Several years ago, at the behest of a woman who I was interested in dating, I attended the Extraordinary Form (the “traditional Latin Mass”) at her parish. She attended the local Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter parish, while I was volunteering at a Life Teen parish in the East end of town. I figured that I would visit her parish to see what it was like, and to expose myself to a different element of Catholicism (and to impress the girl, of course).
Upon arriving, I noticed it was a nice church, building wise. Some stained glass, candles, paintings. As a TV Broadcasting graduate who has done live audio mixing, I noticed that the building was pretty good for acoustics, which was a good thing as they had a choir doing some chants.
There was two problems which were readily apparent, and I knew going in that they would be an issue. The first; I didn’t understand the language. Sadly, within my family I am an outlier; many have the extraordinary gift of being able to speak and write fluently in multiple languages – whereas for myself I was able to learn English alone, and that was it. This means I have great difficulty in processing other languages, which meant trying to understand the Latin was giving me literal physical headaches , along with difficulty in following along with what was happening. The second issue was my untreated anxiety disorder, which had a host of complications on it’s own.
Despite those issues, I decided that I should still make the effort; I felt as if I was a guest, and I wanted to sincerely expose myself to this expression of the Faith. There was a missal there, which I tried following along with, but frankly it was problematic considering both the physical and mental state of my brain.
There was additional problems which presented itself. Apparently there was a dress code to be followed; I was dressed “too casual” with my jeans and shirt. I received “looks”. And a few stares. Those increased when they saw my confused face entering the church, and grew larger when I took my spot in the back right-hand corner. They continued to look and stare when I got up a couple of times before Mass, once to stretch out my stiff joints (arthritis) and the other to move around a bit due to my anxiety kicking in. These were not looks of curiosity, but on the surface it seemed like they were angry. If I didn’t know any better, the looks were judging. I was obviously an outsider, and the perception seemed to be “this guy is not welcome here”.
After Mass, I read some of the books someone placed out, which told information about the evils of the “new Mass”, how the “new Mass” was the “Protestant’s supper table”. I later found out were not authorized by anyone in the FSSP, but a rogue group of parishioners left them there, but that they were there I found troubling. I was told by some that I wasn’t welcome there due to the clothes I was wearing, due to how my hair looked. I tried to introduce myself to some people, but was ridiculed as soon as I said which parish I attended. They spoke about the “Protestant’s supper table” (I guess they must have read those pamphlets), and called me a heretic. I witnessed the priest being accosted loudly by some of the attendees during Mass – apparently despite celebrating the Extraordinary Form and being a member of the FSSP was not sufficient for those individuals.
Eventually, however, as I do at every Mass – I sought out Someone. I knew that no matter what, there would come a point in time during that Mass that Our Lord and Savior would join us. I could see my best friend in-person, in the flesh. So when the time came to kneel for the first time, I knew He would show up. When the priest held up the host, I knew that when he finished speaking that foreign language that our Lord was present, making his dwelling among us.
Basically, I stripped away what was all around me. I lost the language, I lost the art, I lost the music, I lost the missal, I lost those around me who were giving me strange glances/staring. I lost all of that. Instead, I focused on one thing; meeting my best friend. And that is the key for not just the Extraordinary Form, not just the Ordinary Form, not just the Anglican Use, not just the Dominican Rite, not just the Roman-Franciscan use, not just the Divine Liturgy. The key is to meet our Lord and Savior, To receive our best friend, to embrace Him.
I describe this stripping away things until you reach the essentials in a very simple term. And it’s a concept so simple, so easy. Yet few grasp it, few know of it. And it wasn’t until I had someone take me under their wing and I started studying and reflecting on my spirituality that I finally was able to come up with a term for this practice;
Going back to the manger.
Meeting the Child Christ at the manger, when He was at His poorest. His most vulnerable. When all He had was a blanket and a bed of hay. Yet at His most humblest and vulnerable, wise men and shepherds alike traveled to Him and paid Him homage. We could learn from that. We should learn from that.
Going back to the manger. Stripping things down until we reach that state where all what is on our mind is meeting the Child Jesus, in the arms of His Immaculate Mother. His Mother, Our Mother, after giving birth to the Son of Man. For those who have held onto their child first the first time, you understand the feeling Mary had. For those who haven’t, imagine carrying a child (or if you are a man anticipating a child) for nine months. Then, through the labor and strife, a child is born. You hold your child in your arms…..there is no other feeling.
So imagine, going back to the manger to see the Child Jesus in the arms of His Mother. Imagine being there with her, and imagine that the first person she offers her Child to is you. All because you left it behind, you stripped away everything to meet the Child Christ there, just as the magi and shepherds. Imagine holding onto the Child Christ, embracing that Child through the reception of the Eucharist. While embracing that Child with the eyes of His Mother, whom delivered Him into the world having already been delivered herself. As a result, our Immaculate Mother gets to see how we embrace her Son, and see us continue our journey to our own deliverance.
All by going back to the manger.
Despite what happened before, during, and after the Mass – I came to feel good about things that morning. It was good to expose myself to the Extraordinary Form, to see that element and expression of the Faith. I knew it wasn’t for me, but I respected it. Later that day, I went back to my usual parish. I understood what was being said, I got to participate through doing music. During that Mass, Jesus became flesh once more and visited me again. I received Him twice that day, two encounters with my best friend.
Let me say this much; I always wasn’t this way. But over time, my attitude shifted. But more importantly, my heart shifted. A lot of it stems from my study and reflection on mendicant spirituality for the years. Someone was kind enough to take me under their wing and help me along, I learned certain terms, certain writings, certain Saints. But as I look back, especially in my nine years of doing youth ministry, I’ve always had this attitude and spirituality. Now I can explain it, and share it.
Look outside of what you see at Mass around you. At the actions of others, at the words you hear. Ignore the sharp tongues, the bile and bitterness. Ignore what grates you, strip away what your feeble senses take in. Look beyond the abuses, the preferences. I’ll go so far as to say even look beyond the Cross. Look towards the manger, at the Child Jesus. Embrace Him at those Masses you dislike. Embrace Him through the storm. Do you not think the Child Jesus, and His Immaculate Mother, would not reward you ten-fold for stripping away what bothers you? Stripping everything away, including your pride and desire, to meet Him in the dirty manger?
He would love to see you there. His Mother wants you to hold onto Him. Please, my friends, be the magi. Be the shepherds.
Go back to the manger.