2. On Pilgrimage.

Now, our Sundays are a thirty-mile pilgrimage to West Hollywood. [1]

So when the 14-year-old van radiator vomited green coolant behind the restaurant Sunday afternoon, we had to activate our emergency broadcast systems. First, your choir director catches you emerging from the industrial waste bin with a greasy bucket. Then, after a rinse, the bucket ferries enough water into the radiator to make it home. Third, you call your mother. She lends you her car. Finally, you call the wife’s mother, because the third car seat won’t fit and the baby will be forced to stay behind.

That tiny tragedy was how the son and I found ourselves without the one-year-old at Sunday Mass. [2] In the previous part of this series I described the four-year-old’s inability to sit still, wholly appropriate for a boy his age, and how the Extraordinary Form with three Moreno squirrels helped empty my ego [3].

Growing up, my wife’s family sat in the same pew, on the same side (“the St. Joseph side”) Sunday after Sunday, in an organ-led “Today’s Missal” parish. And after finally finding stability, my immigrant family reluctantly pantomimed that “our God was an awesome god”[3] in a parish where the community included huggers and the Kiss of Peace lasted four minutes. As a married couple, we settled on the best we could find: the Saturday anticipated at the local parish or the noon at the hospital chapel. Both offered the best available reverence, both under two miles.

After kids, we got real good at preparing for the pilgrimage: diaper bag, bottle(s), formula contraptions, quiet-chewed elephant toy, and last snacks, either the dissolve-in-the-mouth finger cereal in the pringle plastic or those delicious rice-cookies in the high-voltage, crunchy clear wrapper. We’d deliver mom (the cantor) early, and then the brood and I would drive up “Hill Street” to kill time and enjoy the view from the top. Sometimes if we were real early, we’d go twice. That ride was the Sunday highlight for the kids, unless we took our parents to the restaurant after Mass. A perfect pre-Mass routine, ready for decades of child-rearing. Thirty minutes, tops.

The newly established FSSP parish Sunday Mass starts at 7:00 p.m. in a shared location, deep in West L.A. Our routine now starts at noon, kicks into high gear at four when the van heads west on the 10 FW, and “the wending” [] mostly ends when we deliver mother for choir practice ninety minutes before Mass-time. The “far-away park” replaces the “Hill Street drive” as the kids’ favorite part, and by 9:30 p.m. we are traveling back east on the 60 FW, very close to our reward for the night: Sunday rest.

By now we have prepared remarks to explain to our family and friends why we do this. But I share these details to highlight the change that forced the Lord to consume my entire Sunday. No more mowing the lawn. Grading school papers waits for Monday. Family events are moved or missed, or left early. The after-noon nap is now the hinge of the day. It is transformed into a high-stakes event; if we fail, delirium will emerge from remission precisely as the priest chants the readings. In all honesty, this change isn’t exclusive to the kind of Mass we now attend, but rather an unexpected result of the reality of starting a new parish from scratch at awkward times.

So the micro-tragedy of the leaky van allowed me to lift the boy into my arms, so that he could witness the priest’s pilgrimage to the foot of the altar for the first time in his life, with all of his senses. What a privilege to realize and be present for that moment for my son!

The cross, we genuflect; the candles and censer, long past our row but whose trailing tendrils of smoke reach our skin and nose; and a bow, to the man who drives the funny little car, here transformed into a green-cope capped hero. The spell unbroken and entranced, the boy’s little face reached up to feel the sprinkling drop down from above.

It was three years of battle plus one in the cry-room to prepare for this moment. A journey for me and my son to begin to start to understand that the priest puts on a maniple because our pilgrimage is near its end! The wait is over, we are arriving! The Mass is starting!

Our Sundays are not even close to the medieval “wend” to Compostela or Canterbury. They are not the bleeding, kneeling approach up to Tepeyac in thanksgiving to Our Lady. They are scarcely a sacrifice in an air-conditioned modern vehicle, with the plethora of entertainment options of our digital connection, served by convenient cup holders and drive-thru servers.

But what is the same is the re-ordering of dominical domestic life ad orientum, a lifting of our Sunday souls to Thee, O God through our little prep and hour commute. We are Roman Catholics of the 21st century whose “path of life” now ends/culminates where it did for millennia: a four-year-old boy and his father, facing a crucifix on our knees, at the threshold of the altar (rail). [5]


[1] The crowd caught up with current events might recognize the irony that is the “thirty mile radius” and “to West Hollywood” for a text that purports to discuss el Camino de Compostela. Also, wend is “go in a specified direction, typically slowly or by an indirect route.”

[2] By the end of our first year of attending the Extraordinary Form our oldest daughter sang in the choir. We had always hoped to see the kids “actively participate” in the choir, but our local parish doesn’t sing the Propers and is currently led by a kind guitarist. There is an excellent Pueri Cantores in the local area. For more on children and choirs, see here. And here.

[3] Jean-Baptist Chautard spends two hundred pages writing about “the interior life” before he arrives at Part Five, Section Three, “What is the Liturgy” in The Soul of the Apostolate.

[4] This is not the time to fully discuss the adolescent angst, hormonal pathos, or even the mullet of our youth, except to (a) quote Rich Mullins who wrote “Awesome God” in the late 1980s: “You know, the thing I like about ‘Awesome God’ is that it’s one of the worst-written songs that I ever wrote; it’s just poorly crafted.” (interview with Brent Waters. “The Lighthouse Electronic Magazine Interview”. Kidbrothers.net. Retrieved November 2015) And (b) quote the opening that Rich Mullins wrote: “When He rolls up His sleeves / He ain’t just putting on the ritz.”

This was the source of so much frustration in the Ordinary Form: My children deserve Roman Catholic worship. Their formation is my vocation and responsibility, and I must do everything to envelope them with the patrimony that is our ritual. My conversion to the Extraordinary Form was first, and remains, a conversion to the Reform of the Reform.

Oh, and if you have seen the scene from Inside Out, you might understand the torture that is an earworm, combined with involuntarily “thumbs ups” and “sparkle-finger-wave” precipitation/soverignty.

[5] The Muslims submit, Hajj, and pray ad Mecca on their knees. If even they understand that prostration is the posture of Epiphany, why can’t we?

Martin Mosebach on kneeling (The Heresy of Formlessness (125):

Kneeling in the Christian liturgy has two roots, which can be traced back to a single root. The first is the New Testament, where we read: “And he fell down and worshipped him.” This expression is not restricted to Saint John’s account of the healing of the blind man: it occurs again and again whenever someone suddenly realizes the divinity of Jesus. This New Testament kneeling is utterly unliturgical: it occurs when someone is momentarily overwhelmed; it is the response to a gracious epiphany.

In the New Testament one has the impression that the person is thrown to his knees by a lightning flash of insight. At this moment, on his knees, he sees more than those standing around him, and he can find no better word in response to what he sees than the word Credo. How does this involuntarily, utterly personal kneeling – the work of a moment – find its way into the framework of a suprapersonal and supratemporal liturgy?

Joseph Ratzinger on kneeling (The Spirit of the Liturgy (191, 193):

Worship is one of those fundamental acts that affect the whole man. That is why bending the knee before the prsence of the living God is something we cannot abandon.

The Christian liturgy is a cosmic liturgy precisely because it bends the knee before the crucified and exalted Lord. Here is the center of authentic culture – the culture of truth. The humble gesture by which we fall at the feet of the Lord inserts us into the true path of life of the cosmos.