Rorate Caeli

An Open Letter to Novus Ordo Priests of Good Will from a Young Layman Who Cares

Rorate received this submission from a layman organist and music director.

Dear Fathers,

When Christians all over the world should have been spending their time and energy making room in their hearts for the coming of Christ at His Nativity—entering deep into the liturgical life of the Church, contemplating Christ’s coming in the prophetic words of the prophet Isaiah (“Drop down dew, from above, ye heavens…”) and in the mysterious words of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Mother—just one week before Christmas, the faithful attached to the traditional rites of the Church were informed (in a rather unceremonious “weekend news dump”) that the things they are attached to as a way to help them pray and grow closer to this Lord Jesus are now essentially worthless and are to be dispensed with, beginning with forbidding the old rites of Confirmation and Holy Orders. This is being done, it is said, for our good and benefit, so that we could grow in unity in one rite.

I am the father of five young children, ten and under. I have worked since 1998, my Sophomore year in high school, as a church organist. I have been a primary music director at a parish since 2011. I have seen beautiful, God-centered liturgies—and I have seen many awful, completely self-centered ones, too.

Since I was a kid, it was made clear to me that the wonder of Holy Communion is that Jesus Christ, in all the might and majesty of the Second Person of the Trinity—in all of that glory—He STILL desires to unite Himself to me, little old me, with my quirks, sins, bad habits. The God of the universe wants that! And isn’t that the awe of the Sacrament? It has always seemed clear to me that if Jesus was just a terrifying punisher, that union would be terribly unattractive. But it’s equally true that if Jesus was just a chummy pal and not divine, why would it really matter whether we receive Him or not? The power is in both—Christ as Lord and Christ as Friend—being true at the same time.

It flowed through my thought process that if Jesus really was the Divine Son of God, that He was really there on the altar, then I ought to do my best, as a musician, to musically depict that reality. You’ve all seen movies. How silly would it be for an epic battle between the forces of good and evil to be accompanied by some sort of clownish circus soundtrack?

And yet, in my church positions, it became clear to me that a majority (but not all) of the priests I worked with constantly wanted me to compromise on doing heaven-centric music at this Feast of Heaven on Earth. Were they worried about parishioner reaction (i.e., taking their checks with them)? Did they themselves have an enduring, supernatural Faith? How many times, over and over again, was I expected to play some decrepit 70s folk song masquerading as “church music”? How many times would the kids’ expressions at school Masses betray utter lack of interest, or even disgust?

I have tutored, mentored, and taught kids in the junior high and high school ages. I have poured myself into trying to be a good example for them. I have tried to bring Jesus into my baseball coaching. I have tried to incorporate little fun pop-culture references while teaching choral music so that I could win some of them over to the Faith. I have tried praying before and after rehearsals, talking freely about Our Lord with them, taking them on outings, buying them books with my own money, talking about being respectful while rehearsing in churches because “the Blessed Sacrament is here.”

Some of these youngsters have kept the Faith, yes. But many, many, many have not.

I was reading in a publication recently about how nurses who have treated Covid-19 patients are tired of their work seeming so fruitless. How much more so, time and time again, in something that really matters—the eternal destiny of souls—has my work seemed fruitless. Yet when we object to something going amok in the liturgical/prayer life of the parish, in how people conduct themselves at Mass, about its music, about the sloppy way Holy Communion is handled, we are met either with silence or with reprimands from the highest authorities—from people “who should know better.”

I was treated this way while working in the Midwest. A week or so ahead of time, I was asked to be the “reader” for a church’s Christmas Eve 8pm “Vespers” service, which was really a few scripted comments interspersed between the music of the Contemporary/Folk group (with guitars and bongo drums, of course!). I asked if they needed assistance at the 10pm “Midnight” Mass that followed. They said they wouldn’t be needing me or my traditional keyboard-playing self. I asked a priest, 45 minutes outside of the city in a small town, if he wanted to have a Traditional Latin Midnight High Mass (I had nowhere else to be!). He loved the idea. I got a few of my friends and we had an absolutely beautiful evening. I was on cloud nine. A week or so later, a picture of me with these friends and the priest was put on Facebook by a well-meaning person. I got dragged into my parish office and told by two priests that I had “abandoned my parish” at Christmas. I was deeply hurt and couldn’t figure it out. And as I started to put the pieces together, it became clear that I wasn’t allowed to be happy because, probably, nobody else was.

