Inside Catholic: A Young Father Meets the Old Mass

Inside Catholic has an interesting article which I present with my emphases and comments.

A Young Father Meets the Old Mass
by Steve Skojec  
3/08/08

My discovery of the Traditional Latin Mass, now known in the wake of Summorum Pontificum as the "extraordinary rite," [Thank you for not saying "the Latin Mass"!] was a slow but logical process rooted in a lifelong desire for a liturgy that was sensible, sacramental, and enhanced by the trappings of orthodoxy.  [The role of the "trappings" is also important.]
 
The journey began in a small, rural parish in Pennsylvania attended largely by converts and accompanied by folk music. It deepened through my involvement with a religious congregation that augmented their spiritual life with Gregorian chant, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and an approach to contemporary liturgy that was somber and reverent. In college, I flirted with the Byzantine rite, finding the ad orientem posture of the priest refreshing, the incense welcome, the deeply scriptural sense of ritual satisfying.
 
During our engagement and the early years of marriage, my wife and I were drawn to a parish that celebrated the novus ordo in a more traditional way, employing the use of Latin, incense, ad orientem, polyphony, and chant. Our wedding Mass was celebrated in this manner as well. But it wasn’t until we moved to Arizona in 2004 that we finally made the commitment to the classical rite, with an indult granted to St. Thomas Apostle parish in Phoenix by Bishop Thomas Olmsted.
 
My first exposures left me feeling disinterested and confused. Raised completely within the novus ordo, I found the older form inaccessible and foreign. But after I grew in my understanding of liturgy, what was once impenetrable became desirable, appealing, and remarkably comfortable. My wife — who had never professed a specific religious faith prior to her conversion to Catholicism — was even more drawn to it than I was.
 
The first two years we spent with the ancient and venerable liturgy were like a honeymoon. Babies were born and baptized according to the older form. We dove into our missals and learned to appreciate and understand the beauty of the Mass that was familiar to so many of the Church’s beloved saints. I undertook a spirited defense of my newfound love for traditional liturgy both online and in gatherings of family and friends.
 
We eventually moved back to Northern Virginia in 2006 and began attending Mass at St. Mary, Mother of God, in downtown Washington, D.C. As our adorable infants grew older and louder, however, I spent less and less time with my missal in prayer and more time in the narthex of the Church in some sort of parent-child version of a cage match. [LOL!]
 
For many young parents who have discovered tradition, this is where the love affair breaks down. Not a few of us already have to drive long distances to get to an extraordinary rite Mass. Add to that a couple of screaming toddlers, an older parish without a cry room, an usher that gives you the evil eye when your child makes a noise before you can mete out swift parental justice, and the added length of the liturgy itself, and suddenly the silence and solemnity that was so appealing to your deepest Catholic sensibilities becomes an obstacle to being spiritually nourished by Mass at all.
 
Too many Sundays as I’m showing up ten minutes late after a break-neck drive from 30 miles away, I find myself muttering, "I don’t care. Why do I do this?" Too often after spending an hour-and-a-half on our feet with children who want to bang on radiators, make multiple trips to the bathroom, and smack us in the eyes with their flailing hands and juice cups, we’re tempted to skip out early and ditch the last Gospel or the prayers after low Mass — things we used to find significant and even beautiful. Not having grown up with the old Mass, it has yet to become second nature to me. Without being able to really pay attention, I can easily get lost and feel displaced, and that leads to a lot of frustration, Sunday after Sunday.
 
In these moments I consider the alternatives — go back to the novus ordo or don’t go to Mass at all. Obviously, the second choice is tempting to parents engaged in an epic test of endurance with their offspring, but not acceptable for a Catholic. The first choice, on the other hand, is something my wife and I simply find distasteful. I’ve spent a very small proportion of my life as a traditional Catholic, and an even smaller fraction of that time fully able to take advantage of the beauty of the ancient liturgy. And yet this has been among the most spiritually enriching periods of my life. There are times when my frustrations obscure that fact, but I’m never divorced from it. Everything I love about the traditional Mass is what will inevitably keep me from leaving it, despite my difficulties.
 
I grew tired some time ago of the debates over the validity of the novus ordo. [Indeed!  Most of us are tired of that.] The Holy Father has maintained it as the "ordinary form" of the Church, and I won’t presume to know better. What I do know, however, is the power of the older form; I may not be able to see or hear as much of the sacred mystery as I could when attending a novus ordo, but I take consolation in knowing that the priest is fulfilling his role on my behalf, as God intended him to do. I don’t need to see the flight deck to trust that the pilot can fly me safely to my destination, and I don’t need to be aware of every gesture at the altar to know that the priest’s offering is effecting my salvation.  [Excellent.]
 
