Saturday, December 24, 2022

Fides Quaerens Intellectum, "Faith Seeking Understanding"

[Dec. 22, 2022] I see it everywhere. I see it in the online threads of Trads debating the powers of the papacy. I see it in dialogues between Protestants and Catholics about the idea of an interpretive authority for divine revelation. I see it in the brain-dump posts of skeptics and the wavering questioning the very concept of religious faith. I see it in the tedious, dreary, back-and-forth discussions between Catholics and Orthodox. It is ubiquitous in religious discussion today.

I am speaking of a hyper-rationalistic approach to matters of faith that insists upon absolutely incontestable logical demonstrations for every point of belief before it is deemed worthy of assent. I refer not to the mere expectation that faith be logical, nor people's reasonable expectation to be convinced of what they are asked to believe; rather, I am referring to people wanting every point of faith to be proven to them in unassailable rational exactitude before they grant it any credibility. What's more, there is the implicit assumption that a point of faith that cannot be proven with ironclad, indisputable, logical certainty is ipso facto untrustworthy. 

This way of thinking is very damaging to faith, as it imposes burdens upon faith it was never meant to carry. Essentially, faith and reason are getting muddled. The propositions of faith are being treated as propositions of logic that must be logically demonstrable in order to have credibilty.

Though I see this as foundational, I think we should nevertheless revisit the nature of faith and the type of certainty faith affords, because it seems to me that people on all sides are subjecting faith to the methodology of reason, with the effect that the entire edifice of belief is being treated as one enormous logical demonstration.

Faith and reason are both modes of knowledge. Reason pertains to what we can know from our own powers of observation, whether empirical or logical. Faith pertains to what we know based on the authority of someone else. Both are true ways of knowing, but each is grounded in a different certainty. The certainty of reason is as good as our own powers of observation and intellection; the certainty of faith is as good as the person we put faith in. Whereas reason implies logical deduction, faith implies confidence. Faith itself is an act of trust.

If we go back to the First Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dei Filius, we see the following comment on the nature of faith:

We believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because of the intrinsic truth of the things, viewed by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive. (DF, III)

When Dei Filius says "we believe...not because of the intrinsic truth of things viewed by the light of natural reason," it does not mean that the propositions of faith are illogical; rather, it means it is not their inherent logical intelligibility that convinces us to believe. Rather, we believe based on the authority of the one who reveals—in this case, Jesus Christ. But to use a more everyday example, if my mother tells me a story about getting ice cream with her father at the fair when she was a little girl, I believe her not because the truth of her assertion is immediately apparent to my intellect, but because I know my mother and I trust her. Because of my confidence in her trustworthiness, I assent to her story; I believe it on faith.

Indeed, sometimes faith is the only way to know about a thing. In the story above, suppose I subjected my mother's story to the rigorous standards we apply in logic: "Well ma'am, that's a fine story, but is there anyone that can corroborate it? Your father? Oh, he's dead? Well can you produce any other eye-witnesses? was in 1961 you say and no one else you knew was present? Convenient. Are there any photographs? Journal entries? How about this fair...where was it? don't remember the exact city it was in. I see. Do you remember the name of the company that put the fair on? Well if I knew the exact date this happened, maybe I could check some archives and...oh what's that? You don't recall the date from sixty-one years ago? What's that? It might have been 1962 or 63 now that you think about it? Ma'am, you must admit, this story sounds incredibly suspicious. Your entire account is full of gaps; I can't understand how you expect me to believe this."

Propositions of faith were never meant to be logical demonstrations. Of course, in the Catholic religion, our core articles of faith fit into the same category as the above example—the Trinity, the Incarnation, the salvific death of Jesus Christ, the grace of baptism, His real presence in the Eucharist, etc. are all truths we would have no way of knowing had they not been revealed. They require faith to accept.

But the Christian faith is not illogical, nor was it meant to be blind. Faith does not depend upon reason; but it is in accord with reason. We do not believe because we understand, but as St. Anselm said, we believe so that we may understand. Fides quaerens intellectum ("faith seeking understanding"), to use the formula attributed to St. Augustine. Faith is logical, but not logic-based. It corresponds to reason but is not derived from it.

