Wednesday, June 19, 2013


So, you may have noticed a new look for the blog recently. It occurred to me that since I'm living in a new home in real life, my virtual home in cyberspace might be ready for a makeover too. I added Blogger's Blog List Gadget that will alert me when a blog I'm following has a new post up, and I deleted some blogs that haven't been updated in a year or more. For the first time in a long while, I've added some new Catholic blogs to the blogroll. I'm going through a similar updating process with comics-related blogs. I'm also monkeying around with the template trying to decide on a look with a little more pizzazz. Please bear with me while I get everything sorted out around here, and please use use the comment boxes to let me know how you like the new look. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dicas Latinae? Pars secunda (Do you speak Latin? Second part)

Dicas Latinae? (Do you speak Latin?) Fortasse (Maybe).

In the previous post, I described (at somewhat greater length than I anticipated) how I became interested in and curious about what is variously called the Tridentine Rite, the Traditional Latin Mass, or the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Now I'd like  to tell you a little bit about my first impressions about my first ever participation in this form of the Mass last Sunday at a local parish. This was an authorized celebration of the Latin form of the Mass promulgated in the 1962 Missal and in accordance with Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum pontificum. This was not another form of the Latin Mass offered by the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) or other schismatic groups.

I was almost an hour early for this liturgy because I had to use the city of Charlotte's Special Transportation Service (STS) to get there and had to be ready on their schedule. Another Mass in the Ordinary Form (English) was still going on, so while I waited for this Mass to end, I chatted with some other people who were already starting to gather outside. When the first Mass ended, I also spoke with some of the people attending it. To a person, they all spoke very highly of the church's pastor and complimented him and the church's staff for their efforts to celebrate truly beautiful and reverent liturgies. I spoke with the priest himself who assured me that "We try to do things a little differently here." Then we went inside.

I was immediately struck by the physical appearance of the church where this Mass was being celebrated. I don't know anything about architecture, but if I had to take a stab at describing the architectural style, I would call it neoclassical, rather than modernist; if by "neoclassical" one means balanced and well-proportioned and and by "modernist" one means ugly and full of bizarre shapes and strange angles, as with some newer Catholic churches I have visited. I would describe the interior as very traditional and very much what one might expect the interior of an older Catholic church to look like: a choir loft and a large marble baptismal font in the rear, pews of dark wood, large stained glass windows, large statues of the saints and Stations of the Cross prominently displayed on the walls, crucifix of dark wood, and a large, ornate, centrally positioned Tabernacle, prominently on display. This is in marked contrast to some more recently built churches I have visited where it seemed one needed a microscope to find the Stations of the Cross and a compass and a guide dog to find the Tabernacle. At this tradition-friendly parish there was also a large, old-fashioned elaborately carved wooden ambo that the celebrant had to reach by climbing up steps. I had only seen ambos like these in photographs of older European churches and cathedrals. (I wasn't trying to be flippant, but in my head I immediately dubbed this the "Ambo What Am.") If I had to choose a parish solely on the basis of aesthetics or appearance, I would choose this parish in a heartbeat.

Another thing that struck me was the pervasive (and I must say refreshing) atmosphere of quiet. Outside, on the grounds of the church and in the vestibule parishioners were talking with their friends as one might before or after any Mass, but once one went inside the sanctuary there was  an air of quiet, contemplation, and anticipation. Something special was about to happen. People talked in whispers, if at all. Mass-goers trickled in by twos and threes, until, I would guess, the church was about half full. Critics of the Latin Mass frequently like to portray its supporters and defenders as cranks, malcontents, and old fogeys who are hopelessly nostalgic for the nonexistent "good ol' days;" but from what I could see at this Mass, there was a wide range of ages in attendance, from families with young children to retirees and the elderly. Women are still strongly encouraged (but not required) to wear a head covering during the celebration of this form of the Mass, and there are few things cuter in this world than the sight of a girl under six wearing a chapel veil.