As my cousin, a priest, once told me: "It’s a mystery — if you know everything that’s going on, something is wrong."
 
Steve Skojec is a columnist and blogger for InsideCatholic.com. He writes from Northern Virginia. 

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Inside Catholic: A Young Father Meets the Old Mass

  1. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    I can understand the writers feelings. I have 11 children, and it was especially difficult going to Mass when we had 5 under 7 years old. 45 minute drive, 90 minute liturgy (going into lunch time for the children). The worst is when some older person that contracepted their way through marriage, did not raise their children in the Faith, and consequently their children have fallen away, insist that any noise from a child is too distracting to them. One such man even told me that women should stay home with young children and it would be fine for them to miss Mass on a regular basis in order to watch the children at home. I have a friend that has stopped going to the TLM because of the complaints of the elderly at the Mass. He has gone back to attending the Eastern Rite, where they are very welcoming of children, even if they do make the odd noise at times. Sorry for the rant but the comment about the usher rang a bell. Finally, I will say that I have had some older people encourage us (my wife and me) through our difficulties, and have told us to ignore comments from others of their generation. These wonderful people tell us of their regrets for not raising their children in the Faith properly. One even told me that when she is distracted by a child at Mass, she offers it up a just penance from God, for her lack of attention to her children’s Faith.

  2. Pelicanus says:

    I’m surprised you have passed over “extraordinary rite” in your fisking.

    Two forms, One rite…

    But it’s good the distinction is made about the Latin Mass.

  3. Pelicanus: I was so happy to read this intelligent and honest article that I didn’t want to pick too much.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Rather than driving into DC, I would encourage Steve to come to St. John’s in McLean for the noon TLM. I can’t honestly say that many families with little ones frequent this Mass, because they don’t, but there IS a cry room, and the older cranky people are all at the 5 pm Mass….
    The church was unfortunately built in the round in the late 1950s, but one benefit of the unorthodox design is that there are only ten rows of pews, so that even the families exiled to the back row can see and hear everything. Plus it only takes a few seconds to dash out with a suddenly wailing child.

  5. Dan says:

    I have two energetic sons (4 and 2). I am a convert, as is my wife, and I am finding myself drawn into the tradition of the church. I’ve learned a bit of Gregorean chant and sung in a small schola once a month at a NO mass nearby for Saturday morning mass. I have yet to attend the TLM, though there is one within driving distance (~45 min). For me right now, my sons are keeping me from heading TLM for all the reasons Mr. Skojec mentions, though I desire to experience it and learn more about it. We attend our local parish which is orthodox, but the liturgy is the usual mixture of things to like and things I’d like to improve. For now, I know that God is calling me to live my vocation as a father wrestling my way through mass with one boy or the other. I’ll pray, and look forward to the TLM when the time is right.

  6. Rob says:

    -I don’t need to be aware of every gesture at the altar to know that the priest’s offering is effecting my salvation.-

    And does anyone really think that the average crowd at a Novus Ordo mass has any idea what’s going on? I really wonder if making the mass more “user-friendly” has really increased understanding. More importantly, has it effected salvation with any greater efficiency?

  7. I used to attend St Mary’s in DC, and I served there for nearly a decade. It is a beautiful church, one that has been spared the iconoclasm that has befallen others. (Thankfully, they were too poor during the 70s to participate in the charade.) But at least every other Sunday morning — haven’t been there in a while, but this is what I remember — they opt for the Low Mass. Now, people there generally do not join in the responses to the extent permitted in the 1962 Missal, and most wouldn’t have it any other way. But the result (and my only point here, I assure you) is that any spirited behavior by young children is all the more obvious, in a great hall of a thousand people where you otherwise hear nary a peep.

    And so I’d second the recommendation to attend St John’s in McLean, if only for the reasons Kathleen has cited. A starting time of noon might be inconvenient, but I’ve seen worse elsewhere. And although it employs the “theater-in-the-round” design, subsequent alterations and ad hoc adaptations manage to keep the damage to a minimum.

    You have to be patient watching the master of ceremonies trip all over himself, though…

  8. Michael R. says:

    “For me right now, my sons are keeping me from heading TLM for all the reasons Mr. Skojec mentions, though I desire to experience it and learn more about it. We attend our local parish which is orthodox, but the liturgy is the usual mixture of things to like and things I’d like to improve. For now, I know that God is calling me to live my vocation as a father wrestling my way through mass with one boy or the other. I’ll pray, and look forward to the TLM when the time is right.

