I really and truly didn't know what to expect on Sunday when I went to my first ever Traditional Latin (Catholic) Mass at Holy Family Parish in Vancouver. I was the last person on this earth that ever thought I would end up loving all things Latin! (Which now includes traditional latin hymns, gregorian chant, and mass parts! I am still the same girl though that loves her guitar and praise & worship music on the side.) It was one thing that I loved to go to Italian Mass with my parents when I was younger, but I just thought everyone that loved Latin Mass was in some secret club that was a little scary and stuck in the past, refusing to move ahead with the times. PLEASE FORGIVE ME. Slowly, the beautiful bits and pieces of Latin that I experienced through people I knew at work started to grow on me. My dissatisfaction was at such a high level that I was hopping from one parish to another in hopes that there could be a place where I fit in. I was also coming out of a very difficult phase of my life where it seemed that people were very critical, judgemental, and preachy and I just wanted to get far away.
I have been a "regular" Catholic my entire life and had gone to Mass a million times over, because I truly understood and loved what it meant and because I believed it for my own; heart, mind and soul. I went to daily morning Mass many times through the years and even at work I was more than privileged to be able to attend daily Mass with the students and faculty. There was a strength and a comfort and a stability that I found no where else. I did have many profound experiences in other denominational churches as I had stopped going to Catholic church for about 5 months at one point about 3 years go, but then came back, through a powerful homily on the Eucharist on EWTN (tv.) I learnt so very much about different Christians and the way they pray and worship and go to church, but through it all, there was one thing that could not be explained away by anyone, and which I had always believed in and which stood the test of time. The real and true presence of Jesus in Holy Communion.
The Catholic church can be traced all the way back to Jesus' time, especially with the line of Popes that have not been broken since Peter, the apostle. One of the turning points for me in searching and questioning my faith later on in life (that I never had to do), was that there are manuscripts that date before the year 100AD describing the way the early church worshipped together, which was identical (and actually quite a lot longer) to the Mass that we know today. Well, the Latin Mass actually. And even many years before the first book of the New Testament was ever written, there existed traditions that were passed on from Jesus to the Apostles and so on. There were some super cool great facts; that's for sure, but it had to make it into my heart and not just into my head. Yes, there are horrible, judgemental and hypocritical Catholics that give us good ones a pretty bad name, but there are those type of people in every walk of life and in every church. We are all imperfect humans and there is no denying that truth. But God is no comparison to our humanity and how very little we are, and I would be missing out on quite a lot actually, if I followed things because of people's example and not God speaking to my heart.
These are just my thoughts from when I came home last Sunday and the experience that changed the way I looked at everything when I go to Mass. I don't know what yours has been, but feel free to share this with anyone and leave me a comment if you have been touched in a similar way.
I thought I had experienced Jesus already….
(Photo courtesy of Clayton Richard Long)
Today changed my life forever. It was like I had a taste of what the saints must have experienced after they received Holy Communion. It felt as if my entire being was so full of Jesus that nothing else mattered and the earth stood still, and like I actually met Jesus for the first time in person. I couldn’t stop smiling a real genuine smile full of peace and joy that I had never known before and I hadn't felt that happy since before my dad passed away. I had many deep and real experiences of Jesus in Holy Communion before, but I never felt like this ever. It was like another world had opened up to me altogether and nothing could take it away. I didn’t even look at my watch and that an hour and a half had passed and I was completely unaware, for I was in the presence of God and where I wanted to stay forever. It ended, but instead of feeling like something was missing and the experience was over, it was opposite. I felt like Jesus was so alive inside of me, an unworthy human, and he had filled in all the emptiness I had been feeling my whole life. Especially lately. It didn’t feel sad, like it was over and now I have to go back to my horrible sad life. It was as if I was taking him with me and life was so much sweeter, richer, better for HE was in it. I felt like a real soldier of God, strong in him and strong in his life in me.
It was so much more than I could ever have imagined and even the words that come now cannot do justice to the most amazing feeling of salvation come down to me. I had been starving and now I was no longer hungry.
HE is our bread and our food and our life, and it all makes much more sense to me now. We look to fill ourselves with everything in the entire world that is only a created, empty thing. What we really need and long for with all our being and may not even know it yet, is the feeling of filling ourselves with the very creator of our souls. And the real King of the universe, Almighty God, that has sent everything our souls need in the form of the perfect God and perfect man, my Lord Jesus. Our souls are restless until we rest in him, but I was doing everything I knew for as long as I could and still had this restlessness. I think God even allowed me to not have time to eat before I went, so that I could experience him filling my soul so very full and even the hours that went by after that where I was not even hungry. Every experience I had such as confession, going to retreats, spiritual conferences, and even “regular” Mass was wonderful and powerful, but this trumps them all. I understood in such a full, rich, and complete way just how Calvary is real on earth. It happens every Mass, but it never felt like this!
