Rorate Caeli

The Witness of the Laity to the Traditional Roman Mass:The Heart of the Matter

I received a copy of the letter which follows from a parishioner at the diocesan Parish of St. Pius X, in Fairfield, Connecticut.  The letter was written to the pastor of the parish to express his thanksgiving for the presence of the Traditional Roman Mass in his life and that of his whole family. The letter touched me deeply for its understanding of faith, of Tradition, and the genuine expression of joy in having discovered a pearl of great price in the parish celebrations of the Traditional Roman Mass.  This letter is the best antidote to the harsh and crude Motu Proprio, Traditionis Custodes that was recently published with Pope Francis’ signature. Mr. Li is putting into practice St. John Henry Newman’s understanding of the “heart of the matter” role of the laity in the Church.  The clergy have their role to play in the struggle to be faithful to Catholic Tradition, at whose heart is the Roman Mass of that Tradition.  But it is the faithful laity who will form the backbone of the effort to shape the future of the Church by regaining an understanding of and love for the Tradition of the Catholic faith.  I hope each of you who reads this letter will send it along to family and friends, especially those who do not know the Beauty that lies at the heart of the Mass of Catholic Tradition.

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla


Dear Father Sam,

I am a parishioner of St. Pius X in Fairfield.  My wife and I received our Confirmations here at SPX, before which we were not Catholic, and our three children were all baptized here. We are young and still growing in our faith. We attend the 9am Sunday Mass regularly with our children, and I make effort to attend daily Mass near work, wherever that might be—most frequently at St. John’s Basilica in Stamford. Lisa and I both grew up far removed from the Catholic faith, and we continue to be alone in this faith without our parents’ blessing or extended family’s participation.   


When I saw the Solemn High Mass at St. Pius three years ago, I witnessed for the first time our priests in a different light, not just as scholars, teachers, or administrators but as God’s priests offering properly-ordered prayers and sacrifices on the altar. It was a moving moment in my faith journey. When I heard the Credo III chanted with such reverence, the mysteries of the faith came alive, not in the sense that they became any clearer or more understandable or more articulate, but in the sense that they became more vivid, more intimate, while still remaining a mystery… beyond what words can describe. That, in turn, made all the other Masses I attend daily and weekly take on more weight and meaning. In a paradoxical way, having witnessed the Extraordinary Form only increased and intensified my experience with other forms of prayer and Mass, whether it is at Sunday Mass with screaming children or at a 15-minute morning Mass before work. Knowing and studying the Extraordinary Form draws me closer to all other aspects of the faith, not exclusively the Latin Mass itself. 


I grew up in communist China in the early 90s and experienced the very tail-end of the fallout from Mao’s Cultural Revolution when hundreds of millions of people killed each other, all old paintings were destroyed, and old buildings and books were burned to make way for the new and modern. Yet, after all of that, by the grace of God, students continue to be required to memorize at least 300 to 500 ancient poems in a form of classical Chinese that no one speaks anymore. We all asked the same questions when facing that task in school: What is the point of reciting that many thousand-year-old poems about full moons and trees and birds? What is the point of learning and drawing that complex and obsolete Chinese character that describes a river or a piece of rock wall? Today, China feels like that young kid on the block with all its westernized new buildings and shiny modern industries, and it is hard to see China with its own 5000 years of history. It is hard to feel any pride or connection to five centuries of Chinese dynasties when we visit, and it is hard to find any well preserved paintings or artifacts from ancient China. But I can guarantee that when the full moon rises anywhere in the world, millions of Chinese scattered around the globe reach back in time through five little words a poet wrote down hundreds of years ago, and they experience the weight of that tradition and history.


The coolest thing for me when Fr. Sam started to offer Monday and Thursday evening Latin Masses was precisely this sense of reaching back into history. I did not grow up with any Christian traditions, and generations of my family were not even aware of such things. I go to these additional Latin Masses to experience it together with many saints and holy men and women throughout history and to reach far beyond a few decades back, breaking the boundaries of the linear laws of time while remaining firmly in our specific time.


We teach our three young children Latin at home, and I planned offer them the opportunity to attend these evening Masses as a reward when they made notable progress. Frankly, they have absorbed more Latin than I.  When I see my daughters at ages 4 and 5 sing the Salve Regina, I see them decades later when they are grown up, remembering not just the meaning and words of that moment but something special we did together as a family that was very different from day-to-day life, in a different language and in a setting that is set aside from the world in dramatic, obvious ways. I see tremendous grace unfolding over their lifetimes beyond any clear meanings and teachings that were communicated in these words and set prayers, though their sense of wonder and their shared experience with real people who lived generations ago.


We might not look up and wonder about the beauty of the moon every day, but it is wonderful that short poem about that full moon thousands of years ago was not preserved only among a few historians and classical language scholars. Instead, it is still alive for billions of people, passed down through the generations, and no one is deprived of experiencing that beauty and that connection to history.


Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero.