What does it take to get a young family to a traditional Latin Mass (TLM) where I live? Since the only Mass is at 8am on Sunday morning, it often takes a 2.5 hour drive the day before, a hotel room, a meal out, and a planned activity to keep the kids occupied. And for what? A traditional Latin Mass said in an ugly modern church connected to a school gym, where you kneel on a hard (asbestos?) tile floor at length, while trying to keep a one-year-old boy from delightfully screaming louder than a hostile cougar. Somehow this is fitting, for if you look to the right as you kneel you will notice a large painted logo of the school team name: The Cougars. Not exactly Michelangelo’s Pieta to inspire the soul, but I have seen worse in a church before.
The immemorial Mass many of us know and love always seems to face hardship, and even persecution. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf calls traditional Catholics “the single most marginalized group in the Church today.” While nearly every corner of the earth has Paul VI’s new Mass – outdated David Haas tunes and all – the thought of just one insignificant parish expanding to offer a TLM is exasperating. Might as well return to the Dark Ages, the dwindling army of parish council Susans are sure to cackle. And so, extinction is preferrable to Latin. It is better to die crooning Sinatra’s “I did it my way” than Aquinas’ “Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit” – My whole heart submits to Thee.
Suffering can be a positive, as the growth of the early Church demonstrates. The TLM continues to grow, regardless of obstacles thrown in its way. But despite the growth, the fact remains that many people still do not have access to the TLM. The harvest is plentiful, but the liturgies are few.
In a twisted way, I was heartened to read Steve Skojec’s recent words stating the difficulty many have in getting to a TLM regularly. Perhaps misery loves company. My family has long struggled to get to a TLM consistently, and have been unsuccessful at moving closer to one. Still though, while the traditional Latin Masses might not be weekly, we are still determined, as much as possible, to raise our children as traditional Catholics.[i]
The question is, then, what can a family do if they are unable to move close to a TLM, or travel weekly to attend one? Can parents realistically raise children in a traditional Catholic life in these circumstances? To my wife and I, we emphatically believe the answer is yes. Not an easy yes, nor of ideal circumstance, but affirmative all the same.
Logically, it seems the first necessity in practicing traditional Catholicism is to follow its calendar rather than the Novus Ordo calendar. For whatever reason, this was the last switch our family made. Perhaps we had notions of being left out. “What if we don’t celebrate St. Monica on the same day as so many family and friends? Or the Queenship of Mary? Won’t this be awkward?” It turns out that switching calendars hasn’t been awkward at all. In fact, what was awkward was holding to the new calendar. Crowning Our Lady in May, while celebrating her Queenship in August, was confusing. Same with observing July as the month of the Precious Blood, without the actual traditional feast day to go with it. These and so many feasts finally started making sense when we switched completely to the old calendar. As a bonus, we are discovering many remarkable traditional saints that were removed from the new calendar. As for the “unity” of keeping all the same feasts as our extended family, what a silly and unnecessary concern. It is not an issue.
Building off the calendar, we have appreciated that traditional Catholicism is far more demanding in terms of fasting and sacrifice. And that’s a gargantuan understatement. Fasting only two days a year is outrageous. Our Lord did not instruct on “if you fast,” but “when you fast.” If you want to feel connected to the TLM, you will literally feel connected through the increase of fasting and sacrifice. The traditional practices of fasting and penances on Fridays (often Wednesdays as well), Ember days, along with pre-Lent preparations and penitential Advents, are significant. Our children, we find, have embraced this. For instance, they have welcomed not having meat or snacks on Ember days. How is that possible? Because they inherently know it is a challenge. They excitedly prepare themselves for Ember days, and then frequently comment on how treats following such fasting days taste all the sweeter. Simple wisdom – out of the mouths of children.
Feast Days and Devotions
I shall not soon forget Holy Week, 2020. It was a cold, dark week in which the world was crying out for some glimmer of light. For the first time, we prayed part of Tenebrae with our children. Kneeling in the rising darkness, the children extinguished the candles one by one, with Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus playing softly. Call it sentimentality if you will. Maybe it was. But it was a sentimentality that hit our souls like a bomb. Such traditional prayers and devotions penetrate the soul like no other, and engrain the mystery of Catholicism into the hearts and minds of children.
