Catholic Treasures Books

LOST IN THE LITURGICAL COSMOS: A Catholic Family's Odyssey

Margaret Summitt

We are a traditionalist family with two young children. We moved up to the Seattle area from Los Angeles about two years ago, knowing that the liturgical landscape in western Washington breeds strange and exotic fruits, but confident that it is a better environment for young families. Christopher was raised here, while, I a recent convert from Presbyterianism, an native to L.A. Before moving, we considered our alternatives for attending traditional Masses, and we have settled into a comparatively stable, though quite different, situation; in both Los Angeles and Seattle, however, each alternative we tried had its advantages and disadvantages. Our experiences may be instructive for other interested Catholics.

In Los Angeles, our own parish church had a beautiful, Spanish style interior with stained glass saints, statues, a wrought-iron and marble communion rail, and a Novus Ordo Latin Mass every Sunday. We attended whenever we couldn't get to a Traditional Mass at an indult or independent chapel. I miss the Tridentine Masses in L.A., especially the singing. Unfortunately, they are located at great distances from each other, and none of the indult Masses are held at the same location on consecutive Sundays.

Here in the Seattle area, only one Mass compares. The Dominican Rite Mass at Blessed Sacrament has a Latin choir, and a priest who loves the traditional Mass and attends to the needs of traditionalist families. However, he is quite old, and the Dominicans clearly are committed to the Novus Ordo, and seem to wish the old Mass would go away. It was moved from 8:30 to 6:30 a.m. and was made a private Mass, which means no collections. Some families we know continue to attend but quietly wonder what they will do when their priest is gone. At the traditional Sunday Mass, communicants divide themselves between Sanders and kneelers, with some of the former looking askance at the latter. At the later Sunday Novus Ordo Masses, virtually nobody kneels for Communion--in fact, one of the Dominican priests ordered me to stand up.

The more convenient time and location, and community life drew us to Mass at the Society of St. Pius X chapel in Edmond. The chapel is fairly plain, but has several large polychrome statues. It has also preserved a section of the old altar rail from St. James, which is now a cathedral-in-the-round. We have made friends here. Some of them, too, must come great distances to Mass, as do the priests, who fly in from Post Falls, Idaho. Although we can justify our attendance, due to the irregular situation in Seattle, under Cannon 844.2, among other Catholics we expected to hear ourselves personally called schismatics. So far, no such luck though was hear the Society called disloyal to the Pope, fanatics and so on. Some at the chapel, for their part, speak of the Novus Ordo as invalid, and are suspicious of other changes from the preconciliar period. Some also frown on indult Masses, believing that indult priests have already made concessions to the Novus Ordo. Personally, I miss the sung dialogue Masses, but these, too, are thought to lead to innovation.

Occasionally we attend Novus Ordo Masses. We were surprised to find to better than we expected on reading The Hunthausen File and the traditionalist grapevine. We were told of one priest who says invalid words of consecration, and another who glorifies homosexual "marriages"; we also heard of individual orthodox priests here and there, but their situation is always subject to change. At Novus Ordo Masses, we can expect to stand out, especially when we kneel, and we must sometimes place ourselves strategically so as to assure that we receive Communion from the priest. At Chris' old parish, there are altar girls, though no priest has ever ordered us to stand up. I suppose I stand out from other women at Mass, who commonly wear neither head coverings nor skirts. We try to be courteous when shuffling into the proper line for Communion, or turning away from extraordinary ministers, so that we do not stand out even more. In sum, while there may be fairly conservative Novus Ordo parishes out there, and which tolerate traditionalists, there is no telling how long they will remain so.

One major attraction of Paget Sound for us was an active homeschooling group. It welcomes traditionalists to its classes in Catholic culture and its extensive library. We go down there whenever we can, even though there is a local branch in our area, because of this intellectual attraction. We seem to be the only family attending a Society of St. Pius X chapel in either group, and it seems that the Seattle group raises fewer questions about it. Some of the parents in this group suggested we try the Byzantine Rite parish of St. John Chrysostom; its priest is an enthusiastic sponsor of their apostolate.

St. John Chrysostom is in a house whose interior is ornately painted in gold, reds and blues. Everyone kisses an icon upon entering, and the rosary is prayed with special commemorations for each mystery. The entire liturgy is sung, including congregational responses, some in English. The rite of consecration is performed behind a painted screen, called an iconostasis. We hope that this reverent and beautiful liturgy, unlike some of the other Eastern rites, will not be ‘updated' under pressure from Rome. On the other hand, the Byzantines take a very different attitude toward the age for baptism and First Communion, both of which are given to infants. Further detail I cannot give, for Chris attended this Mass with our infant son, and had to remove him downstairs before seeing much of it, as there was no cry room.

Recently a private Mass brought together some of the families from Blessed Sacrament and the St. Pius X chapel. It was celebrated by a priest of the Confraternity of St. Peter, in a home about 25 miles north of Everett, graced by a restored antique altarpiece and statues. Although I had expected the families from St. Pius X to express some reservations about Fraternity Masses, I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of them knew the priest, that he had baptized their children, and that they were enthusiastic about the possibility of a Fraternity priest in this area. Negotiations for such a Mass had been underway even before Seattle's Archbishop Murphy died, and then were put on hold. When the new archbishop is named, negotiations will resume, and it is hoped that the archdiocese will grant permission for a Fraternity Mass. If so, however, it may mean the end of the Masses at Blessed Sacrament.

In sum, traditionalist families like ours should expect to travel, often considerable distances, to find Tridentine and other traditional rite Masses. This seems to be the universal experience of such families we have known. If there are both indult and St. Pius X Masses available, it may be a good strategy to keep a foot in both camps, prudently discussing among friends the current situation of traditionalists within the Church, so as to gain respect and keep factionalist feelings to a minimum.

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