Dicas Latinae? Pars secunda (Do you speak Latin? Second part)

Dicas Latinae? (Do you speak Latin?) Fortasse (Maybe).

In the previous post, I described (at somewhat greater length than I anticipated) how I became interested in and curious about what is variously called the Tridentine Rite, the Traditional Latin Mass, or the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Now I’d like  to tell you a little bit about my first impressions about my first ever participation in this form of the Mass last Sunday at a local parish. This was an authorized celebration of the Latin form of the Mass promulgated in the 1962 Missal and in accordance with Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum pontificum. This was not another form of the Latin Mass offered by the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) or other schismatic groups.

I was almost an hour early for this liturgy because I had to use the city of Charlotte’s Special Transportation Service (STS) to get there and had to be ready on their schedule. Another Mass in the Ordinary Form (English) was still going on, so while I waited for this Mass to end, I chatted with some other people who were already starting to gather outside. When the first Mass ended, I also spoke with some of the people attending it. To a person, they all spoke very highly of the church’s pastor and complimented him and the church’s staff for their efforts to celebrate truly beautiful and reverent liturgies. I spoke with the priest himself who assured me that “We try to do things a little differently here.” Then we went inside.

I was immediately struck by the physical appearance of the church where this Mass was being celebrated. I don’t know anything about architecture, but if I had to take a stab at describing the architectural style, I would call it neoclassical, rather than modernist; if by “neoclassical” one means balanced and well-proportioned and and by “modernist” one means ugly and full of bizarre shapes and strange angles, as with some newer Catholic churches I have visited. I would describe the interior as very traditional and very much what one might expect the interior of an older Catholic church to look like: a choir loft and a large marble baptismal font in the rear, pews of dark wood, large stained glass windows, large statues of the saints and Stations of the Cross prominently displayed on the walls, crucifix of dark wood, and a large, ornate, centrally positioned Tabernacle, prominently on display. This is in marked contrast to some more recently built churches I have visited where it seemed one needed a microscope to find the Stations of the Cross and a compass and a guide dog to find the Tabernacle. At this tradition-friendly parish there was also a large, old-fashioned elaborately carved wooden ambo that the celebrant had to reach by climbing up steps. I had only seen ambos like these in photographs of older European churches and cathedrals. (I wasn’t trying to be flippant, but in my head I immediately dubbed this the “Ambo What Am.”) If I had to choose a parish solely on the basis of aesthetics or appearance, I would choose this parish in a heartbeat.

Another thing that struck me was the pervasive (and I must say refreshing) atmosphere of quiet. Outside, on the grounds of the church and in the vestibule parishioners were talking with their friends as one might before or after any Mass, but once one went inside the sanctuary there was  an air of quiet, contemplation, and anticipation. Something special was about to happen. People talked in whispers, if at all. Mass-goers trickled in by twos and threes, until, I would guess, the church was about half full. Critics of the Latin Mass frequently like to portray its supporters and defenders as cranks, malcontents, and old fogeys who are hopelessly nostalgic for the nonexistent “good ol’ days;” but from what I could see at this Mass, there was a wide range of ages in attendance, from families with young children to retirees and the elderly. Women are still strongly encouraged (but not required) to wear a head covering during the celebration of this form of the Mass, and there are few things cuter in this world than the sight of a girl under six wearing a chapel veil.

Mass began with the ringing of a bell, the chanting of an entrance antiphon, and a procession up the center aisle, much like in the Ordinary Form. So far so good. I knew the entire liturgy, except for the homily, and perhaps the readings, would be in Latin (Duh!) I knew the priest would stand ad orientam (literally, “to the East,” facing the direction from which the sun rises, and symbolically the direction from which the Son of God rose on Easter morning. I knew the servers would answer on behalf of the congregation. What I perhaps knew but did not fully realize, was that I would not be able to hear what the priest and servers said. I suppose that without thinking about it, I had come expecting that the priest and servers would chant the prayers and responses in a voice loud enough to be audible, and I could follow along in my paperback missal which has the Latin text on the left hand page and the English on the right. This was not the case. Most of the prayers and responses were inaudible to me, and I presume to the rest of the congregation, except perhaps the people sitting right up front. This made it extremely difficult for me to follow the prayers of the Mass, and I eventually gave up trying and simply let myself experience it.

