My wife and I were in New Orleans recently, a Thursday to Monday trip that included two parties in celebration of the wedding of two friends. We ate too much.
But on Sunday I went to Mass.
St. Patrick’s Church on Camp Street is not the prettiest church in NOLA on the outside, although it’s very imposing. Inside, it’s stunning. I was there for the 9:15 Tridentine Mass. I became a Roman Catholic in 1973, and this was just the third Latin Mass I’ve attended in those nearly fifty years. The first was a friend’s funeral in 1998. The second was a decade later in the church I now attend, and I don’t think Latin has been heard there since – not in the liturgy anyway. There’s been some in the occasional homily (we have learned priests).
I’m linking to a video of the Traditional Latin Mass celebrated at St. Patrick’s in May by our friend, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke. [Note: It’s long.] It will give you an idea of how beautifully Fr. William Farge, S.J. and the St. Patrick’s staff do the TLM.
And what I saw and heard on October 9th was truly stunning: Three priests in birettas; I counted sixteen altar servers; the choir was superb; many of the women and girls wore mantillas, and most of the men were well-dressed; the large church was nearly at capacity. This is clearly a thriving parish community committed to the TLM.
Fr. Farge’s homily was about the Sacrament of Penance, based in part on the Gospel (“For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?”) and partly on the writing of St. John Henry Newman. Along with the beauty of the Mass, despite my inability to comprehend Latin and my unfamiliarity with the silences in the liturgy, it was among the best 90 minutes I’ve ever spent in church.
As I left Mass, I shook Fr. Farge’s hand and thanked him for his words. I didn’t tell him how angry I was.
My anger, of course, was with the way Pope Francis has traduced those who love the TLM and his insistence on suppressing its practice.
Having seen so little of this great tradition, it had been hard for me to be overly angry at the pope about this – until now. Now, I really cannot comprehend why Francis is so adamant to quash it.
And my anger only grew, because my wife and I wandered over to the French Quarter for brunch, after which we visited the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, seat of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Here is a building lovelier outside than inside.
The noon Mass was winding down. It was sparsely attended. I may be unfair and inaccurate in so concluding, but this seemed to me to exemplify the error of the Vatican’s “modernizers.” The outcome of the Synod on Synodality will likely be a smaller Church. But not in the way then-Cardinal Ratzinger predicted – because the Church will stand steadfastly against the errors of contemporary secularism – but because the holiness rooted in tradition will be diminished.
Back home in New York the following Tuesday, I went to another Mass. This was at Sacred Heart of Jesus on the West Side of Manhattan.
On the way to the church, I heard my name called out. It was my friend, Fr. Roger Landry. We were both going to Sacred Heart for the kickoff of the Eucharistic Procession that would cross America’s most famous island to end at America’s most famous church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Father told me he was to be the celebrant, which thrilled me because he is one of our finest homilists. He did not disappoint.
The Procession was sponsored by the Napa Institute. Michael Warsaw, president of EWTN was there, and we chatted briefly, then settled into pews for the Mass. Napa Institute founder Tim Busch spoke before Mass began.
Fr. Roger’s homily, titled “The Eucharistic Harrowing of Hell’s Kitchen,” which is the name given to that section of Manhattan by 19th-century civic leaders and the police. “To call it Hell for them was too mild,” Father said, “they considered it the furnace of Hell.” When Sacred Heart parish was established in 1876, it was with the hope that “Jesus’ loving and merciful heart. . .[would ignite] the fire of the Holy Spirit to go out to extinguish the vestiges of Hell throughout the neighborhood.”
Imagine what Manhattanites, usually so blasé, thought as they watched hundreds of people processing across town behind a priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a beautiful monstrance, shimmering in the late-afternoon sun. An unexpected sight; an unforgettable experience.
As Fr. Landry said towards the end of his homily, “Today as Christ risen from the dead comes for the harrowing of Hell’s Kitchen with the mercy of his Eucharistic presence, we prepare to accompany him like the crowds on Palm Sunday, rejoicing that the long-awaited one has come, and echoing their refrain, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
This too was a beautiful Mass – in English. Truly reverent.
Why, in God’s name, cannot the Mass of Paul VI, especially as it was celebrated before our Procession, exist alongside the Tridentine? Why can’t the vernacular Mass also feature (as my first true priest friend loved to say) “yells, bells, and smells”?
Heck, “65 percent of U.S. Catholics” know nothing about TLM restrictions and controversies. Why? Because they are disengaged from the Faith. And the answer to engaging them isn’t to make Sacred Heart more like the nearby Manhattan Church of Christ, a fine community in its own right, but they are not. . .us. Let us be us, Holy Father.
Let’s restore the Faith and not renovate it into something it was never meant to be. Holy Father, I suspect you took your papal name in part thinking of Christ’s call to St. Francis to rebuild His Church. If so – and, truly, I say this with respect – you’re going about it all wrong.