Over the years that followed, I continued to play for English Masses, but I became unsettled in my mind. I wanted the beautiful thing, the thing I didn’t have to fight with anyone about, the thing that just seemed to fit perfectly with what was happening up on the altar. There would be no cognitive dissonance between the supremely sacred music and a priest bumbling at the altar while the bored altar servers squirm, or between competent prayer and a lightly Catholicized version of a Simon and Garfunkel tune.

Finally, I found a job at a Catholic parish run by a traditional institute. And while I continue to play for Novus Ordo Masses on Saturday evenings, I spend my Sunday mornings exclusively playing for the Latin Mass parish, choosing and conducting the music, playing the organ, and finding a deeply and profoundly spiritual home for my family. It wasn’t a home I was looking for originally, but one that found me, all because that little instinct—trying to match the music I offer to the reality I truly believe is happening there on the altar—was and is simply right.

As I’ve gone on through the years, this intuitive understanding of what fits and what doesn’t has caused me other troubles. For instance:

1. If the Real Presence is real, and if all the particles of the host are Jesus in His entirety, then why do people with unconsecrated hands touch Him and distribute Him to the faithful, often in their unconsecrated hands? Doesn’t the significance seem much more profound if the spiritual fathers feed their children? What about the particles that remain on people’s hands? Why do you go through an ablution of your hands and fingers after Communion and yet the distributors who touched Him just as you did do not? Now we have an inconsistency, a stumbling block to orthodox thinking and perceiving…

Related question: Why does the Church go through a large religious “rigamarole” for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, where the priest wears a cope and a humeral veil so that his hands don’t touch the monstrance as he’s giving the blessing? The priest is kept from touching the monstrance, which is housing the pyx, which is housing the Blessed Sacrament—all for a blessing. But then, the same priest later on is passing the same Blessed Sacrament out to a team of lay people for the purposes of distributing the actual Host. There is no way any of that makes sense.

2. If Jesus is really present in the tabernacle, does it make sense to offer Mass with our backs to Him? I’ve heard objections to “having one’s back to the people,” but what about “having our backs to God”? What if Our Lord were right there standing at the center of the Church: if you, Father, continued to turn your back to Him, then you would have to be an ungodly or indifferent man. But if you would turn to Him, then why don’t you do so to that same Christ who is equally present in the tabernacle?

3. If Mass is being offered to God, why stare at me? If I was attempting to talk to my wife but staring my son and daughter in the eyes, they’d all think I was going crazy. Isn’t there some cognitive dissonance happening here? Aren’t people confused? This impression of directing the Mass away from God seems to be strengthened by small things like, if Father forgets to turn his cordless mic on, he interrupts the prayer (as if being a little quieter wasn’t valid), fumbles around in his chasuble, find the switch, and then repeats the words, often inserting a little joke or two. Well, who was Father talking to just now—God or me?

There are many things people like me could say, but the fact is that, despite my best work at trying to add my utmost (and then some) to the Mass to help edify the faithful and glorify God, my work was often in vain because what I was offering was not harmonizing with what was happening in the sanctuary. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness” (Isaiah 55:2).

That, in a rather brief overview, is why I started attending the Traditional Latin Mass. It wasn’t because I thought Latin was magic, or that it just sounded “cooler,” or because I was nostalgic for it (I didn’t even know it was a thing until 2008). I went because priests and bishops left me no spiritual choice.

If unity is desired in the Roman rite, why do people who really care about things as I just described them seldom find a place to dwell? Dear priests, if this was all about “unity,” where is the effort to try to admonish your brother priests who constantly bring such scandal to Catholic men and women, boys and girls everywhere, by treating the holy things of God with such ill-placed casualness, indifference, and triteness?

The next thing I am going to ask you is… what do YOU, in your pastoral heart, intend to do about this?

