Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a Protestant. Like all the rest, I’m still trying to wrap my head around transubstantiation, things relating to Mary, and places like Purgatory. But despite all this, I’ve never felt such a feeling of belonging to something as I have at the Parish of Holy Innocents—one of the last places to celebrate the Latin Mass in New York City.
I say “belonging” because the opposite seems to be felt surrounding Latin Masses and their attendees since the latest news from Rome, which determined a divisiveness in online and in-person groups devoted to celebrating this Extraordinary Form.
A TLM divisiveness might exists, but it remains to be seen at Holy Innocents. Theirs was the first Latin Mass I ever attended, and this fact itself seemed to be a selling point for these “rad trads” to come up and talk to me. The lovely people who approached me only lit up more when I informed them I wasn’t Catholic.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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“I overheard you saying you were considering converting,” one hipster-looking man said as he sat down next to me. “That’s so interesting.” His kind, curious eyes looked at me through his Harry Potter glasses. He had grown up in the city, was a music student at Hunter College, and was working for the Dominicans. These facts are all I know though since he spent the rest of the time asking about me and my story.
“I’m considering joining the Benedictine monastery,” a woman told me one Sunday. She also gave me a pleasant look when I confessed to being a Protestant. That seemed beside the point to her, for she confided in me about her excitement and anxieties of leaving her family. I was no uncultured Protestant; I was a fellow journeyer.
To them, my lack of knowledge surrounding all things TLM did not display ignorance, but rather my own opportunity to witness some real beauty and truth in the beat-up basement of an old “Shopper’s Mass” church off Broadway. I breathed a sigh of relief in meeting these people—they were the first dose of genuineness I ever received in the city.
The contagious joy of these Mass-goers is like none I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps it’s the weed wafting into the building from Times Square. But I don’t think so.
In the most earnest way, love seems to be the culprit.
From the Latin missals they bring, to the distance they took to come, to the veils they wear, to the significant lack in percentages of those who approach the altar for the Eucharist, it is evident that they love this mode of practice because, through it, they catch a glimpse of a closer, intimate portrait of Christ. This Mass, to them, is completely extraordinary, and Pope Benedict apparently thought so too.
A known admirer of Church tradition is Cardinal Henry Newman, who said this Mass “is virtually unchanged since the third century.” Those who attend Latin Mass know that they are speaking the same words as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s a deep and wide history, and it serves as a connecting link between 21st century post-modern New York City and 3rd century Athens. Now there’s something you don’t get every day.
So TLM goers are a loyal bunch devoted to this phenomenon, but Holy Innocents’ purpose seems to go beyond this. Some in the TLM community might pride themselves in being the only ones left, fighting a great battle against modernity with historical tradition.
That attitude doesn’t exist at Holy Innocents. They act as faithful vessels, honored to be a part of such beauty and equally honored to extend it to an outsider, like me.
The literal heart of the matter is the object bringing them fulfillment. For most of them, it doesn’t rest in being the last one standing. In fact, this seems to be a source of despair for them. They’re gripping something much firmer than pride and traditional superiority. It is their love—pure and sincere love.
Following Adam and Eve’s creation, St. Augustine writes, they dwelled in joy and delight. Why? Because they were near to what they loved. Just so with these Broadway parishioners. Behind a reverent face upstairs in Latin Mass is a joyous individual in Coffee Hour downstairs. Their love is deep and wide, and sincere. And because of that, they see my entrance into their hallowed halls as a blessing and not a hinderance.
And due to this openness, I’ve come back, again and again. And as a Protestant who has attended many churches and parishes, Holy Innocents has become my secret favorite. It’s my one place to receive sincerity, thoughtfulness, and most importantly, brotherly love.
It’s why I am writing this. With my Protestant self not being very informed on the politics of TLM and its online presence, I was shocked to hear Pope Francis’ words on the culture that I now hold very dear to me. I have no doubt that the snobs exist and that pride is one of Satan’s strongest footholds. But I’m saddened the TLM community has gained such a reputation through these things. And I am saddened that Pope Francis has not had the chance to visit Holy Innocents in New York City. If he did, maybe he would realize that behind any trolls and raging egomaniacs winning historical arguments on discord is a cluster of veiled women who cannot stop laughing, huddled over coffee and bagels in a basement off Broadway.
[Photo Credit: Holy Innocents Parish website]