Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Addictive Nature of the TLM

Today I listened to a discussion about going to heroic lengths to attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (aka the Traditional Latin Mass). My mind sped back to the house in eastern Belgium where I told my vacationing brother Nulli that I planned to take the bus 65 miles west to Namur on Sunday morning, so as to attend the Extraordinary Form. Nulli very sensibly suggested that the whole family should go to Namur by car, and I was supremely grateful.

The majority of Catholics who frequent the Traditional Latin Mass (aka the EF) don't go to heroic lengths to get to it because they think they have to but because they want to. It doesn't matter where we are. It's not about the social life. It's not even about linguistic curiosity: the last time I was in Krakow, possibly the most devoutly Catholic big city in Europe, I went to the TLM. Something about the Mass itself overrode even my Polish language obsession. 

I wouldn't say the Traditional Latin Mass is an acquired taste like mustard, for I don't demand mustard every Sunday. Maybe it's more like coffee. On Sundays I don't want tea: I want COFFEE. When I was a child, I liked to drink milky tea with my grandmother. Now that I am an adult, I like coffee, and the better the quality of the coffee, the better I like it. Naturally this is not a perfect analogy for Mass. I doubt there is an perfect analogy for Mass. Meanwhile, I would not take the bus 65 miles for a decent cup of coffee. I would settle for instant and dream of better days. (Better yet, I would have a cup of tea.)

How far I would go to get to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass was tested when I was at home visiting my parents. Parish life is quite important to my parents. They have gone to the same parish church for almost forty years. My mother has been active in the parish CWL almost at long. If I'm at home in time for one, I toddle along to a CWL meeting. I even gave the ladies a lecture on Summorum Pontificum, and bless me if one or two didn't tell me why Mass in the vernacular is better. At the time they had been suppressed by an [interesting] pastor who had banned them from the church hall for  (let's face it) being elderly, but were they going to put up with my traddy propaganda? No. They are staunchly loyal to the Catholic status quo, whatever the reigning archbishop says the Catholic status quo is, and God bless them for that. (God bless the archbishop, too, a good, courageous man who preaches truth to power.)

At any rate, after I had been home for a week and had attended Sunday Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Holy Family in battered Parkdale and arranged my trip to Quebec in such a way that I be back in time for Sunday Mass at Holy Family in battered Parkdale, my mother tentatively suggested that it would be nice of me if I went to Mass at the parish church. 

Dear me. Oh dearie dearie me. Yes, I could see how it would be nice of me if I went to Mass at the parish church--and yet Mass at the parish church is not that bad. 

The priest is a very good chap; I rejoiced when I heard he was assigned there, for it meant the CWL's (and everyone else's) troubles were over. 

There are lots of elderly ladies there I've known (at least to look at) since I was wee. 

The priest alone gives the homily...and would not give me a row if, instead of sticking out my hands for the Blessed Sacrament, I stuck out my tongue. 

The hymns, from the CBW III, not Glory & Praise, are (despite the pious introduction by a Canadian bishop eventually charged with possessing child porn) inoffensive. 

Five or six ladies would say, "Well, Dorothy, how's life in Scotland?  I always read your column in the Register." And I would say, "How's Elizabeth? How's Margaret? How's Eileen?" The conversations after Mass would be terribly reminiscent of Anne of Windy Poplars

But know...Traditional Latin Mass. A whole week without Sunday Mass in the Extraordinary Form. It wasn't the social life--I know only a few people at Holy Family by sight, and there's no coffee after. It wasn't the joy of song--their EF congregation sings but rarely. It was the Mass. Having seen/heard/participated in the first four traditional episodes of the Sundays in Lent, I couldn't bear to miss the fifth episode in the series. This is hard to explain.

Naturally this post could leave me open to accusations of missing the forest for the trees or mistaking the means for the end. But the four primary ends of Mass are adoration, thanksgiving, atonement and petition, all of which the EF does--slowly, seriously and with the highest standard of reverence. Beside this there is something about it that is absolutely mesmerizing ... and also addictive. Is it the deep, meditative silence that makes it so? Is it the curious, ritual movements of the priest, deacon and sub-deacon? Is it the priestliness of the sanctuary and/or the silent agreement between priests and people that their space is their space, preserved for them on our behalf, and we bless them, not blame them, for that? Is it the confidence that, from this pulpit at least, we will not hear a lot of worldly nonsense or sermons pitched to children? Whatever it is, I need it every Sunday. 

I went to Holy Family every Sunday I was away, and never went to Mass at my parent's parish church. I tried to make up for it by sorting books for my mother's book sale for the sick. It felt rotten to say "No" to my mother Latin Mass, you know. The Lord Jesus trumps even parents...and, yes, I know He's at the O.F., too, so how can I explain?

Update: Happy Saint Joseph's Day! Great Saint Joseph, petition your Foster Son that we all will be given the blessing of a good and happy death. 


  1. Do you think you would feel similarly for the Eastern rite Masses?

  2. Well, on the one hand, I don't really know, as I have attended only one Eastern Rite Mass (a Ukrainian one in English.) However, I don't think so, because I'm very much a Latin Rite, western Catholic (and arguably the west ends at the Bug River). The Extraordinary Form is the rightful inheritance of any Latin Catholic.

  3. I think Fr. Z normally compares the OF to milk and the EF to meat and potatoes.
    When I started going to the EF, I was resistant to it becoming my regular parish, particularly because I had read some rather off-putting comments about this specific community's unfriendliness. Turns out it was just a few eccentrics making it difficult - but you get those everywhere. And within about 6 weeks, I decided that this parish would be my 'home.'
    Now it's not so much 'addictive' but the new normal for me. I use to rage when I attended the OF exclusively; but after attending the EF for a few years (and calming down on that initial excitement), it just "is". I think it's even made me more tolerant of OF Mass oddities.
    And Julia, I would also reiterate what Dorothy wrote, I'm a Latin, and as much as I like their chant and some of their austerities and rituals, it's not my spiritual home.