I write to provide a personal story of struggle and redemption. Consider my purpose one of thanksgiving and of praise to God, Who is merciful to me. First, allow me to say that I am a liturgical traditionalist, but a very unmotivated one. I could go to the Traditional Latin Mass every Sunday, a Mass offered by a very well-known (as these things go) priest-blogger. It is the most liturgically informed, if you will, Mass that you could attend, short of attending a parish or oratory staffed by a traditionalist order. If I could motivate myself to get up ca. 6:15 on Sunday mornings to get to Mass at 7:30.
Which I am not motivated to do. I often end up going to a parish in the next town over, where the priest offers a very traditional Novus Ordo. The Mass is offered ad orientem, with no altar girls, no extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and with good music (organ, chant, traditional hymns, etc.). You have the ready option to receive Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue. The priest is very manful, and promotes masculine devotion. If I provided his name, you could easily find him at blogs for manly, hair-on-their-chest Catholic-with-a-capital-C Catholics. That Mass is at 10:30 (formerly at 11:00), and I am often late for it.
Then there is the actual Mass in the town where I live, offered at 11:00 A.M. The priest is orthodox and solid and very vocal on the issues of abortion, of religious liberty, and increasingly of pornography. But he has certain personal quirks that I find either endearing or frustrating, depending on the day. The music is middling to poor. There are numerous extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Most annoying to me, at many Masses there have been altar girls, and the female sacristan has worn an alb. (Though the altar girls and female sacristan wear albs with cinctures, the altar boys wear cassocks and surplices. So there’s some indistinct gender distinction there.)
The altar girls and vested female sacristan bother the heck out of me. I find it distracting, and I vow that I would never raise a family in such a parish (which is rather putting the cart before the horse, given my bachelorhood). Should I write a letter to the priest asking that altar girls and the sacristan be banished to the pews? Which explains my resistance to going to Mass there, and is a useful excuse for me for not integrating myself into parish ministries, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and everything else that is incumbent on me. I know where I typically go to Mass, but which parish do I actually “belong to,” like the parish where I grew up?
So, I am torn between laziness and genuine aspirations for better liturgy/less distraction and, yes, haughtiness. Let me go further: I am not a holy person or a good Catholic (yet). Without going into too many details, I struggle with strong vices (when I struggle against them at all), and I have often fallen into mortal sin for months to years at a time with very infrequent reception of the Sacraments. I fell back into mortal sin recently, and presumed that I would avail myself of an upcoming opportunity to confess. Here were my options:
1.) An upcoming Catholic men’s group meeting, hosted by the second priest mentioned above. The talk is preceded by Vespers and Adoration with Confession available.
2.) Confession at a second Latin Mass location I haven’t mentioned yet, before an 11:00 Mass. This Mass location is maybe a 30+ minutes’ drive away.
3.) Confession at the parish in my town, with the third priest mentioned above. Confession is every Saturday morning, with two priests on First Saturdays. (Even the priest I’m spurning for less-than-optimal liturgical practice observes First Saturdays — truly, an embarrassment of riches I’m picking through here.)
Well, I misjudged the date of the Catholic men’s group meeting. It was a week later than I thought. When it came, I had an excuse ready for why I couldn’t attend. I missed the Saturday morning Confessions at the local parish, each Saturday (including First Saturday) deciding I should sleep in or do chores and go to Confession at the Latin Mass the next day. Then Sunday would come and I would decide that I had too much work that day (yep, working for my pay on Sunday) to justify the commute time, plus I needed my rest. Also, being a melancholic, I often dwell on my sins when I should repent of them. I get agitated thinking about Confession, and feel I must replicate Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden beforehand.
So last Sunday, despite all of the prayers and intentions and private vows and Acts of Contrition, I found myself again at the 11:00 A.M. Mass here in town, un-confessed. I’ve noticed that, at several recent 11:00 Masses there, only boys have served Mass. Also, the sacristan is no longer vested. This is a good trend. Perhaps I should write the priest a note complimenting him (and the sacristan) on it. While at Mass, I prayed my normal prayers asking God for the grace to confess my sins at the next opportunity . . . but when? Shall I pray like St. Augustine, for conversion, but not yet? Are these insincere prayers? I could ask the priest to confess after Mass. Am I obliged to? What would I actually do if the priest said he was hearing confessions after Mass? I reminded myself, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” (It might have been in the Mass readings that day; I don’t recall.)
Mind you, minutes before I left for Mass, I wrote an angry message on social media to a close relative and cut off communication with her over an escalating argument. So I was acutely aware of my need for grace, whether my action regarding my relative was right or wrong.
Well, as Mass ended, the priest said, “After Mass, I will be in the Confessional. Someone asked me for Confession before Mass, but I couldn’t then. I’ll be back there . . . as soon as I turn off my mic <pause for laughter>.” So, I thanked God for this opportunity and manned up. No time for self-torture (well, I did have a few minute while standing in line). I confessed and did my penance, after spurning so many opportunities to do so. While I have a new commitment to attend the Latin Mass — I did so today, Septuagesima Sunday — I thank God for this good priest at the local parish. He has always been kind and merciful. He has been a father to me, and has absolved me from my sins.