I didn't expect to be moved today at mass. I went to St. Michael's in Worthington, mostly because at 12:30, it was the last morning mass in town. Besides, it is right up the road (there are some after-dinner masses, but I didn't want to put it off until then). I dressed in long pants and a double shirt, since the last time I was there I almost died from the air conditioning. I was in a "practical" mode.
The service was alright. Lots of families, people coming in late, parents taking kids to the bathroom. Its a wealthy parish, and the church building is very cathedral-like. The sermon was hard to hear and ramble-y, but the priest talked about Augustine's Divine Providence and some snippets from the life of St Therese of Lisieux. I am always pleased when people are exposed to the tradition of saints and theologians, so he gets points for that. [This was the associate pastor Fr. Coleman. The pastor is Fr. Pendolphi, who is some kind of fanatic when it comes to military board games, which doesn't relate to this post at all but I just read it this morning, so how could I not include that?]
Communion started with a so-so rendition of a folksy tune. The song ended, but people were still streaming in for communion. For a moment, it sounded like the organist didn't know what to do next. Within a couple bars, they dropped to something minor-ish and began this song in Latin (or maybe Italian?). It absolutely floored me. I have no idea what song it was, but if you think Ave Maria you would have the right idea. The singer was a woman who was expertly navigating the high registers in this chant-like melody--not so much technical precision as to be showy, but just enough to sculpt a piece of beauty to match the shiny marble fixtures. Walking up to communion with the music echoing off the bright marble I was immersed in beauty and in something more. You could have peeled me off the floor.
I've never been a proponent of the Latin mass. It never made sense to have a service in an unfamiliar language, beautiful and historic though it may be (you may find it astonishing that there remains a strong movement with the Catholic Church to re-instate the Tridentine Latin mass). I've never even attended a Latin mass, and have only heard a few hymns in Latin at all ever. Despite all the talk, its not much of a part of modern Catholic culture.
But somewhere in this communion procession, I heard the voice of the ages saying something. It wasn't just beautiful, and it wasn't just spiritual. It was as if this church--this marble--this architecture--this mass--were built with this in mind. And that's something to consider. It was like the whole building was singing in tune and the resonance--both audible and spiritual--was deeper.
I agree with Pope Benedict that we should dip our toes in the Latin tradition--not to go into the past, but to carry some of it forward. Whether or not he supports a full return to the Latin mass, I don't know, but I can't argue with the idea that we should have some feel for it.