Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ubi Petrus

I came back to the Catholic faith ten years ago. I was a graduate student and a working mezzo-soprano with a busy performance schedule, and I had a part-time job crunching marketing data for a pharmaceutical company. Every morning I would kneel beside my bed -- a bed that was, no doubt mercifully, too big for me for the first time in a long while, and I would weep, and would pray that God would give me a true conversion. Sometimes now, when I think back upon all the many things I've prayed for subsequently (among others, for a happy and holy marriage and family, that my unborn children would survive pregnancy, that a miracle would heal my mother of the rare neurological disease that killed her, and that I would be able to find a friend in the barren new place I now live), it strikes me that that earlier, ten-year-old prayer was by far the most important.

Not long after my reversion, I discovered the existence of a subculture almost entirely unknown to me previously, that of Traditional Latin Mass Catholics (I say almost entirely unknown, because my boyfriend at the time had told me about Mel Gibson's separatist church with a kind of stunned bemusement, and I thought, mistakenly, that Mel and his coparishioners must be some kind of bizarre outliers). I discovered the beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass, and also the painful sort of group neurosis that seems to afflict many of its adherents -- the combination of a siege mentality with a kind of gnosis demonstrated in the belief that they are the keepers of true knowledge and that the majority of Catholics are either stupid or damned, or both. I even went out with a Traditionalist who had some commendable qualities, but who turned out to be a truly scary and unbalanced man (I still thank God, when I remember it, for giving me the momentary wisdom to turn down his proposal of marriage).

I am thrilled beyond belief by the election of Pope Francis. I'm no doubt projecting my own neuroses onto him, for we know little of him as yet, but I feel as if he's a man after my own heart. I was deeply moved by his appearance on the balcony in his plain white vestments, and by the simplicity of his greeting, and that little gesture he made -- so Italian, and, so the people who know the culture of Buenos Aires say, so porteño -- when he said, in his charming Italian, "Fratelli e sorelle . . . buona sera." And by the photos of him washing the feet of the poor, the cast-off, the rejected. And by his words about poverty. And by his taking the name of St. Francis of Assisi, which seemed to me a symbol of his profound humility.

In spite of my (admittedly small) experience of Traditionalists, I have to say that I was really shocked by the apparent contempt that many are demonstrating towards our new pope. A friend of mine was unfriended on Facebook by a Trad, who was horrified by the picture my friend had posted of Cardinal Bergoglio washing the feet of impoverished mothers in a maternity home in Buenos Aires; "I'm sorry but Our Lord didn't do that" was the Trad's explanation in a comment. Seraphic demurred, offering the hedge that the papacy was really not that important before JPII.  Charming Disarray, a former sedevacantist, articulates Traddy distress at the election of this clearly holy and doctrinally-orthodox man particularly well.

This is why I never go to the Latin Mass anymore. If it were offered at a parish across the street from me, I might even go a considerable distance to find a novus ordo Mass instead. The Mass itself is beautiful and reverent. The first time I really understood the sacrificial, rather than the celebratory, ethos of the liturgy was at a Latin Mass. But the people are, often, unapologetically mean-spirited and uncharitable.

May God bless our beloved Pope Francis, and may he lead many to the truths of our holy faith.


Sally Thomas said...

I was amazed, as a convert from Anglicanism, to realize that there was *baggage* attached to something like the Latin Mass, to which I was (and still am) very much attracted. Actually, "dismayed" is more like it -- I couldn't even go to Mass without its being, apparently, some kind of declaration of loyalties. Who knew? I sure didn't.

I have to say that I admire what I take as my own pastor's wisdom (or maybe it's just providence) in handling the Latin Mass in our parish -- it's a daily Mass, twice a week, but he doesn't offer it on Sunday. Partly, I'm sure, this is because he already offers Masses in English and Spanish, two's the limit, and there's nobody else to offer a third Mass. This is a good thing, because a Sunday Latin Mass would divide the congregation into EFs and OFs, and this we do not need. Our twice-weekly EF Masses are maybe a little better attended than regular daily Masses (though not much, and not better attended than the 6 pm Mass on Wednesdays), but mostly the attendees are just the regular daily Massgoers, not EFM partisans. For that matter, I've never run across, personally, in real life, mean-spirited EFM partisans, but then I live in the South, where even mean people are nice until they shoot you.

