January 11, 2015 by lucieromarin
The year begins with a semi-enforced absence from my regular chapel. First, I injured my neck and shoulders in December; they’re still not healed, and choir duties inflame the injury. (Seriously – the liber usualis is really heavy.) Second, some of the bad-stuff-about-which-I-am-not-explicit-because-it-involves-other-people’s-grave-sins came to a particularly ghastly head, also in December, so that I was oddly grateful for the injury – as I couldn’t sing anyway, I could just go away for a while, and focus on healing.
If I had an Eastern rite or alternative Old Mass chapel nearby, I’d be going Mass there. However, I don’t, so I’ve returned to stock standard Novus-Ordo land, and here is what I find myself missing and not missing about my old life.
What I Do Miss
The ad oriens position: Father! Turn around! He’s behiiiind yooooou!
I really miss seeing the priest offer Mass facing East. I really, really miss it.
A liturgical language: It doesn’t have to be Latin. (If there was an Eastern rite church nearby with its own equivalent, I’d be going there.) I don’t just miss it because it sounds better and puts me in a liturgical-worship frame of mind; I miss it because it stops the priest from adding extemporaneous bits of completely unnecessary drivel whenever he feels like it.
Blessings of sacramentals: My inner witch is naturally attracted to objects which carry or transmit divine power. My inner boss-lady likes objects that Do Things For You (e.g. heal, or protect, or drive away nightmares). My inner housewife loves things that make my home look pretty and make domestic prayer beautiful and enjoyable for my imaginary children. So, I like my sacramentals, and I miss the places that make the best use of them. (One of my most favourite birthday gifts this year was a little vial of myrrh, blessed on the Feast of the Epiphany. It could not have been procured anywhere but my chapel or by any but a traddy friend.)
Some of the people: A trad parish is something like a medieval market – filled with people who have made a long journey there once a week, and who enjoy trading the weekly news with others who have made a like journey. Even if you don’t become really good friends (i.e. you never socialise outside that particular marketplace), you still enjoy the weekly sights and stories. I do miss that experience.
Some of the children: If you love children, but have none of your own, and nothing approaching an explanation as to why this is so (e.g. I was called to religious life; I was prevented by severe endometriosis etc) you have one of three options: 1) withdraw from children as much as possible, sterilising your heart and becoming shrivelled or cold or bitter, 2) cling to substitutes for children, or vicarious experience of them, babysitting, catechising etc and trying to pretend you’re okay with this, or collecting dogs or cats and fooling no one when you talk about them, 3) finding some kind of middle ground, which is to reject any kind of piety-induced obligation to find meaning in the service of families, while remaining open to the love that individual children can bring into your life one way or another. That is, suck up some of the hurt for the sake of some of the sweetness. Which is my way of saying I do miss book club and those individual children!
Outfits and dressing up: Yeah, no, I don’t mean this in any kind of modesty-as-saving-the-world way. I just mean I miss looking at all the nice outfits and storing images in my memory for later use in the creation of my own. This isn’t a saint’s blog!
Head-coverings: I have to admit it – nothing says ‘holy ground’ to me these days like the sight of rows of women with liturgically-veiled heads. While I don’t think there’s any point getting stroppy with women in New Mass parishes about it (why should they be beholden to a standard not expected of their priests, who are allowed to say Mass versus populum, which is an equally great break with traditional practice?), I still miss the sight of it, and the feeling of unity it creates amongst the women who observe the custom together. I was unaware till now just how much it felt like sharing an magical and powerful secret.
Certitude that the Consecration was valid: Now, I’m sure that in the Old Rite too, there is the occasional stumble or trip-up over the relevant words, but, if there is, I don’t have to hear them, so the moment for which I’ve endured everything that came before it (i.e. receiving Our Lord) isn’t overshadowed by a question about what I’m actually receiving.
What I Don’t Miss
The preaching: Now, I have to admit that I’ve heard plenty of preaching during my holiday which has made me think, “Ah, yes, that’s why such-and-such left the Church.” I’m not proposing a New-Mass-Old-Mass dichotomy here; I’m also not saying that trad preaching is uniformly terrible, because it isn’t. I’m just saying that I don’t miss it – I don’t feel any particular emptiness in my life without it (as I do, say, with my distance from the blessings mentioned above) and I don’t find myself looking forward to returning to it (as, say, I do find myself looking forward to seeing good serving again). This may just mean that I’m a terrible, picky customer impossible to please and lacking in the appropriate humility, but it’s an interesting discovery, even so.