That this might be more clear, God gives certain "exterior proofs" to aid our reason, called motives of credibility. These motives of credibility do not establish the truth of the faith in a logical sense, but they do testify to it. Dei Filius says:

Nevertheless, in order that the obedience of our faith might be in harmony with reason, God willed that, to the interior help of the Holy Spirit, there should be joined exterior proofs of His revelation; to wit, divine facts, and especially miracles and prophecies, which, as they manifestly display the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are most certain proofs of His Divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all men. (DF, III)

While we should certainly not assent to something we are not convinced of, we should likewise understand that the faith does not demand every single jot and tittle be accounted for before assent can be given. Faith is a form of knowledge, but it is imperfect, characterized by a "not yet-ness"; "for now we see in a mirror but dimly" says St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:12). "Wrestling" with various problems is an inherent aspect of faith (see "The Dark Mirror of Faith," USC, March, 2022). Faith will always be riddled with difficulties. But, to quote St. John Henry Newman, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." Being tripped up with a "difficulty" that you wrestle with is not an argument against assent. The motives of credibility help by lending intellectual weight to our assent, creating a momentum towards belief that encompasses the intellect and will. But we should never confuse the motives of credibility with the act of faith itself. Newman said, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt"; but we say, "I will continue to doubt, so long as even one difficulty remains unresolved."

I have deliberately chosen not to mention where I have seen this sort of thing happening because I don't want to drag particular individuals into it, but it is going on all over the place. And I see people's faith being wrecked by it left and right. We are always our own worst enemy. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

"A Nitty-Gritty Trad": Teenager TLM Testimony (Part 3)

The past month I have been posting stories that teenagers have shared with me about the impact of the Traditional Latin Mass in their lives. If you missed the first two installments, they can be found here:

Part I
Part II

In this third and final installment, I present the story of a young man who found the TLM through various twists and turns of circumstance. I like this story because it highlights the overlap between TLM and NO communities. While we tend to think of traditional Catholics as entirely averse to attending the Novus Ordo—and Novus Ordo Catholics as hostile to the TLM—this story exemplifies how these two communities intersect. Often the choice to go to the TLM begins as a practical one, due to issues with scheduling conflicts or the need for orthodox sacramental instruction. A love of tradition for its own sake blossoms later after prolonged exposure to the traditional lex orandi.

I’ve been going to Mass ever since I was four. For the first nine years that I went to Mass, it was at my local suburban Novus Ordo parish. Pretty typical. Nothing traditional, but nothing too crazy. You had your Extraordinary Ministers, your lay lectors, and whatnot, but usually none of the guitar blessings or other such shenanigans. I was fine with it, really. I did my best to engage with it, following along with the readings and the breaking of the eucharistic bread. It was nice when Holy Week came around. Even with all that, though, I was never really impacted very deeply. If you could take it all away, and I’d be more-or-less the same person.

My first experience of the Latin Mass that I recall was receiving my First Communion at the FSSP parish we currently attend. They had catechism after one of the Saturday morning Masses, so we’d make our way up there for Low Mass and then class. If I am being honest, though, I didn’t really notice how different the traditional Mass was at first. At this point, I had experienced many other churches aside from the one I regularly attended on Sundays; I was used to the liturgy varying from church to church. The only thing I remember noticing and thinking was cool was the genuflection during the Last Gospel. It was because everyone would genuflect, and then just a couple of seconds later, everyone would kneel down for the Leonine prayers. Genuflecting outside of the context of entering the pew was pretty new to me, I suppose.

Anyways, I went on to receive my First Holy Communion in the TLM. Apparently, it was a Solemn High Mass, though I don’t really remember noticing any of that. I only remember Father saying in his sermon something along the lines of “just because you’re done now doesn’t mean you should forget everything you learned,” and also being very happy to have received Our Lord.

Well, after that I stopped regularly going to Latin Mass for quite some time. I guess I didn’t listen to Father, as I almost immediately stopped receiving on the tongue and went back to receiving on the hand. I mean, what can I say? I was just an impressionable kid. It was what everyone else did. I shudder thinking about it now.