Mass began with the ringing of a bell, the chanting of an entrance antiphon, and a procession up the center aisle, much like in the Ordinary Form. So far so good. I knew the entire liturgy, except for the homily, and perhaps the readings, would be in Latin (Duh!) I knew the priest would stand ad orientam (literally, "to the East," facing the direction from which the sun rises, and symbolically the direction from which the Son of God rose on Easter morning. I knew the servers would answer on behalf of the congregation. What I perhaps knew but did not fully realize, was that I would not be able to hear what the priest and servers said. I suppose that without thinking about it, I had come expecting that the priest and servers would chant the prayers and responses in a voice loud enough to be audible, and I could follow along in my paperback missal which has the Latin text on the left hand page and the English on the right. This was not the case. Most of the prayers and responses were inaudible to me, and I presume to the rest of the congregation, except perhaps the people sitting right up front. This made it extremely difficult for me to follow the prayers of the Mass, and I eventually gave up trying and simply let myself experience it.

The only times I could really hear something were when the priest would turn to the congregation and chant Oremus (let us pray) followed by a prayer; Dominus vobiscum (the Lord be with you); or  Ite missa est (the Mass is ended). In the latter two cases, I did know that the proper responses were et cum spiritu tuo (and with your spirit) and Deo gratias (Thanks be to God) respectively. Chants and hymns, delivered by a very fine schola cantorum, floated out of the choir loft at the appropriate points in the liturgy, seemingly as if by magic (or perhaps I should say as if delivered by invisible angels). I suddenly realized the advantages of this arrangement over the usual practice in newer churches of having musicians and choir members at the front of the church. With a choir loft at the back, Mass-goers can hear and appreciate the music of the liturgy without being distracted by seeing musicians and choir members bustling about with instruments and hymnals and whatnot.

The Mass itself was followed by more prayers and the singing of the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen), which happens to be one of the few Latin hymns I know. I joined in and later received a couple of compliments on my voice, which was flattering. Still trying to process this brand new experience, I introduced myself and shared my first impressions with my fellow Mass-goers. I quickly noticed that many defenders of the Latin Mass are passionate and almost fanatical about their favorite subject. One very earnest, well-meaning gentleman was prepared to tell me at great length and in great detail why the Mass in Latin was better than the Mass in English. When he began to mutter darkly about how "they" didn't want the Church to celebrate the Mass in Latin, I gently cut him off, fearing I was in for a paranoid rant.

Which brings me to the dark side of the Traditionalist movement. I've noticed when visiting Traditionalist websites and reading the comments of self-identified Traditionalists on Catholic blogs I read, that there are very unhealthy, uncharitable, and un-Christian strains of pride, arrogance, and paranoia running through much Traditionalist rhetoric. It is one thing to say that you wish to preserve and perpetuate the older traditions, devotions and forms of worship in the Catholic Church because they are ancient, venerable, beautiful, meaningful and great aids to holiness. There you have my sympathy. It is one thing to acknowledge and point out that since the reforms of the liturgy in the 1960s and '70s, on occasion there have been gross liturgical abuses committed in the name of "the spirit of Vatican II," or some other such foolishness. There you also have my sympathy.

It is quite another thing to let that zeal for the ancient traditions of the Church harden or transform into pride and arrogance and come to believe that YOU and and YOUR PARTICULAR GROUP of Catholics are the only REAL Catholics because YOU and YOUR GROUP are the only ones who celebrate Mass "the right way" (i. e. your group's way, as opposed to the way defined by the Universal Church—either the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form set forth in the 1962 Missal). It is another thing entirely to heap scorn and contempt on your fellow Catholics who might not share your zeal and affection for the Traditional Latin Mass, and to insinuate or claim outright that  they are not really Catholics because of it.

Finally, it is completely unacceptable to claim that any Pope who promulgates or accepts the reformed, vernacular liturgy is somehow not the real Pope, as the "sedevacantists" do. Either the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ and built upon the Rock of Peter, or it is not. Either the man chosen by the College of Cardinals is the legitimate successor of Peter or he is not. If the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, and the Pope is the successor of Peter, than it is the radical Traditionalist and sedevacantist who has strayed from the truth, not vice versa. If the Catholic Church is not the church founded by Christ and built upon Peter and his successors, I submit that the radical traditionalists, who claim to love the Church so much, are calling Jesus Christ, the founder and head of the Church, a liar.

