The Mass of Ages: A museum piece?

Holy Mass TransitThis past Sunday at St. Alphonsus in Baltimore, we had visitors on hand from St. Joseph’s parish in Williamsburg, PA.

Our pastor, Monsignor Arthur Bastress, let us know that the group (50+ people) had made the roughly three hour journey as part of their yearly tradition of making a pilgrimage to an historic church.

With men like St. John Neumann and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos at one time having served as its rector, to say nothing of the art and architecture, St. Alphonsus certainly qualifies.

Monsignor Bastress also indicated that Fr. Aron Maghsoudi, the pastor of St. Joseph’s, deliberately arranged for their visit to coincide with the offering of the Traditional Latin Mass.

While it’s always a good thing for people who may not be very familiar with the Traditional Mass to have an opportunity to experience it, especially in a place like St. Alphonsus, I had mixed emotions about the whole thing.

At St. Alphonsus, High Mass is sung just every other Sunday during the school year; i.e., not at all during the summer months, so this past Sunday was a low Mass.

Admittedly, I have no idea to what extent the group from St. Joseph’s, where the Traditional Mass is not part of their regular Mass schedule, was given liturgical instruction specific to the Low Mass prior to their visit. Even so, I can’t help but imagine that many of them, likely unaware of just how much liturgical treasure was unceremoniously stolen from them and their children thanks to Anibale Bugnini and Blessed Pope Paul the Destroyer, walked away from Sunday’s Mass thanking God for the Novus Ordo.

The truth of the matter that our “want-it-now-and-make-it-easy” culture doesn’t welcome is that the Traditional Mass asks much more of those who wish to assist at this liturgy than does the Novus Ordo, and for a simple reason – the latter is very much a product of this world comfortably focused on man; the former, an encounter with the ineffable God before whom the human being naturally trembles.

Little do most Catholics know that the Mass of Ages remains the Mass, much less that there can be no doubt whatsoever that history will judge the Novus Ordo as but an unwelcome usurper crafted by wicked men whom God simply allowed to do evil.

In any event, it would have been much better for our visitors had they arrived on a Sunday when High Mass was celebrated as even those who lack liturgical formation are often moved very deeply by the magnificence of its sacred signs.

In thinking of these things it occurred to me just how sad the state of affairs is in the Church today as the Mass of Ages (in spite of the fruits of Summorum Pontificum, deficiencies and all) is still very much treated and experienced by many as some sort of museum piece.

In some places, like my own archdiocese, this would actually be an upgrade. Here, the Traditional Mass is treated, for all intents and purposes, like an unwanted step child.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore – the first diocese established in the United States, and home to more than half-a-million Catholics – boasts of just two regularly scheduled Latin Masses – count ‘em, 1, 2 – one of them at St. Alphonsus in Baltimore at 11:30 am; the other some 75 miles away in Hagerstown at 12:50 pm.

That’s it.

There really is no excuse for this blatant deprivation of spiritual goods; no more than there would be for a wealthy man who, though in possession of a storehouse of nutritious food, insists on serving his children McDonalds at 99% of their meals.

And to be clear, the problem here isn’t a lack of qualified priests either.

I personally know of several priests in this archdiocese who are able to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.

A few years ago, I even became aware (firsthand) that two of them (one being a pastor) celebrated the Latin Mass on their days off, privately, with invitations for the laity to assist being spread only by word of mouth.

If that’s not a sure sign of an unhealthy local church, nothing is. (The missing ingredient in this bitter stew couldn’t be more obvious.)

All of this said, even if our guests from Pennsylvania were otherwise lost in Catholicland for much of the Mass, at least they were treated to a rather timely Gospel reading unlike the one that was read to their friends at the all-too-ordinary rite back home.

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them…

Coming as this Gospel did in the midst of Jorge’s Latin American Adventure, I’m pretty certain that I wasn’t the only one in the pews who thought first and foremost of our current pope at these words; even if the pilgrims from PA weren’t among them.

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