About five years later, in 2019, it came time for me to do Confirmation. By this point, my Novus Ordo parish had shifted from doing catechesis on Saturdays to doing it on Sundays, which meant that it conflicted with the family going to the local church. My parents provided the music for the Sunday 10 AM Mass at our local parish, which meant that they had to be present for that particular liturgy. So, my brother and I (who did Confirmation) would carpool up with friends and go to the Latin High Mass, and then Confirmation class. That was when things started changing for me, though I didn’t realize it so much at the time. For one thing, I started going to confession more often. Prior, I only went twice a year, at the penance services my church held before Christmas and Easter. And in general, my Catholic Faith started becoming a lot more important to me. My parents had done a good job of planting lots of Catholic “seeds” in me, but I don’t think they really started developing much until this point.

At this point, I had already joined the parish Altar Guild (e.g., Mass servers). I had actually joined in late 2018, but would only go up to the monthly meetings and then not really be that involved. Eventually, I started going to Low Mass occasionally with friends and training a little bit more seriously, but not much. Despite being trained many times, it was a long time before I ended up serving Low Mass. I was just thrust into it by the guy. He was like “I think you’re ready.” And I was like, “okay.” I knew my responses but that was about it… it was a disaster. I learned a lot about making mistakes and how to move on from them and learn from them. And also I learned to take corrections; I took a liking to Proverbs 12:1.

In 2020 everything halted due to COVID. My confirmation class was stopped. My parish stopped having public Mass (though the church doors were only locked for the live stream Masses and we never stopped having confessions). That wasn’t very shocking at first. I just figured it was normal for society to shut down and stop everything owing to disease; I didn’t question it. But after the two weeks started getting expanded, I started getting depressed.

Eventually, though, things happened and we started getting to Mass at my parish again, so I stopped being depressed. Ah, I said we. At this point, my whole family started going to Mass at the TLM, not just me and my brother. This was because my parents didn’t have to do music for the local parish anymore owing to Covid. Going to Mass again made me really thankful, and that’s when things REALLY took off. I got good at serving Mass—after all, we had five Low Masses on weekdays, and eight on Sundays, so I was doing it almost every day. I also joined the music program, even though my parish wasn’t having Sung Mass yet.

Parish life went through a lot of shifts, each one more and more pleasant, until we’ve now reached something that’s pretty normal. I’m pretty much a trad now. A nitty-gritty trad, having become acquainted with the inner workings of the liturgy. I’ve become an accomplished altar boy and an accomplished member of the choir. I’ve made lots and lots of friends. Indeed, my church is my social life. But yeah. I’ve got a LOT to be thankful for. No way I’m gonna be able to make it up to God, but I can sure as heck try.

That was a really long and meandering story, but it tells my trad journey at least in part. XD

Friday, December 16, 2022

Was Jesus Born At Night?

[Dec. 18, 2022] In western tradition it has been common to depict the birth of our Lord Jesus as occurring during the night. Film and art have reinforced this image so many times that we hardly give it much thought. But was Jesus really born at night? Is there any way to know for sure? This is a question of merely curious interest, perhaps not worth the thought I have expended on it, but hey, it's Advent so why not?

In my experience, kids are more likely to be born at night—four of my children were born between the hours of midnight and 6:00am, which is quite inconvenient but at least I came to expect it. Of course, my experience isn't universal and I do, in fact, admit the existence of people who are not born at night. Where does the tradition that Jesus was born at night come from?

Partially I think this might be related to the tendency in art and film to conflate the birth of Christ with the finding of the Child by the Wise Men. The Wise Men are usually depicted following a star shining over Bethlehem (obviously at night) and it is wrongly presumed that the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem on the very night of Christ's birth. Of course, the Wise Men arrived considerably later than the actual birth date, as evidenced by Herod's command slay all the children two years and younger, "according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men" (Matt. 2:16).

We could also look at the appearance of the angels to the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke, which occurred at night: "And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). The shepherds are accosted by the angels after the birth of Christ had already taken place, and they are sent to Bethlehem to find the babe. Unlike the case with the Wise Men, this must have occurred relatively soon after the birth, for the shepherds were told that they would find the baby "wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (v. 12). Unless Mary and Joseph stayed in the manger for several days or weeks, we can presume this visit happened within a day or two of the birth.

