When I said that the Latin Mass scared me, I wasn’t joking.
Actually, it turns out I was far more right than I even realised. On Thursday night, I went again for the Feast of Corpus Christi. There was Adoration before hand, which was wonderful, but with about ten minutes to go, I started having an anxiety attack. It was only little, and pretty harmless but still, that awful strangling feeling isn’t a pleasant one.
I picked my stuff up and left. It was a cool night, and out on the wet grass, next to a weatherboard hut labelled “St Joseph’s Hall”, I tried to calm myself down. Breathe in. I could hear the usual self-shaming thoughts, and the horrible accusations. Breathe out. That I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t belong here. Breathe in. That I should leave these good people because didn’t they realise I was just a fraud? And Breathe out.
Twenty minutes later, I went back in, at least outwardly composed.
But I couldn’t figure out why Mass would send me into an anxiety attack. Moments before, I was blissfully happy reading the hymns for the feast. And then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, there is was. The Anxiety, the Shame, and the overwhelming need to Flee. So why would Mass send me into an anxiety attack? And why this particular Mass? Because it’s definitely something about the Latin Mass.
So far I’ve chalked it up to the characteristics of the Mass itself but I suspect that it’s more than that. In fact, I think it’s because it feels so alien, and that reminds me of how alien I feel. But let me explain that.
When I came back to the Church, I already had a passing familiarity with the Mass. I had received my First Holy Communion, and knew roughly how it all went. Although the Mass was clearly Catholic, there was nothing particularly unsettling about it. If anything, it was far less traditional than one of those good old Anglican services. In short, even if one didn’t agree with all the theology, there was nothing in it would offend a Protestant sensibility.
But the Latin Mass isn’t like that at all.
It is viscerally, unavoidably, in-your-face Catholic. From the mantillas and beeswax candles to the Libers and calls of “happy feast day!'”, it does offend a Protestant sensibility. And for better or worse, that is still my gut reaction. As much I love it all in principle, it still often weirds me out in practice, even while I’m drawn it like moth to one of those beeswax candles.
And honestly, I’ve been beating myself up about having such a reaction. But that’s just silly.
I know I’ve “been” Catholic for over a year now, but it still feels so new. I still feel more like a visitor than a member. It probably doesn’t help that I’m studying theology with some of the biggest Catholic nerds on the planet. (At least they seem so to me.) Probably most Catholics would feel like a fish out of water in such an environment, but still, it unsettles me. Maybe it’s just my pride, but I’m used to knowing what’s going on. I’m used to having the answers.
I’m used to feeling settled. Now, I’m not.
In the light of day, I find it a very interesting reaction to have had, and will have to add it to my file on “What is the Latin Mass business?” (the Mass files are always the heaviest… yeah, I’m sorry for that.) Because you’d want the Mass to be in your face Catholic, right? But hopefully not panic-attack-inducing-in-your-face… I don’t know. I have no idea what that means for me and my quest to understand the Mass.
But you know what? That’s ok.
Just like it’s ok that there’s so much I don’t get. And it’s ok that there’s so much I want to do but don’t do. I have the time, I have the love of the Father, and I have every grace I need from the throne of Heaven. I just need to trust in the slow work of God, and let God be God, and me be me.
And for a perfectionist who wants to KNOW EVERYTHING NOW that can be a scary thing.