The only times I could really hear something were when the priest would turn to the congregation and chant Oremus (let us pray) followed by a prayer; Dominus vobiscum (the Lord be with you); or  Ite missa est (the Mass is ended). In the latter two cases, I did know that the proper responses were et cum spiritu tuo (and with your spirit) and Deo gratias (Thanks be to God) respectively. Chants and hymns, delivered by a very fine schola cantorum, floated out of the choir loft at the appropriate points in the liturgy, seemingly as if by magic (or perhaps I should say as if delivered by invisible angels). I suddenly realized the advantages of this arrangement over the usual practice in newer churches of having musicians and choir members at the front of the church. With a choir loft at the back, Mass-goers can hear and appreciate the music of the liturgy without being distracted by seeing musicians and choir members bustling about with instruments and hymnals and whatnot.

The Mass itself was followed by more prayers and the singing of the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen), which happens to be one of the few Latin hymns I know. I joined in and later received a couple of compliments on my voice, which was flattering. Still trying to process this brand new experience, I introduced myself and shared my first impressions with my fellow Mass-goers. I quickly noticed that many defenders of the Latin Mass are passionate and almost fanatical about their favorite subject. One very earnest, well-meaning gentleman was prepared to tell me at great length and in great detail why the Mass in Latin was better than the Mass in English. When he began to mutter darkly about how “they” didn’t want the Church to celebrate the Mass in Latin, I gently cut him off, fearing I was in for a paranoid rant.

Which brings me to the dark side of the Traditionalist movement. I’ve noticed when visiting Traditionalist websites and reading the comments of self-identified Traditionalists on Catholic blogs I read, that there are very unhealthy, uncharitable, and un-Christian strains of pride, arrogance, and paranoia running through much Traditionalist rhetoric. It is one thing to say that you wish to preserve and perpetuate the older traditions, devotions and forms of worship in the Catholic Church because they are ancient, venerable, beautiful, meaningful and great aids to holiness. There you have my sympathy. It is one thing to acknowledge and point out that since the reforms of the liturgy in the 1960s and ’70s, on occasion there have been gross liturgical abuses committed in the name of “the spirit of Vatican II,” or some other such foolishness. There you also have my sympathy.

It is quite another thing to let that zeal for the ancient traditions of the Church harden or transform into pride and arrogance and come to believe that YOU and and YOUR PARTICULAR GROUP of Catholics are the only REAL Catholics because YOU and YOUR GROUP are the only ones who celebrate Mass “the right way” (i. e. your group’s way, as opposed to the way defined by the Universal Church—either the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form set forth in the 1962 Missal). It is another thing entirely to heap scorn and contempt on your fellow Catholics who might not share your zeal and affection for the Traditional Latin Mass, and to insinuate or claim outright that  they are not really Catholics because of it.

Finally, it is completely unacceptable to claim that any Pope who promulgates or accepts the reformed, vernacular liturgy is somehow not the real Pope, as the “sedevacantists” do. Either the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ and built upon the Rock of Peter, or it is not. Either the man chosen by the College of Cardinals is the legitimate successor of Peter or he is not. If the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, and the Pope is the successor of Peter, than it is the radical Traditionalist and sedevacantist who has strayed from the truth, not vice versa. If the Catholic Church is not the church founded by Christ and built upon Peter and his successors, I submit that the radical traditionalists, who claim to love the Church so much, are calling Jesus Christ, the founder and head of the Church, a liar.

So much for my own rant. Will I go back? I don’t know. Everyone I talked to acknowledged that the Extraordinary Form takes some getting used to, and may take a while to learn to appreciate. They urged me to keep coming back and keep giving it a try. When I pointed out that most of the prayers are inaudible, one gentleman tried to persuade me that this is actually an advantage. One can either follow along in the missal or pray silently on one’s own knowing that the sacrifice of Christ is being re-presented, he said.

