About ten years ago, I was a confused, libertarian, atheist college freshman, and I was about to embark on a revolution – first downward towards Hell and then upwards towards Heaven. As a complacent atheist who grew up in New England and was surrounded by other complacent atheists, I had never had the existence of God explained in any rational way. It was not until college that someone had challenged my beliefs at a deep level. However, the debate over God actually took place as a debate over trans fats.
A ban was being proposed in New York City, and I thought it an injustice in the highest degree! My logic seemed simple: it is wrong to prevent by law a voluntary exchange of goods. As long as an agreement is voluntary, a third party cannot obfuscate it. Looking back, it is a silly position for more reasons than can be counted, but at the time, it had as much psychological force as the existence of God has to me now. But unlike God, my proposition had no explanatory power. My interlocutor repeatedly asked me, “But why is it wrong to prevent a free trade?” I would reply, “It simply is.” And he would reply, “Why?” And we would go back and forth in this hopeless argument until a break was needed, after which we might resume the argument again.
Eventually, during the hundreds of “Whys” that were lobbed like grenades in my direction, one finally hit me. I finally asked myself, “Why?” And it was almost as if that “why” undid my entire certainty of reality. With that “why,” I realized I had no reason to think anything I thought, and even to act in any way I acted. A sudden skepticism took over my mind, forced upon myself by my own reason, and I saw that my atheistic logic meant nihilism. Now, for someone who seriously considers this nihilism, it is not something liberating and exhilarating; rather, it is draining. It feels like mental death.
At the same time as my atheism was driving me into depths of nihilism, I was meeting intelligent Christians, with real arguments and real zeal. By a sort of blind instinct (that sort of instinct that only upon later reflection one sees is the Holy Ghost), I knew truth was either to be found in nihilism (and the psychological hell that logically followed from it) or in this strange creed. Reality was either hell or it was God born in a cave on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Soon, each of these sides took on historical proportions. It was either modernity or what had come before; it was either kings, priests, and peasants or it was Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud. There is no middle way.
I had seen philosophical hell, even if I did not yet believe in theological hell, and I knew that if what I had seen was not reality, then reality must be a strange and powerful enough thing to confront all the fallen angels of modernity. If this age insisted against dogma, it must be dogma that saves souls. I had a choice to make. The entire world urged me on in my atheism, but in a sort of terror, I saw what the world didn’t see. I saw the hell that lay on the path I was supposed to follow. I knew no way of proving to myself that the alternative – God – was reasonable, since I had already doubted my faculty of reason. It had to be mere choice; I had to choose God or nothing and see what happened.
And after I made my choice, I found what seemed sufficiently strange to be that which takes a stand against the devils of modernity: a conservative, Presbyterian church. I was baptized, read the scriptures, joined protestant Bible studies, and became a happy and zealous protestant. Yet, something was missing, for the creed that I believed was invented by modern men, Luther and Calvin. I had subscribed to the nominalist revolution of the 14th century without realizing it, and I had not rejected modernity but simply chosen a very old time within modernity and declared, “This will do.”
Very soon, I realized that this will not do. The medievalist within me began reading and studying, and out from behind the quaint Presbyterian church rose into the landscape the towering Eternal Rome. The Church Fathers, G. K. Chesterton, and Our Lady of Fatima led me Home, and I embraced the Church as if I had, after years of chasing after her shadows, finally found my Mother. In her saints, her liturgy, her dogma, her popes, and her piety, I found the antidote for modernity.
Finally, a few months after having entered the Church on the Easter Vigil of 2012, a friend brought me to a traditional Latin Mass at St. Boniface in Pittsburgh. Now, we have all experienced “aha!” moments that last a few seconds, or sometimes even a minute or two.
This “aha!” moment lasted three days.
I was dazed, and my poor Catholic roommate got to hear all of my sudden revelations. In the traditional Mass, I finally experienced a complete and total rejection of every error of modernity, but more than that, a transcendent affirmation of all that is good, true, and beautiful. All evil was rejected in that Mass, and all good affirmed. I still, to this day, have a sense of peace after a traditional Mass that I can find nowhere else in this world. Everywhere, we see the effects of Ockham, Descartes, Luther, Calvin, Hume, Kant, Sartre, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, and the rest of messengers of modernity. All has been affected; even the Church has not survived unscathed from the twentieth century.
But, this Mass was like a miracle, preserved against all odds out of a shipwreck. One can smell the incense and breathe like saints breathed. One can read the beautiful introits and think like the saints thought. One can bow one’s head during the silent canon and pray like the saints prayed. One can forget for a short time the horrors that have assaulted the West and have destroyed Christendom, for during these solemn minutes one prays with St. Benedict even as night closes once more on Christendom. During this Mass, I found what I had longed for. I found where Heaven descended and came to rest, driving out the world.
