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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Return of the Tridentine Mass to Detroit.

The Price family was present for this historic occasion at 9:30am, Sunday, October 4.

Some basic observations first.

1. St. Josaphat's is a magnificent church--nothing short of awe-inspiring. The website photos fail to do it a lick of justice. Despite a small congregation (at least until October 4), the place is lovingly maintained. As one of the priests pointed out afterwards, none of the three clustered parishes has had a lick of "renovation" done (the tone of his voice was disapproving upon hitting the quoted term). They are all too poor for it.

Only the rich can afford the Cult of Fugly. Put another way: Dick Vosko doesn't work pro bono (praise God). Which means that if you want to find architectural gems of the Catholic heritage, go to your local metropolis' downtown. St. Albertus and Sweetest Heart of Mary were also recommended to me by a nice gentleman who goes on regular Detroit church tours during the holidays.

For those worried about such things: St. Josaphat's is in a fairly decent area, right next to the Harper Hospital/Wayne State complex along I-75. There's a police station very near by, making security a non-issue. Parking is good, too.

2. What kind of job did the archdiocese do? Somewhat mixed, if more to the good. On the plus side of the ledger: the durable (I spilled plenty of water on mine, running the eldest back to the toilet multiple times) missals explaining the Mass were very well done, and quite helpful. There were plenty for all the attendees, and they helpfully explained the differences in the 1962 Mass (many people were toting missals from 1961 and earlier). The people were friendly, too--even grateful. It's the largest crowd the parish has seen in a while, by all accounts. To the negative: the initial, trumpeted announcement said the Mass was scheduled for 10am, however "tentative." It was moved back to 9:30am, with much, much less fanfare. I suspect many were screwed up by this decision. Bad, bad move (however inadvertent), and one likely to engender suspicion among the very people the Indult is attempting to reconcile. Another bad signal: no bishops attended. Not a sausage, to use the British vernacular. I was hardly expecting Tom Gumbleton (wouldn't that have been entertaining!), but not a single one? Nothing says grudging quite like that silent thunderbolt. After all, the Bishop of Covington (Kentucky) is personally celebrating the first Indult Mass for his diocese. The civil war downtown continues, and score one for the forces of progress, I suppose.

3. Who was there? Speaking of the unreconciled: they weren't. Granted, I didn't talk to a large cross section of attendees, but everyone I did speak with hailed from an archdiocesan parish. Assumption Grotto was well-represented. I think Metro Detroit's sizable separated traditionalist community is playing "wait and see" with the goings on at St. Josaphat.

Also, it could have been me, but there seemed to be flickers of surprise when I mentioned my registered parish, an unspoken "Really?" I don't know quite what to make of that. We don't attend Detroit's answer to St. Joan of Arc (Minneapolis).

4. Numbers? Not SRO, but still large: I'd put it in the neighborhood of 500+. I'm convinced it would have been SRO if any of the things I mentioned above had occurred properly: better advertising, especially of the changed time, and the attendance of, oh, say--the Cardinal.
And, to pre-empt any nostalgia claims: the average age was about 40, skewing toward the younger demographic. I haven't seen that many young Catholic families in one place...ever. Infant car seats were a trip hazard. There was a ten minute wait in line to get into the parish hall after Mass, where tables threatened to sink under the weight of missals, old and reprinted (mine is the 1960 Maryknoll, my wife's the 1959 St. Joseph's Daily version).

Now, to the substance: what do I think of the Tridentine Mass?

Phew. Well, I'm still digesting it, to be honest. It appeared to be (remember: I was raised Methodist) a sung High Mass, and there was more "participation" than I was led to believe was the case. Initial gut observation: I can understand why people find it off-putting, to be candid. It's hard to tell what's going on, and what is happening when. It is alien (more on that later), strange and mystifying. Okaaaay--what's he doing now? I found myself flipping through the missal and still getting lost quickly, which was a bit frustrating. I received the best advice after the fact: just go and put the missal down for the first few weeks. Things will start to percolate in time.

The National Blogging Service has just issued a Qualifier Warning, meaning an impending qualifier has just been spotted heading toward the post you are now reading. If you dislike posts which shift gears, the NBS advises you to please take cover immediately.


I also understand why people love it and connect with the Latin liturgy in a way that is difficult to put into words. For the first time in a long time, I found myself not reacting against the music or other idiosyncrasies that pop up. I also saw--clearly--the sacrificial focus of the Mass in a way I hadn't before. It reminded me that only Christ could do what He did on our behalf. When I wasn't wrestling my restive toddlers (they loved the church, but were less big on the decorum), I found time to reflect and pray, in a way I hadn't before. I was left with the definite sense of Divine Mystery: there's Something going on here, Something just beyond the range of the senses, much like the Apostles must have felt more than once in the presence of Jesus. And now, for the really weird part--even in its alien-ness, it seemed oddly familiar, in a way I am at a loss to explain.

Which brings me to my continuing disquiet: Why is it alien? By all rights, it should not be--but it is. In too many places, reform became revolt, and the past was cast aside entirely. That was my past, too, thank you very much--why did it get tossed into the fire? I'm not particularly happy about it, truth be told.

However, I am thankful for St. Josaphat's window into that past--and I will be back.

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