Some Sundays I like to go to the Latin Mass at All Souls’ Church in Sanford. It’s a nice half-hour drive along the beltway, over alligator-choked Lake Jesup, and through the side streets of this little Florida town. Everything at All Souls’ creaks: the floors, the pews, and– yes– some of the congregation. You have to be very still in your seat so as not to make it sound like you are running a woodchipper while you worship. The front row on the Holy Family side is usually occupied by a family with four little children. (There may actually be five; it’s hard to tell.) They do a lot of creaking and sometimes it’s hard to concentrate, but that’s okay; I just turn my hearing aids off.
The Tridentine Mass is what was said in Latin up through 1962, before they started rummaging through the Church and changing things. The language is mystical and beautiful, and you can follow along in a red prayer book they they supply– Latin on the left, English on the right. The last time I went I brought Uncle Ren’s ancient little prayer book, which was printed in 1908, and which he used at Mass. (It falls easily open to the Ordinary.) It was a very comforting experience reading the Mass in the same words that Uncle Ren read, because the 1908 Tridentine service was naturally also in effect in 1962.
I used to sing it in St. Ephrem’s choir from 1964 through 1969 but really didn’t appreciate it. If you were able to sing on key, you were in– no exceptions! Sister Claire Anne saw to that.
Mass didn’t begin to make sense, really, until they filled the church with felt banners, folk singers, and bad guitar players. “Eat his body, drink his blood” we cheerfully sang in “Sons of God,” not realizing that the Mystery was being ripped from everything so “the people” could be happy. That’s not what Mass is about!
Anyway, in the picture above you’ll see a very small part of our very large St. Ephrem’s choir– you can see me at the upper right. I was originally, because of my young beauty, front and center but felt nauseous and was taken into the sacristy where I threw up; the nuns gave me smelling salts and brought me back out, but put me on the end “just in case.” The picture appeared in the December 25, 1966 issue of The New York Sunday News Coloroto Magazine; I had just turned 11 years old.