduction you so aptly point out in the article. While my experience with this holy seduction has not been as visibly dramatic as that of my siblings, the radical growth and change for the better it has occasioned in my interior life has been more wonderful than I will ever be able to describe.

Finally, I agree most especially with your point stating the N.O. liturgy is all too often a source of embarrassment. This statement of yours summed it up: “The reformed liturgy in its Genevan simplicity has never won any awards for seductiveness. It can barely be looked at head on before people feel embarrassed about its nakedness and try to clothe it with every accoutrement they can find or invent.” Even from my childhood I had a sense that there was a grievous disconnect between what the liturgy expressed and what I believed. I would wonder about what my non-Catholic friends would think if they came to Mass, and I always had a sneaky suspicion that the children standing in the sanctuary leading the faithful in the sign language of Our God is an Awesome God would surely belie our assertion that the God of the universe dwelt in the Tabernacle. I feared that if a non-Catholic came to church some Sunday this is all he would see, and I began to feel an uncomfortable feeling that the liturgy was at odds with my evangelical efforts.

Unfortunately, this fear was confirmed in my college years when I did bring some friends to Mass. One of them sat back as if he were at a rather silly elementary school variety show and the other man, a Jew, said, “Well, it wasn’t that different from any other Christian church I’ve been to. Do you know where I could go to a Latin Mass?” Nowadays when I bring non-Catholics to church, I no longer need to wince and figure out how I’ll explain away the multitude of conversion-killing banalities so typical in the N.O. liturgy. I bring my non-Catholic friends to the T.L.M. and watch it provoke in them the wonder, awe, and questions that are the first steps of conversion.

In Christ,
An increasingly common sight
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What Gregory DiPippo has so often reported on — that “Tradition is for the Young” — is captured very well in this reader’s epistle. And those of us who work in the mission territory of university education can verify that this reaction happens over and over and over again, wherever the powerful witness of age-old forms of worship is allowed to operate freely.

Why, then, is this revival of traditional piety, devotion, and liturgy so fiercely opposed by so many in the Church? The best succinct explanation I have ever seen is that offered by Joseph Shaw in a recent post at LMS Chairman. I strongly recommend reading what he has to say there.

Meanwhile, may the Holy Spirit continue to raise up young people who, free of the prejudices of the post-Council, can embrace Catholicism in its good and beautiful historical embodiment, the culture of beauty and the sacred cultus that once made the Faith feared, loved, and lived.

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