The morning is gray and dark. A low overcast sky hangs above the damp roads. I have driven to the next town, to another parish, to another Mass for what I hope will be a meaningful experience. A friend has invited me to come and worship in the ancient form of the Church. This is a local experiment, and my first time. A young priest has been given permission to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass in the morning on the first Saturday of each month in this church. I am curious.
Strangely, as I drive, and then as I enter the church, I feel like I’m sneaking surreptitiously to a secret destination for some underground meeting. But I am also excited and hopeful. January is dark but the church looks warm inside. I come early. There is a long line for confessions, so I get in line. The line moves slowly and I realize there will be no time for the priest to hear my confession, so I grab a missal and find a place in a pew. In the few moments before Mass begins I look at the missal. It is a small single-fold, staple-binding paperback, yet the simple woodblock prints and Latin words seem to contain the weight of centuries.
I look around the nave. There are a few souls, not many, sitting quietly and praying or just staring ahead in thought. The cantor and the organist finish their brief rehearsal. The priest has no more time for confessions and walks to the sacristy to prepare for Mass. A few more people show up and take their places in the pews.
After a few minutes the priest comes out to the ambo and welcome us, and says a few words to prepare us for the Mass. We are to not worry too much about when to sit, kneel, or stand he says. Just pay attention and we will figure it out. We can use the missals if we want to follow along, or not. We are encouraged to just experience it as best we can. He then goes back to the sacristy.
A couple minutes later the priest and altar server make their way along the side wall of the nave to the back of the church. This is a minimal crew: priest, server, cantor, organist. But it is enough.
The music begins, signaling the procession is beginning. We all stand.