Tuesday 26 May 2015

Sheep are Smart

Why do people of other rites risk death to get to Mass? 
Today is Traddy Tuesday, the day I acknowledge the poor would-be converts who read wonderful books about Catholicism written before 1962 and race to their local Catholic church only to be miserably disappointed.

Naturally the next thing to do is to go to a parish which offers the Traditional Latin Mass, aka the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. You may not understand what is going on, but at least you are in the atmosphere your wonderful books were describing.  Do not--I hope you know this already--go up for communion.

Do not expect people to greet you afterwards. If you want to know more, find the TLM-saying priest and tell him that you are not yet a Catholic but you read X and Y and have fallen in love. If the priest is on his game, he will say, "Wonderful. Come and see me in my office!" If he is not, he will say something else, and you will have to say "I am  now seeking Instruction."  Hopefully he does not then send you off willy-nilly to any old RCIA program, but finds you a copy of The Baltimore Catechism or The Penny Catechism and makes an appointment to see you in his office. Just like in those books you have been reading.

By the way, my mother told me last night that the principal parish priest of my childhood, whom I thought was utterly retired, loped off to another province to say Traditional Latin Masses. Suddenly All Was Made Clear to me, i.e. why this parish priest, my parish priest, was so devout, old-fashioned, devoted to Our Lady and the rosary, an excellent confessor, etc. I'm delighted. I always suspected my latent traddery may have been fostered by this priest, but I wasn't sure. Mostly I put it down to Father Robert J Fox's Prayers for Young Catholics, Father Lovasik's  Heroines of God and the old textbooks I found shoved to the back of a  classroom cupboard.

This good old priest never said the TLM in my hearing although--come to think of it--the indult Mass was welcomed in our parish church during his regime. He sang the Opening Hymn (not the Introit) and the Recessional Hymn at the top of his lungs although--come to think of it--they were more traditional than not. And of all the homilies I heard in Canada over the years, Sunday after Sunday, one of the few I remember is his homily on the power of the rosary. It was that good.

Also, when I stopped coming to our parish church--choosing to go instead to the exciting Cathedral where my brother and a lot of Cute Boys sang polyphony and Gregorian Chant--he asked my mother about me. He was worried I had stopped going to any Mass. HE HAD NOTICED I WASN'T THERE and cared enough about my soul to ask my mother about it. This was in a big city parish in the 1980s, not a little village kirk in the 1950s, so imagine how moved I was and still am.

Where was I? I am trying to get to the part where I point out that for centuries priests said masses knowing that their parishioners would spiritually profit thereby without having to have the rituals spelled out to them. For this is what I want to talk about.

My Polish teacher teaches Polish by yammering on in Polish, knowing full well we don't understand everything she says. She knows that the more often we hear Polish, the more we are going to make sense of it. We have our dictionaries, her lectures, our homework, the Polish films she lends us. She doesn't baby us along. She certainly uses as little English as she can. There are some things you can't learn by explanation anyway, like how to pronounce "ę". You just have to do them.

Not only does she yammer on so we can learn intuitively, she tells us all kinds of controversial things about Polish life. She tells students who are cohabiting with their Polish "partners" that this is considered quite shocking in [rural?] Poland. She discusses highly political songs, critical of both left and right. Although keenly interested us in not dropping out, she never pulls her political/cultural punches.

And her students keep turning up because we know she is a good teacher and even if we are blown away by the realities of Polish life (as taught by our teacher) we take her word for them because A) she is Polish and B) she studied Polish as a Pole in university. And naturally she thinks Poland is wonderful and does not make snide remarks about Poland or any Pole alive. I have no idea what she thinks about Komorowki or Duda or any other Polish politician, for she is much too professional to tell us. If I had to sum up her attitude, it is Poland Is Super Fantastic And You Are Truly Fortunate to Be Learning Our Beautiful Language And If You Drop Out I Will Pity You From the Bottom of My Heart.

Contrast this sense of responsibility with the priest who explains during Mass everything he is doing, in baby language, beginning and ending Mass with distracting jokes that have nothing to do with the faith, not actually teaching us anything about the faith during the homily, except to observe how kind +Jesus+ was to the person/people he spoke to in the Gospel, and how we must be equally kind to others, and maybe throwing in a running joke about the thuggish authority of the local bishop for a laugh.

And contrast him with the  priest who soberly marches into church as if he were going to a private audience with a Great King, led through a dark and ornate passageway by servants bearing candles. He approaches the altar as if it were the throne of a Great King, which, come to think of it, it IS. He kneels, and we kneel. The priest  is, after all, our official spokesman, trained in the high courtesy of the official Court Protocol of the King of Kings. This is serious stuff.  This priest's whole life is directed at asking for the King's blessing on and forgiveness for the people in the priest's care. And he is not just an ambassador; he is the local shepherd, and if he doesn't ultimately hand back the King's sheep with our wool all nice and clean and fluffy, all four legs intact, eyes shiny, free from scabies and rabies and wolf-bites, the King will have something to say about it.

My friend Sister Marta, who grew up on a farm in Slovakia, told me once that sheep are not, as is believed by city-dwellers, stupid. Sheep are, in fact, very clever and really do, just as Our Lord said, know their shepherd's voice. "Sheep are SMART," she pronounced in somewhat stilted English. I doubt that sheep understand Slovak any more than they understand English--or Latin--but when the right shepherd speaks, they run to him.

Bizarrely, now that the laity are told--or tell each other--that they are "now" fully adults in the Church, Mass is more often than not conducted as if we were eight year olds who need to be entertained constantly to keep us from wriggling with impatience.  I wonder if this dumbing down of the Mass is what sent tens of thousands of men hurtling out of the priesthood to embrace wives and family life instead, leaving a skeleton staff of some real saints and some...men, for this psycho-sexual reason or that,  not inclined to marry anyway. It's one thing being one of the local Ambassadors to the Court of the King of Kings; it's quite another being the  warm-up act to Sunday brunch.


  1. This passage of yours:
    And contrast him with the priest who soberly marches into church as if he were going to a private audience with a Great King, led through a dark and ornate passageway by servants bearing candles. He approaches the altar as if it were the throne of a Great King, which, come to think of it, it IS. He kneels, and we kneel.

    I once had a dream, almost more like a vision, either right before or right after the feast of Christ the King, in which I was led by an invisible presence through a "dark and ornate passage" towards the throne-room of the king of kings. As there is supposed to be no phrase in English more deadly than "I had such a curious dream last night" I won't go on about it, except to say that your description was so like my dream that it was brought back to me vividly.

    Alias Clio

  2. Oh, that's so cool! Thanks for sharing that.


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