Monday, May 5, 2008

In Praise of Tradition: The Catholic Mass

I just finished reading the history of my former church (A non-denominational church). The founding pastor shared his story about how God led us from having "church as usual" to being thrust into an entirely new paradigm: home churches.

Home churches aren't new, but usually added to the "main event" of attending a common service once a week. I was a member of the church-planting team and on the board of trustees back then and remember well feeling like a boat without an oar when we suddenly lost our building. What to do? I was expecting us to immediately find another building in which to meet weekly. Instead, we divided into geographical locations and met in homes and then, once a month, came together for a common service.

During that time, I remember not being sure if it was indeed God's direction. But it wasn't my call and I was simply open to doing what the pastor sensed in his heart was God's will. The church has stayed with this method for over sixteen years. During the course of its life, the church has also had many member both leave and join.

Looking back on this experience feels a bit dreamy, as though I'm looking through a filmy glaze of idealism and hopefulness. It was an experiential approach to faith and church. It may have been a part of my youth to pursue such things. Now I look at it and see how my path has led me to a very surprising place.

Today I yearn for stability above all else. I don't want to "try" new approaches to church simply to do something new. I don't care for change for the sake of change. Is this part of growing old? Maybe. But I suspect that it is more a mixture of losing my mother, feeling un-anchored without her, and dealing with a very volatile and uncertain world.

This is one of the differences I see between the non-Catholic and the Catholic church. There are some Catholic parishes who try on new liturgy like it was the season's latest fashion. But there are those who have maintained a consistent practice of the liturgy. There is comfort to be found in tradition. For instance, as I celebrate the Extraordinary Form Mass (or EFM, also known as the Latin Mass or Tridentine Mass), I am reminded that I am taking part in what has been the spiritual food for thousands of people. Some became great saints, some were simple, ordinary people who loved and feared God. The EFM knits us all together.

This tradition gives my spirit something to hang its heart upon. Like the old wooden pegs used to hold hats, my spirit is looking for recognition when it enters through the doors of a church. When I was younger, I was able to adapt more to the ever-changing ocean of the worship service. Now I simply want to come to church and know what to do and when to do it. Again, I am surprised by all of this. But I'm not quite sure this is simply because I'm getting older. I've noticed younger women in my parish who wear veils at the EFM. Who showed them how to do this? Their mothers were most likely burning their bras when they were in their twenties, not putting a black lace veil on their head. So I know it isn't simply a generational desire to return to a more traditional approach to the liturgy.

Tradition can strengthen us and serve as a common bond.

It fills me with joy and awe.

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