We’ll see. I want real truth. I want real beauty. I want real transcendence. I believe these things can be found in the Catholic Church, and I believe they can be found in the Mass. It just might take some work to find them.

Dicas Latinae? Prima pars. (Do you speak Latin? First part)

Dicas Latinae? (Do you speak Latin?) Fortasse. (Maybe).

Yesterday, I attended my first ever Mass in the Extraordinary Form (aka Traditional Latin Mass, Tridentine Mass) at a parish here in Charlotte and lived to tell the tale. It was new. It was . . . different.

First, a few words of explanation.  I was born in 1963, smack dab in the middle of the Second Vatican Council, and by the time I was coming along, the reforms of the liturgy had been completely implemented and the Mass was entirely in English with the priest facing the people (versus populo, I believe it’s called) and the liturgy structured as a dialogue between the priest and the people. I knew, of course, that there was an older Latin form of the Mass, but I didn’t really know much about it. When I began blogging on Catholic topics in 2005, I quickly noticed that there seemed to be no faster or better way to start a virtual fistfight among Catholics on the internet than to venture an opinion, pro or con (See there, I used Latin!), on the Latin Mass.

Advocates said it was beautiful, mystical, ancient, and holy, and the de facto (See there, I used Latin again) suppression of the Latin Mass in favor of Mass in the vernacular after Vatican II was one of the worst things to ever happen to the Church. The virtual disappearance of the Latin Mass after Vatican II was alleged to be the root cause of plummeting Mass attendance and nosediving priestly vocations. (I always thought this was an example of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, but no matter). Why on earth did the Church decide to change? Some advocates for the traditional Latin Mass claim that Dark Sinister Liberal Forces [TM] both inside and outside the Church, ranging from closet Protestants to Freemasons and neopagans deliberately suppressed the older form of the Mass and implemented their version of the liturgy for the purpose of destroying the Church. Some of these same advocates denounce even the motu proprio of Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum pontificum, authorizing a wider use of the Latin Mass in the 1962 Missal, as a mere piece of camouflage designed to draw gullible traditionalists into a carefully concealed and orchestrated modernist agenda.They claim that the Mass promulgated in the 1962 Missal is a “bastardized” form of the authentic Traditional Latin Mass.

Critics of the Latin Mass, on the other hand, usually argue that this form of the Mass is incomprehensible, in a language most people cannot understand or even hear, because the priest says most of the prayers with his back to the congregation and in a low, even inaudible voice. The people cannot see what takes place on the altar. Furthermore, critics claim, this Mass is elitist and exclusive because the altar boys (girls and women are not permitted to serve on the altar in the Extraordinary Form) answer on behalf of the congregation. The people are not permitted to speak for themselves except at certain times and are reduced to passive spectators.

For most of my life as a Catholic I would have put myself squarely in the modernist and contemporary camp. I took courses in church history in college and loved the sound of Latin words and phrases, but I couldn’t imagine not being able to hear, understand, and verbally pray the prayers of the Mass. I couldn’t imagine not being able to see what took place on the altar. I loved the music of the St. Louis Jesuits and the “folk Mass” movement of the 1960s and ’70s.  I had a moment of revelation, however, when I first heard——really heard——sacred polyphonic music, first on a public radio classical music show, and then via Limewire and iTunes. I can recall stopping what I was doing just to listen, absolutely transfixed by the beauty of the blended voices. When I realized this was music for the liturgy, I was astounded. Why had I not heard this before? Why had every Catholic not heard this before? I wanted to hear more. After listening to the music of Tallis, Byrd, Palestrina, and Victoria, I concluded that the “folk” music I had loved so much when I was younger now seemed insufferably shallow and cheesy by comparison. More recent compositions, that sounded as if they belonged at a Celine Dion concert, and “praise and worship” style songs played on keyboards, electric guitars and (shudder) drums were even worse. When I realized that all this glorious music I had come to love was composed for the older form of the Mass, I concluded this older form, so often derided, disparaged, and dismissed, must have something going for it.