I believe that feast and devotions days are especially inspiring for young traditional Catholics. There is an abundance of pomp and circumstance in the old Rite. Pentecost has an octave. St. Michael has the impressive Michaelmas. The Presentation has a striking array of blessings and prayers. Celebrating aspects of these feasts at home, and discovering traditional practices and foods that go with them, always makes the occasions eventful, fun, and memorable for the children. Not to sound trite, but it makes the faith truly exciting.
Catechism and Home Schooling
I am one of those teachers. I teach at a public school, located two blocks from our house, while my wife homeschools our children. The other day some students at my school were playing with a rock at recess. I call it the jailhouse rock. Everything else had been taken away from them. Such is the state of public schooling right now.
When I got home from work that day, I was exhausted and depressed by the grind of public school and the many Covid-19 restrictions. My children, on the other hand, were bubbling over with stories about their day. They had learned about St. Maurice and the Theban legion. Afterwards, they studied some Church history, and then practiced their Latin by singing Adoro Te Devote. Finally, since it was a beautiful day outside, my wife took the children to a nearby grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
While public school relentlessly brings the depressing gloom of culture to children, homeschooling affords the opportunity to imbibe the traditional faith daily. Traditional Catholicism and Homeschooling blend together harmoniously.
It’s Ok to Make Distance-Friends
One of the most challenging aspects of living far from a TLM spiritual center is the lack of good Catholic friends for our children (and, admittedly, their parents). Shrugging the shoulders and muttering “it’s too bad” is not an option. Children need good friends. We pray for good friends for our children. But it is also important to take action.
Just because we do not attend a TLM regularly does not mean we cannot form friendships with those who do. Quite the opposite. In our experience, families who attend the TLM are very welcoming and understanding to those who are unable to attend regularly. Frequent are the offerings to “come for brunch,” or even, “stay over at our house next time! We’ll make room!” It is heartening (and it saves on hotel rooms). More to the point, our own children quickly make friends with their children, and so extra trips to visit are essential. Raising children in traditional Catholicism may require sacrifices in finding good friends. By the grace of God, it is possible.
But the biggest challenge remains, the actual Mass. How can we as parents teach our children all the many devotions, prayers, and traditional practices, and then take them to a Mass that is high on chattiness and low on prayerful adoration. Is it not a lie? Except for the 84 seconds of relative silence during the consecration (and even that is face-to-face with the priest), it is frustratingly difficult to pray at a typical Novus Ordo Mass. But to Mass we trod, the children armed with rosaries, Mass books, and the assurance of extra patience for them if they lose focus. Later at home there will be time for singing the Asperges and Gloria. For now, we simply have to trust that God knows what is best for our family. To raise children as traditional Catholics, without the frequency of the TLM, is to realize how powerless we are. It can only be left to God’s mercy and goodness.
I end by recalling a recent moment in that ugly modern church connected to a school gym. It is early on a Sunday, and we are all kneeling on the hard tile floor. Our one-year-old son walks in between his mom and dad, completely at home. Amazingly, the older children face the front of the church. There is every reason for them to stare out at The Cougars picture on the wall, the stacks of gym mats near the exit, or to gaze at the plethora of families behind them. They do not. They are staring ahead at an altar. There is a priest bowed low, and all is silence. Suddenly a host is raised high in the air, the sound of bells shatters the stillness, and the sweet smell of incense bursts forth. What an ineffable gift Our Lord has bestowed on all of us with the traditional Latin Mass. I steal another glance at our children. Their focus is still fixed forward. Forward and upward. A mystery is unfolding in front of them and they know it, from the gentle beckoning from Christ Himself. Ultimately it is all the work of God.
And I will go in to the altar of God: to God Who giveth joy to my youth.
I can’t wait to get back there.
[i] For a thoughtful and engaging discussion on the bond between children and the traditional Latin Mass, I cannot recommend enough Peter Kwasniewski’s latest book, Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.