I do not write this simply to tell my own story, but because there are millions of young atheists (and protestants) who, if they are going to come to the Faith, are going to come because it represents the only cure for a deadly disease. Woe to us if we tell them we have diluted the cure to make it less painful! Woe to us if we think we need to affirm their hell in order to secure their conversion! We need to have the humility to recognize courage in these lost souls; it is revolution they seek, not peace. If they choose to join the revolutionists and march beneath our banner, they will be more than happy to rush to the front lines. Our task is not to build a bridge between modern man and the rest of Christendom, but to encourage him to make the terrifying leap, and it is the Holy Ghost who will infallibly land his feet on the other side.
Let’s give modern man the one thing that might entice him to make this daring leap. Let’s give him Christendom and the Mass that forged it. Let’s give him the Mass of the Church Militant, so he can be the soldier that he longs to be. Let’s give him the Mass that is masculine, so that he (or she) can revel in that interplay and communion of genders that modernity insists to be in conflict. Let’s give him the Mass in the sacred tongue of the Church, since he wants something serious and is willing to worship God especially when it requires skill, diligence, and learning.
In Chesterton’s ingenious novel, The Ball and the Cross, an atheist and a Catholic adventure around England in order to duel over an insult given by the atheist to the Mother of God. All of Britain is awakened against them, and they are chased by the police across the island in search of a place to fight their duel. A young, aristocratic, modern woman, searching for “a way out” of modernity, goes out of her way to help these outlaws. When pushed for a reason why, she explains,
“But I may be wrong; there may be a way out. And for one stark, insane second, I felt that, after all, you had got the way out and that was why the world hated you. You see, if there were a way out, it would be sure to be something that looked very queer.”
The modern mind might not be always ripe for conversion, but when it happens, it will be not a reformation, but a revolution. Let us give him the ancient Mass, which was once a sign of order, but is now a sign of revolt. Countless modern men and women peer across the cultural landscape searching for “a way out.” They have tried dozens of solutions, and they have learned that the familiar cannot save. Let us give them the unfamiliar, the sign of contradiction, the cross. Let us give them the Mass of the Revolution, the liturgy of the God who stepped into his own creation as a rebel against the false prince of this world. Now, more than ever, the false prince rules in his territory. Now, more than ever, is the Mass of the Revolution is needed.
In every traditional Mass that is celebrated, Eternal Rome cries out to modern men,
“Courage, you who wander in search of a way out! You can hold nothing back from Christ. Here, you see it. You see that this is the definitive split with the world that you must make if you are to cling to eternity. You see it, somewhere in some corner of your heart, you see it. Take courage and come take part in this Sacrifice of the Revolution. The choice is yours. Come join the strange company of the saints and the even stranger company of God.
“You have a seat between the mind of St. Thomas Aquinas, the passion of St. Francis, and fierce eyes of St. Pio. Together you can peer into mysteries unthinkable as the priest elevates the chalice towards the Eschaton, the servers drawing back his chasuble, the angels on either side of the altar adoring the Incarnate Christ, and the faithful with eyes wide open. Surely this Mass is beyond you, surely it is incomprehensible, foreign and strange, but, you see, it must be so. For it is Christ come into His Kingdom as a rebel. Rejoice that you are owls in the daylight, not because you ought to be blind, but because you are meant to see – and how glorious that must be!”
Originally published on June 11, 2015. This article has been updated.
Carl Wolk lives in Wisconsin with his wife and children. He entered the Catholic Church on Easter 2012, a convert from Calvinism and before that, atheism. He has a B.A. in Medieval and Renaissance Studies from Washington and Lee University, and an M.A. in Theology from the Dominican House of Studies in DC. He is the Upper School Dean at Providence Academy in La Crosse, WI, where he teaches theology and philosophy.
This must be the best blog post I have read in a long time. I can relate to your experience of looking for a way out, except that I was never an atheist but a lukewarm Catholic who struggled to make sense of the faith in the modern world. It was when I started to detest modernity that I really came home. The ugliness and meaninglessness that surrounded me brought me to true beauty. And then the a-ha moment at my first TLM. I am happy that I have found this treasure and that it helped me grow closer to God. I pray that many who are seeking something beautiful, a way out, will find true Beauty in our church, and maybe even at the Mass of the Ages.
As a convert who entered the Church on Easter Vigil 2013, I say bravo to this post. Without the Traditional Latin Mass, I do not think that my interior life would have any sort of growth (not saying that I am saint but hopefully with this Mass I will be!) and I might even have become very lukewarm.
“You have a seat between the mind of St. Thomas Aquinas, the passion of St. Francis, and fierce eyes of St. Pio.”
I could not have said it any better, Mr. Wolk.