I began to study and try to learn more. I learned that the Second Vatican Council did not forbid the Latin Mass. Rather, it permitted the Mass in the vernacular. I learned that in the older form of the Mass, the priest does not stand “with his back to the congregation.”  He stands facing the same direction as the people. Since the priest offers the Mass before God on behalf of the people, it makes perfect sense that he would face the same direction they do. I ordered a paperback Latin-English missal and a copy of Let’s Read Latin, a short introductory course in ecclesiastical Latin created by the late Ralph McInerny, author of the Father Dowling novels. I set out trying to learn Church Latin, but it’s tougher than it looks, and I couldn’t keep up my enthusiasm when I knew that there wasn’t a a parish near me that offered the Latin Mass . . .

Until I came to Charlotte, that is. Facebook friend Katrina Fernandez, author of The Crescat blog, recommended I try her parish, which is very tradition-friendly. When I saw that the parish regularly offered Mass in the Extraordinary Form, I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about. In my next post, I’ll tell you what I found.

Greetings from Charlotte!

Greetings from the new worldwide, international headquarters of “It’s All Straw,” beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina!

You may remember from my last post, gentle reader (if I have any readers left), that I was just days away from moving to the Queen City. The great day did indeed arrive, and the move went off largely without a hitch. With the help of brothers, a sister, a sister-in-law, and a horse trailer, I moved into my new new abode, which is positively palatial compared to my old digs. I sat in the living room in astonishment, just watching everyone else bustle in and out with boxes, bags, furniture, and whatnot, and murmuring, “Oh. My. God.” every few minutes. It seemed too wonderful to be real. The condominium complex where I live is beautifully maintained, and my new neighbors have been kind and welcoming. There are still days I find myself thinking, “Wow! I get to live here!”

 The rooms are open and airy with large windows to let in plenty of sunlight, which is a real mood booster. I have a sun room, and my sister says she has a case of sun room envy. For the first time in my life, I have a garage! (I don’t have a car, but I have a garage). There is some discussion among my brothers as to the possibility of turning this space into some sort of man cave. Stay tuned for further developments.

Navigating the health care and social service bureaucracy took longer than I would have liked, but I now have an attendant/aide to help me for a few hours every weekday with what I call the three H’s: Health, Hygiene, and Housekeeping. I don’t need as much help as some other people with disabilities I know, but having a helping hand with certain tasks just makes life a whole lot easier. I have a city bus pass and a transit ID, and I’m learning how to use the city’s public transit system to get where I want and need to go. Now it’s time to develop a daily routine. Little by little I’m beginning to feel at home.

I’ve visited a couple of different parishes in the greater Charlotte area, looking for a spiritual home. For the first time in my life I have a real choice of parishes to attend. When I made contact with one parish to ask about transportation to Mass, I got a call back from the president of the parish’s praesidium of the Legion of Mary. I was very active in the Legion in my old parish in South Carolina, so a chance to chat with a fellow Legionary was a little taste of home. Next week, I think I’d like to visit the local parish that celebrates Mass in the Extraordinary Form (aka the Tridentine Rite or the Traditional Latin Mass). Although I’ve come to love sacred polyphony and appreciate Gregorian Chant, I’ve never actually attended a Traditional Latin Mass and would really like to have the experience. The older I get, the friendlier I am becoming to tradition.

Even as I’m sitting here thinking about exploring and recovering the Catholic Church’s past, I’m excited about the future. Every day feels like a bit of an adventure with new possibilities. As I told a friend recently, I feel a bit like the country mouse from Aesop’s fables, suddenly whisked away from a pokey, pedestrian small town to the big, bustling city with all its delights (and frustrations). Unlike the mouse in the fable, however, I don’t think I’ll be headed back to the country any time soon. The city is beginning to feel like just the right place for me.


