By Matthew Reid
In the course of a man’s life there are many changes that occur, some by his own volition, some involuntary, however one of the great changes, perhaps the greatest change, is when a man becomes a father. The entire concept of who the man is put under a microscope like never before. Self evaluation, which in the past may have been full of convenient excuses, sophisms and all around laxity now ceases to be so. The glaring omissions become more glaring, the failure to live up to certain responsibilities and duties presents itself more and the will to correct them seems to grow by the day. In summary, when life begets life, it brings out, or usually should bring our very best effort, in order to ensure that our children are getting what they need in order to grow up in a stable, loving and most importantly, thoroughly faithful home.
In the case of my own life, this has certainly has been the case. In my adult life, I have gone from a lapsed Catholic man, to a married lapsed Catholic man, to a married man with children who has gone through what can only be described as a most profound reversion.
Having grown up and come of age when I did, my rearing in Catholicism was thoroughly in the so-called halcyon days of “the new springtime of Vatican 2.” I did not know it at the time, but what I and all my peers saw week in and week out at our typical suburban parish was a radical departure from what every previous generation of Catholics who had ever lived experienced. From the church that looked much more like an airplane hangar than the house of God, to the folk band swaying back and forth on the carpeted sanctuary singing banal modern hymns, to the instruction to only receive our Lord in the hand while being prepared to make our first Holy Communion, to name but a few of the radical departures that were now being looked upon as normal.
By the grace of the good Lord however, I was being raised in a loving home with parents that took an interest in our spiritual formation, thus pulling my sister and I out of the parish CCD, which consisted of completely ineffectual catechesis, coupled with a disastrous lack of discipline. While the catechism used was subpar to put it lightly, I was “homeschooled” with other friends for our religious education for the majority of my childhood formation. As I look back on it now, this action by my parents and others had a profound effect on what would happen later in my life with respect to the faith.
To add to all of this, I was also doubly blessed to have deeply devout maternal grandparents, who lived their faith in a very different and profoundly “pre Vatican 2” way. From making the sign of the cross while passing a Catholic church, to the statues and icons in the house, to praying the rosary together and attending daily Mass; my experience at their house was quite different to say the least. The confusion, and to be truthful, sometimes discomfort that resulted from seeing the faith lived in such a way was my first clue that something was very much amiss. It also opened up a window in my soul to let me know that there was much more about the faith that I simply was not aware of.
Fast forward years ahead, where I had become the typical modern Catholic after Confirmation, being completely disinterested in the faith that I really didn’t know much about and seeing attending Mass as nothing less than an excruciating experience. Mind you that as a young boy, I had a rather deep faith and even thought at times that the good Lord may want me to be a priest. I had now come into my teens and the cultural corruption had hooked its tentacles in, and as the years went on, without a strong line of defense, became deeper and deeper.
After high school I became a sporadic Mass goer, to not going at all, with the exception of Christmas and Easter. In the midst of this myopic and spiritually desolate time, the good Lord blessed me with meeting and marrying a beautiful girl who came from a missionary Lutheran family. The Holy Ghost certainly works in mysterious ways since it was her beautiful, kind and devout grandmother who sent me “Luther’s Small Catechism” in the mail, only to have me read it and be ever more convicted of the arguments for Catholicism. Interestingly, it was this event that set things in motion for me to immerse myself in learning more about the “faith of my fathers”.
We began to steadily attend Sunday Mass at our average suburban parish, and while I was certainly underwhelmed by what we experienced each week, my LCMS Lutheran raised wife was aghast at the horrid music, lack of reverence and what seemed to be a complete lack of interest in many of the parishioners. I would at times throw up my hands, but I knew somehow that there was more. I didn’t know where but I never doubted for a second that there had to be. That “more” was when I decided to attend Midnight Mass one Christmas in Illinois while we were staying with her family. The next morning I was asked about it, with me responding enthusiastically “I am ruined forever. I’ve seen the light and I can never go back.” What I had experienced was a Solemn Ordinary Form Mass done as reverently and traditionally as possible. As preposterous as it sounds, it was the first time in my life that I had ever heard Gregorian chant in a church. This all took place after our first son was born.
Not long after this experience, we would attend our first Traditional Latin Mass. I had heard about “the old Mass” here and there growing up and was always intrigued. It was always made to seem radically different, mysterious and a distant relic of a church now somehow new and improved. We decided to take our baby boy with us to St. Agnes Church in midtown Manhattan for what turned out to be a High Mass. Not knowing what to expect, I was blown away; changed forever. After only a few minutes in, at the Kyrie and Gloria I was moved to tears. Being so visually engaging, I watched as our barely two year old baby boy was mimicking the exaggerated blessings over the gifts that are such a part of the TLM. Simply stated, this Mass was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. ‘Awe’ is the best word to describe what my reaction was to what my generation was shamefully denied. As I think in retrospect, I realize now that the traditional Mass was what I had been missing my entire life. Only a few months later, the Mass, along with our Lady’s Rosary led to my wife’s conversion home to the church.
As a result of discovering “the pearl of great price” my faith almost immediately took on a form and intensity that I had never known. I simply could not get enough and I was convicted to make sure that our children would not be denied what my generation, and sadly successive generations of Catholics have been.
