Perhaps “robbed” isn’t the correct word, but in hindsight, I can see clearly that some of the most wonderful treasures of the Roman Catholic Church had at least been hidden from my view. At the time, however, I didn’t even know they existed.
The real sense that I had been robbed has come only recently for me, and the catalyst has been the Holy Father’s motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum.
Having not been Catholic prior to Vatican II, nor even for much of the post-Vatican II era, I had no knowledge of the traditional Latin Mass, the forma extraordinaria. I’d had no exposure to Latin until a year or so after I’d been received into the Church, but when I had received that exposure to the official language of the Church, I was “sold” – another treasure had been “discovered”! I started teaching myself Latin, and began memorizing some of the traditional prayers in Latin. When the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published, I was delighted to discover a whole section of prayers in English and Latin.
Finally, I have now experienced the extraordinary form of the Mass: a treasure, it seems to me, of inestimable value. And now I find myself crying out, “We were robbed!”
What, exactly, was taken? Let me backtrack a bit, and give my impressions as a convert to the faith who has no formal training in these matters.
I’d educated myself prior to attending RCIA classes by reading through parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I’d originally purchased my own volume in order to read it and find ways to prove to my cradle-Catholic husband that the Catholic Church was wrong with regard to a variety of issues. In fact, I found what appeared to me to be beautiful, sound doctrine, and I could not find anything “wrong” with it. Here was a treasure which had not been hidden! I did wonder, however, why the wonderful teaching in that book did not seem to be very adequately implemented in every-day practice. Apparently, the treasure had been hidden from many Catholics – or else they had chosen to ignore it.
My journey into Catholicism included teaching religion classes at a Catholic high school during my RCIA year, including serving as the “Campus Ministry” instructor; I was responsible for leading a class in “creating” the liturgy for a monthly “first Friday Mass” for the school. I was not even Catholic at the time, and really had no inkling as to how to proceed with the liturgy; I asked if there were a manual of some sort. “Oh no,” I was told. “Just ask the kids. They know how to do it. They’ll teach you.” Again, hindsight reveals that one important treasure had been hidden from me even when I asked for it: the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
Just before my first anniversary as a Catholic, we moved to a new state and a new parish. In no time at all, I found myself employed as the parish secretary. This provided me with new insights into the “inner workings” of the Church at the parish level, revealing more division than I cared to know about: a deacon, Director of Religious Education, and extraordinary ministers who all questioned Church teaching on such important issues as artificial contraception, homosexuality, and even abortion! We were led by a pastor who was fond of saying (rather ungrammatically) that we needed to “meet people where they’re at”. He made no mention of moving them along the road to sanctification. In fact, much debate was stirred by our bishop’s publication of a pastoral letter prescribing greater fidelity to the GIRM, with a vocal minority of parishioners accusing him of being “pre-Vatican II”. This prompted me to read the Vatican II documents in order to find out for myself what Vatican II was all about. In the process, I discovered that more treasures had been obscured.
Soon I was introduced to other documents of the Church, and, being a student at heart, I began reading them. Yes, here were even more treasures – a vast storehouse of them!
My “discovery” of the GIRM and other documents of the Church, and the realization that these were treasures, did not immediately lead me to the impression that I had been “robbed”. To me it seemed that I simply had been unaware of them, though I wondered why they seemed to be the best kept secret of the Catholic Church next to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist! I saw that they were treasures because they did not “restrict” our liturgical worship, but rather enhanced it by guiding us to greater reverence and appreciation of the mysteries of our faith; they did not “restrict” our morality, but rather provided knowledge that could liberate us from our sin.