Fifteen years ago today I celebrated Mass for the first time— specifically I concelebrated the Ordination Mass with Bishop Bruskewitz just minutes after he had made priests of my classmates and me. This afternoon I will celebrate a Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form (i.e. using the Missal of 1962) for the first time. And on the afternoon of June 7, Trinity Sunday, I will celebrate the first public High Mass at St. Wenceslaus in fifty years. [And one year later now, I have written this follow-up.]
I'm writing this explanation (defense?) because honestly I have fretted for a month over how these Masses would be received by the public. I have feared that on a local level people would assume that I had done all our restorations here merely to provide for this Mass option as my ulterior motive. I have also feared that on a wider level critics and friends alike might misunderstand the what and the why. For a month I had planned to just celebrate those two Masses very quietly and only revisit the topic much later. But I want to be transparent with everyone locally, and honestly I owe an apology globally for uncharitable thoughts and words I have had in the past about those attached to Form of the Mass that existed before the Second Vatican Council.
In years past I have thought and even sometimes spoken as if there were two disparate groups of orthodox Catholics: 1) a group that loves the ageless wisdom of the Church but also appreciates Vatican II, that tries to proclaim eternal truths to a modern secular world, and that see John Paul II as a model of this engagement. 2) a group that loves the faith, praxis, and aesthetics of the Church and therefore worries that Vatican II abandoned those, that uses traditional beauty and piety as either the springboard toward or the enshrinement of the faith of a previous age, and that sees Pius X or XII as the paladin of this crusade. And of course their worship in either the Masses of after-1970 or before-1963 marked them off concretely. This mental dichotomy led to judgment, uncharity, and presumption on my part if and when the two groups bumped heads on cultural or ecclesiastical topics.
Benedict XVI has (slowly) led me someplace else. What I see now is one family of faithful Catholics, and yet in the 21st century that family worships using two forms of the Roman Rite, and that, yes, there can be mutual enrichment of the two, and that I must always check my own eyes for planks first. It was a sin for me to say I loved the Church but then to judge and be snarky to those who loved what the Church had done for 1,500 years. Likewise, I have sinned in the last couple years by not being patient and generous with those who like me worship in the Ordinary Form (i.e. post-Vatican II Mass) but don't prefer it the way I prefer it.
At the end of the day, this animosity in me was bizarre because I've never in the last twenty-four years not loved the Mass. How then could I be judgmental of others who loved it too, even if the form of that Mass differed from what I was used to and attached to? And this ultimately is the foundation piece for this expansion in my sacramental horizons: Why would I not want to be able to offer Mass for/with any Roman Catholic? Or even an Eastern Rite Catholic perhaps someday? I know there are people in rural eastern Nebraska who prefer this form; how can I dismiss a Mass as "other" to me? To twist the words of the poet Terence about the human race a bit: I am a Catholic, I consider nothing Catholic foreign to me.
Even this insight though doesn't explain how we come to May 28, 2020. I say before God that when we started ad orientem in October 2017 I never expected to celebrate the Extraordinary Form here or anywhere. We did it to see if it would make our Ordinary Form (OF) worship more prayerful. Same thing when I asked for a second year of ad orientem worship while we designed, bought, and installed murals and the high altar. (If I had known I would be looking down during the Our Father on a regular basis, as the priest does in the EF, I might have pushed less hard for the gorgeous God the Father mural.) And the request for an altar rail came, notably, from a very wide spectrum of parishioners, and talk on that had begun even before I got here. All of those alterations I saw as being marvelous additions in the Ordinary Form.
What changed things was COVID-19. Everyone it seemed was picking up a new skill: baking, woodworking, learning a new language. I already had decent Latin skills and I teach classical languages at the Catholic high school, so I called a friend and said "I want to learn the EF over this quarantine period." The possibility of actually saying a public Mass came from two sources: Firstly, several families from Saunders and Butler Counties already pass through Wahoo on their ways to EF parishes in Lincoln and Omaha, and they are skilled in music and craftsmanship. Secondly, severally parishioners said that over the COVID lockdown they had sometimes watched streaming Latin Masses to mix things up on Sundays. And Trinity Sunday looked great for a novice like me because it has very short readings and also it is after our First Communion (9 Masses that weekend) and yet it wasn't Corpus Christi, which is a harder Mass.
Finally, I agonized over whether or not to make it public and advertised. A fear sat in me, and still does, that people in the parish will assume that I am unilaterally "taking us back to 1950", and then not trust me about my motives in all of this and not trust me when it comes time to discuss final decisions about the plan of the sanctuary re: the main altar.
But in the end, I have to trust that people would rather have transparency with this, and even have an invitation to it. I have to trust that people would rather take the time to read this blog article rather than nurse doubts or hard feelings out of (reasonable) surprise. And finally I have to trust that I don't know everything, and that some folks might discover they like it and actually want it regularly. And if I can't trust God and his people after fifteen wonderful years of priesthood, then I have a bigger problem than merely what people think of me.
On a practical note: the Trinity Sunday High Mass will be at 2pm on June 7th at St. Wenceslaus Church in Wahoo, NE. You are welcome to come, whether a regular or a first-timer. If you are used to the Ordinary Form like I was, you should know that it is beautiful, but different. Sometimes people get caught up in "I don't understand what's going on right now" or want a Mass guide in their hand. May I suggest that for your first time(s) at an Extraordinary Form Mass, you don't worry about a book or precisely following along. Just soak in what is there; don't let yourself miss the forest for the trees. This is especially true of a High Mass.
Friday, May 22, 2020
We are good at recognizing that the Eucharistic liturgy is the Last Supper re-presented. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that it is also the Sacrifice of the Cross and the power of the Resurrection too. But we generally are not very aware that the Mass is also the Ascension, even though the Mass is the Paschal Mystery, and the Ascension is definitely the completion of Jesus' Paschal Mystery. But it's not just the "going up" aspect. It is in fact all that Jesus does upon returning to the Father: reigning over creation at His right hand, offering his sacrifice perpetually to the Father, pleading and interceding for us forever. This Ascension Thursday homily tries both give a snapshot of what Jesus does in the heavenly temple as well as how Mass copies the shape of Jesus' vocation, but then actually brings to us the reality of his crucified and resurrected person. Also, the music at this Mass showed the progression of those ideas too: Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise and Ascendit Deus, then Before the Throne of God Above, and then Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending —ascending, pleading, reigning but returning someday.