Indifference is not going to work. Perhaps you or some of your brother priests helped create this problem, this stumbling block for me or for anyone else out there like me. St. Paul sought to work tirelessly so that he could avoid being a stumbling block. He worked tirelessly to bring souls to Christ. Perhaps you know you shouldn’t be having umpteen “extraordinary ministers.” Perhaps you know you shouldn’t be facing me, talking to me, putting Christ onto my hands—but you do all that anyway. Yes, I know, the pressures of running a parish. You have Karens and Chads, and the Finance Council, and Mrs. Big Bucks who will take her money and run at the sight of anything a little traditional… Yet was not Christ Himself willing to lose folks (John 6) because they couldn’t understand or accept His Eucharistic teaching? Why do you expect a better retention rate than He had?

And lastly, the Pope Francis thing. Are you really able to stand on the sidelines yet again? Maybe you don’t celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, but you know priests who do, or, at the very least, you know some people who attend. They attend, in large part, because the Novus Ordo has failed to communicate what needs to be said.

The people who attend the TLM love all priests. We often go to your parishes for Confessions, for Eucharistic Adoration, for Stations of the Cross. We participate in your events, perhaps our children attend your schools. But the way that Mass is celebrated in 99% of churches is the reason why “traditional Catholics” are where they are, and you have probably (unwittingly) contributed to it.

Perhaps you think we’re too uptight, that we need to loosen up and connect with what “really matters.”

Well, what really matters? It’s Jesus, right? He is the “Way, Truth, and Life,” the “Door,” the “Good Shepherd,” the key to Eternal Life. When have you heard our current Pope speak about Jesus in this way, to the exclusion of all others? Remember the Pachamama thing? Remember the meeting with the Imam and how “God wills all religions”? Remember Amoris Laetitia, the “who am I to judge?,” the shutting down of Cardinal Sarah when he dared to encourage ad orientem? Remember the treatment of Cardinal Burke at the time of the dubia and when his life was endangered by Covid? Remember that awful “I choose love” video, relegating Jesus to just one path? Remember him accepting that Communist cross? Remember how he seemed to gush over “Catholic” Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, not offering a word of public critique about their pro-choice positions, positions completely incompatible with Catholicism? Remember how he elevated Fr. James Martin to a high position inside the Vatican Communications Office? Remember how he talks constantly about dialogue and accompaniment and little about conversion and preaching the Gospel?

So what are you going to do?

Now is the time for manliness. Now’s the time to say no to this stuff by saying a whole lot of yes to everything else that is good. Maybe it’s time for every priest of good will to learn and to start offering the Latin Mass. If a large percentage of priests did that, chances are fewer priests would get canceled. Are dioceses going to cancel half or a quarter of their clergy?

The problem, as I’m hoping you have seen in this letter, is not that we trads are anti-social freaks. We have in the past been abused by the spiritual negligence of many of our priests and bishops. We are being abused by powers in the Vatican who do not care about the things of God. And we will be abused by you, in your silence, if you do nothing to neutralize this anti-God, anti-Christ agenda on full display in our midst.

It’s not just about the Latin Mass. There’s a pattern of growing godlessness at every turn. You can already sense it. Those who prefer certain kinds of vestments are being watched. Ad orientem has been very much discouraged. Will they change the new English translation, too, and bring us back to the laughably bad translation of previous decades?

How will this correction, this righting of the ship, happen? Through organization, through dedication, through picking up your weapon—the cross of Christ—and coming to the aid of your brothers and sisters in their hour of need. Because our fight is your fight, our battle is your battle. The fight is about proclaiming Christ as the Exclusive Way, the Truth, and the Life. If He isn’t, and if His light is allowed to diminish through the progressing tide of modernistic darkness, then your work, the very power of your vocation and your life, will be diminished and eventually extinguished. You have everything to gain by helping in this endeavor, and everything to lose by remaining on the sidelines. “He who loses his life for My sake will gain it.”

The sacrifices will be less if more of you clergy do your part. Encourage one another.

I am helping to build a team of good, simple, hard-working men and women who can offer the support that you priests need in these difficult times, until the moment is right in the not-so-distant future to emerge united. (Such men and women may contact me at Ourbattleisyourbattle@gmail.com.)

With every good wish, I remain your brother in Christ Jesus,

A Concerned Catholic Layman


Photo by Allison Girone

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