28 May, 2007

Back to the silence.

My wife and children left for Russia Saturday evening. They'll be back in a couple of months, in time for the boy's school year, at any rate. One of the cruel absurdities of life in this country after 9/11 is that someone in the government thought that it wasn't enough to humiliate law-abiding citizens with longer security lines and random strip searches. No, we also have to forbid fathers from accompanying their families to the departure gate. God forbid that a man should help his wife deal with nervous children! It's easier to buy a gun in this country than it is to accompany your wife to the gate. I'd gladly submit to a background check, or even ten such background checks, if I could have gone with her to the gate.

Life is emptier with my wife gone. My kids? Bah. Take 'em or leave 'em.* The ten year-old is obsessed with monster trucks and the one year-old is obsessed with ripping catalogs apart. My wife accidentally lost a catalog she hadn't read yet thanks to "the Destroyer", as we sometimes call her. But my wife—now, there is someone I can genuinely talk to, and I often have the pleasure of doing so. Life reminds me of this every now and then; what I love most about my wife is the ability to converse with her.

They left from Dulles airport, which was fortuitous, since it puts me in the DC area where I can visit old friends and conduct some business. I can also find the Mass performed according to the old, "Tridentine" missal of Pope Pius V. I'm not a "Latin Mass" snob, really! but at least such masses retain a sense of decorum and seriousness. I tire of attending masses of either the "bored, easy-listening" variety or of the "look at me! look at me! look at me!" variety.

One shouldn't have to choose between the Ennui Mass (take your pick of Glory & Praise, RitualSong, etc.) and the Concert Mass. It says something when more people are singing the chants at a Tridentine mass than at any of the rock masses I've been to. (I've been to a few lately; the Hattiesburg parishes have them.) What was that Vatican II notion again... you know, the one about the people's active participation in a liturgy? I have yet to see that at a rock mass. Shakin' your bacon does not count as "active" participation in my book, especially when it's done in a tight miniskirt or a "Big Johnson" T-shirt.

But really, I'm not a "Latin Mass" snob. In my thirteen years as a Catholic, I've only attended two—count 'em, two—services according to the missal of Pope Pius V, both of them according with the local bishop's permission. The first one I attended was so abysmally performed that I came away convinced that God must be keeping the Catholic Church together, if that's the nonsense that we had to put up with for such a long time. This second one was far better; at least it felt more like a prayer than a military drill. And yet it can't entirely be a prayer when the priest hurries carelessly some of his Latin phrases, repeating Domine, non sum dignus so quickly that it sounds more like an act of war (think of a machine gun) than an act of love.

This is why I'm not impressed by the claim that the Missal of Pius V is inherently better than the Missal of Paul VI. I've attended liturgies according to the "Novus Ordo" that were beautifully sung and reverently executed. Everyone took their time and presented something beautiful for God in such circumstances. Typically, these masses have been celebrated in monasteries; I remember most vividly St. Michael's Abbey and Bethlehem Abbey. I've written about the latter before. That said, I've also experienced such reverent, beautiful masses in non-monastic settings, but it's much rarer. As I've said, though, for the most part I prefer the missal of Pope Paul VI.

A lot of people are certain that if we reformed this or that feature of the Mass, we would revive the Church. I disagree. What we need to reform is not the Mass; we need to reform the Christians attending the Mass. Until we do that, we will continue to have uninspiring Masses, to say nothing of uninspiring Christians.

What did I like best about yesterday's Mass? Not the music. Not the server who stood behind the priest during the homily and bowed towards the tabernacle whenever the priest said the name of Jesus. Not the fact that I could kneel and receive my Beloved Christ humbly.

I liked the periods of silence best. They resonated with the emptiness in my heart. My wife is gone, and I have no one to talk to.—Of course, I have people to talk to. But with her... it's different. We talk differently. I don't know how to explain it. It's the same with God, but I haven't talked to him in a long time, too long really. At Mass yesterday, there was a space of silence, and that silence was a portal through which God could enter my heart, and I could respond with St. Agnes, Ecce, venio ad te quem amavi, quem quæsivi, quem semper optavi...

*I'm kidding, of course. I'll write something serious about my kids later.

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