One quote here stood out profoundly to me, “Let’s give him the Mass in the sacred tongue of the Church, since he wants something serious and is willing to worship God especially when it requires skill, diligence, and learning”. Looking back, I think the hierarchy in the Church really dropped the ball in transmitting the Faith and in taking it and the Mass for granted. The 20th Century saw great movements of people, in the literal sense, from Europe to America and of course in the interpersonal sense in a changing culture that moved rapidly in spirit without physical movement even being required. The Mass and the Faith needed to be taught in these years and it seems it was assumed it could just go on without maintenance or watering as souls and bodies were being transplanted. What is such a shame is that just at the moment that many families were getting settled in the US and were now assuming a type of comfort and prosperity that is necessary to study and really learn the Mass, they changed it. They watered it down at the exact time that we were giving up our Ethnic Catholic neighborhoods and moving in to Protestant suburbs. It is a good thing I had remembered my father’s little Key to Heaven prayer book he received on a retreat in 1962. It was never used to explain the mysteries of the Mass to me, and I dare say he did not understand it very well. But I do remember leafing through it and seeing the engraved images and always knew there was a truth in them that went way beyond my understanding. It portrayed to me an authenticity I have never seen elsewhere. Long story short, I somehow stumbled upon a new printing of the 1962 Missal and recognized some of the very same images and had to have a copy. That was the beginning of my personal journey back to the truth. Thank God for the internet. I know it was the Holy Ghost in operation, but it was also self motivation and self learning that led me back by cooperating with these graces. Either way, what a shame that full integration into the American way of life and the road to a comfortable middle class existence also coincided with a rejection of the Mass of the Ages.
Beautifully written. Very stirring.
Dear Mr. Wolk,
You do have a way with words. Your post was like poetry for the mind.
However, I would like to tell you a story from the other side. My parents were “Traditional Catholics” before I was born. Therefore, I was raised as such. The latin mass was all I knew. In fact, we thought it was a sin to attend a “Novus Ordo” mass.
I was an alter boy from a very young age. When I first started to serve (probably around the age of 7), I remember being in awe myself. I attended a Catholic School, and eventually became the head MC (Master of Ceremonies). I was in charge of all the training and scheduling of over 40 alter boys (some older then myself).
My only suggestion is for you to become an alter boy. You only need to learn some rubrics, and memorize some Latin. Just ask your priest. Age is not a limit.
Sadly, you will see what I saw. The celebrant, swearing with the tabernacle open… or cussing at an alter boy because he was late coming back during the Credo… playing on electronic devices while babbling their latin words to your own responses… scaring younger alter boys, yelling at them for having the wrong accent on a word… ogling the chalice they got to use, because they forget to bring their own (“will you look at all the precious stones on this thing!”)… Most priests know what they are doing is a facade. Just ask them when no one is around…
So please, become an alter boy… and after a decade, your “aha” moment may not be what you thought it was.
In your post, you had put you were an atheist, so it is only fair I put what I am. Currently, in my travels through life, I am agnostic. So, this story is kinda backwards from yours with me going from Traditional Catholic to Novus Ordo to Protestant to Agnostic over a span of around 30 years.
I hope you continue on your journey. Happy travels.
Since you’ve been around the Latin crowd long enough, you probably encountered this phrase at some point: “abusus non tollit usum” – abuse does not preclude proper use.
While I have no doubt that you experienced what you say, I would argue that this is not normative. And if in fact you grew up in such an extreme community that you believed attending the Novus Ordo was a sin, I would not be surprised to hear of other distortions of liturgical praxis.
For many of us, experiencing the ancient Mass was a turning point in our life of faith. But while ex opere operato is always in effect, we are dealing in our priests with the fallibility of men.
I hope you’ll stick around 1P5 and find some things worthy of considering. I’ve been where you are, and it isn’t pleasant. The limbo between belief and license; the draught of freedom that comes from being disentangled from rules and ritual made bitter by the intolerability of a life without movement toward God. I recall regularly thinking, “Whatever I am without Him, I’m not a better person. I don’t want to be this guy.”
We’re glad to have you as part of the discussion. We promise we won’t swear at you for chiming in late. 😉
Don’t worry, I wasn’t the one getting yelled it, it was the other poor servers. I use to have servers coming up to me begging me not to schedule them with this celebrant, or that celebrant…. no different then students in high school choosing not to take a class because a teacher is difficult, etc…
You are correct, being around that “extreme community” can cause all kinds of distortions. But in the end, I needed to move on for reasons other then what happened at the alter.
When I was a Traditionalist, I thought I was correct. when I was Catholic, I thought I was correct, when I was Protestant, I thought I was correct… so I am under no allusion being Agnostic is my final resting place. My journey may take me full circle.
Sad to hear that your limbo was so painful. I feel lucky to be in this “limbo”. For me, it is not a limbo, just simply my current location. I am more at peace here in this limbo, but I call it home for now.
Didn’t mean to hijack this conversation, i just wanted Carl Wolk to know that for every story I’ve read, I realize there is an opposite story. I do hope he gets a chance to serve, it can feel very rewarding.
Most priests know what they are doing is a facade. Just ask them when no one is around…
I think there are, unfortunately, a fair number of priests who fit this description to some degree. Maybe not entirely consciously.
What about among traditionalists, or at least priests who lean that way? I have been in traditional communities in a number of states…I serve sporadically. I have seen the kind of thing you have described, unfortunately, with a couple of such priests. I do think it’s rare, if my experience is anything to go by – but it is a little jarring from priests you least expect it from. It is not for me to say they don’t believe (in one case, it’s quite possible, I fear).
