“Why?” asked my oldest son – an altar server at the Traditional Latin Mass (hereafter TLM) – when, upon overhearing my wife and I discuss whether we would be able to attend Mass at our TLM parish on Sunday, I explained that Pope Francis just issued a document that outlines the suppression of the TLM. I told him we must pray for the Holy Father and for our Bishop.
Our attendance of the TLM was not prompted by some conspiracy theory about Vatican II but by his interest in being an altar server. He signed himself up to serving when he attended the local Catholic school a few years ago. But he found the brief training uninformative, and it left him feeling uncertain about what to do at Mass and whether altar serving was worthwhile.
When we moved, he once again asked to be an altar server at our local parish. Once again he was discouraged by the paltry training he received. This time it was all of fifteen minutes by a disinterested teenager who couldn’t wait to get back to his video games. After the session, he told my wife that he didn’t want to serve anymore. He would focus on scouting instead.
My wife felt for him and asked me what we could do to get him better training. She thought these experiences were giving him the false impression that serving at the altar isn’t an honor and sacred responsibility. She observed that if he signed up for sports, he would be expected to practice for hours a week, exercise outside of practice, diet, and study plays. How awful, then, that serving the Creator at the altar of His Presence expects so little. No wonder why most kids prefer sports to Sunday Mass!
So, we joined a TLM community, where boys train two hours every week, are expected to earn their way into the rotation, and practice everything from balancing books on their head to the Latin responses. They begin and end each session with prayers at the altar rail. They are taught to bow at the name of Jesus. Afterwards they play tag in the parking lot while the parents chat. It’s not at all rigid. But it is serious.
While he fell in love with altar serving, we were taken by the dignity and grandeur of the Mass. It is at once exquisite and delicate, complex and elegant. Our littler children were captivated by the drama of the Liturgy and soaring choir, while my wife and I found time to slow down and rest in the silences as well as unite our prayers to those of the priest rather than just wait for our turn to say the response.
We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of catechesis, preaching, and educational opportunities. Before our daughter could receive her First Communion, she was examined for an hour by the pastor. This was after a very thorough catechesis that expected her to understand her faith and take responsibility for her spiritual life. It was not a hoop to jump through that handed out the Eucharist like a “participation trophy.”
The parish also offers Latin classes and chant camps for free to parishioners. Far from discouraging our participation, we have found that our TLM community dignifies us by expecting much more from us than did the previous parishes which we attended. It turns out that rubrical nerdery does not always entail cold rigidity. In our case, liturgical excellence is accompanied by warm pastoral concern for true devotion, deep community, and sound doctrinal understanding.
We have not experienced the divisiveness and disdain that troubles the Holy Father, though we are certainly aware of it. One recent homily warned parishioners against listening to voices like Taylor Marshall and certain news sites that promote distrust of the Magisterium. The parishioners we know seek only to be devout and deeply rooted in the riches of the Catholic Faith. They don’t dissent from Vatican II. Many still attend the New Mass on weekdays.
The common thread seems to be that parents today are concerned that their kids remain faithful Catholics through adolescence and adulthood. To that end, they desire a compelling and – dare I say – extraordinary form of the Catholic faith to present to their children, a real rival to the allurements of contemporary culture.
Keep in mind that today’s parents grew up watching their peers shipwreck in college and probably did their own bit of drifting before returning to the Ark of Salvation. They lament the way in which our culture is, as Pope Francis describes, a “throwaway” culture and seek only to safeguard their children from becoming pleasure zombies.
As a father, I know that my children have so much more to give than what this culture expects of them. I know that the world is more full of mystery than the misery of our time suggests. Yet I also know that my kids will acknowledge their dignity and behold the wonder of the world only by recognizing themselves as creatures in the image of the world’s Creator. And I know that precisely because we’re made in God’s image, ritual is the key that unlocks the mystery of ourselves and creation.
The Church herself solemnly charges me to provide for my family’s spiritual welfare. She describes parents as “the first heralds of the Gospel for their children” (Familiaris Consortio, 39). She calls me to educate my children “to fulfill God’s law” (CCC, 2222) and says I become most fully a parent when I provide my children with a profound introduction to the Eucharistic and Ecclesial Body of Christ (Familiaris Consortio, 39). Pope Francis recognizes that “raising children calls for an orderly process of handing on the faith” which allows children to witness the prayer lives of their parents (Amoris Laetitia, 287). Thus, modern magisterial documents have repeatedly called upon bishops and priests to catechize parents so they are able to fulfill well their duty to evangelize their children.
But this isn’t happening. The fact is that the typical parish too often offers little for families beyond bouncy castles and donuts. Our local parish celebrates Halloween, not All Saints. For the Year of St. Joseph, we had craft night because St. Joseph was a carpenter. And the celebration of Mass often trivializes the Sacrament by rushing through the Liturgy as if it were an embarrassment and making it mundane rather than mysterious. I can’t blame my kids, immersed as they are in a visual and technological cornucopia, for not wanting to go to a plain Mass. At least give them the smells and bells, anything to arrest their attention.
It is, of course, offensive that Pope Francis cavalierly calumniates me as a person with psychological problems, what he calls “rigidity.” I’m happy to lay on his couch, if he extends the invitation. But I’m afraid he’ll find that he’s the only “daddy issue” I have.
Yes, I am grieved as a father mindful of the Church’s commands and fiercely protective of my family’s goodness. I fear that, by restricting the pre-Vatican II Mass, Francis has deprived me of the best antidote to the world’s callousness and the greatest resource for my family’s spiritual resilience. I lament the fact that he has run roughshod over my parental duty and disregarded my effort to raise faithful Catholics in a faithless culture.
And so I issue this fatherly plea to the Holy Father: please allow those of us who, out of concern for the faith of our families, desire a parish that fights for their attention and souls. Please allow us to go to a Mass that presents a compelling alternative to the mirages of culture, where the miraculous riches of the Catholic Faith are on display and not minimized. Please combine your often acute acknowledgement of the perils of today’s society – its materialism, its utilitarianism, its individualism, its hedonism – with a promotion of the supernatural, the beautiful, the traditional, the eternal. Please see that the legacy of Vatican II is better served by calling upon your bishops and priests to fulfill their duties to catechize the laity and celebrate the New Mass in accordance with Sacrosanctum Concilium than by punishing us parents who only seek oases in the catechetical and liturgical desert.
In my time as a biological father of six children, I have often had to rescind punishments and apologize for acting rashly when I was given a better understanding of a situation. So I must humbly ask, Holy Father, that upon learning that not all traditionalists are contrarian cranks you likewise reconsider Traditionis Custodes and reinstate Summorum Pontificum.
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