It was just a normal Sunday—we walked into Mass at 9:32, hoping we didn’t careen into Father and the procession in our scramble to get my toddler, my husband, and myself into the church. What greeted us was unexpected, to say the least.
Father was giving some pointers about today’s Mass, none of which registered as we shepherded my son into the pew. Once seated though, things clicked into place—the vestments were different, the placement of certain items had changed, and Father was discussing the large swaths of silence in today’s Mass along and the Latin missals in the back.
Surprise! Tridentine is the order of the day.
My first instinct was the run—I had a three year old that, on a good day, could almost make it through a Novus Ordo Mass. I had less ability to corral him due to a run in with a see saw the day before (suffice it to say, See Saw – 1, Alexis – 0), and I myself had never been to a Tridentine Mass before. If I was lost, how on earth was I going to guide my son?
I spent the first 10 minutes of Mass mad. Awful, I know; but I thought of all the reasons I should leave, and couldn’t think of a reason to stay. Finally, the silence broke through. Having never been to a Tridentine Mass before, I wasn’t prepared for the silence.
And you know what? It’s terrifying to be alone with the Lord for that long, because when you’re listening, things get real. It brought to mind that passage from 1 Kings: God was not in the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire; God was in the gentle whisper of air. I had grown too comfortable and used to my weekly routine, and in the sudden silence I came face to face with the awful presence of God.
It was the same feeling I had more years ago than I like to think, when I was going from church to church in the dark streets of Rome on Holy Thursday. Somewhere between Santa Cecilia and San Crisogono the darkness and the stillness of the city began to resonate until I was in front of the tabernacle in San Crisogono and totally, wholly aware of God.
I realized toward the end that my son had only had one incident in 2 hours where he needed to go to the back of the church. I realized that the chant was beautiful and that even though I couldn’t follow the Mass as closely, I could still worship. I realized that, in my concern to fit everything into a neat, tidy box labeled “Sunday Morning Mass” I was missing the point. I realized that, every so often, even I need a sharp hint, a quick jolt to the senses, as if there is a whisper in my brain that says “Be still, and know that I am God.”
image: Interior of San Crisogono, Rome/Wikimedia Commons.