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Friday, May 20, 2016

On What We Have Lost (and, yes, God does judge) Featured

By:   Susan Claire Potts
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Sheep Goat Judgement

He shall come to judge the living and the dead 

I was visiting my good friend Judy at the nursing home yesterday—as I do most Fridays. A third order Dominican, who never married, Judy was the choir director and organist at Holy Family Church in downtown Detroit forover thirty years. Amazingly—and perhaps uniquely—Holy Family kept all the old customs throughout the Revolution. Although the people were forced—like everyone else—to accept the truncated and linguistically impoverished “new arrangement, the mass was Latin, a missa cantata with Asperges before and Benediction followingDaily Mass was also Latin--quiet, reverent, and holy. 


As much as they could, those people kept Tradition unbrokenMass was said facing the century-old marble high altar. Holy Communion was received on the tongue, kneeling at the rail. There were no lectors or “extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.” My husband was sacristan and master of ceremonies--training the altar boys, caring for the vestments, serving the priest--while we worked to have the Old Mass restored to its rightful home at Holy 

Judy was the keeper of the music. She was a summa cum laude graduate of a Catholic women’s college—back when there were such things--with a master’s degree in music education. Because of her, Gregorian chant was preserved and all the old hymns were sung—Panis Angelicus, Ave Verum Corpus, O Sacrum Convivium, Tantum Ergo, O Salutaris Hostia… There were public processions during which the streets of Detroit were closed to traffic and the people sang and prayed the Rosary. There was a Holy Face Society, Altar Society, and the Crowning of Mary in the courtyard facing the expressway.

But things have changed there now. Our beloved Benedictine pastor died; administrators were appointed. Daily mass ended; devotions were suppressed. The Sunday Latin Mass (no Benediction after Mass) was allowed to continue, and a retired Carmelite was brought in to offer it. But soon, he was replacedA new pastor came. The table was brought in, the chant abandoned. Tradition was fractured. 

We left; we could not stay. 

Judy is gone now, tooShe suffered a terrible stroke four years ago while teaching a Latin class to home school students. Once a classical pianist and multilingual, she can no longer speak, nor sing, nor play the organ. But we communicate just fine. Her mind is sharp. I read to her—sacred things--or play the piano, and she sits, like the teacher she once was, nodding, keeping time, watching my fingering.  I give her brownies or chocolate to eat while she listens. Our routine rarely varies. 

But yesterday it did. And I can’t stop thinking about it.

What happened reminded me of customs and traditionsand deep memories. It reminded me of the unity of Faith and the joy of belonging to the Catholic Church. It reminded me of what Our Lord meant when He said: Unless you be converted and become again as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

We were at the piano in the living room of the nursing home. A staff member approached us and told us there was going to be a May crowning in the solarium for the residents. She invited me to come along. I accepted happily. I was the only visitor.

The large, sunny room faced Scott Lake--a quiet private lake, ringed by cottages, some newer, larger houses, and tall, old spruce and fir trees.  I could see my own cottage across the water. My husband was cutting the grass on the sloping hill, and I greeted him in spirit as the nurse’s aides wheeled the people into the solarium and placed them in a large circle around a delicate statue of Mary. 

They were mostly women. Despite their age, their weakness, the long, slow passing of their days, their eyes were bright. There was a sense of anticipation in the air. Years rolled away. We were children with our Mother.

It was a simple little ceremony, organized and led by one of the Dominican sisters—sadly, sans habit. We sang a song I haven’t heard for years: On This Day, O Beautiful Mother. We sang and I was astonished at the voice. All together, strong and clear, full of hope and love. Tears filled my eyes.

And then the crowning. 

A gentleman--there was no other word for him, you could sense his kind spirit, his loving heart--carried the crown on a cushion to the statue. He stood there while a lady rose to do the crowning. Silver-haired and dressed in blue, she was wearing a veil of delicate netting, a veil like a bride would wear or a first communicant. She took the crown from the cushion, and with feminine loveliness, placed it on Our Lady’s head. 

The room was silent.

 It was as though--despite decades of turmoil and destructive change--we could all feel the love of the Blessed Mother and the protection of Our Queen, could feel her eyes upon us, trusting her gentle care to prove.

We said a decade of the rosary and part of the Litany—shortened out of consideration for the infirmity of the aged—and then the Gospel was read. Finally, we recited the Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, the Song of the Theotokos. 

As the prayer was said, my mind went to the words, and I wondered then, as I wonder now, how much attention is paid to them. Do people realize what they’re saying? Do they understand the glorious, triumphant strength of those words?

Think about it. Our Lady was only fifteen years old, and, on the spot, when greeted by Elizabeth, she sang her song. It is a work of perfect poetry, composed in the Hebraic style with its triple repetitions, its recapitulation of the past, its prophecy of the future. Amazingly, both the Latin and the traditional English version preserve the beauty, the integrity of the structure.  It resonates with the song of Hannah and the music of  David’s Psalms. The Voice of God is heard.

Who can listen to the words and not hear the wondrous depth of the Virgin’s thought? Who can ignore the juxtaposition of grateful humility and militant strength? Who sings like that now? God does not judge, we are told. 

O, but He does, Our Lady proclaims. She sings: He has put down the mighty from their throne and exalted the humble.

She doesn’t mince words. She lays the charge of pride at the feet of the powerful: He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their hearts.

The poor get fed; the rich are sent away empty. And then the promise of the ages; He hath received Israel, his servant, being mindful of His mercy, as He spoke to Abraham and to his seed forever.

Are we not the spiritual seed of Abraham? Are we not the Lord’s servants? Do we not have the right to look for the triumph of the meek, the exaltation of the lowly and forgotten? May we not yearn for the crushing of conceit and pride?

Of course we are and we may and we must. We are not a bunch of namby-pamby ersatz Christians. We are the Church Militant, children of a Queen, sons and daughters of God. 

O Filii et Filiae….

We’re holding on. But for how long? 

After the Magnificat, Sister spoke of her years as a teacher, how her kindergarten students always made a May altar in the classroom. Each day, a different child would crown the Blessed Mother. And then she asked the people what they had done when they were children, what their memories were.

It was wonderful. They told of the classroom May altars, the processions, and the songs. A woman told of how she and her girlfriends all decorated altars to Mary at home in their bedrooms where they said their prayers. As she spoke, the other women nodded. They all remembered. They, too, had done the same thing. 

The new Church talks incessantly about community, but they don’t have it, not like these Catholics had it, those who were children long ago, who, seventy years later, still shared what they had felt and done.  And I was struck again at the enormity of what we have lost—what these beautiful older people once knew and lived. 

Beyond all the changes in liturgy, the sloughing off of the catechism, the puerility of what passes for doctrine, we have suffered a grievous emotional and social blow. We are so fractured, so individualized, so stupidly creative, that we can’t even say our prayers the same way anymore. They keep changing the words. 

We have lost a commonality of experience. We have lost shared memories as a people.

But the old ones have it still. It was so beautiful—broken in body, faltering in speech, slow in thoughtit was there—centuries of tradition, decadesof memories. We were, for that brief time, once again, one in heart, one in mind, one in faith.

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Last modified on Wednesday, May 25, 2016