I am a very detailed person that loves to analyze everything. I think that your heart and your soul has to be in a place to receive something as powerful as this and receptive. Not with judgement or pre-conceived notions of what you are assuming is true from second hand knowledge without even ever experiencing the real thing. You have to find it out for yourself and it was the time for me. I knew it. I knew there had to be more than what I was experiencing and nothing I found in other denominations either. I knew in my heart and my mind what I believed as a Catholic and what the Apostles and Jesus handed down, but there was something that was just not there on Sundays and it bothered me more and more with each passing week. Completely trusting in God and giving up everything of my old, tired self over to him, he was humbling me, as also the sermon just happened to be about humility and what the world thinks is so completely opposite to what God thinks. I can see now that this is what the world outside would call opposite and completely crazy and even to a degree how some some Catholics that have never experienced this would see it. But, for the first time in being Catholic for 35 years, I didn’t want to blend in with the world, I wanted to BE Catholic and loving it. I have never ever felt so right and so complete in my whole entire life.
I kind of half followed along the Latin, then the English, but at most points I just wanted to take it all in and watch what my eyes saw and what my heart felt. Letting go of myself and my own ways, and really experiencing what Jesus wanted of me. I wonder if everyone here feels like this all the time, I wondered?!! I had been to a million masses and knew Italian, so I guess that made my heart follow along with what was going on, as my head was trying to concentrate on translations and where I was. It is interesting how a regular Mass just seems so boring like you could sit there and let your mind wander and go through the motions and then before you know it, it’s all over and you have received nothing. (Although it is your state of participation that does matter and you have still received Jesus in Holy Communion.) Traditional Latin Mass is so completely different to anything anyone could ever experience that it would be virtually impossible to sit there and be bored. You just can't. It is very familiar yet so new at the same time to someone that has never been to one.
Everything was so different, but what struck me was that it was anything but boring. There were more scriptures and psalms and responses in between parts and sometimes there was chanting and sometimes there were hymns and sometimes it was the priest only (not used to that) and sometimes it was the people. The contrast really struck me, such as times of deeper reverence and slower chanting and then the joyous burst of angelic voices for the closing recessional hymn. It wasn’t all one speed or tempo? The choir was like I was in the presence of angels like in Revelation and the organ was so heavenly that it was like I had never ever heard an organ before. And I have heard some pretty bad ones, which had honestly turned me off anything with organ music. I remember having this debate on fb about organ music and guitar....mia colpa. At regular Mass if there is an organ, it just seems so depressing and everything they sing drags and sounds like a funeral procession. Like there is only one speed and everything is the same. Slow and horrible and painful. Not these beautiful highs and lows and in betweens to reflect the appropriate parts and how we experience them. Hard to put into words, but I can try.
I noticed some nice parishioners helping us newbies out and showing us where the readings where in the little booklets and in those fat little black books. (Ha, yes I don't know the terminology yet.) I followed along with the readings as the priest read them in Latin, and I was surprised that I didn’t feel that I was missing out, especially to my joy when they also read the English of the readings and the gospel. I did pretty good with the different standing, kneeling, sitting even though it was almost completely different than what I was used to and I didn't even feel out of place. It was like I just knew what to do (somewhat) even without English. For some odd reason it didn’t seem like routine to me or a chore like usual Mass and my spirit could feel what was taking place. The homily was challenging and real, but also full of truth and relevance for today more than anything. It wasn’t old fashioned outdated preaching like I thought it would be; it was solid and I was paying 100% attention. The priest talked about how much we rely on technology and how much we all want to be how the world is with perfect hair, perfect skin etc. It also struck me about lectors at regular Mass and how most of them don’t even read like they want to be there and don’t put much into it. Of course then, how would the people get inspired to take it to heart?
Mass went along with me trying again to read some Latin and some English from these pretty helpful books that explained every part of the Mass. I thought I knew it all, but the footnotes were really great and made me see everything with completely new eyes. But then, all of a sudden, time stood still and I looked up because for some reason I knew, I just knew it was the consecration. When the priest lifted up the host for all eyes to see and held it up there for a while, I more than knew what was going on. I wanted to cry because it was real. More real than anything I could ever see with my human eyes and touch with my human hands. The only way that I can describe it was that there was nothing around me and no one around me. Only HIM. Time as I knew it seemed frozen, and the host suspended was in the midst of heaven and earth; in the middle of its miracle from bread of the earth to body of my Lord. For that is what we believe, but how often do we take it for granted? I started thinking the whole Mass, oh my God wow what an incredible experience I am having and I can't believe I am here, but it turned into my whole soul and my whole being and everything I was pouring out my life to him My Lord and my God! All I can say is that as I looked at Him, it was the most emotional Eucharistic experience that I had ever had. And it’s not limited to a small group of selected people either.