Yet I have also been struck by how devout so many others are. I cannot, perhaps, be sure of the sincerity of *their* beliefs, either. If, as Stendhal says, we can never really know another human soul, that is. But if those priests are faking it, putting up a facade, they are better actors than I can imagine.
Telling you this kind of thing is seemingly rare among traditional-minded priests probably isn’t going to make any difference, since you have no doubt contemplated the possibility, and in any event you’ve said you had other reasons for leaving. I can only affirm what Steve said: “Whatever I am without Him, I’m not a better person. I don’t want to be this guy.” The only alternative – that there is no divine order, and therefore no meaning – is, for me, the cause of too profound a despair for me to bear.
I wish you well and offer my prayers, however, as you work it out.
Glad you’re here, and I’m sorry to hear about your experiences. For the most part, I have encountered great holiness in the priests that I have gotten to know who celebrate the old rite. But, note that in my article, I don’t talk about the parish priest crying out to modern man, but eternal Rome crying out. The appeal of the Church at the time of my conversion, my first experience of the traditional mass, and today, is simply that it is the Church universal in time and space and even a participation in the Church Triumphant.
Like all institutions, the church will have bad seeds, even wickedly bad ones. I had to tell myself many times when I was entering the Church: You are not entering the Catholic Church of this parish, of this region, in this age. You are entering the Church universal.
The appeal of the Church and the traditional mass is simply that unlike other institutions, it does not stand or fall with the bad seeds, for it participates in eternity. In the old mass, the priest falls into the background and one is allowed to meditate not on the captivating personality of the man behind the altar, but on the God who is being sacrificed on the altar.
I hope you stick around this website, while we try to rediscover eternal Rome, even through all the silliness (like that which you saw) in the Church today.
Thank you very much for your testimony, which differs from my own experience, since I was an altar boy and remain a Catholic That is why I find your journey interesting and ask for more details. You seem (my summary, please correct me) to have left “Traditional Catholicism” because the priests you met when you were a server and MC did not act as they should have or did not believe in what they were doing. You then became a “Catholic,” then a “Protestant”, and now, perhaps temporarily, are an “Agnostic,” at each stop thinking that you were correct. If you would, then, please tell me were the dates of your stops (important to me, because I have a hard time grasping how one goes from “Traditional Catholicism” to “Catholicism”), what considerations made you consider each stop correct, and what made you leave that stop for the next (or perhaps what attracted you to the next stop enough to leave your current stop).
If my questions seem vague or perhaps incoherent, it is because of my unfamiliarity with your journey. Please tell of your “travels” in the way wish to, including such details as you gave of your experience of “Traditional Catholicism.” I, and I think not only I, will gain much from what you relate, and you will have my gratitude.
Please be assured that I do not want to put my words into your mouth, but rather desire very much to have your words enter into my ear.
While going from one religion to another for me, I don’t have set dates (wasn’t like on January first, I chose to be X versus Y), but I can give time frames. Until about 20 years of age, I attended the Latin mass. Then for a few years, I tried the English mass. (I became tired of the Latin community I was in always secretly bashing John Paul II). But, I couldn’t take the English mass seriously. The baggage I brought over from the Latin mass probably was the culprit there (but it may have been the drums and guitars in the new church I wasn’t use to). Like Steve said above… “distortions”… Then probably around the age of 23, after speaking with a bishop (at his request), I did something I had never really done before. I started praying and asking God to answer a very particular question. I simply asked “Are Catholics Christians?”. After about 6 months, a pamphlet was left on my car while I was traveling out of town. The title to the pamphlet was “Are Roman Catholics Christians?”… No one knew of my prayers at night to get that question answered. And quite frankly, I have never had a prayer answered like that. I was scared. I was angry. Why would a God let someone follow all these strange rules (no meat on Friday, transubstantiation, etc) for two decades, and for it to be all wrong? So, in the aftermath of that, I became a “Christian”… but there were so many flavors, which one to choose? The pamphlet just simply used examples in the Bible to show why Catholics were not Christians. Didn’t say which flavor of Christian was correct. So, I tried to become a “Christian”, but more importantly, I started to read the Bible and tried to research where it came from. After about another 8 years, I became shocked, and was in horror that anyone can follow a religion that follows the Bible. I became Agnostic.
I still read the Bible occasionally. I encourage EVERYONE on this site to read it. I prefer the Douay-Rheims when researching because I still feel like a heretic for reading the King James, LOL.
However, may I suggest you keep a notebook with it, so that when you read a verse that does not make sense, write it down? Go talk to a priest about it.
Oh, and read the whole thing. No skipping. 🙂
Many thanks! What you say will, I think, interest others as well as myself. I’ll read your comment more than once and try to understand and reflect on it. I’m very glad your moves weren’t caused by experiencing more bad people after leaving “Traditional Catholicism.” Indeed, “Traditional Catholicism” is the church of bad people. Only they go to Confession.
