My (Pater's) journey to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) was much different than Mater’s journey. By all appearances, I was born into a thoroughly German-Catholic family. My parents were lifelong Catholics. All four of my grandparents were lifelong Catholics, and all eight of my great-grandparents were lifelong Catholics. I’m actually not aware of any of my ancestors not being lifelong Catholics. My grandparents, on both sides of the family, were farmers and ranchers. They lived in small rural towns in the Midwest, which were predominantly German-Catholic and each had their own beautiful Catholic Church (and occasionally a monastery or convent) in the center of town. The towns revolved around the Church. Work ceased on holy days and all businesses were closed on Sunday. That was pre-Vatican II.
Nowadays, most of those beautiful churches with high altars are now closed, victims of the shortage of priests to run them. Regional churches with contemporary architecture took their place, designed specifically for the celebration of the New Mass and to support the population, which comprises 50% Catholics with only a handful of priests. My childhood Catholic Church, which my family attended my entire childhood, was one of these Churches. It was fairly conservative, but celebrated the Novus Ordo. It looked like an amphitheater, with seating for 2500 people. My parents weren't traditionalists, but they were devout. They started bringing me and my siblings to a weekly holy hour starting when I was eight years old, and they never missed a week for the next decade. These holy hours did a lot for my spiritual life, but it wasn't enough. Something was missing.
I received communion in the hand throughout high school and college with little thought (even though I was an altar server through high school and served many Masses in which the priest celebrated ad orientem). I didn’t think anything of it, because that’s how everyone did it and that’s how it was always done. Supposedly.
Then I went off to college, attending a private Jesuit university. The college church was not nearly as conservative as the one I grew up in. They focused on fellowship and community, not reverence and worship. Sunday Masses lasted an hour and a half and included extended singing, signs of peace, and long "announcements" following communion. My Catholic friends, some of whom attended Mass weekly freshman year, stopped going to Mass on Sunday, saying they had too much homework and couldn’t afford to spend an hour and a half at Church. I lamented the lack of reverence at Mass and grieved as my friends fell away from the Church, but I didn’t see that one caused the other. I also didn't have a clue that anything could be done to change it.
In college, a friend in my Knights of Columbus council invited me to go to a nearby TLM at a diocesan church that still had a high altar. This was my first experience with the TLM. I happily attended. I was eager to experience the timeless traditions of the Church. It was a refreshing glimpse at how Mass ought to be celebrated. However, I never made it back, since I lamentably found it easier to walk two blocks to the campus church for Sunday Mass than to drive fifteen minutes to the TLM.
When I moved from the Midwest to the South for graduate school, a region known for having a large population of Protestants but very few Catholics, my first apartment happened to be less than a mile from a diocesan parish that exclusively celebrated the TLM—perhaps a sign from God, but one I ignored. I felt more comfortable going to the Novus Ordo at the large regional parish, so that’s what I did (regrettably!). The result: I dreaded going to Mass on Sunday. Even though I knew that Jesus was present in the Eucharist, the distractions, boring and uninformative homilies, a protestantized liturgy, and lack of reverence and belief made me wish for an alternative. However, it was too easy to stick with the routine, so I would lament the state of the Church, but didn’t seek to make a change.
It took me meeting Mater to break me out of my complacency. When I learned that she veiled and attended the TLM parish, I thought, “Oh, right, Latin Mass. I guess that’s an option.” She invited me to join her for Sunday Mass, and I agreed. It was a small church, seating only 200 people, but splendidly ornate. A couple of things stood out to me that I think are worth noting:
In a single homily, I learned about an new aspect of faith, was convicted to make changes in my prayer life, and felt inspired by a renewed idea of the love of God. That stood in stark contrast to the vague homilies about being nice to others that were the staple of nearly all of the other parishes I had attended up to that point.
The traditional weapons of the saints were more emphasized here—exorcised salt, the brown scapular, the rosary, and other sacramentals—than anywhere else I had been.
The artwork drew me into prayer and meditation, a stark contrast to the bare white walls of most Novus Ordo churches that I attended. (I wonder why no one ever seemed to pay attention at Mass at those churches?)
As I followed along in the Missal, I noticed we asked for so much more (from so many more Saints!) in the TLM, leaving me with many questions: Why did we stop asking for these things in the New Mass? Why did they omit the second absolution right before Holy Communion? Why did they stop kneeling at certain pivotal points in the Mass? Seeing that things that I had grown up with and considered the norm were not only new but were steps in the wrong direction shifted my perspective... a lot.
In short, the reverence, tradition, and true worship took my breath away. I kept going to TLM every Sunday with Mater, and never went back to Communion in the hand and eventually to the Novus Ordo itself, because I realized (with Mater's "gentle" nudging) that both of those led to lack of faith, lack of reverence, and lack of belief in the Real Presence.
The results? I found that I quickly grew spiritually, mainly due to the more efficacious manner of worship which allowed me to be better disposed to receive the Eucharist and draw on His many graces. And the more I went, the more I wanted to go back. The more I realized the importance of mental prayer during Mass, and how utterly impossible it is for me to practice in the Novus Ordo. After a few months of going exclusively to the TLM on Sundays, I said to Mater one Sunday after getting home, "You know, I'm actually joyful when I get home from Mass now!" And that really sums it all up.
So why are we traditionalists (after all, our blog is called Old Soul Rad Trad)? Because Mater and I are living proof that "the law of praying is the law of believing is the law of living"—lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. Once you start habitually assisting at the Mass of all the saints, you start to develop the faith of the saints. Once you start believing as the saints believed, you start living like the saints lived. Truly, once we started learning to assist at Mass the way all the saints have done (ways that are rendered impossible in the Novus Ordo by virtue of its design), our lives were completely changed.
So, our challenge to you is to go to a TLM Mass six Sundays in a row and watch what happens—don't just take our words for it! If you already do this, challenge a friend to go. Then report back the results to us!
If you liked this piece, you might be interested in What We Learned Visiting TLM Parishes on our Roadtrip.