So much for my own rant. Will I go back? I don't know. Everyone I talked to acknowledged that the Extraordinary Form takes some getting used to, and may take a while to learn to appreciate. They urged me to keep coming back and keep giving it a try. When I pointed out that most of the prayers are inaudible, one gentleman tried to persuade me that this is actually an advantage. One can either follow along in the missal or pray silently on one's own knowing that the sacrifice of Christ is being re-presented, he said.

We'll see. I want real truth. I want real beauty. I want real transcendence. I believe these things can be found in the Catholic Church, and I believe they can be found in the Mass. It just might take some work to find them.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dicas Latinae? Prima pars. (Do you speak Latin? First part)

Dicas Latinae? (Do you speak Latin?) Fortasse. (Maybe).

Yesterday, I attended my first ever Mass in the Extraordinary Form (aka Traditional Latin Mass, Tridentine Mass) at a parish here in Charlotte and lived to tell the tale. It was new. It was . . . different.

First, a few words of explanation.  I was born in 1963, smack dab in the middle of the Second Vatican Council, and by the time I was coming along, the reforms of the liturgy had been completely implemented and the Mass was entirely in English with the priest facing the people (versus populo, I believe it's called) and the liturgy structured as a dialogue between the priest and the people. I knew, of course, that there was an older Latin form of the Mass, but I didn't really know much about it. When I began blogging on Catholic topics in 2005, I quickly noticed that there seemed to be no faster or better way to start a virtual fistfight among Catholics on the internet than to venture an opinion, pro or con (See there, I used Latin!), on the Latin Mass.

Advocates said it was beautiful, mystical, ancient, and holy, and the de facto (See there, I used Latin again) suppression of the Latin Mass in favor of Mass in the vernacular after Vatican II was one of the worst things to ever happen to the Church. The virtual disappearance of the Latin Mass after Vatican II was alleged to be the root cause of plummeting Mass attendance and nosediving priestly vocations. (I always thought this was an example of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, but no matter). Why on earth did the Church decide to change? Some advocates for the traditional Latin Mass claim that Dark Sinister Liberal Forces [TM] both inside and outside the Church, ranging from closet Protestants to Freemasons and neopagans deliberately suppressed the older form of the Mass and implemented their version of the liturgy for the purpose of destroying the Church. Some of these same advocates denounce even the motu proprio of Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum pontificum, authorizing a wider use of the Latin Mass in the 1962 Missal, as a mere piece of camouflage designed to draw gullible traditionalists into a carefully concealed and orchestrated modernist agenda.They claim that the Mass promulgated in the 1962 Missal is a "bastardized" form of the authentic Traditional Latin Mass.

Critics of the Latin Mass, on the other hand, usually argue that this form of the Mass is incomprehensible, in a language most people cannot understand or even hear, because the priest says most of the prayers with his back to the congregation and in a low, even inaudible voice. The people cannot see what takes place on the altar. Furthermore, critics claim, this Mass is elitist and exclusive because the altar boys (girls and women are not permitted to serve on the altar in the Extraordinary Form) answer on behalf of the congregation. The people are not permitted to speak for themselves except at certain times and are reduced to passive spectators.

For most of my life as a Catholic I would have put myself squarely in the modernist and contemporary camp. I took courses in church history in college and loved the sound of Latin words and phrases, but I couldn't imagine not being able to hear, understand, and verbally pray the prayers of the Mass. I couldn't imagine not being able to see what took place on the altar. I loved the music of the St. Louis Jesuits and the "folk Mass" movement of the 1960s and '70s.  I had a moment of revelation, however, when I first heard——really heard——sacred polyphonic music, first on a public radio classical music show, and then via Limewire and iTunes. I can recall stopping what I was doing just to listen, absolutely transfixed by the beauty of the blended voices. When I realized this was music for the liturgy, I was astounded. Why had I not heard this before? Why had every Catholic not heard this before? I wanted to hear more. After listening to the music of Tallis, Byrd, Palestrina, and Victoria, I concluded that the "folk" music I had loved so much when I was younger now seemed insufferably shallow and cheesy by comparison. More recent compositions, that sounded as if they belonged at a Celine Dion concert, and "praise and worship" style songs played on keyboards, electric guitars and (shudder) drums were even worse. When I realized that all this glorious music I had come to love was composed for the older form of the Mass, I concluded this older form, so often derided, disparaged, and dismissed, must have something going for it.

