From the Pastor: My 10 Year Anniversary
My 10 year anniversary is coming up this week. Ten years of “what” you ask? Ten years of celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass. On September 27, 2007, the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, I took the plunge. That Thursday evening, after 3 days of trying desperately to learn how to celebrate the Mass in its ancient form, I stood in front of the altar of St. Rita parish, with dozens of people who had my back in more ways than one, and began, “In nomine Patris, ✠ et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Introibo ad altare Dei.” I was sweating bullets. 11 years before that date, I celebrated my first Mass after my ordination to the priesthood in the only form of the Mass I ever experienced growing up, the Novus Ordo Missae, or New Order of Mass, as Pope Paul VI had termed it. I was excited but not nervous for that first NO Mass. The Novus Ordo Mass took very little preparation. We never even had to pass a test at the seminary to see if we could celebrate it properly, as the old priests liked to tell us they had to do. It was that easy. But the “new-to-me” old Mass was another matter altogether. [In fact, I once (long before I knew anything about the TLM) was told by an elderly priest how easy we “kids” had it. Back in his day, he proclaimed, it took a real man to be an altar server, let alone a priest. Nowadays, he half-jokingly insisted, a trained monkey could celebrate the Mass (Novus Ordo) and an untrained monkey could serve it! Several years ago I wrote a bulletin column in which I included that quip and mentioned that it took me years to completely understand what he was talking about. It is one of a number of bulletin articles for which I was called down to the bishop’s office for a chewing out, for some anonymous petty fellow priest had whined that I had hurt his feelings by passing on that story. Wah, wah, wah.]
Anyway, my first TLM scared the daylights out of me. As I wrote a few months ago, the permission and duty for pastors to celebrate the TLM if asked to do so by the faithful came out in July of 2007, through the document Summorum Pontificum. In August I finally agreed to celebrate it, once every other priest in the area, each of whom grew up with the TLM, said that they would not. Training for the Mass at that time was just beginning to get organized and would not be available for at least a few more months, so I was in no hurry. But Monday, September 24, I got tipped off that if I was ever going to be “allowed” to celebrate it, I had to do so before Monday, October 1, one week away. That put the giddy-up in my horse. I didn’t want to have a Sunday Mass be the first (worst) time I celebrated it, and the only day I could fit an extra daily Mass into the parish schedule was Thursday evening. I had three days to prepare.
The first thing I discovered was that I couldn’t figure out which Mass to celebrate. Different liturgical calendars! Who knew? I called the FSSP parish in Sarasota and asked for help. Fr. Fryar choked when I told him my plans, but, after hearing the reasons for the quick study, he told me where to find both the Thursday and Sunday Masses and immediately sent me his own Ordo (the book telling priests which Mass to celebrate each day). He was a lifesaver many times after that, too! I already had a package from the SSPX with a training videotape, a booklet explaining the priests postures, gestures and movements, and some simple altar cards to practice with. When something is needed desperately, it often seems to malfunction. I probably don’t have to mention that the video would not play! So I concentrated on the written rubrics. Too many to remember! The priest holds his hands this way, then that way, bends this far then that far, moves here then there while doing this or not doing that, and so on... Plus, though the booklet had those rubrics in English, in the altar Missal they are only in Latin! I had to devise shorthand symbols to insert into the Missal so that I would know what to do and when to do it and how to do it without taking the time during Mass to mentally translate the Latin into English. I practiced with some altar boys (trained men). It was terrible but informative. I found out that St. John Cantius parish in Chicago had instructional videos posted online and watched them over and over on my computer, moving from one side of the desk to the other as if it were the altar as I imitated what was on the screen. I stuck sticky notes everywhere in the Missal. I went over it and over it. Even at night I dreamt about rubrics. September 27 came too quickly for comfort and yet brought the relief of “time to do or die”. It wasn’t perfect, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Ten years later it still doesn’t come easy but it doesn’t frighten me anymore. I am truly blessed.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka