To, His Holiness, Pope Francis,
Greetings from the United States!
My name is Rachel Gohlman. I have been Catholic for 8 years and wish to tell you something about my faith journey. Even since my entrance into the Church on March 22, 2008, I have loved the traditional things of the faith- including the Traditional Latin Mass. If I may explain why, Holy Father, it is because I was- and still am, a person hungering for God. It has never been about rules or laws but about an intimate experience of my Lord and Savior.
My first encounter with the Extraordinary form of the Mass was marked by stillness and peace. Whenever I go back, I visit this peace anew. Watching the priest silently offer Christ’s sacrifice and listening to the ancient, Latin hymns opens a way to beauty, contemplation and docility to the Holy Ghost. I’m not caught up in myself and what I’m doing but rather quietly talking with and listening to God. As the priest prays, I can join him in the Missal or add my own private intentions which are offered up with the Host. I can lose myself in what God is doing through His priest.
My apologies for babbling. Let me get to the point. There are three main reasons why I find spiritual enrichment in the Old Latin Mass. They are beauty, peace and intimacy. Yes, the Ordinary Form is beautiful as well but not in the way our parishes frequently celebrate it. It is often filled with loud, jarring music, interruptions, distracting jokes and commentaries. There is also little room for silence. And it is not about the Latin language because I can find beauty, peace and intimacy when attending a Byzantine Liturgy or Anglican Ordinariate Mass. However, I am of the Latin Rite and naturally seek the treasures my own rite has to offer.
The Extraordinary Form of the Mass is beautiful because it is like a wedding. The six candles, incense and timed-movements of the priest remind me of a dance with the Divine Beloved. They echo images in revelation of the heavenly worship. I may not be talking, singing or moving throughout the entire liturgy but my spirit fully participates in the Mystical Body of Christ- on earth and in heaven.
There is great peace because I can leave myself and my struggles behind for a moment and rest in God. When the priest isn’t facing me, I’m allowed to feel small and truly sense the “bigness” of God. My weakness is put in perspective with the might of God. My ego is put on hold by otherness of God: that there is something bigger, kinder and smarter than me!
The experience of intimacy stands out because when one is small, God can scoop them up and hold them to His heart. I can be the little sheep who wanders off time and time again who is gathered in the Good Shepherd’s hands. Everything focuses on Him and His loving sacrifice. Looking at the crucifix, the candles and the priest reminds me of love- the love that goes out to sinners like me-and love is why I’m there.
Lastly, if you will permit me, I will add that in such a solemn liturgy, I feel lifted to God and that worldly things melt away. I am given strength from this encounter “of the mountain” to go forth and serve others.
This is hardly a case of being caught up in the past. It is something new to me, timeless like God Himself, who is “Ever-ancient, ever-new.” God’s love never grows stale or outdated. It shines so brilliantly in the ancient rite, which was loved by many saints. Surely, God and not the letter of the Law was first and foremost in the hearts of those now ranked in heaven?
Please Holy Father, understand that love for the Old Mass doesn’t always come from rigid or narrow hearts. It comes from seeking and restless hearts. Many people find needed rest in traditional worship, not because it’s old or fashionable, but because it carries a hint of the sublime for which human hearts are made. They come to the traditional Mass and find God has opened up a home for them. He has laid a smooth, beautiful road by which they can seek Him closely; the “myrrh and aloes” of the King’s robes, the fragrance of which the Bride restlessly follows.
There will always be a plurality of rites in the Catholic Church, adding diversity and texture. While one may prefer a certain rite, it does not mean they despise the others. It means they’ve found a form of worship that corresponds with the needs of their soul. Just as someone may find a home in Franciscan spirituality but not Dominican, some are more at home in the Extraordinary Form than the Ordinary. Certainly you, a son of St. Ignatius of Loyola would understand.
I sincerely ask, that the Extraordinary Rite of the Mass be available and appreciated. It concerns me deeply that there are many poor who wish to attend this kind of Mass but cannot afford to travel out of town where the nearest one is offered. Our Catholic parishes should be aware of the needs of these groups, namely the younger and older generations who seek traditional spirituality, instead of letting them fall by the wayside or even worse, excluding them. Many of those I’ve spoken to sincerely want to be involved in the church but feel unwanted, deprived of fellowship within their own parishes. Of course, you are only a man and cannot fix everything in a day. As Pope John XXIII used to say: “Lord it’s your church, I’m going to bed.”
But may I, at least, ask you to keep these poorer people in your prayer intentions and those who feel hurt or excluded because of their love for more traditional worship. And, lastly, if you consider some of them to be rigid, pray for them too! The prayers of the Successor of St. Peter will always be appreciated. In turn, we will pray for you and your intentions. May you be well and filled with the joy of Christ during this upcoming year.