I began to study and try to learn more. I learned that the Second Vatican Council did not forbid the Latin Mass. Rather, it permitted the Mass in the vernacular. I learned that in the older form of the Mass, the priest does not stand "with his back to the congregation."  He stands facing the same direction as the people. Since the priest offers the Mass before God on behalf of the people, it makes perfect sense that he would face the same direction they do. I ordered a paperback Latin-English missal and a copy of Let's Read Latin, a short introductory course in ecclesiastical Latin created by the late Ralph McInerny, author of the Father Dowling novels. I set out trying to learn Church Latin, but it's tougher than it looks, and I couldn't keep up my enthusiasm when I knew that there wasn't a a parish near me that offered the Latin Mass . . .

Until I came to Charlotte, that is. Facebook friend Katrina Fernandez, author of The Crescat blog, recommended I try her parish, which is very tradition-friendly. When I saw that the parish regularly offered Mass in the Extraordinary Form, I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about. In my next post, I'll tell you what I found.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Greetings from Charlotte!

Greetings from the new worldwide, international headquarters of "It's All Straw," beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina!

You may remember from my last post, gentle reader (if I have any readers left), that I was just days away from moving to the Queen City. The great day did indeed arrive, and the move went off largely without a hitch. With the help of brothers, a sister, a sister-in-law, and a horse trailer, I moved into my new new abode, which is positively palatial compared to my old digs. I sat in the living room in astonishment, just watching everyone else bustle in and out with boxes, bags, furniture, and whatnot, and murmuring, "Oh. My. God." every few minutes. It seemed too wonderful to be real. The condominium complex where I live is beautifully maintained, and my new neighbors have been kind and welcoming. There are still days I find myself thinking, "Wow! I get to live here!"

 The rooms are open and airy with large windows to let in plenty of sunlight, which is a real mood booster. I have a sun room, and my sister says she has a case of sun room envy. For the first time in my life, I have a garage! (I don't have a car, but I have a garage). There is some discussion among my brothers as to the possibility of turning this space into some sort of man cave. Stay tuned for further developments.

Navigating the health care and social service bureaucracy took longer than I would have liked, but I now have an attendant/aide to help me for a few hours every weekday with what I call the three H's: Health, Hygiene, and Housekeeping. I don't need as much help as some other people with disabilities I know, but having a helping hand with certain tasks just makes life a whole lot easier. I have a city bus pass and a transit ID, and I'm learning how to use the city's public transit system to get where I want and need to go. Now it's time to develop a daily routine. Little by little I'm beginning to feel at home.

I've visited a couple of different parishes in the greater Charlotte area, looking for a spiritual home. For the first time in my life I have a real choice of parishes to attend. When I made contact with one parish to ask about transportation to Mass, I got a call back from the president of the parish's praesidium of the Legion of Mary. I was very active in the Legion in my old parish in South Carolina, so a chance to chat with a fellow Legionary was a little taste of home. Next week, I think I'd like to visit the local parish that celebrates Mass in the Extraordinary Form (aka the Tridentine Rite or the Traditional Latin Mass). Although I've come to love sacred polyphony and appreciate Gregorian Chant, I've never actually attended a Traditional Latin Mass and would really like to have the experience. The older I get, the friendlier I am becoming to tradition.

Even as I'm sitting here thinking about exploring and recovering the Catholic Church's past, I'm excited about the future. Every day feels like a bit of an adventure with new possibilities. As I told a friend recently, I feel a bit like the country mouse from Aesop's fables, suddenly whisked away from a pokey, pedestrian small town to the big, bustling city with all its delights (and frustrations). Unlike the mouse in the fable, however, I don't think I'll be headed back to the country any time soon. The city is beginning to feel like just the right place for me.