As a first step, may I ask how the Bible shows why Catholics are not Christians? Are there many differences or one or two key differences?
But perhaps that is not worthy of discussion, since you no longer follow the Bible. Neither do Catholics, much. Dom John Chapman wrote: “The catechetical instruction of the Church is represented in substance by the modern Catechism and not by the Gospels.” If Catholics don’t get their religion from the Gospels, they certainly don’t get it from the rest of the Bible. If they did, they might become Protestants.
God answered your prayers. As an agnostic do you still pray? If Yes, to Whom? If No, aren’t you still carrying around a lot of unused baggage?
Reading your post, I am a little confused. It seems you don’t agree with the Latin Mass or should I say “Traditional Catholicism”? Also, it seems that Catechism may be a problem?
Would you please explain a little more your thoughts?
As for the Bible, there is no reason to really debate interpretation. I can’t find two priests that agree. I remember priests differing on what a mortal sin was. The problem with the Bible is the contradictions. The last time I talked to a priest, I simply asked why the four gospels don’t match. He said “I didn’t know that was in there, I’ll get back with you”. Never heard from him again.
As for praying, I no longer pray (if by prayer you mean things like reciting the Rosary). However, I do meditate at times. I think to pray, one has to have faith, which by definition is a belief in something without proof. I still believe I have the other two ‘theological’ virtues of Hope, and Love/Charity (granted, I don’t call them theological anymore). I would say I have more of those two since becoming Agnostic. I have hope for humankind, and I like to think that I try to be as charitable to others as possible.
Hoping you get a chance to clarify some of your quotes in your last post.
Time for me to walk my dog and then go to bed. I’ll try to write more tomorrow, but let me say now: I’m for the Latin Mass and I’m for the Catechism. I’m also for the Bible. You seem to be unlucky in priests.
Prayer is not meditation. How much faith one needs to pray is a question. “I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief.” I suppose one needs to believe enough to want to pray. Then one can do it.
But really, it is your experience rather than my own that I’m interested in. I’ll try to answer your questions to get myself out of the way.
Talk to you tomorrow.
Quick on prayer before zzzz. If an agnostic says it can’t be proved whether there is or isn’t a God, he seems to accept that there might be a God. People have played the lottery on less certainty. Indeed, I know an agnostic who asked a Protestant minister to write a prayer for him to say. (It was not, “Oh God, if there is a God.…”) But prayer certainly does not require reciting anything. I hope someone along your journey told you that.
Good morning, finny.
I’m Catholic. I accept the Mass in whatever rite or form is recognized by the Catholic Church. I accept what the Church teaches, which is most conveniently found in the Catechism. Catholics don’t need to agree on the Bible beyond what the Church teaches. On the four gospels I recommend Dom John Chapman’s The Four Gospels. On prayer, Dom Chapman wrote,
and many other useful pieces of advice.
A priest who knows his business can tell you everything you ask me abut Catholicism better than I can.
Now you. Why do you think agnosticism is correct? What hope do you have for humankind? How does your charity differ from that of the saints?
Thanks for the clarification!
Yes, as an agnostic I believe we simply don’t have enough information to prove one way or another. (Granted, there are many types of “Agnostics”, like there are many types of “Catholics”).
However, because I may not have the proof to say whether a “God” exists, I feel I have reached a decision about what type of God may be found with more information. I also feel that we have enough information to prove certain gods don’t exist.
Part of the peace I find is not having to have a set of beliefs that may change. For example, before 1950, one would not go to hell for not going to mass on August 15th. But the better peace is from understanding that life on Earth may be important. It is the only chance we get to make life better. Which leads me to the hope for humankind. I have hope we will find a way off this rock, because the answer to our existence may be found out there somewhere. As for the charity of saints, my charity would not include putting one to death like Aquinas. It is also never charitable to beat a child (even though the pope thinks it is OK?!?). And, telling a 7 year old child they will burn in hell for eating a hot dog on Friday is never charitable. Therefore, my definition of charity is not that of one from the saints.
But the bigger problem is the Bible. What do you do when you read passages that say it is OK to take a woman against her will? Or be commanded to kill a pregnant woman, and to take her unborn baby, and smash its head on a rock? I don’t think it is a good idea for abortion because of the well-being of humans, but I’m confused as to why a Catholic who believes in a book that commands the killing of unborn children could be against abortion? After reading the Bible, I was ashamed of ever believing in it. I contacted old friends and acquaintances and apologized for ever trying to convert them. I was deeply ashamed.
I have never received a decent answer from a Catholic about this. However, just recently, while talking to a Christian pastor, they suggested that the God they believed in is simply both good and evil. This makes much more sense, but I had to hold them responsible for not teaching this. They said they can’t teach this currently. Perhaps I have hope in the future they will be able to teach that.
