From the Ghetto with Love

As I overcame my fear and ignorance of the traditional liturgy, I found myself falling in love with it.

For the past few months, I’ve been discovering what it’s like to be living in the ghetto. Ever since the issuing of Traditionis Custodes last July, I know what it feels like to be a second-class citizen in my own Church. I am considered inferior to other Catholics because I have endeavored to follow the wise counsel of Pope Benedict XVI, who entreated all Catholics to be comfortable with both forms of the Roman rite, the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Forms. 

Having read The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict’s wonderful and scholarly exposition of the beauty of the Mass, written a few years before he became pope, my family and I started to attend Novus Ordo Masses that were celebrated ad orientem and that encouraged, or at least permitted, kneeling for Communion and the reception of the Host on the tongue. We also occasionally went to the Extraordinary Form, which was more widely available following Pope Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which encouraged the tolerance and acceptance of the Traditional Mass. 

As I overcame my fear and ignorance of the traditional liturgy, I found myself falling in love with it. Every movement and gesture by priest and servers had theological significance. It was balletic, liturgical dance, with the Holy Spirit as the choreographer. I found my level of engagement was much more profound. I read all the prayers and readings for the Mass beforehand so that I could follow along with the Latin during the liturgy itself. My eyes were fixed on the drama unfolding at the altar and my heart and mind were transfixed by it. I was now able to go further up and further into the heavenly Presence of Christ in the Mass. The beauty was so sublime that it was almost an inkling of Heaven itself!

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I was not alone. When we first began attending the Traditional Mass, we were only about a hundred or so in number. We few, we happy few! But the numbers kept increasing as others discovered the ineffable majesty of the Mass of the ages. 

There were many young convert couples, with many children. After the Mass, the women gathered to pray at the Lady altar, while the men knelt in prayer at the altar rail. Then they gathered outside church in a weekly convivium. In all my years as a Catholic, since my reception into the Church in 1989, I have never been part of such a Christ-centered community of believers. I felt so blessed and so unworthy of such a blessing. Domine, non sum dignus!          

And then came the bombshell from Rome, which made me and my brothers and sisters in Christ second-class citizens. This was followed by a directive from our own bishop forbidding the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass anywhere in the diocese and by any priest of the diocese, except in four specially designated ghettoes. I felt as if my family and I, and the other families in our community, had been shepherded by our shepherd onto an Indian reservation, where the old ways will only be tolerated, albeit begrudgingly, as long as we don’t consider ourselves equal to the rest of the flock. Now, so it seems, we are awaiting the next wave of persecution, due to hit us like a tsunami next March.

Our crime, it seems, is a desire to attend the same Mass for which the English martyrs laid down their lives for 150 years. Martyrs, such as St. Edmund Campion and St. Margaret Clitherow, along with hundreds of others, priests and laity alike, risked their lives and laid down their lives so that the people of England could still have access to the very Mass that our own bishops are now forbidding. If this isn’t madness, or something worse than madness, I don’t know what is.

It is understandable that those forced into the ghetto or shepherded onto the reservation should feel anger. It is reasonable to expect that those who are forcibly marginalized will be resentful of those who have used force against them. But this is the way of the world. It is not the way of Christ, nor is it the way of the Christian. We know that we will suffer persecution for following Christ because Christ Himself told us so. We know that such persecution is a blessing because Christ told us so. We know that the mark of the Christian is to love those who persecute us. It is, therefore, with love, not with anger, that we who find ourselves in the ghetto should respond to those who have placed us here. 

We are comforted by the presence in the ghetto with us of St. Edmund Campion, St. Margaret Clitherow, and those other martyrs who died for the preservation of the Mass for which we are now persecuted for attending. We are comforted by the presence in the ghetto of Pope Benedict XVI, who is being scourged and crowned with thorns for his teaching on the spirit of the liturgy and the beauty of the Traditional Mass. We are in good company. We are in the best of company! 

Let us love one another as Christ has loved us, and let us love those who persecute us as Christ loves them. It is by the power of this love, the power of His Love, that we shall conquer.      

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]

  • Joseph Pearce

    Joseph Pearce a senior contributor to Crisis. He is director of book publishing at the Augustine Institute, editor of the St. Austin Review, and series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. An acclaimed biographer and literary scholar, his latest book, Benedict XVI: Defender of the Faith, is newly published by TAN Books. His website is jpearce.co.

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