Sunday morning, a rainy, chilly day here in the Springs, we packed into ol’ Bessy in our Sunday best and headed south to attend our first Mass in the Extraordinary Form. The church is small and after we parked in the lot, we were greeted by 4 gentlemen dressed in suits. That was the first cultural shock of the day; in my Novus Ordo parish, gentlemen might wear ties and jackets, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone in a suit! The ushers greeted us warmly and welcomed us to the church. They asked if this was our first time, we confessed it was, and they directed us to the sanctuary where Mass was to take place. So far, so good.
We went into the sanctuary and sat down in the very last row; we thought we would stand out no matter what but there was no reason to make our inadequacies more obvious than necessary. The group already present was praying the Rosary and we joined in, even though we hadn’t thought to bring our own. From that point on it was “deer in the headlights” for us. Once the procession started I think we were both lost in space. We had no idea how to use the bulletin inserts in the pews, nor the little red missals also placed there. We just had to go with flow.
I think I was most nervous about receiving communion at the altar rail; I don’t normally receive on the tongue, and never kneeling, and I was just sure some dreadful, hugely embarrassing disaster, which would result in my permanent banishment from ever attending an EF Mass again, awaited me. However, the whole thing went quite smoothly, much to my relief.
After Mass, as we were leaving, the ushers in suits invited us to go downstairs for what we used to call “fellowship” when I was a Presbyterian and which Catholics probably know best as coffee and donuts, and we did, although we didn’t stay long. Even so, several folks came up to introduce themselves and it was a much more convivial environment than seems common in a Catholic parish.
A brief summary of my impressions of the whole thing: obviously, the Mass itself was very different from what I’m used to, and the predominant impression is simply of being totally lost in space. I suspect that’s common; one of the men who introduced himself said he had been attending for 6 months and was just now beginning to feel comfortable. I believe it. A secondary thing is the rather unfortunate state of the church itself. It’s a building that once housed a Baptist congregation and it was never designed for anything so grand as the Mass in the extraordinary form. On top of that, we were told by one of the folks that we met that the parish was struggling financially to meet the bare requirements to keep the building habitable. I believe that, too. I hate to say it but the condition and design of the building detracted from the over all experience of the Mass. I can see now why they built the grand cathedrals and churches in Europe, and back east, in order to celebrate this liturgy. As it was, I think we both agreed there was something missing at this church.