Please don’t take offense to what I have written. Like the BC#3 says, “Why did God make you? God made me/you to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in Heaven”. I agree with the happy part, and I wish you happiness. 🙂
Many thanks, finny. I’m not offended by anything you wrote. I wish you happiness also. I pray—as I am certain you hope—that Mr. Wolk’s life in Catholicism will remain joyful. Perhaps because he’s an adult convert with believing adult friends, he knows Catholicism better than you did as a child growing up among disbelieving priests who openly exhibited their disbelief to you and the other altar boys. As you continue your pilgrimage, you might yet discover a Catholicism you never knew.
Please don’t write “alter boys.”
But don’t you see that your own rather bitter lament demonstrates the power of the traditional liturgy, ex sese, to convert souls?
Let us assume the priest young Wolk saw offering the traditional Mass for the first time was one of those cynical clerics who was merely going through the motions. What this young man saw overwhelmed and converted him nonetheless, precisely because the personal worthiness of the celebrant had nothing to do with it. The traditional liturgy requires a complete recession of the personality of the priest in favor of his power to confect the Blessed Sacrament, which every element of the traditional liturgy enshrines and announces.
You have lost your faith, perhaps many priests have lost theirs, but the Mass has not lost its intrinsic power because the Mass is ultimately a divine action.
How tragic that you allowed the despicable acts of mere men to challenge your faith and reject Christ in the process.
I implore you to reconsider. The priests who you encountered are not the holy, reverent priests today who are found in the churches where the true Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is available in so many places today.
I implore you to attend one of these Masses where Christ is revered, God is faithfully and reverently honored as is His due, where the faithful are nourished with the Truth, and where Heaven and Earth meet.
Interesting journey. Mine was the mirror image in a way. I grew up in Christian-in-name-only home. We were thoroughly modern and secularized, except for an occasional attendance at a Christian Science service. I knew almost nothing of God and was particularly warned against Catholics. In my search for Truth, I had long sojourns with various sects and groups, from Pentecostals to Methodists, from Evangelicals to Presbyterians. I even dabbled in Messianic Judaism. Eventually, when I had had my fill of “finding the truth” only to see the corruption that man often brings to doctrine and to positions of authority did I stumble upon the Catholic Church. My search for Truth had prepared me for the human element. God’s gentle leading is mysterious in its application to each of us individually. God bless you, Finny,
I’ve been an altar boy(man) for over eight years now at my parish, serving the solemn form of the TLM. in 2008 we formed a server’s guild of men (18 and older). When we first started, we trained ourselves and later trained other men to serve. We’ve since also formed a junior guild for younger boys to be trained to serve (9 years and older). In all my time serving, while we have our imperfections and certainly make mistakes from time to time, I’ve never experienced any of the things you mention in your comment. I’ve never heard a priest acting irreverently at the tabernacle or cussing at a server and none of the priests I know believe what they are doing is a “facade”. The priests I know believe very deeply that what they are doing (or what Christ is doing through them) is the most important thing in the world. I regret that you had the experience that you had, but I assure you it is NOT the norm. I thank God for Catholic tradition, the TLM and the faithful priests I know. Pax Christi.
Dear Mr. Wolk,
You have a knowledge of the Catholic Church that many cradle Catholics don’t have. This knowledge will stand you in good stead.
You have also come into the Church at a fortunate time—when the Ordinary Form is increasingly seen to be ordinary and the Extraordinary Form extraordinary.
Historically, Modernism is in its decline and fall. What scholars and scientists are documenting, even NO Catholics heard on Sunday: “The world in its present form is passing away.”
How happy to experience the Good News. How loving to share it with the world.
Awesome article. I was a fallen away Catholic, hardcore libertarian, and a [practicing, religious] pagan before I met my wife and began my journey back into the Church. The Novus Ordo was missing…something…more magnificent. It didn’t scream “This is The Sacrifice of Christ.” I recall my then-Baptist girlfriend [and later, my Catholic wife] recognizing semblances of a run-of-the-mill protestant service in it. Needless to say for me, raised a pentecostal pastor’s son who was converted Catholic at a young age, to hear a protestant say the only Catholic Mass I knew existed was quasi-protestant didn’t set well with me… knowing the fraudulent beginnings of protestantism.
Later, we read about and attended the Mass of the Ages for Easter (a whole, whopping 10-15 people present), and that was the “aha” moment for my wife and I, too.
Anyway, I hope this doesn’t come across as nit-picking.
I find it difficult to call the Mass of the Ages the Mass of the Revolution, as the protestant-inspired Novus Ordo was certainly the revolution, and the Mass of the Ages serves as the antidote, or the banner under which the counter-revolution is waged.
Maybe it is just my perspective of what a revolutionary is. Lucifer was a revolutionary who [temporarily] toppled the order of God and introduced sin to man. Luther, a revolutionary who broke entire nations away from the unity of the Body of Christ. Marx, who spread a new gospel of humanism through economic utopia. Etc.
Christ, on the other hand, redeemed mankind and healed the rift between God and man, through His Precious Blood offered an escape from the revolution of Satan.