Anyway, I am saddened by your experience. You, or I, ought not to have to feel that the EFM is something to run away from on account of the people. The Mass was never meant to be an enclave affair.

And I'm with you -- I was instantly charmed by the new Holy Father, and continue to be, the more I read about him. I loved Pope Benedict, and certainly I loved (and love) his liturgical sensibilities, but I feel certain that in ways I can't possibly foresee, Pope Francis is the man for this moment.

My daughter was there, by the way, in St. Peter's Square, when the white smoke went up. Her comment later was that the Holy Father reminded her of a particular little boy we've both had in our CCD classes: Hispanic, bespectacled, and adorable in a kind of owlish way. I said he reminded me of her last violin teacher, who was from Venezuela and much loved by her. Redheads and Venezuelans seem to have a lot in common in the temperament department, and he never minded our being late and chaotic. These associations have virtually nothing to do with the reality of the new Pope, but it is funny and lovely how he seems to have struck so many people as instantly dear.

Charming Disarray said...

What was so strange was most of the people making the complaints were not sedes. They were diocesan TLMers or SSPX or something similar. I suppose it's because they actually have some kind of stake in the papacy instead of just sitting it out, but not one of them seemed to realize how ridiculous their behavior was, and how depressing.

Seraphic said...

That's not what I said. I said that the papacy did not command all that much attention before the 19th century outside of Rome ( I should have included the papal states in that)and the corridors of power. It is the fascination with the pope's day-to-day activities that does not predate John Paul II (and the internet).

The reason why I did not get on Seraphic Singles right away to write about Pope Francis is first because I knew nothing about Francis and after reading the shrill comments of friends and media alike, decided I still knew nothing about Francis. (It's a good thing I didn't commit to print 8 years ago what people around me were saying about Benedict XVI!)

Second, it is because my blog is not dedicated to Church news and personalities.

Third, my blog has a small non-Catholic readership that are not very interested in Church news and personalities.

Fourth, I had already written about the experience of watching the papal election on another blog.

I did not say a single word in disparagement of our new Holy Father, and I tried to explain the lack of enthusiasm of the traditional set in light of their great love for Benedict XIV, a man they had known and loved for well over a decade and who is still alive.

I am very sorry that you are using my blog as an example of why you do not still attend the Extraordinary Form. My Extraordinary Form community in Scotland is in fact a very happy and welcoming place, albeit a little sad at the moment, thanks to a local scandal.

Pentimento said...

Seraphic, I apologize for misunderstanding the thrust of your comment about the papacy. I am not someone who expected you to write something right away about the new pope; I have no demands or expectations of blogs and I don't really read any blogs regularly, and perhaps that enabled my misunderstanding.

And I want to assure you that your blog is not one of the reasons I don't attend the Latin Mass, and I hope what I wrote does not seem to suggest that connection. My reason for citing your blog, among other sources, was to provide an example of Traditionalist uneasiness over the new Pope. But the unattractiveness of the Latin Mass for me personally has far more to do with my real-life experiences with Latin-Mass-goers whom I know than it does with things written on blogs by people I've never met.

Lydia Cubbedge said...

I sympathize. My husband and I were married in a solemn high EF mass (by Msgr. Charles Pope, no less, who preaches like a Baptist).I still go to EF mass every now and then in our small city(it's at a rotten time of day for small children)and the people are, by and large, lovely. Our priest is fantastic. i just don't like the EF that much anymore. It's not so much the mass (though I may prefer the OF when done up nicely).I just can't get the bitter taste out of my mind from what I think must be confined mostly to America. At least, my experience in major metropolitan areas would seem to point in that direction. For instance, the one legged priest who gamely learned the EF to serve his new parish and received poison pen letters for not genuflecting-and though it was a nutter who sent the notes, it was heartily backed up by the parish generally, to the anti-semitic literature strewn around the tables at coffee and doughnuts. I know a good many wonderful traditionlists. Unfortunately, they aren't the ones who promote the EF. I hear and see more of the nuts, and it has driven me away. It's sad, and I pray I can detach myself enough from the loonies to enjoy an EF again. I like pretty vestments and lots of incense and things like that-definitely a Benedict XVI girl, taste-wise. I just wish, in our country at least, beauty and kindness weren't at war with each other.

Roadkill Rhapsody said...

