This is the season of First Holy Masses. For example, on Saturday 30 June, I will be helping as Assistant Priest with the First Mass of a newly ordained priest to be celebrated in the presence of the bishop (coram episcopo), who will be present in cappa magna.
That’s the First Mass of a new priest.
What about when an older priest celebrates a Traditional Latin Mass for the first time?
That’s a First Mass too, in many ways.
Think about it. It takes about 5 minutes for a guy to learn how to say the Novus Ordo. There’s just not much there to learn, especially in the vernacular. However, the TLM takes work to learn, even if you have seen and served it for a while. And it’s not in the vernacular.
Now think about the challenge for a man who is young and has been cheated out of formation in Latin, contrary to the Church’s explicit laws (cf. can. 249). That makes a hard Mass even harder. But, hey! The young learn quickly.
Now think about a guy who has been ordained, say, 30 years and is 60 years old; who was cheated out of his Latin in explicit violation of the Church’s clear laws. Is it going to be easy to learn the TLM, right? Not so much.
But wait! There’s more!
Learning to say the TLM in its LOW Mass configuration is one thing, but learning also how the SING the Latin you were cheated out of as well as take care of all the gestures and movements… that’s not going to be so easy either.
Part of the problem is that for decades liturgical worship sung in Latin according to the proper tones and chants was effectively obliterated by the haters. We were all denied our patrimony. Men who would be priests were cheated out of the opportunity to have their Roman inheritance seep into their marrow so that the sound of the Sung Latin Mass and all those chants became part of them even before they applied themselves to learn them.
I am thankful for the many years of intense classical music training I received, which provided me with experiences of beauty which would eventually help me to recognize who God is through the transcendentals. I am intensely grateful for the way that God guided me with His mysterious finger as if by “accident” into studying Latin, which I had had zero plan to do. I thank God that, because of the Latin I studied I checked out a church where Latin was being used, and sung. I am am ineffably beholden to God and to all those at St. Agnes in St. Paul – Msgr. Schuler, Paul Levoir, Harod Hughesdon and the rest – who maintained the Gregorian chant and sacrificed to show up to sing at Saturday and Sunday Masses and at Vespers every Sunday afternoon They gave glory to God and the gave me a gift of knowing the tones and chants and ceremonies as if by osmosis. When it came time for me to learn the TLM, before my ordination, I sailed into it with nary a care.
I am, therefore, deeply sensitive to the work and the anxiety of older priests, who didn’t get any Latin and may not have had the music and the liturgical experiences I was privileged to receive.
Gentlemen, when you decide to learn the traditional forms, you are really standing up like the men the priesthood needs. It’ll be hard and, frankly, scary. But that’s what men do when they love: they make sacrifices.
Priesthood and sacrifice are inseparable. If priests love their congregations, I contend that they will also want to give them the very best. In regard to being Roman Catholic priests, that means also learning and giving them the Roman Rite in its fullness. People must have the patrimony that has been withheld. They will benefit from it. Their Catholic identity will be augmented and deepened and fortified. The traditional rites themselves will effect a change because…
…we are our rites!
Not only with people be slowly formed by participation in the rites, they will be formed inexorably by the way the priest himself is being changed by his own learning of and celebrating of the rites. The priest learns things about himself at the altar of the Lord using the older, traditional form of the Roman Mass in ways that the Novus Ordo simply doesn’t provide. As the priest changes, the congregation will change, as if through the knock-on effect that must unavoidably result.
We are our rites. But the Latin, Roman Rite has two forms. There is the new-fangled and somewhat reduced rite and there is the traditional form which nourished the lives of saints for centuries.
Who is the priest if he only knows half of his own Rite? The easy half?
We are our rites. RIGHT?
If a priest loves people, he will make the sacrifices and take the risks to learn also the traditional Roman Rite, for the sake of his own identity and for the sake of the faithful.
If people love their priests, they will ask him to learn the traditional Roman rite, for his sake and for theirs and they will make sacrifices to provide anything and everything he needs.
If priests love each other, then in fraternal care and concern they will prompt, suggest, recommend, push, prod, harass, urge, cajole their brethren into learning the older, traditional Roman Rite, for the sake of the deepening of the identity of the brotherhood and for the future, especially in the way that the older Rite will foster vocations.
If bishops love anyone, they will support everything having to do with the older, traditional rite and they will, fearlessly, lead by example. A lot of bishops will have the same anxieties about learning what they, too, were cheated out of.
We are here for you! We will provide everything you need and help as much as we can and we will be grateful.
All of this rant is a preamble to the following.
Today, a priest who had been denied all the Latin and all the music and the whole of the Roman Rite growing up and in seminary and in the first decades of his priesthood, stood tall and sang his first Solemn Mass this morning, on his 60th birthday. Fr. Richard Heilman, whom you remember took his parish ad orientem and who put in a Communion rail – now everyone receives on the tongue, kneeling – and who provides rosaries that even the Swiss Guards carry, was he admitted pretty nervous. But he did it. There were some rough spots, but we do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. He did his very best and that is pleasing to God and to his flock.
Here are some photos of Fr. Heilman’s first Solemn Mass, 30 years into his priesthood on his 60th birthday.
See the diocesan coat of arms on the vestments? This is what the Tridentine Mass Society of the Diocese of Madison is accomplishing. And it is all for … everyone!
That, gentlemen, is how it’s done.