I do not see Christ as coming into His Kingdom as a rebel at all. He was reclaiming what was His, or in a sense reconquering what was taken in the revolution.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 15:23> “Because it is like the sin of witchcraft, to rebel: and like the crime of idolatry, to refuse to obey. […]”
Perhaps it is perspective, but I cannot see Our Lord as a rebel. I guess, in the perspective of modern culture, the true revolutionary is Catholic–it is what is old–and not the pseudo revolution that we are given to indulge in, like the goth culture, the sodomite culture, or the “progressive” culture.
Anyway, awesome article. Wasn’t trying to bring rain to the parade.
Godspeed and greetings from Louisiana.
Thanks for the comment and for sharing your conversion story! I think we have to distinguish between two levels of reality in the fallen world. We know that Christ is the true King, but we also know that Satan is the prince of this world. Satan is a false prince, a usurper, but he is the one who holds power. Thus, Christ, the true King, comes to lead us in rebellion against the false powers and false authorities. It is true to say Christ is a rebel, insofar as he leads the war against the de facto ruler of men’s hearts. It is, of course, more true to say Christ is a king, leading not a revolution but establishing his kingdom, since while Satan has power over men, he only has as much power as God allows him. Especially in the modern world, when Satan holds so much sway over civilization, I think virtue does take on the character of a seeming revolution. Chesterton explores this paradox in many of his books, especially I think Orthodoxy and The Man Who Was Thursday. Perhaps this could be a topic for another post!
Thanks for the reply, Carl. Interesting, I am not familiar with those works.
From the perspective of the world and modern culture, I can see the analogy–but still is difficult to force the thought of Christ as a rebel in my mind. Maybe because my own past rebelliousness bends my bias in that direction.
I’m putting those works on my reading list.
For what it’s worth I agree with you that the word revolution is misapplied. My favorite historian, Jacques Barzun, starts his book From Dawn to Decadence:
Thus Luther was a revolutionary, though perhaps an unwitting one.
But I would caution equating revolution with rebellion. Satan was a rebel, not a revolutionary. Nor can it be said that a rebel is just a failed revolutionary. The American patriots who won the War of Independence were rebels not revolutionaries, despite the other name for that war, the Revolutionary War.
In any case, calling the Mass a Mass of the Revolution, seems to reflect an earthly, not a heavenly, view of it.
“In any case, calling the Mass the Mass of the Revolution, seems to reflect an earthly, not a heavenly, view of it.”
I agree with this, but I think it is just as justified as calling Satan prince of this world, when from the Heavenly perspective he is only a wicked servant. Who can deny that in the modern world, the traditional rite is a revolution? More truly, of course, from God’s perspective, it is peace.
In the “modern world” it is more important than ever to speak “truly.” Give the devil his due, but no more.
Indeed. But it is Luther and the moderns who deny the true plasticity of human language, not Catholics. To restore Christendom, we must restore Christian rhetoric. To affirm with Aquinas (indeed, scripture itself) the many layers of meanings of our words is to affirm analogy, hierarchy, and participation – those concepts that are a bedrock to civilization and were destroyed by nominalism’s rejection of metaphysical forms. It is to reassert the metaphysical connection between parts of reality and the human person’s ability to reflect reality in his language. It was the liberals who sought to flatten and “rationalize” human language in recent centuries, not the Church.
I believe that you, cenlacatholic, and I agree that Luther et al. (perhaps going back to Ockham) started a revolution. The question for cenlacatholic and me was whether the desired remedy, which we welcome, the restoration, reaffirmation, rebuilding, reversion, reconversion should be called a revolution. We each gave a reason why we thought that word inappropriate. You then said, “seeming revolution” as well as asked who can deny what I do deny. To me, even “first downward towards Hell and then upwards towards Heaven,” isn’t most accurately called a “revolution.” Of course, most accurate doesn’t necessarily mean most effective for motivating. If “The Mass of the Revolution” becomes a rallying cry, I’ll laugh and say, “Go to it!”
I’m in doubt whether I am responding to the point of your reply, but I think that what I’ve written here is responsive to a point that cenlacatholic and I tried to make.
Didn’t know where else to put this good news. It will be a Low Mass, I hear.
“The medievalist within me began reading and studying, and out from behind the quaint Presbyterian church rose into the landscape the towering Eternal Rome. The Church Fathers, G. K. Chesterton, and Our Lady of Fatima led me Home, and I embraced the Church as if I had, after years of chasing after her shadows, finally found my Mother.” Then you realized the reason your Presbyterian family had not been visiting your mother is that what you *thought* was her was actually just a digital composite, and she had long since — 1961 — passed away. Your Presby adopters were doing their best to carry on her tradition. Later some poser from Family Services came along and said that she had found your birth parents…. Sounds like a Terminator movie…
“it is revolution they seek, not peace.”
No! It is counter-revolution that they seek! Roman Catholics are counter-revolutionaries.
Revolution is the unlawful upending of the duly established order.
Counter-revolution is the demolishing of the illegal rule of usurpers.
He’ll get it. Give him time.