After the home invasion I described in the previous post, my family and I were very concerned about my physical safety. I didn’t really want to stay in a place where my life could be at risk, and my family certainly didn’t want me to be here. What to do?

My brother Allen, God Bless Him, boldly stepped up with a solution. He took out a loan to buy a condo unit in Charlotte, NC that has already been modified to accommodate a person with a disability. His offer to buy the property was immediately accepted, and the pre-move planning and preparations have gone remarkably well and smoothly, to me a sure sign of God’s providence at work. Now only a few days remain before The Big Move. My old apartment is littered with bags, boxes, and whatnot. I don’t know how we will get it all into the truck and trailer we’ll be using, but I guess we’ll figure something out. I suspect it will look something like this:

I’m excited, nervous, and a little sad to be leaving the people and the community that I’ve lived in for nearly a dozen years, but it’s plainly time to go. The community where I’m living now has been dying a slow and painful death for years, and by moving to Charlotte, I’ll be closer to family and a new resident of one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country with better housing, better medical care, better transportation, better cultural opportunities, and overall better quality of life. Change and striking out into the unknown can be scary, but I’m choosing to look upon this experience as an adventure. As Bilbo Baggins says in The Lord of the Rings, “I’m quite ready for another adventure.” See you on the other side!


“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle”

Invasions, relocations, and resignations, oh my! I go away from this blog for maybe a month . . . okay, more like six weeks or so, and what happens? I become the victim of a violent crime, I decide to move, and the pope resigns. Wow! I’m reasonably sure the first two events had nothing to do with the third.

OK, so maybe that was a trifle flippant for an opening, but a lot has been going on around here, and not all of it good. I didn’t know how to begin.

On the evening of January 12, I became a victim of a violent crime—a home invasion to be precise. A little before 8 pm, I heard a loud and insistent knocking at the door. Despite my protestations that I was coming to answer it, the knocking continued. I opened the door without thinking, and there before me stood a young African-American man I had never seen before. He was dressed all in black and wearing a Balaclava style cap that has a hole for the face and a mask that can be pulled up to shield the face against the cold. He made a pretense of asking if this was “Billy’s” apartment, and when I told him repeatedly that it wasn’t, and when I told him I lived here, he pulled a gun and forced his way in. He asked me repeatedly for cash, drugs, and jewelry, and I told him repeatedly that I didn’t have any of those things in the house. I told him that he was welcome to whatever else he wanted—computer, stereo, TV, wallet, etc.

He took my cell phone and my debit/ATM card and demanded the PIN number, which I gave him. He gave the card to his partner outside who took it to the wrong bank. The second guy came back a few minutes later without any money. The first guy then gagged me with socks and tied me up with cords and duct tape I had in the house and then drove me into the bathroom in my electric wheelchair. He said his buddy was waiting in the living room, and if I made any move to escape or call for help, the buddy would come and shoot me. The first guy said he would go “to the store” and try to use my card. If I gave him a false PIN number, he said he would kill me. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, but I didn’t hear anything from the living room, so I gambled that either there was no second guy in the living room, or if there was, he would come and shoot me and my life would be over. I told Jesus and Mary that I was very sorry for any bad thing I had ever done, and that if my life ended that night I hoped they’d cut me some slack and let me into heaven. :) 
I wriggled until I got the gag loose and wriggled some more until I was able to reach the lifeline beeper around my neck. I hit the beeper and the alarm sounded and a few seconds later, an operator came on the line. I had to yell three times before I could make the person understand that I was being robbed. The odd thing was, I’ll swear the robber came back at this point and said something like, “How could you do me like that, man? I could only go to one bank,” and left. The operator called the cops, who arrived a few minutes later, asked me many questions, and tried to gather fingerprint and DNA evidence. I spent the night with friends of mine who are gun owners and know how to use them. I did not want to be alone. The next day I called my bank and reported the card stolen.
Since then, my brother Allen, who is a compliance officer at a credit union and knowledgeable about bank fraud, has visited me. He and I went online and found the addresses of the ATMs where the thief or thieves stopped and tried to get cash. They stopped at ATMs in local convenience stores between Marion, where I live, and Mullins, another small community about 7 miles from here. I turned this information over to the police, who followed up on it. I’ve since been informed that the owner of one of the convenience stores was able to identify one of the suspects from security camera footage at the ATM. I’ve also been told by the police that this suspect is wanted on a previous parole violation and is now believed to be in Columbia, the state capital. I hope this means that warrants and bulletins for this man are out all over the state, and that any cop he encounters will know to pick him up. The detective investigating my case has promised to call me when an arrest is made. I’m still waiting.

