Adventures of a Latin Mass Divorcee

Adventures of a Latin Mass Divorcee

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AUTHOR: DONNA SUE BERRY

What does a Catholic woman do when she is divorced after a 30-year marriage?

If there’s one word to describe the absolute feeling of being discarded after my 30-year marriage, it would be ‘alone.’

Suddenly I was living a life I didn’t recognize. I lived in a deafening, isolating silence.

I lost my self-esteem. I lost my self-confidence. Not safe. Not secure. My friends and family couldn’t deal with this new, broken me. (To be fair, I didn’t know what to do with myself.)

 Like many trauma victims, I often wondered if there would ever come a day where I would just feel normal again.

Like many trauma victims, I often wondered if there would ever come a day where I would just feel normal again.

Belly Dancing to a ‘New’ Normal

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I was determined to find ‘a new normal.’ At age 48, I tried everything to ‘recreate’ myself. I bought 1960s and ‘70s CDs by the boatload. The music took me back to more innocent times, when I was happy. I even went through a stint of listening to reggae music – dressing the part for a reggae festival. (That photo was burned. ‘Nuff said.)

I enrolled in University, stepping onto an academic campus for the first time in my life. I was scared to death, but that didn’t hinder my quest to ‘recreate’ myself. First, there was the belly dancing class where I threw out my hip –followed by the cooking class, the bowling class, and the gym I joined.  I cut my hair; I let it grow. I gained weight; I lost weight.

It became my ritual at night to sit on the shower floor, weeping disconsolately, Michael Bolton turned all the way up masking my sobs.  My tears of sadness and anger flowed along with the water down into the drain.

First, there was the belly dancing class where I threw out my hip –followed by the cooking class, the bowling class, and the gym I joined.

In Exile from the Latin Mass

I stopped going to my parish, because it was too painful. For years, I had enjoyed the Latin Mass, and now I had lost that too.  I assumed that everyone judged me — and I didn’t feel holy enough to be sitting among them.  

My Catholic upbringing kept me going to Mass, however, and I began to wander from one Catholic parish to another in our big metropolitan area.  I assumed that I could slip into a pew unnoticed and concentrate on Christ — basically just spiritually throw myself into His arms.

But that was not to be. To my utter shock, each church performed the basics of a Novus Ordo Mass – but with so much more. Regardless of their slant on the Mass, one thing was constant: the noise level was off the scales. With a full church of people clamoring and hollering across the aisles, the few people kneeling with their heads bowed to pray seemed lost in a sea of heedlessness. How they could concentrate was beyond me. 

Every church seemed patterned on the big Protestant churches advertised on TV.   The priest would process to the rhythm of drums and the voices of a huge swaying choir up front. When the music ended, he would call out a hearty ‘good morning!’ to the congregation and they would call back in kind.

At many churches, they asked newcomers to stand up and introduce themselves.

I cowered. I did not want to meet anyone.

Regardless of their slant on the Mass, one thing was constant: the noise level was off the scales. With a full church of people clamoring and hollering across the aisles, the few people kneeling with their heads bowed to pray seemed lost in a sea of heedlessness.

Craving Jesus

I wanted Jesus. I wanted the silence and privacy of walking into His church and knowing that He was there on the altar.  I needed the intimacy of my heart beating against Christ’s heart.  I wanted to feel the breath of God in the silence of the pew.

It seemed that any direction I turned I ran into the proverbial brick wall – plus a loud speaker. For months, I used noise to keep my pain at bay.  I never let the silence in my divorcee apartment settle in, always reaching reflexively for more feel-good songs.

For a while, the loud music helped. I never wanted the songs to stop, because I knew that when they did, I would have to face my pain — in that awful silence.

I wanted the silence and privacy of walking into His church and knowing that He was there on the altar. I wanted to feel the breath of God in the silence of the pew.

What Happened When the Song Ended

But the songs finally came to an end, and they left me empty.

Suddenly, I craved quiet and solitude. I wanted to go back to the Latin Mass.  It would be hard to face my family and friends, but at least it would be quiet during Mass.  I always wore a veil, and my plan was to keep it pulled down so I didn’t have to look into anyone’s eyes.

Timidly, I swung open the big wooden doors to my Catholic parish. I could hear the swell of the music, and the scent of incense from an earlier Mass wafted by me. 

To my surprise, I felt ‘normal.’ I did not feel alone. I realized that all those familiar faces were not looking at me. Instead, their eyes were fixed on the Tabernacle.

During the Sanctus, my heart almost burst as I realized I had never really been alone, because the heavenly court of Angels, the Church Triumphant, and the Church Suffering were only ever just a prayer away.

Then a flood of my tears came during the silence of the Consecration. Kneeling there in adoration, I looked up at the Host, closed my eyes, and felt the breath of God.

I did not feel alone. This happened when I realized that all those familiar faces were not looking at me. Instead, their eyes were fixed on the Tabernacle.

Editor's Note: Seven years after her traumatic divorce, Donna Sue met Joel Doc Berry, a retired rancher and a Catholic widower. On October 2, 2010, they were wed in a Latin Nuptial Mass at the FSSP church of St Damien, Edmonds, Oklahoma. You can read their story here.

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