Usually people “get it” after someone tells them, but lets pray none the less.
How ironic to be reading this article! Yesterday evening I had dinner with a dozen parishioners, mostly young men, including converts and 2 diocesan seminarians. The seminarians often attend the Latin Mass at our parish in Norwalk, Connecticut when seminary schedule does not interfere. They refer to this Mass as the starting
point of “the counter revolution”. I couldn’t agree more!
St. Mary’s in Norwalk? I’ve visited a couple times – an amazing parish.
As for the revolution vs. counter revolution. Of course, most properly speaking it is a counter-revolution. Yet, it is a sort of a revolution. One might say that it is formally a counter-revolution (in its essence or form), and materially a revolution (in its relationship to present society). Or in other words, in an absolute sense, it is a counter-revolution; in a relative sense, it is a revolution. Disallowing for multiple senses, levels of meaning, etc is an exercise in protestant rhetoric, not Catholic rhetoric …or even human rhetoric.
Excellent Excellent Excellent
Such clear thinking
Hi Carl, I understand completely. I love the Tridentine Mass. I sing with a Carmelite Monastery Choir on Sunday mornings in Philadelphia, PA and we celebrate the Tridentine Mass on special occasions, like the Novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in July and also the Triduum for the Feast of St. Therese in October. But, even on Sunday mornings we sing many of the Latin responses and beautiful sacred music that you don’t experience at all in the local parishes. Truly, the people do not know what they’re missing. It’s such a blessing to have found this special place in which to worship. Also, I see that you live in Alexandria, VA. I have a dear friend from India who lives in Alexandria and he is the head of a Charismatic Prayer Group at his parish. Let me tell you, I have been to India three times, and the faith of the Catholics from Kerala is just incredible. If you’re interested in finding out about the prayer group, just let me know and I can give you Anil’s contact information. God bless!
A wonderful piece.
Beautiful! Truly I believe that the TLM is our future. We lost so much when we lost it…we lost the traditional and age old powerful means of the sacraments, catechesis seemed to fly away, and compromise with the world entered in big time. I am fortunate to be able to attend the TLM every 3 weeks. I would choose it every day if it was available.
Very thought provoking and wonderfully written. Anyone who has the desires to teach high school religion “and” farm is on the path of humility.
Bravo! SHARING on http://www.fb.com/reginamagazine
“Rebellion” [a.k.a. staunch Faithfulness] appears to be a reoccurring theme among the Saints of yesterday AND today.
-Saint Michael “rebelled” against Lucifer [The Father of lies]
-Jesus Christ “rebelled” against Caiaphas [Talmudic errors/Unjust “Oral laws”]
-Saint Athanasius “rebelled” against Eusebius, Liberius [Arian errors]
-Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre “rebelled” against Paul VI, John Paul II [Modernist errors]
-Bishop Richard Williamson “rebelled” against Bishop Fellay [Modernist errors/Political lies in Germany]
And probably the most well known:
-Gandalf the Grey “rebelled” against Saruman the White! 🙂
A thought provoking article Mr. Wolk.
Thank you Carl for a wonderfully uplifting confession of faith. We look forward to hearing much more from you as a refugee from freezing winds of atheism and now a rebel with a sacred cause. May God be with you and your family always.
This is an excellent blog post, I must confess this does sound a lot like my story in many ways, like the author I lived according to the ways of The Revolution (Ir-religiousness, Gnosticism & The Occult, Protestantism) from 2007 to 2011, then in 2011 I realized where the Revolution was leading to and wanting nothing to do with it, I had to choose between Catholicism of my Birth or Eastern Orthodox Conversion, God also Willed that I Revert back to the Catholicism of my Birth on the Day before Easter in 2012. The following Sunday I started attending the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) and I have been there since, although from time to time attending my local weekday Mass.
My only caveat to this article is that I wouldn’t call the TLM the Mass of the Revolution, but the Mass of the Counter-Revolution: Modernity is the Revolution, with ts many-headed problems and instability whereas, Tradition is the Counter-Revolution, it is One and is the Source of Solutions and Stability.
Although, I suppose it could be argued that since Modernity is predicated upon Rebellion, “they [who] choose to join the revolutionists and march beneath our banner” are committing the final act of rebellion, against [Post]Modernity itself, which then proves this is a multi-generational exercise in ending where we started I guess. I know if this is the case then, this was [and to a point still is] me.
Love, love the energy and “run don’t walk” to Latin Mass message. Excellent post. The faith of the young may not be lost after all.
Many good points. Thank you!
A couple of salient points:
1) The “flourishing spiritual life” Bl. Paul VI spoke of when promulgating Sacrosanctum Concilium has yet to arrive.
2) It is reported that the plaque at Parrocchia di Ognissanti marking first “Mass in Italian” was repeatedly vandalized that it had to be raised.
This does not make sense to me:
– Bl Paul VI In his Angelus address on the day of the “Italian Mass”.
If this is as reported, it is sad:
Why is it wrong to be libertarian? Is it so evil to not aggress against your neighbour?