The assumption: that if you don’t like the sermons, it’s because you’re arrogant and proud, and need to pray for humility and return to your place.
The Divine Office: Isn’t this awful? I’ve been praying the Office in common for years, and I find that when I’m away, I don’t miss it one, single bit. This is how I feel about the official prayer of the Church! As I said – not a saint’s blog.
Intense people: I know, I know, the whole world is going to pot and we have to save it right now, and every slight infraction of liturgical reverence is an enormous catastrophe, and modern music is terrible, and some outfits are so hideous they should be burnt. Even so, there is something nice about going to Mass with people who are not consumed by all this. I’m not saying it’s good to be ignorant. But it is good to be surrounded by peaceful souls!
Long hours and physical discomfort: I have to admit it: I love going to an 8am Mass and being home by 9:30. Sunday is a completely different day when there’s so much of it left after Mass! True, I still hold in suspicion the attitude that never wants to attend a proper Sung Mass, and am completely mystified by the kind of spirituality that can routinely leave Mass (the thing for which Sunday was invented) until Sunday night. But you know what? I love the spaciousness and peace of a long, quiet Sunday. And I love not being tortured by hunger because of the long hours (see below.)
The assumption: that if you don’t like the long hours and physical discomfort, it’s because you’re a wuss, or not committed to your faith, or you don’t have the spirit of the martyrs, or you’re less of a Catholic than Iraqi children who go to Mass for three hours every Sunday and never complain, which is why they were chosen for martyrdom, and you weren’t.
In fairness, this attitude isn’t representative of the trad world as a whole. It’s not even the experience of everyone in my community. So, freeing yourself from the effects of this assumption doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the Old Mass, let alone doing anything more drastic. It does mean rethinking how you respond to the one or two people who choose to interpret your feelings this way, and to share that interpretation with you.
Hunger: If you leave home at 8:30 to get to a 9:00am rehearsal, then rehearse for an hour and a half, then sing Terce, then sing Mass, then sing Sext, then emerge from your chapel to find that all the snacks have been eaten, then make a cup of tea and socialise a bit, then walk home, you find it is about three o’clock before you have any lunch, after not having eating since 7:30am. If, like me, you have the appetite of a longship full of Vikings, this can turn Sunday into torture. Even if you have a later breakfast, it’s still torture missing lunch. Similarly, during the week – you go straight from work to rehearsal, then sing a Mass over an hour long, then sing the Office, then go home, it’s 9:00pm before you have dinner. Some people can handle this without complaint, so I refer you to my longship analogy to explain why I don’t miss hunger.
Being surrounded by families: But Lucy, didn’t you just say you miss some of the children? Yes, I did, and freely admit to loving a rosebud face, squishy arms, coy smiles, et cetera. But it’s another thing to be completely surrounded by them when you’re gradually realising that you’ve missed out, and you have no idea why it’s so. Go to my local New Mass parish, you’ll see one or two families. Go to my local trad parish, and the place is bursting at the seams with them! Gah! It’s nice when you’re happy, but when you’ve had a Low December and your neck hurts, it’s too much!
Being surrounded by reminders of the awful things: There are those things I can’t really describe without publishing other people’s sins, which I wouldn’t want done to me, so I’ll just say that removing yourself from reminders of injustices or grief is really, really helpful. It is especially helpful when there’s a kind of cognitive dissonance built into a cultural way of handling things.
It should be pointed out here that removing yourself from a place that triggers bad memories really has nothing to do with any subculture, religious or otherwise; it’s a principle of pain-management (for want of a better expression), so, in that sense, it tells me nothing about my relationship with any given expression of faith. However, if you belong to a subculture which stresses loyalty and commitment and which doubts the possiblity of healing outside that culture…well, then, it’s important to know that a holiday can, in fact, heal you, despite what anybody fears.
And that, as they say, is that!