The Transcendent Beauty of Tradition
(I have often been tough on Catholic Traditionalists for succumbing to bitterness in their denunciations of modernism. But in fact, they have cause for dismay. After Vatican II, for a time, the Tridentine, or Latin, Mass was suppressed entirely. That was a terrible mistake in judgment. The Tridentine Mass was one of the great accomplishments in the history of the faith. It is the Mass of Bach, Mozart, Handel and Haydn. One does not need to forbid me the joy of Bach to persuade me of the merit of Gershwin or Stravinsky. Thankfully, Pope St. John Paul II restored permission for the Tridentine Mass.
I asked Gary Sarsok, who I have known for a good two decades, to write a piece on how and why the Tridentine Mass speaks to his soul. He is deeply serious about his faith. He fully lives it. He has become something of our “Traditionalist in Residence” here. He has written a beautiful piece. I wish that all parishes offered one Tridentine Mass each week – that the faithful might enjoy both Bach and Gershwin fully. – CJ)
By Gary Paul Sarsok
The Pearl in the Field: the Tridentine Latin Mass
I am half Italian and half Czech. My father and my mother were first generation Americans and learned their parents’ native languages before they learned English. When we went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where my mother was born all these Italian relatives would be speaking Italian. I never understood a word they were saying, but it was beautiful to hear them. Italian, Old Italian, Latin, the source of the Romantic languages, the universal language of the known world of the time of the Caesars. This is the language of the Holy Roman Catholic Church to this day.
PATER noster, qui es in caelis
I served the Latin Mass in grade school and several times during high school. I took Latin in high school so I could get more familiar with the Mass and at least be able to read it with fluency. Then it was ripped asunder from my heart in 1968. Ages and ages of the Mass that valiant martyrs died for, that great musical genius composed for the Latin Mass. I was as a child awashed in beauty and of the mystery of the Mass said in an ancient tongue which aided in the mystery, that of which the Holy Spirit breathed throughout history an ancient beauty which I inherited. It was and is my birth right, written in my soul.
sanctificetur nomen tuum
The English language is a pragmatic language; there is beauty there but not like Latin. Some have complained about not understanding it. Many do not understand the Italian operas but sense the beauty. And so there is a drama in the Tridentine Latin Mass, a drama of our fall and our salavation written and sung in an ancient tongue for some two thousand years. Like any opera, there are the costumes, the visuals the backround of the scenes, the music, the artistry, the movements. What would an opera be without any one of these elements? We as human need these elements, some elements more than others because we are all different. Those in the Church had a very minimalistic approach to the Mass, they did not take into account that the Latin Mass had all these elements like an opera that appealed to all of our yearnings for the Bread of Life.
Adveniat regnum tuum
I was chosen to sing bass in our high school’s A Capella Choir. Although it was a public high school we sang some of the Masses of Bach and Handel. How grateful I was to Margaret Mitchell our choir teacher. The beauty of the Masses did not escape this Protestant woman. In the back burner of my heart for many years I have desired to thank her for the privilege she gave me.
Fiat voluntas tua
So for many years afterword I went to the Mass in English which had a profaneness, a gutteral language which lacked elegance. It sounds so much better to hear mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, than the translation through my fault through my fault through my most grievous fault. Those of you who took a language in school you will know what I mean. There are some things that are said that another language says so much more elegantly.
sicut in caelo et in terra
So for many years after the change, I languished. Then in the early 80’s I had a temporary assigment in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was the first time I was away from my family alone. In looking for something to do, I noticed that at Duke University the Music Department was going to sing the Night Office in Latin. I was incredulous I had to read that over again. How can this be at a secular unversity? It was sung A Capela. The women were on one side of Duke’s church and the men were on the other side. One side would sing then the other. It went on from 9 pm to 1 am. These were the most expert singers I have ever heard. All sight singers of whom all that was needed was the musical score of which was read then sung. There were Protestants there recording this beauty that was my rightful inheritance. Why did I have to go 900 miles away to hear the beauty of Gregorian chant at a secular university? I had wondered if this for them was like a museum piece of a time gone by that was never to be again. My heart mourned and I prayed to the good Lord, I begged the good Lord to restore the Sacred to let the Latin Mass to be as it was.
Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie
Several years later in 1988 Father Phillips was moved into an old falling apart Polish parish to close it down. By then the pope had allowed a return of the Latin Mass. So Father Philips started to say the Latin Mass and the parish he was to close started to revive and more and more attended the Latin Mass. Father Phillips began to rebuild the Church spiritually and physically. It became clear that this parish was not to be shut down. There are now about 13 seminarians who have become priests of Father Phillips’ new order, the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius. Restoraton of the Sacred is the foundation for the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius in Chicago. The first Latin Mass I attended there, was a Low Mass. It was odd having attended so many Novus Ordo Masses at the quietness of the Low Mass. Like a city kid going to a remote forest. I had brought the missal my mother bought for me when I was still in grade school. As I read the translation of the Mass from the Latin the priest was saying I realized how profound and how serious this Latin Mass is. Our salvation is serious business and without Jesus we are going to the eternal flames. We are humbled in the Latin Mass and we are raised up again. Hoc est Enim Corpus Meam, this is My Body this is our salvation, the Bread of life.
et dimitte nobis debita nostra
This was for me a miracle like the little Francis of Assisi that God would have repair His Church. I am certain it was not just my heart God heard, but he did answer my prayers.
Is this just a matter of taste like dark chocolate versus white chocolate? No! Not at all. The Latin Mass is perfection, a work of the centuries of ages past. It is a masterpiece! Can you remember your grandparents or maybe even your great grandparents talk of the time they lived when they were young? The Latin Mass was then, too. And perhaps they told you of their grandparents and what they lived in their time, The Latin Mass was then. And if you studied the geneology of your family the Latin Mass was then. I met a Scottish man who could trace his family to 1100 A.D. The Latin Mass was then. From the time of the Apostles to our time, it is. Every family has a tradition, and without that tradition we would feel a loss. And Saint Paul said keep your traditions.
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris
Almost all if not all mystics of the Catholic Faith have spoken about how God talked to them when they had mystical experiences with the Most High God. It was not a verbal language He spoke. It was promptings, urgings of the Holy Ghost. And so that is how the Tridentine Mass speaks to me.
Et ne nos inducas in tentationem
Jerusalem was built as a compact structure but when one looks at the structure it is closely wound, much like the Word of God. His word is the yeast. It is elemental but breaking it down it speaks wisdom, it grows human understanding. His Word is elegant. And so the Latin Mass grows in me the Word of God. Jesus our savior and our best friend who loves us like no other can and no one can ever love us. And so that is how the Latin Mass speaks to me. This is what I have yearned for in this Mass; Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli sung by The Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRfF7W4El60 ) We have riches like this, a plethora of beauty of ages past that “ Kumbaya” or “On Eagles Wings” will never reach and never approximate in this timeless beauty. These are not antiques in your Father’s cellar. It was then as it is now a new and everlasting covenant that is old yet new. The Living Word, a fire of Love that speaks to every generation, the Tridentine Latin Mass. It took hundreds of years to build Notre Dame, Saint Peters in the Vatican. They would not be torn down to build something better, they are our best.
sed libera nos a malo. Amen
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