1. On stillness.

On the fifty-second Sunday of our first year of conversion to the Extraordinary Form, my four-year old son behaved [1]. He did not crash the swat-team car on the pew. He did not crush a cereal snack underfoot, shred the folded bulletin, or even stack the disposable missals into towers or ramps. He was distracted most of the time. And couldn’t keep from commenting on and questioning the artwork [2]. When he “actively” participated” in the Kyrie or Alleluia, he was too loud [3]. His volume is a permanent issue, and I immediately regretted asking him to count the candles he saw. (I cut him off at fourteen.)

But the boy could not have made a father more proud.

My children have taught me stillness, what Guardini describes as “the prerequisite of the liturgical holy act”[4]. It started when I first rocked our eldest and held the bottle for her during the Eucharistic Prayer. I couldn’t follow the Mass in the same way anymore because I didn’t have anymore hands to hold the missal. Even after she could hold her own bottle, I could never really focus on reading the words anymore. That’s how it started.

But it was the Extraordinary Form that made a new worshiper out of me. It forced me to grow still because it forced me to let go of so many things I thought I needed to fix. There was no liturgical abuse to plot to fix, the music was finally the Propers the Church asked for, the Ordinary dignified, the altar servers mirrors of the priest’s dignity and purpose. [5] Everything was our best.

In the past my thoughts constantly drifted to my personal actions as the savior of Tradition, as the new warrior behind Pope Benedict’s “hermeneutic of continuity”, as a lead actor in this Reform of the Reform. How quickly this turned on its head, when confronted with the work of our Liturgy done according to the book to the best of our ability. It is embarrassing to consider how misplaced my attention had been for so long. I am an infant.

It happened on the third Sunday of our first year of conversion to the Extraordinary Form. The three kids and I, looking through the sheen of the cry room window, saw the FSSP priest vesting in rose only feet away. And right there I realized there was an emptiness inside me: silence and awe. Detachment and humility. Worldly concern was gone because the priest Said the Black. Freedom to worship, oh how I understand thee!

My place is behind that window—bottle-ready, arms full, pockets full of plush toys—still and empty. That window is not a looking glass. It makes my three holy. We are building a congregation. It will be our parish, and we will bring it home to our local Churches.

At the end of that Last Sunday of the liturgical year, my son made me proud. There was nothing anyone could do to change that. [6]

What then is a church? It is to be sure, a building having walls, pillars, space. But these express only part of the word church, its shell. When we say that Holy Mass is celebrated “in church,” we are including something more: the congregation. