What I Miss and Don’t Miss about a Trad Community During a Break from It6
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!
This resonates with me, specially the marketplace. Nice! But may I ask (as a convert and Novus Ordo attender) if you can expand on “He’s behiind you!”? Do you mean the crucifix (surely no different from a poster on the wall, or am I wrong)? Or the tabernacle? “The train of His robe filled the temple” is how I think of the presence of God, and also “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” The presence of a person in a room suffuses the whole room; no less when it’s a Person. Should we always have to face the tabernacle, as if He were a touchy elderly relative, or can we go about our business of worship, secure that He is there, no matter where we are? If the priest is alter Christus, shouldn’t the priest rightly face the flock? So many aspects to this.
Happy New Year, and may 2015 bring you every blessing.
Happy New Year! I hope you had a blessed Christmas, and all the music was good! Well, the first thing I have to say that yours is the best ‘take’ on the versus populum position that I’ve ever heard, and I’m going to carry it with me whenever I’m present at the Novus Ordo – which will probably be, again, this Sunday. Whichever way the priest is facing, it’s still the Holy Sacrifice, and deserves to be respected as such.
Meanwhile, by ‘behind you’ I meant mostly the tabernacle – it’s true that He is everywhere, but His particular presence there is…it’s like the way, under the Old Covenant, that God’s omnipresence didn’t change the fact that the Shekinah in the Holy of Holies required a response from His priests that they didn’t have to give Him anywhere else. And the priest is the alter Christus, yes, but the role of mediator means sometimes respresenting God to the people and sometime representing the people to God. So, he faces one direction to speak to the people and another direction to speak to God – as the business of worship is to worship Someone specific, it’s fitting to use the body as well as words to signify to Whom that worship is directed. Just personally, it makes me feel I know how the people felt during the Exodus, with Moses walking ahead of them, following the glory cloud. It gives me a pilgrimage-y frame of mind which I find helpful. I also like the significances of the liturgical north and west that are built into the Old Mass. Also, speaking of things working for my inner boss-lady, I like the fact that the eastward position puts the sun at our service liturgically. None of this is so important that I’d stop going to the New Mass or assume that people who don’t like the Old Mass are in some way defective but I think it’s probably part of why I find I miss the eastward position. It’s interesting, because I was never naturally attracted to it; it was took a long, long time for Mass ad oriens to seem natural or right to me. I used to think that at times it looked silly! At the same time, I loved instantly my first sight of the deacon and subdeacon making the Cross with their bodies, and was so startled the first time a friend saw it and laughed at it! It’s like any art, I guess – it will evoke all kinds of reactions.
I was a convert who started with the traditional mass; consequently it was about a year before I even saw the novus ordo, and I must confess seeing the priest facing the congregation that first time was very disconcerting. I felt like he was no longer interceding on our behalf, but ‘performing’ for us. It took me quite a while to get used to it.
In The Mass in Slow Motion, Knox compares the priest saying mass to the burning point under a magnifying glass. I like that image, and to me, it goes with facing liturgical east.
I’ll just say that even in the wonkiest of OF masses, I’ve never seen a priest muck up the consecration. The consecration is, in my experience, almost idiot proof – “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” is pretty easy to say, after all.
Yes, and thank goodness for this! I also have to remind myself that bad microphones and poor acoustics have a lot to answer for, and are, in fact, irrelevant to the final result. And I’ve never doubted that Latin spoken with an abominable accent is acceptable to God – which leads me to wonder how much worrying is simply an acquired habit, if that makes sense.
How do you use blessed myrrh?