Furthermore, on the night the angels appear to the shepherds, the angel says to them that "for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (v. 11). And we know from the context of the angels' words that the birth had already happened when the angels appeared to the shepherds. Therefore, the question is, how long after the birth did the angel appear and say that "this day" the Christ had been born? If we can presume Mary and Joseph were still going to be awake when the shepherds came that evening, then the salutation to the shepherds probably happened right at dusk, placing the birth somewhat earlier. But how much earlier?

There is of course no way to be sure from the text. Jesus may have been born at 6:00am, or noon, or 3:00pm, or even 6:00pm and the angel's greeting of a Savior born "this day" would most likely still be applicable. The angelic greeting to the shepherds could have happened several hours after the birth or perhaps almost concomitantly with it. There is no certainty here.

And yet artistic tradition insists it was at night. When you really dig into the Tradition here, you find that the depictions of Christ's birth at night do not come from conclusions drawn from the Gospels, as we would imagine. Rather, the few writings I have found that do reference the birth at night draw upon a text from the Book of Wisdom for their justification:

"While gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, thy all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed" (Wis. 18:14-15)

The night being "half gone" has traditionally been understood to be midnight. And at midnight, the Word of God is presented as "leaping" from heaven to earth. The Fathers and Medievals loved this image of God's Word "leaping" to earth in the middle of the night and applied this passage to the birth of Christ in the middle of the night. This verse is the inspiration of the famous hymn (one of my favorites), Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming:

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.
To show God's love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The application is typological, not prophetic; the verse in context refers to the Angel of Death leaping down to Egypt on the night of the Passover to execute judgment on the firstborn of Egypt; hence the reference to the "land that was doomed." It is somewhat odd that a verse about the Angel of Death should be applied to the birth of Christespecially more so since this sort of application isn't even theologically precise; if we were to pinpoint a moment when the Word of God "leapt from heaven" to earth, it would not be at Christ's birth, but at the moment of the Incarnation. Still, we are dealing here with a tradition that is artistic, not doctrinal, and the connection between the "Word of God" mentioned in Wisdom and Christ as the Word was too much for Catholic artists to pass up.

This is not the only case of a typological reading of the Old Testament being used to create a setting for the birth of Christ. Again, in our tradition, we are used to seeing baby Jesus surrounded by animalsoxen, cows, sheep, etc. How do we know there were any animals present? Was the manger cave occupied or wasn't it? Again, the fact that tradition has tended to portray the infant Jesus surrounded by reverent animals does not come from exegesis of the Gospels, but a loose reading of Isaiah 1, where God says,

"Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand" (Isa. 1:2-3).

This is not a prophecy; it is simply a matter-of-fact statement contrasting the ability of even dumb animals to recognize their masters with the unwillingness of Israel to do the same. Western tradition has appropriated this phrase by means of typology to apply to the birth of our Savior, since Christ, too, was not recognized by His people, this served as the perfect foil against which to demonstrate the homage of the natural world to the Lord, exemplified by the animals taken from the text of Isaiah.

Thus in the Wise Men who represent all the Gentiles (three corresponding to the three continents known to antiquity), and in the animals who represent the natural world, and in the shepherds who are the poorest of the poor to the angels who sit by the throne of God, we have all creation at every level praising the Savior of the world.

Our artistic representations of how the birth of Christ happened may not be entirely accurate in all their details. Was Jesus born at night? Who knows. But the western artistic tradition has applied some very pertinent typological texts from the Old Testament to give more depth to this already momentous event. Some may say this obscures the historic truth; I would say it brings the theological meaning of the event into greater clarity.

If you like these sorts of discussions about the particulars of our beloved Holy Days, please consider picking up a copy of my book The Feasts of Christendom: History, Theology, and Customs of the Principal Feasts of the Catholic Church. You can read a review of it by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski on New Liturgical Movement. The book contains tons of essays like the one you just read on various theological and historical questions relating to the feasts of our Church.

Monday, December 05, 2022

Reform of the Reform: Liturgical Russian Roulette

Not long ago I was traveling abroad to visit friends. We went out for dinner and they invited their diocesan parish priest, whom I was blessed to spend several hours in conversation with.

This fellow was impressive. He wore the cassock and carried a dignified beard that Maximilian Kolbe would be proud of. He could smoke cigars and drink whiskey with the best of em, but his demeanor was grounded and he spoke with a wholesomeness and erudition that testified to a sound formation. His breadth of knowledge was imposing, but he was able to converse in a way that brought the complexities of whatever subject he was discussing down to the layman's level. It was a real joy to speak with him.