As someone now blogging about recovering from a too-intense experience of both traditionalist and conservative subcultures, I have to say I really liked '...the combination of a siege mentality with a kind of gnosis.'

I'd hoped that everyone in my community would be supportive of the new Pope. They weren't. I wish they had been.

At the same time, there were more of us speaking happily about him than there would have been twenty years ago. There's progress there; I think it's just not always visible. For whatever reason, unhappy people seem to make more noise than the happy ones!

Pentimento said...

Interesting point about beauty and kindness being at war with each other, Lydia. If beauty is not a conveyor of charity, is it false, I wonder?

And yes, the self-righteous anti-Semitism that floats through Trad circles is something I still find astonishing, since I grew up in a civil-rights family. I hadn't known such sentiment still really existed, or that people would be so proud of it -- especially these people, who one would think would know it was a sin. But I think it has to do with their total opposition to anything associated with Vatican II, including Nostra Aetate.

Pentimento said...

And the one-legged priest not genurflecting . . . sigh. A nutter may have been responsible for the hate mail, but I recall, at a well-attended EF Mass at St. Agnes in New York City, when a non-EF priest came out to help distribute Communion, how parishioners gave him a wide berth, apparently because he bowed in front of the tabernacle rather than genuflecting.

I used to be friends with a priest in my old parish in the Bronx who learned the EF after becoming pastor elsewhere (he and I had fallen out before that, over the notion of mercy and his suggestion that my multiple miscarriages were "chastisement" for my long-ago, absolved, abortion). As pastor of a large, primarily-minority-population church, he took some flack because he hired a known and published white supremacist as the parish school's principal (and defended his decision and the fellow's writings to the NY Daily News). It's probably not fair of me to conflate this particular priest's tacit support of bigotry and his misunderstanding of Christ's mercy with his love of the EF, but it's tempting.

Pentimento said...

Sally, it must have been an amazing thrill for your daughter to be there! And Roadkill Rhapsody, I'm so glad you commented, because I did not know your blog before now, and I like it.

MrsDarwin said...

If beauty is not a conveyor of charity, is it false, I wonder?

I think it becomes mere aesthetics at that point. Smells and bells are beautiful, and convey truths about God and right worship, but as 1 Cor. 13 points out, without love, they are nothing. Of course the Mass itself is never nothing, since Christ is always there, but beauty without love becomes sterile.

Pentimento said...

Very, very well put, Mrs. D. Thanks for that.

Jane said...

The more I read about other traditionalist communities, added to what little I have experienced first-hand in other places, the more grateful I am for what we have here. We have a Missa Cantata every Sunday during the winter and spring and Low Mass every Sunday during the summer, plus many feast days as well. Three of the four priests at our parish say the Mass. They are pretty representative of the priests of their religious order--different ages and temperaments, but all good priests and all kind and charitable (even the old one, who tends to be grumpy, is always kind when it really matters). We sometimes get attendees who belong to the SSPX chapel because their priest only visits once a month, but our own parishioners who attend that Mass are quite normal. Some go because they prefer the EF Mass, and others just because they find the mid-afternoon time slot convenient. They happily participate in general parish activities and don't isolate themselves from the rest of the parish community.

The general feeling about Pope Francis is wishfulness that he had the same liturgical taste as Pope Benedict XVI, but joy that he is so obviously a good man with a great love for the poor. Take heart! The noisiest Trads are often the least charitable, but they don't represent all of us.

By the way, I totally know what you mean about outrageous criticism, like that about the one-legged priest who didn't genuflect. Our pastor has more or less forbidden any of us to write online or post pictures of Masses at our parish, because someone posted a very positive article to the New Liturgical Movement about it, but one thing out of place in one photo provoked some very mean comments, and he doesn't want to deal with that again. So sorry that we have to keep the censer by the door when it's not in use, but we can't turn off the fire alarm for an hour every Sunday... As a church musician, I've learned--you do the best you can at Mass, and let go of what you can't do.

Pentimento said...

Thank you for weighing in, Jane. I'm happy that your TLM community is a loving one. It gives me hope. Are you in Alaska now?

Jane said...

Yes, we are in Anchorage.

Anonymous said...

I agree with so many of these comments because I have experienced the same mentality at the Anglican use parish here. At first we were taken with the beauty of that liturgy (after having seen silly, awful liturgical abuse in other parishes) but eventually we found what Mrs. Darwin referred to-that beauty without love is sterile.