Some years passed and our children were being raised in a Traditional Latin Mass community, with my older son, who had always had a profound interest in the Mass, bible stories, saints stories and the like was now nine years old serving at the altar each week. From the outset he absolutely loved it. It was after he served a Pontifical Solemn High Mass at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan with Cardinal Zen however that I was truly awestruck with the clarity that children have. As we were driving home together from the church, after having just served a Mass that lasted between two and three hours, he asked me, “Daddy, so the new Mass is much shorter than the Traditional Mass right?” to which I replied that it was. It was in the next sentence however that I was awestruck by a child’s clarity. He then stated, very matter of factly, “so basically they shortened the Mass and made easier so you don’t have to spend as much time with God.” I was almost speechless and after a few seconds and all I could say was, “Yes buddy. You’re absolutely right”. I have never forgotten those words; which leads me to the story I wish most to tell.
It was earlier in this year that we as a family went on our first trip to Disney World. Due to logistical issues in getting to a reverent Mass, I begrudgingly opted to “fulfill our Sunday obligation” and brought the family to the Basilica right outside the Disney grounds. It was a beautiful night out, and we strolled into what from the outside looked fairly traditional for a newer church. As soon as we got to our pew the questions started from my older son. “Daddy, why does the altar look like that? What are they trying to do? “They don’t have hand communion here do they?” I prayed for the best and hoped that it would be relatively sane. It was at the opening procession that the discomfort started, where a male acolyte was carrying a bizarre multi colored modernist cross without a corpus on it. The priest, while noticeably effeminate, took liberties with what’s written in the missal and the female cantor was directing to us as if we were in a sing along on Broadway. At the prayer of the faithful, which seemed to go on forever and get more absurd with each verse, I could feel the agitation and deep sighing getting the better of me. I could see my son looking up at me so I tried my best to not be too obvious with my disgust. Then after what most likely was an invalid consecration due to the liberties taken with the words prescribed, the announcement came, “ Due to the pandemic, Holy Communion will only be administered in the hand”. One of those “hand distribution stations” happened to be right by our pew. I put my head down for the rest of the Mass and stayed after to pray for a few extra minutes. As I was walking out, my wife came up to me and said, “I think you need to speak with our son.” I asked what the problem was and she simply said, “I think only you can talk to him right now.”
As I found my son in front of the church, in the plaza that we had been in an hour before, he came up to me and had tears in his eyes. He said “Daddy, what was that cross that they came in with? Jesus died for us and deserves to be on there. He’s earned it! What was that thing! And everyone going up and receiving Him in the hand like nothing!” By this point he had begun to sob and being a bit embarrassed he walked away to the side of the church. I followed him, with him saying that he needed a few minutes. I stood there and watched, amazed and ashamed at what my decision had subjected him to. My now ten year old son was sobbing for what must have been between five and ten minutes. This is a boy that has a somewhat limited experience with the Novus Ordo, having been raised almost exclusively on the TLM, but not unaware of the vast differences. (There was another time on vacation at the Jersey Shore that he had tried to storm out of the pew at the dreadful closing hymn of another brutal Novus Ordo Mass we were attending.) As I called him back, he stated in no uncertain terms, “I hate this Mass.” I told him that we can’t say such things, and we quickly moved on. Nevertheless, I have thought about that statement many times since.
The experience on this night was different though; he was hurt. Hurt for our Lord. I made my way over to him and tried to comfort him, telling him that the reason he feels and reacted this way is because he is very close to Our Lord. He then said to me, “How can they let this go on? Can the Pope change the Mass back and put a stop to this?” I told him that indeed he could. He then said, with tears in his eyes, “Then why doesn’t he? And what about the priests doing what they do and letting this all go on?” He then asked a question that I will never forget: “They’re priests and grown ups, why don’t they know any better?”
Children have amazing clarity. “Out of the mouths of babes Thou hast perfected praise” Psalms 8:2. Reams have been written by many, attempting to make sense of our current situation, with many twisting themselves into pretzels in order to justify these now common place aberrations in our sacred liturgical worship. Children are not fooled however. Their innocent, spotless faith allows them to see clearly through the glass, “not in a dark manner” to quote St. Paul. As a parent, I have seen that with children, especially boys, it is particularly what they observe and the example set by strictly prescribed rubrics and norms that form their innate understanding of the awe inspiring act that is taking place on the altar. I can attest in no uncertain terms that my children’s understanding of the Mass is so far superior to what mine was at the same age that it amazes and humbles me with gratitude.
When you look at it through the eyes of a child, and especially as an adult charged with forming children in the faith and leading their souls toward the Lord and eternity, how do they not know any better? As I think upon my own aforementioned experience, growing up in a time of liturgical and catechetical chaos, coupled with the resulting meltdown of adherence to the faith amongst my generation and beyond, I myself can say the same refrain; “why don’t they know any better?” It truly is a pathetic situation we find ourselves in, where adults with “itching ears” who should know better are abusing our children with such gross irreverence for the most sacred Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior. “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” St. Matthew 18:3. Because of our unfortunate experience, I will always have a much more profound understanding of this warning from Our Lord. I believe we all remember the other warning about the millstone.
May the good Lord have mercy on those who continue to scandalize our little ones.
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