This priest was what I would term a "reform of the reform" partisan. Though we did not talk about liturgical principles in the abstract or get into Vatican II, it was clear he had a deep love for the Church's tradition. He told me proudly how he had instituted ad orientem worship at his parish some years back, along with communion kneeling on the tongue and how well it had been received. Various fixed Mass parts had been switched over to Latin. When he came to the parish, he found it serviced by a "band"; this was replaced by a schola singing a mixture of sacred polyphony and hymnody from the 18th and 19th centuries. From what my friends told me, his preaching was a solid as it gets. His parishioners held him in deep respect and his changes, even if they required a bit of catechesis, were overall received well by his people.

These are all fine things. I am happy anytime a minister uses his position to attempt to introduce people to traditional liturgical customs, even within the context of the Novus Ordo. For many people, a Novus Ordo Mass decorated with such vestiges of tradition becomes the gateway to the Traditional Latin Mass, a kind of via media that eases them into the traditional rite by introducing them to the concepts of liturgical reverence. I do not know what this priest thought about the Extraordinary Form, but he seemed like he was doing the Ordinary Form as well as he was able.

Good as these things are, though, they are not a suitable mechanism for the long-term restoration of liturgical sanity, as evidenced by what this priest told me next

He told me that in the wake of Traditiones custodes, his bishop had outlawed ad orientem Masses throughout the diocese. I asked the priest how he intended to handle this, observing that this was clearly illegal as the GIRM actually implies that the Novus Ordo is supposed to be done ad orientem. The priest said that he knew the bishop's directive was illegal, but he had to "tread lightly" because he did not want to openly antagonize his bishop. Even if what the bishop ordered is technically illegal, he said, there was nobody realistically who was going to stand up for him against the bishop's order. "The Vatican certainly isn't going to help me," he said. "And I don't want to be that priest who makes trouble by going over the bishop's head. The bishop has the ability to make my life very difficult." He then told me that he had reluctantly decided to go back to versus populum at most of his Masses; one Mass, however—the one that drew his most traditional crowd—would retain ad orientem. People who wanted ad orientem would have to go to that specific Mass. He believed that the likelihood of this particular Mass crowd "telling" on him was very low; and, he surmised, since they were quite attached to ad orientem, he felt the desires of his parishioners justified his disobedience in this case. Then he shrugged and said, "It's not perfect, I know, but if I make him upset, he could remove me altogether and then all my work would be undone."

First of all, this priest and those like him are in a darn difficult spot and deserve our prayers and empathy. I, as a layman, don't understand the kinds of pressures priests go through and what the episcopal-presbyteral dynamic is like, so I don't want to opine on what this priest "ought" to do in his scenario, much less judge him for his course of action. I do, however, recognize in this situation the perfect evidence for why reform of the reform, noble as its sentiments are, is a losing proposition in the end. 

Let us, therefore, deconstruct this situation somewhat:

  • The priest's years of hard work are capable of being undone by the diktat of his bishop. Whatever good he has accomplished (and I would not deny that what he has done is good) has no stability; it is completely vulnerable to the whims of the bishop. 

  • The liturgical reforms the priest instituted were accepted by the congregation, but not on the understanding that "this is the tradition and this is what we should be doing,"  but because "this is what Father wants." Similarly, when the pastor abolishes ad orientem at every Mass save one, this, too, will be accepted because "this is what Father wants." The objective merit of traditional liturgical customs is subjugated to a "Father wants/Bishop says" approach. It cannot avoid liturgical positivism, despite itself.

  • The above point also testifies to the arbitrariness of such efforts. This diocesan Novus Ordo congregation is lucky to have a classical schola, communion on the tongue, ad orientem, access to (some) Latin, and sound homiletics. But the only reason they have access to those things at all is because they happened to get this particular priest assigned to them. Had they gotten someone else, it would have been entirely different. The priest told me that before he arrived, the parish had a "band" that used guitars and drums. The congregation was subject to guitars and drums because they happened to get a liberal priest; now they get ad orientem because they happened to get a more traditional one. It's an arbitrary luck of the draw, a crapshoot—playing Russian roulette with the liturgy when people's spiritual livelihoods are at stake.