One thing I was really shocked and completely thrilled with was the total reverence and respect that you could feel as soon as you walked in. The clothing matched the atmosphere as everyone was dressed very covered and respectful (with some ladies wearing veils) which was a contract to most Masses where it is very casual with some women dressed like they are literally going to the beach with short shorts and showing way too much cleavage. I guess they dress like how they normally do anyways. It just all made sense when I jokingly told my friend, no jeans right? I have to quote him because of his explanation....Of course God loves you no matter the clothes you wear, but you know where you are going every Sunday, right?-----to Mass, the Sacrifice of our Lord. Would you dress nice for a friends wedding or a friends funeral? This is our Lord and the reverence level is very high...
I was surprised how genuine and loving the people were that I met after Mass and they were so welcoming and friendly. They were so normal and happy and one of the priests I met was very friendly; I loved the way he broke the ice because of my deer in the headlights look and made me feel so much at ease. I was SERIOUSLY expecting the cranky old ladies that you meet at every other parish. I was so sick and tired of going to a million other “regular” parishes where during Mass it all was so casual where people were talking and laughing and not paying attention to anything and they all seemed more unhappy and bored than when they came in. People can’t wait to get out as fast as they can, like the building is on fire and they come in missing half the Mass and then run out before the last song even starts. I struggled with that for years, thinking it was the music, thinking it was the people, thinking it was the priest, wondering what the heck was wrong with me that it affected me so much. Did anyone else feel like I did? A good friend was commenting on how at the Mass she goes to, she pretty much grins and bears it and sees it as penance. That made me sad because it is so completely not what our experience should be!
With the Latin Mass today, even though the priest’s back was turned to us, we were all facing our Father God together in a way and no one was looking around, chewing gum, looking at what other people were doing and what they were wearing and who was there. And that was bizarre to me as you would think that more people would pay attention to the “new” Mass because they could see the priest and everything that was going on, but it was opposite. I never realized how much we all look at the priest who seems to be doing all the work, rather than the priest leading us to all offer ourselves up to God. I felt so comfortable because everyone was so focused on every part of the Mass and what was going on and not with what everyone around them was doing. There were no distractions and it was so intense and real. Not the other way, like spectators, but active participants at the altar of God. Before it felt to me like the Last Supper and everyone gathered casually around a table, but now it felt like the most precious of sacrifices of Calvary come to us and we were all a part of it. The supper table had become the altar where I laid my human self down, and all the endless words had become an offering from all the people straight to God, with the priest.
This is what we believe as Catholics! This is the reality of the very presence of Jesus in the Eucharist! And I had been a really strong faithful Catholic pretty much my whole life. I thought I knew Jesus fine until today, when he came down from heaven to the altar and into my heart, mind, and soul, and promised he would never ever leave me. It was like all the lines and all the dots and all the pieces of the puzzle were put together and all joined and it all leads back to Him. As I went back on the long bus trip, I didn’t even care what time had gone by. I felt like this is how the Lord’s Day is always to be celebrated. I didn’t even want to go shopping or other stuff that I used to do, not caring what day it was, and that was sad. People didn’t rush off as soon as Communion was over, they all stayed. Even when adoration started, many stayed. Even the people that went to the hall after for fellowship stayed a super long time. I sat in Adoration, because as I said before, I could not leave. I just could not physically leave at all. It was like a magnet. I stayed and just sat in the Lord’s presence like I had never done in years. I used to sit forever in front of the Blessed Sacrament and hear God’s voice in many ways in my heart and for such a long time, I could not sit still anywhere though. I thought it was just me and always being distracted and I could never even sit with my mind being able to focus, even on reading a book. This girl that used to do nothing but read and read and read. Well, after just sitting, I read all these beautiful prayers in the back of the books that were like ones I used to read when I was younger. I could not get enough prayers!
On the way back home, I just couldn’t help but look at all the faces I saw. People around me so sad, lonely, empty, stressed (and strung out on stuff.) I wanted to tell them all that you can have it all! I wish everyone could experience what I did today. It was real and I want to never ever forget it, and I am going every single week. It would take a lot for me to miss this! How could I??? And to think it all started with a sad day yesterday, thinking of my dad and wanting to get out of Langley and go to Vancouver because it was Father’s Day. I couldn’t even function at all yesterday and just slept and cried because I missed my dad more than anything since he had passed. I was so lonely for many reasons, but I didn’t need just another Sunday where nothing changed in my heart and it was business as usual and Jesus passed me by. I needed the day where everything changed and heaven met earth, if even for a little bit, if even just for me.