True Confessions: My First Time

True Confessions: My First Time

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What's it like to experience a Latin Mass for the very first time? Is it confusing? Enlightening? Exhilarating? In this third in a series of six articles, Catholics from Manila to Montreal — with quite a few Americans in between — tell the story of their first encounter with the Mass of Ages.

Ken in the Philippines: During my first experience, I felt like the whole church became heaven for me. The chants were heavenly. The choir's voices were angelic.

Neil in Washington: I attended my first Traditional Latin Mass on June 9, 2013 at St. Ann Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC. I wish I could say that it was a soaring, uplifting, transcendent spiritual experience, but in all honesty I found it baffling. Despite the fact I had brought along my own missal and thought I knew what to expect, I had no idea what was going on. When I shared this reaction with my fellow Mass-goers afterwards, they explained that, yes, the Traditional Latin Mass can be bewildering at first and takes some time to get used to.

During my first experience, I felt like the whole church became heaven for me. The chants were  heavenly. The choir's voices were angelic.

I was most unprepared for all the silences when the priest and servers say the prayers of the Mass silently or in a low, inaudible voice. Having grown up on the post-conciliar liturgy, I was used to the priest speaking or chanting almost everything aloud and the people responding when required. My fellow Mass-goers, however, urged me not to give up, not to become discouraged, and to keep coming to the TLM. I took their advice, and even though I’m still frequently confused, with each traditional liturgy I attend, the structure and rhythms of this form of the Roman Rite become a little clearer and a little more familiar to me.

I found it baffling. Despite the fact I had brought along my own missal and thought I knew what to expect, I had no idea what was going on.

Rosa in New Jersey: The music included hymns and chant, moving, beautiful, and profoundly holy. I'd had years of classical Latin in school;  however, my ear wasn't quite tuned to the pronunciation of church Latin. It took a few Sundays for my ears to adjust. Yes, indeed there was incense–but I was accustomed to incense as an Anglican, so it seemed perfectly natural. The other congregants were welcoming and kindly. 

Rebecca in Montreal: My first experience of the TLM was at an SSPX parish in Montreal. I was in awe of everything! The vestments, the parishioners, the veils, the incense, the chanting… EVERYTHING! I was also shocked by how close the community is during coffee after Mass. The fact that everyone waited till they were out of the chapel to greet each other was beautiful. “Reverence” would be the word to describe it. Children had more reverence than I found in most adults at the usual Novus Ordo Masses I attended… and I’ve attended many.  

I was in awe of everything! The vestments, the parishioners, the veils, the incense, the chanting… EVERYTHING! I was also shocked by how close the community is during coffee after Mass.

 Steve in Washington: I first went to the TLM at Mary, Mother of God Church in Washington, DC, to low masses.  Initially, I didn't care for it all that much as a matter of personal preference.

Once a month there was a high, sung Mass:  I loved that immediately–and still do!  But it took quite some time for me to subjectively fall in love with the low Mass. I felt uncomfortable because I didn't really understand what was going on, I have never been good at foreign languages, and I couldn't understand why you could not hear what the priest was saying much of the time.  

I felt uncomfortable because I didn't really understand what was going on, I have never been good at foreign languages, and I couldn't understand why you could not hear what the priest was saying much of the time. 

These indult masses were rare, authorized begrudgingly, and often in dangerous neighborhoods and/or at inconvenient times.  During that period, Fr. James McLucas said that traditional Catholics exhibited the clinical signs of children of abusive mothers–because we were. Holy Mother Church had been abusive.  We found it difficult to make friends or even acquaintances.  Part of the problem was that we were drawn together from the four winds; we were not a parish. If you found friends, they were likely to live a good 50 miles away from you…and so there seemed to be a reluctance to find friends in the first place.  

Still, the few acquaintances that we did make light up like a Christmas tree when we see them–even if it has not been for 5 years!

David in Virginia: It was about 1987 or 1988. I was in Cleveland visiting my then-in-laws, and went alone to an old church downtown. I remember watching all that took place on the altar, and the silence of the few who were in attendance, and I wondered what would happen if everybody in the pews simply got up and walked away. Would everyone in the sanctuary just keep right on going? At the time, I thought of that as a bad thing.

I wondered what would happen if everybody in the pews simply got up and walked away. Would everyone in the sanctuary just keep right on going? At the time, I thought of that as a bad thing.

Rosa in New Jersey: My first Mass was at St. Joseph's in Richmond, Virginia. Although I was a bit confused by the silent parts of the Mass, I also had a profound sense of homecoming. The people sitting near me helped me find my place in the hand missal, when I appeared to be lost. 

Although I was a bit confused by the silent parts of the Mass, I also had a profound sense of homecoming.

Rebecca in Montreal: I admit I was slightly uncomfortable at first because I was new there, using the veil for the first time ever, in a Mass that I did not understand. This unease was quickly drowned out by the wonder I felt though. The music was for once unmistakably divine and serving the purpose of opening one’s heart towards something greater, something out of this world.

The people were absorbed in the Mass, though one lady questioned who I was because I was taking pictures all the time. After I clarified that I was just a new attendee, everything was smooth. As for the Latin, one of the parishioners offered me a Missal, and this made it quite easy to follow what was happening. The Maronites use Syriac (dialect of Aramean), and the Melkites use Greek mostly, so foreign languages are something common for me during Mass. I think it preserves a sense of the Mystery and Sacrifice that are present.

The music was for once unmistakably divine. It opened one’s heart towards something greater, something out of this world.

Linda in Wisconsin: In 2007, when Bishop Perry of Chicago came to his native Milwaukee to say the Mass at St. Stanislaus Oratory, a few miles from my home. I had heard this announced on Relevant Radio. So I went. Still didn't know everything going on, but..but..it was familiar to me. I felt that, and so I wanted to learn about it. And the beauty of the vestments. The incense. The silence. It was all so mysterious. Yet, so familiar to me. 

And the beauty of the vestments. The incense. The silence. It was all so mysterious. Yet, so familiar to me.

Larenne in New Jersey: We arrived late to high Mass nine years ago this month. The modesty of dress, the chapel veils, the sacred polyphony, the incense, bells, the unbelievable reverence and Fr. Robert C. Paseley’s homily were beyond compare. The most profound moment was the Sanctus…those bells were rung, and everyone hit the kneelers.

I could follow just a tiny bit, thanks to my musical training. I found the Sanctus and knew what was happening…it was like everything was beginning to make sense. I started crying and looked at my boyfriend and he was crying, too. We knew we were home!

I found the Sanctus and knew what was happening…it was like everything was beginning to make sense. I started crying and looked at my boyfriend and he was crying, too. We knew we were home.

PHOTO CREDIT: PHIL ROUSSIN

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