  • The priest's observation that he has to comply despite the illegality of the directive is sadly correct: a parish priest does have very little recourse against a bishop who intends to make his life difficult; since his liturgical work is exposed it will all be lost if the bishop moves him, and therefore he does have to think in terms of "How can I eek by with minimal diminution of my work?" rather than "What do the good of souls and justice require?" Given the plethora of options available in the Novus Ordo, he will always wind up in this position, in which elements of our liturgical patrimony become the subject of barter in the dance between priest and bishop over what the bishop "allows" the priest to "get away with."

  • The priest's resolution to do what he can at the Mass where "no one will tell on me" sends mixed messages to the congregation seems unprincipled. It tells the congregation that "I am doing what the bishop wants, sort of, but I am also disobeying, kind of. This is important enough for me to disobey, but not so important that I want the bishop to know I am disobeying. It's important enough that I ignore an episcopal directive, but not so important that I risk open breach with the bishop. It's important enough that I am going to do my own thing, but not so important that I am going to openly discuss the principles of why I am doing my own thing—it is all hush-hush." None of this nurtures the sacrosanctity of liturgical tradition among the parishioners; rather, it reinforces the sense of reverent liturgy as a matter of priestly preference. The priest isn't coloring outside the lines on principle; he doing so clandestinely to preserve "his work" and "our way of doing things."

If you think I am condemning this priest, you are wrong; if you are condemning this priest, you are certainly wrong. I understand why he is taking this approach; he understands that he has made significant headway introducing his people to traditional elements of worship and he does not want the rug pulled out from under him. Given his position, I don't know what else I expect him to do. But the point is it's an awful position for any priest to be in. It's a terrible dilemma—but an inevitable dilemma that will always happen whenever a starry-eyed priest attempts to restore some semblance of tradition at his parish.

Even if it is not today, eventually this cassock wearing priest will be replaced by someone more modern. His replacement will go get rid of ad orientem and phase out the Latin. The choir members will get disgruntled and quit. There will be a rift between the new pastor and the parishioners who want to retain the traditional stuff. The pastor will be intransigent; the parishioners, unhappy with him, will leave. With these people gone, the new priest will undo all the traditional stuff the previous priest put in place. The parish will again reach equilibrium as a generic western Novus Ordo parish. The conservative parishioners-in-exile, meanwhile, will relocate to whatever the most traditional option remains among the diocesan parishes. Seeing the influx of new traditional parishioners, that pastor will feel emboldened to introduce more traditional elements into his masses. The whole process will begin again.

But it's never a net gain. In fact, the total number of reform of the reform parishioners in the diocesan system will go down because each time this upheaval happens, a fraction inevitably say "I'm done with this; I'm just going to an Institute/Fraternity/Society parish" and they remove themselves from the diocesan system entirely. So nobody ever wins. It's generally just shuffling parishioners, a diocesan shell-game. The snake just eats its own tail.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

"O Beauty Ever Ancient Ever New!" Teenager's TLM Testimony (Part 2)

Last week I published a testimonial from a teenage girl who discussed how her faith and spirituality were profoundly changed when she encountered the Traditional Latin Mass after converting from Protestantism (see "Teenager's TLM Testimony, Part 1"). Today I am presenting another testimony from another teenage girl who was raised with the Latin Mass from childhood, inaugurated into the love of the traditional Roman rite from her father.

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient and ever new! Late have I loved you!” These words of Saint Augustine perfectly describe my love for the Latin Mass. Of all the events I have experienced in my life, attending the Latin Mass every Sunday has been the one thing that constantly deepens my desire to know the truth. Every gesture and word of the Tridentine Rite, the beauty of the many churches I’ve attended, and the sacred music that often accompanies the Mass all raise one’s heart, mind, and soul to Truth Himself. The Latin Mass sparks an awe within me that has grown into a deep desire to draw closer to Our Lord, and through Him to know the truth.