This was the most terrifying experience of my life. The guy threatened to kill me several times, and for a few days afterward I had a small bump on my forehead where he tapped me with his gun to prove he was serious. For a day or two after the incident, every time the phone rang or my e-mail jingled I nearly jumped out of my skin. My front door is double locked, and I will not open it unless I know who’s on the other side.

Despite this ordeal, I believe God was very good to me during the robbery and its aftermath. People have complimented me on my courage and presence of mind, but I attribute my survival solely to the Grace of God and the intercession of our Blessed Mother. Although I’m still trying to process what happened and still thinking about the incident more than I would like, I have thus far been spared flashbacks, nightmares, or any other signs of post-traumatic stress. I have made a point  of praying for my attacker. Although there have been moments I’ve fantasized about revenge or what I might have done if I’d been an action movie hero armed with a gun myself, I don’t really hate this person. I pity him. How could one human being become so morally and spiritually warped that he would think assaulting a middle-aged white dude in a wheelchair and stealing a measly few hundred bucks and a cell phone was a good idea?

I want this man brought to justice under the law, but I also pray he will have the opportunity to realize what he has done, repent of it, and turn his life around. Otherwise, there is a good chance he will wind up dying a violent death, either at the hands of the police or some other bigger, meaner thug with a bigger and meaner gun than he has, and with even less regard for human life. If that happens, he will face a justice more severe than anything a human court can dish out.

Auld Lang Syne x3!

For those of you who’ll be ringing in the New Year at midnight tonight (Please don’t drink too much, or if you do, please don’t drink and drive), here’s the version of “Auld Lang Syne” that you’re most likely to hear tonight, as performed by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians:

I don’t know about you, but that melody and arrangement have always seemed way too sappy and schmaltzy for my taste. Did you know that there are at least two other melodies to which the song can be sung? (Both of which sound better to my ears than the previous one). The original words are in Scots dialect and were collected or composed, at least in part, by the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) for a compilation of Scottish folk music called The Scots Musical Museum. Quoth Wikipedia:

Robert Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum with the remark, “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.” Some of the lyrics were indeed “collected” rather than composed by the poet; the ballad “Old Long Syne” printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns’ later poem, and is almost certainly derived from the same “old song”.
Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old long syne.
On Old long syne my Jo,
On Old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On Old long syne.
It is a fair supposition to attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself.
There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used in Scotland and in the rest of the world.

Here is an alternate version of the song, with a different melody, performed by the Scottish folk group The Tannahill Weavers:

Here is yet another version of the song with another melody, as sung by the Scottish singer Madelaine Cave and illustrated by some lovely Scottish landscapes:

Most people sing this song without having the slightest idea what it is really about. It is in reality a conversation between old friends (or perhaps old lovers, since the expression, “My Jo,” is a term of endearment similar to “my love” or “my darling”) reflecting on how much they have been through together. Circumstances have been difficult, and they have been separated, but they survived, thanks to their shared affection, shared experiences, and shared memories. They’ll survive whatever the future may hold thanks to that same bond of affection and (being Scots) the occasional good stiff drink! Loosely translated from Scots, the chorus says, “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for old times sake.” A good thought to remember as we bid farewell to 2012 and say hello to 2013, yes?

Whichever of the three versions you prefer, I wish you, my readers and friends, the very best for the remainder of this Christmas season and for the new year 2013. To use another Scots expression, “Lang may yer lum reek,” (literally, “Long may your chimney smoke,” i.e, Long life to you!)