    Lots of parents wrestled lots of children in the pews for generations of Tridentine Masses. I, myself, had to wrestle several children during many years of Byzantine Divine Liturgies, sometimes while attempting to serve as cantor. The Mass is not a concert. Children and families belong there.

  9. Father M says:

    I wonder what other priests think. My belief is that the sound of children IS a Catholic sound, and should have pride of place somewhat like chant. I do believe children can be fairly easily socialized into the Traditional Latin Mass–and spiritualized in the process. And what I have seen is that some very active, “spirited” children actually seem to behave better at the TLM. But we will always have the ordinary sounds of children with us. And frankly I find it easier to offer the older Mass with children’s sounds than the newer Mass. It is the sound of the future. Obviously, there are moments when it is appropriate to take a child out. But hopefully those moments are rare. After all there is an old Rabbinic proverb that suggests that every time a child’s voice cries out, heaven rejoices. It seems fitting for traditional Mass communities as well. We should rejoice that the little ones are with us, and help their parents in every way. And if the parents are at ease and feel welcomed, they will more easily socialize and spiritualize their children.

  10. ekafant says:

    I have 6 children, between 1 and 10 years old. They usually behave well, and just tonight, I was complimented on how well at Mass they behaved (need to see them at home. Thats where the horns come out!)I found that after taking them out of Mass a few times and “burning the bottom”, good behavior will eventually follow. Do not give up hope! It has been told to me that having to endure Mass with all of these distractions will give you more grace. As far as some of the cranky people of the parish, in a charitable way tell them to take a long walk on a short pier!Did i actually say that?!! Never!

  11. Guy Power says:

    I am one of those cranky people who never had children.

    However distracted I am by their antics (not crying — I’m talking about such things as bringing a toy truck and racing it across the pew seat for 15 minutes without parental intervention!) I try to remember that *infants* have little control over their voices, crying, etc.

    Yes, I think cranky thoughts … and probably frown without realizing it — but then I catch myself and chastize myself that I should learn more patience. In a way, children’s noise — although a cacophony to my ears — is actually a clarion call for me to reflect on my shortcomings.

    Please don’t mind we cranks! Bring your children often.

    –Guy (the irascibly cantankerous curmudgeon) Power

    p.s. — I do like children.

  12. ekafant says:

    In all seriousness, both parties need to always show Christian charity and patience with one another. Parents need to show it by controlling the actions of their children, and others need to show that same patience and charity. It is a 2 way street. If both give 100%, the issuue is solved. Remember, Mass participation is not dependent on what we “get out of it”. The worship is objective. God knows how much we are trying.

  13. Ron says:

    A wise pastor once told me that a parish with no babies crying (within reason) is a dead parish. Think about it!

  14. Pat Docherty says:

    Mr Skojec
    i refer you to Tolkien’s story ‘Leaf and Niggle': after death, Niggle discovered that the best bits of his work of art (the painting of a tree) actually were created while he was being annoyed and distracted by his troublesome neighbour. ‘Suffer the little children’ and keep going to the ‘extraordinary form'; they’re not little children for long.
    Pat Docherty (aka Grumpy)

  15. PubliusIII says:

    Mr. Skojec:

    Thanks for your article and to Fr. Z for drawing attention to it.

    Though a cradle Catholic, my liturgical trajectory has been similar to yours. IIWhen my first son was born, I really moved to the old rite big time because it seemed to me that the reform of the reform was to remote and that the old rite was something solid that could be handed on to the next generation. Interestingly, my parents objected saying that the kids would never understand the mass. I pointed out to them, that of their five children raised exclusively with the user friendly novus ordo, I was the only mass goiner among them.

    I only have two children (now 13 and 7) and my situation is sadly complicated by a messy divorce during which my wife decided to try to have the court declare t were going to be Buddhists! Fortunately, we settled the matter under the direction of an Irisah Catholic judge who made clear that the kids were going to be Catholic (which was just in time as the NJ Supreme Court was at that moment issuing a decision which would have removed all power in this area from the noncustodial father). At any rate, to reach a settlement, I had to agree that the kids sacraments would be in the new rite as my wife was protrating the old rite as a cult.