I have been attending the Latin Mass for nearly my entire life. My father, a convert to Catholicism, has been deeply in love with the Tridentine Rite ever since he first discovered it, and he has always shared his love of the Mass with me. We moved to Detroit, Michigan in 2007, and shortly after joined the vibrant Latin Mass community that has been growing in the city since the indult of Pope John Paul II. As I grew and matured, I came to realize the differences between the Tridentine Rite and the Novus Ordo, and I noticed that the Latin Mass always raised my heart and mind closer to God than did the English Mass. When I attended the Latin Mass on Sundays, I could feel the True Presence of Christ in the church, and this feeling was assisted by the reverence of the priests, altar boys, and parishioners, as well as the majestic beauty of the Romanesque-style church that I attend. Every aspect of the Mass, from the incense and prayers to the music and church architecture, stirred something within my heart. I longed to love God more, and I desired to seek the truth about Him and the world He created. This longing has increased as I continue to mature in my Faith, and as I get older I continue to try to draw closer to Truth Himself every day. 

One of the reasons why the Latin Mass makes me desire to seek the truth is the significance of every word and gesture of the liturgy. All of the prayers said by the priest during the Mass have a special meaning, as do all of the little gestures he makes; without these the liturgy would be incomplete. For example, during the Canon of the Mass, the priest makes several small signs of the Cross over the bread and wine. After the consecration, he makes five signs of the Cross over the newly consecrated Body and Blood of Christ, which represent the five wounds of Our Lord. Later, the priest makes five more signs of the Cross with the Body and Blood. The first three (“Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso…”) represent the three hours during which Jesus hung on the Cross; the last two (“est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti, in unitate Spiritus Sancti…”) represent the separation of Christ’s Body and Soul when He died. If so many small words and gestures are necessary in the worship of God, then surely He must really be Goodness, Beauty, and Truth Itself. This significance of every word and gesture is the reason why the structure of the liturgy leads me to desire to seek the truth every time I witness the Latin Mass.

Music also deepens my desire to know the truth, particularly sacred music and Gregorian chant. I have been singing in my parish choir for six years, and the experience of learning sacred polyphony and chant has shaped both my spiritual and secular life.  In the Tridentine liturgy, a great emphasis is placed on polyphony and chant as having pride of place in the musical life of the Church. My parish choir is directed by our pastor, Fr. Eduard Perrone, who was one of the last to graduate from the nationally renowned Palestrina Institute before its closing in 1968. Under Fr. Perrone’s instruction, I have been privileged to learn a wide range of musical works from the broad repertoire of polyphony that has been handed down to us through the centuries. I have also been able to participate in the women’s chant schola, and have directed the schola on certain occasions.

Recently I joined a semi-professional choir that sings once a month for First Fridays, under the direction of another brilliant conductor, Wassim Sarweh. His choir focuses primarily on Renaissance polyphony, such as the works of Palestrina and Victoria. Singing with both of these choirs not only grants a wealth of experience, but it also contributes to a greater participation in the celebration of the Mass. I remember singing Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria at First Friday one month, with only eight other choir members. There is no other word to describe it other than heavenly. The harmonies blended together and wove around each other in such a way that you could feel the music, and we were all truly praying the Ave Maria as we sang. Music such as Biebl’s Ave Maria, Palestrina’s many works, and Gregorian chant all raise the heart, mind, and soul to God. Once we are raised to the contemplation of His glory, desire to seek Him more cannot be far away. Sacred music leads to a strong desire for truth, beauty, and goodness. We do not always recognize this longing, but it is there nevertheless. Music is so beautiful that it often transcends human comprehension, and when we cannot fully understand something, we desire to seek it out more and learn the full truth of it. 

Each one of these factors of the Latin Mass contributes to a deepening of my desire to  know the truth. My father’s love of the Tridentine Rite made me grow to love the Mass from a young age; the structure and significance of the liturgy as well as traditional church architecture both raise my mind and heart to a greater contemplation of God, Who is Truth; and the experience of singing and hearing sacred  polyphony and chant has led me to a deeper love for the Mass, for Christ, and for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  The Latin Mass truly is a “Beauty  ever ancient  and ever new.” Being able to experience it at least once in a lifetime is a gift, but having the privilege of attending the Latin Mass every Sunday is a great blessing. Without the Latin Mass, I doubt that I would be where I am today, and I doubt that I would have a desire to continue seeking the truth in everything I do. To quote Saint Augustine once more, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient  and ever new! Late have I loved you! And, behold, you were within me, and I out of myself, and there I searched for you.”