Many years ago when Roger, my husband, and I were moving to a village in Leinster, Ireland, we visited the parish chapel.
Stepping inside, Roger said to me, ‘This is how a church must have felt before Vatican II.’
The chapel was beautifully adorned, with the tabernacle in central place. Our Lord was flanked by adoring angels, each holding aloft a red light. Two other red lamps were positioned, one either side. And the tabernacle itself was veiled with a small curtain – the colour of the season or feast.
To the left of the sanctuary was our Lady’s altar, decked with pale blue candles, upon a beautiful lace altar cloth.
And to the right, the Sacred Heart altar was similarly decorated, but the candles were red.
The altar rails, still somewhat in place, were covered with finely pressed linen and lace cloths.
I think the only thing that distinguished this chapel from a pre-Vatican II Church was the altar, which was separated from the tabernacle, arranged for the priest to face the people.
On my second visit to the village, I was praying in the chapel, when a woman wearing a black mantilla appeared from the sacristy. She told me that she was late for her Holy Hour and immediately settled down to pray.
Later, having moved to the parish, I was again praying in the chapel, when the same lady approached me.
We had a small conversation, where I mentioned how moved I was by the beauty of the chapel, particularly the red lamps and angels adoring our Lord in His tabernacle. The lady expressed her sadness to me about the priest having his back to the Lord during Holy Mass. This prompted me to say how much I loved the Traditional Latin Mass.
In a hushed voice, the lady said, ‘I’ll get you to a Latin Mass. Meet me tomorrow morning outside, the other side of the road, a quarter to ten”. She winked at me, nodding her head towards the place we were to meet. The whole exchange was as though I was being welcomed into a secret society. I had no idea where the lady would take me. I was somewhat unnerved, but I agreed.
All this, it should be noted, was before Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum in 2007. Back then, the Bishop’s permission was needed in most cases, and even then there were often problems such that the Masses could not be advertised or were best held in private.
So, the following morning I arrived at the meeting place at the arranged time. The lady was waiting for me. And within a few minutes, I was in a small Oratory, with a few other people. Two, I recognised from the parish Mass.
I was astonished, there in our new village, each Saturday and Sunday was celebrated a Tridentine Latin Mass!
We all stood as the priest entered the Oratory, vested in a beautiful cream chausible, with blue patterning and a large image of our Blessed Lady in the centre.
There was no server, so the lady who invited me, made the responses and a gentleman rang the bell.
The liturgy was beautiful and I began attending each weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, with my family.
That is, until suddenly the Masses came to an end. One of the priests involved with this Latin Mass was reprimanded for something. And the Bishop ordered that the Mass be immediately stopped. It was tragic for our little community. We were unexpectedly dispersed.
My family and I travelled to Dublin on Sundays for the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Auden’s (now moved to St. Kevin’s). But we all deeply missed our little village Mass.
Yet, whilst Holy Mass was wonderful in that small Oratory in our village, something else that occurred each time our little congregation came together wasn’t wonderful at all. To my dismay, each time we met, there was much bitter talk about the modern Church.
And this was not the first time I had heard such talk. Having attended the Traditional Latin Mass in our parish chapel when we lived in South West Wales, I had suffered the same there.
One could say, ‘Well, it’s understandable. The Traditional Mass has been ridiculously restricted.’
At that time, in 2002, Pope St. John Paul II had released his Motu Proprio, Ecclesia Dei, of 1988, once again allowing for the celebration of the Tridentine Latin Mass. But only under the authorisation of the Bishops, many of whom were not at all in favour of it. In fact, most were passionately against the Old Rite. Therefore, on the whole, the Bishops continued to suppress the Latin Mass.
Again, we could say, the bitter talk is understandable. Who wouldn’t grumble? That is, when the most powerful form of Catholic worship and efficacious means of salvation, is still being repressed.
But still, I do not think it can do anyone any good to speak in this bitter way. This type of bitterness can only harden our hearts.
Yet, it goes on and on and on. And not simply within traditional circles. The liberal Church is just as bitter towards those of the tradition. I have heard far too much of it, from both sides. The traditionals fighting the liberals and the liberals fighting the traditionals.
In fact, in that very same parish in Leinster, a new parish priest had arrived who began to attack the Sacristant (the lady with the black mantilla, who later became my friend). He began speaking, or rather ranting, about her in acid tones. He criticised the way she decorated the chapel, the literature she displayed in the foyer and the prayer groups she ran. In other words, all she was doing to uphold the tradition was deeply despised by him and came under assault.
The conflict in that particular parish ended tragically. The priest, backed by a powerful parish council began to take action against the Sacristant. The linen cloths on the altar rails were removed. Then, there were disputes regarding reverence to the Blessed Sacrament. The Sacristant was ordered to give the tabernacle key to all Eucharistic ministers. This caused her to withdraw her services from the parish entirely.
On returning to that village a couple of years ago, Roger and I visited the chapel. We were saddened to find many other alterations. The Sacred Heart and our Blessed Lady altars were laid bare, candles and lace removed.
And whilst I was thrilled that the adoring angels remained, the two tabernacle lamps were gone.
Gone too was the rich atmosphere of piety and prayerfulness that once filled that chapel. It felt dull and empty of spiritual refreshment. No longer was one naturally taken to the heights, as before.
It is because of these very things that the bitter talk amongst traditionalists occurs. Which is why, although it is not acceptable, it is extremely understandable. Our poor Church is sadly at odds, at war even, against herself.
And as our Lord said, ‘If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.’ (Mark 3:25).
And at the very heart of this battle is the Liturgy. The most efficacious form of prayer – Holy Mass – and the greatest gift that has ever been bestowed upon us – the Holy Eucharist – of which we are trusted guardians, are being fought over.
Is it no wonder then that our Holy Roman Catholic Church is in disarray?