The Archdiocese of Milwaukee boasts over 200 parishes. And yet, only one parish in the entire city, Saint Stanislaus Oratory, offers the traditional Latin Mass. (If you live in Milwaukee and are up for a Sunday morning road trip, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Kenosha also offers the traditional Latin Mass.) I think this is a shame. Why is it that the traditional Latin Mass is so inaccessible, so out of reach for Catholics in Milwaukee? Most practicing Catholics are very attached to their home parishes, and rightly so. They may also, over time, become fond of, or at least curious about the traditional Latin Mass. This presents a dilemma for Joe Catholic: cut ties to his home parish and become a member of Saint Stanislaus, or simply miss out entirely on the Latin Mass.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, one of the most brilliant theologians and liturgists to occupy the chair of Saint Peter, has written and spoken eloquently for many years about the richness of the Latin Mass. On this very subject, he memorably penned the following to the bishops of the world, “What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us, too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the church’s faith and prayer and to give them their proper place.”
So it is no secret that the usus antiquior holds a special place in the Benedict’s heart. And yet, despite his repeated enthusiasm, why the astonishing paucity of Latin Masses in Milwaukee? This ancient form of liturgy represents a living heritage for all Catholics, not just for the groupie, so-called traditionalist Catholics. I live in Wauwatosa, and there are at least five Catholic parishes within a five-mile radius of me (Christ King, Saint Bernard, Saint Sebastian, Sacred Heart, Saint Jude) and yet none offer the Latin Mass, ever, not even once a month, or once a year. (I will say though that Christ King is doing great things in terms of expanding access to the Sacrament of Penance and Eucharistic Adoration.) So I, and a growing number of faithful, make the drive to Saint Stanislaus Oratory on the South Side every Sunday for Mass.
It’s remarkable: liturgical abuses and aberrations proliferate at many, if not most parishes, and yet it’s the traditional Latin Mass, where egregious abuses simply do not exist, and its devotees, that are relegated to one or two isolated parishes in an archdiocese of hundreds of parishes. What’s wrong with this picture?
Sadly, despite the vision and instructions of the previous Holy Father, I think there is a significant degree of animus and resistance toward the Latin Mass emanating from many priests in this archdiocese. The days of Latin, they thought, were long gone, and good riddance. (I know of one instance where a local priest, during a homily to children, derisively mocked Latin, chanting the Sanctus in an irreverent way, trying to be funny, and telling the kids how “silly” it was that this was how Mass used to be said.) So Pope Benedict’s renewed call for wider access to the traditional Latin Mass, especially in response to burgeoning interest among younger Catholics who, he once wrote, “have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.” is the last thing that certain priests want to hear. Such priests turn a blind eye to the Latin Mass and its followers, hoping both will pass like a bad dream. But they simply won’t go away, you see.
Devotion to the Latin Mass is not about scrupulosity over aesthetics or stubborn nostalgia. Nostalgia and aesthetics alone do not sustain something for centuries. No, there is something so deeply, tangibly Catholic about this Mass. At a time in our culture where there’s a relentless push to conform, change, and bend, this Mass represents something quite different, something timeless, stable and immutable. Attending Mass at Saint Stanislaus, there is an undeniable sense of stepping into, or rather stepping up to something higher, something ineffable. Time, in a very real sense, loses its relevance. Isn’t that, in a way, how we understand eternity, how we understand Heaven?
One thing (among many) that so impresses me about parish life at Saint Stanislaus is the strong devotion to the Sacrament of Penance among the rank and file. There is almost always a long line to the confessional, which is open for business every single day. How many parishes in Milwaukee can make that claim? Further, there is an undeniable reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament among the parishioners during Mass. I’d ask the same question, but you get my point.
The Blessed Sacrament and the Sacrament of Penance: Can anyone deny that the two are inextricably related? Can anyone further deny that, among many Catholics today, however well-intentioned, there is a conspicuous gap in their understanding of and participation in these two Sacraments?
Belief in the Real Presence is perhaps at an all-time low, as is the average Catholic’s recourse to confession, and yet, everyone receives Communion, every week, and so few go to confession.
The lesson here is that the traditional Latin Mass is, by its nature, instructional. It draws in Catholics who thirst for a conspicuous Catholic identity with a vibrant Sacramental life. This form of the Liturgy is eminently didactic. (By the way, the same rings true for the new Mass when offered properly.) A priest-friend once wisely noted that liturgy itself, when properly offered, forms the faithful, but when poorly offered (replete with abuses, etc.) the result is confusion. Can anyone deny that this is exactly what has taken place over the past forty years?
So let’s hope we see greater access to the traditional Latin Mass at more parishes in Milwaukee. I get the feeling that many still look askance at the Extraordinary Form. It is not a rational position. It is born of purely ideological resentments. Those of us attached to the Latin Mass are just supposed to rest content with the one or two parishes offering it (out of hundreds) and keep quiet, while Show Time at the Apollo, staring Father Fireside Chat, reigns at other parishes.
What some people fail to see is that wider access to the Latin Mass will only revitalize and breath fresh life into our local Church. This process can begin gradually. For example, group together five parishes or so by location, and request that at least one of them, once a month offer the traditional Latin Mass. Is that asking too much?
So here’s my challenge: write or call your parish to inquire about this. It is your heritage, after all.
In the meantime, you’re always welcome at Saint Stanislaus…
Let us ask the Lord to learn every day to live the sacred liturgy, especially the Eucharistic celebration, praying in the ‘we’ of the Church, that directs its gaze not in on itself, but to God, and feeling part of the living Church of all places and of all time. ~Pope Benedict XVI