    I mention this because for a while, my kids would act out terribly at mass. My older son would make fun of the Eucharist as “cookie worship” and my toddler would kikck and curse as we passed the threshold of the church. To spare the tender ears of my fellow contggrgants, in those days, I spent much of the time on the sidewalk in front of the church.

    Now, four years later, the kids have a grudging appreciation of the liturgy. T When we are down the shore in the summer, the smile at the circus aspect of many of the masses stating definitively that that is hardly appropriate. My older son appears to have accepted transubstantiation over the wrath of his mother and tolerates the EF (though he has a very annoying habit of timing the mass and keeping track of how it is longer than the new rite.
    The younger boy serves as an altar boy at major feasts and is looking forward to being a regular altar boy who has real duties after he recieves his first holy communion.

    Fortunately, the small congregartion at Holy Rosary Church in Jersey City is very welcoming to children (who make up a sizable proportion of the congregation) and was most supportive during the acting out period. I found the vestibule of the church to be far better than a crying room. Crying rooms seem to encourage all the acting out jsut to continue. While in the vestibule, there was a sense that we were still in the church. The music director does complain about some of the kids- but he keeps his comments to himself (and truth be told, there is one family where the injunction to multiply seems to be being followed without any recognition of a duty to rear the children as well as bear them).

    So I would say maybe you need to be flexible and stick primarily with the EF but also attend the ordinary form to make things work.

    Yours,

    Publius

  16. Rob F. says:

    In a comment above, another Rob (not me) said, “I really wonder if making the mass more “user-friendly” has really increased understanding.”

    Decades ago I had a friend in the Byzantine rite mention in an offhand way, “I never understood why you Latins went so long without translating your liturgy into the vernacular.” Then after a thoughtful pause, he said, “Of course, it doesn’t really matter, since no one listens anyway.”
    His comment has stuck with me all these years. I think about everytime I hear someone complain about Latin.

  17. Mark says:

    If Mr. Skojec is reading (or anyone else in the area), there is also a TLM at St. Lawrence in the Franconia/Springfield area of Northern Virginia. We have a wide variety of attendees including families with young children. There is no need to worry about cry-rooms, children belong at the Mass with everyone else.

  18. Boko says:

    I was wandering around (DC’s) Chinatown after the hockey game (Pens 4, Caps 2) and was reminded of the monthly High Mass at St. Mary’s by the presence of a father out on the front step holding his son. Made it just before the Offertory, when I’d been wondering what I would do for Mass that day, the missing daylight saving hour having done in my plans for a pre-game Mass.

    So there’s my personal testimony of how God can use unruly children as instruments of His grace.

  19. Steve Skojec says:

    Fr. Z – Thanks for posting this, and thanks to all for your gracious comments!

    Pelicanus – I’m surprised you have passed over “extraordinary rite” in your fisking.

    D’oh! That was my fault. It was a typo that I didn’t catch before publication. I still refer to it as the “Traditional Latin Mass” in my head, so when I use “extraordinary form” I’m not as accustomed to the term. Good catch.

    As for those who have suggested other Mass options for us in the area, there are two obstacles:

    1.) We really like St. Mary’s.
    2.) St. Mary’s Mass is at 9AM; Virtually every other Mass in the area is at noon or later.

    This second point is significant, because the kids don’t do nearly as well at these later Masses. It interferes too much with naps and lunch time. I know that when they get a little older, things will get better, but they are just at a difficult age. For this reason, I actually made a plea at the Inside Catholic blog today for those pastors considering offering a TLM at their parish to weigh the option of doing so earlier in the day for all the young families that attend. Earlier is definitely better.

  20. Ken says:

    One solution is to have a Low Mass earlier in the morning and a High Mass mid-late morning, that way families with crying children could attend the shorter, earlier one, or parents could rotate and each hear a Mass with the older children. Sadly, this is not permitted in a parish church under the MP.

    So perhaps we could pray for more FSSP and Institute churches…

  21. Kathleen says:

    Another solution is for nearby parishes of like mind to get together and decide, “You take the High Mass and we’ll take the Low Mass.”
    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
    But I agree that taking young children to a noon Mass (or a vigil 5 pm Mass, for that matter) is asking for trouble.

  22. PAT says:

    Steve Skojec:
    2.) St. Mary’s Mass is at 9AM; Virtually every other Mass in the area is at noon or later.

    The Mass at Old St. John the Evangelist (Our Lady Queen of Poland) in Silver Spring, MD, is at 8 AM every Sunday. I think it will start a bit earlier (~ 7:50 AM) next Sunday for the Palm Sunday procession.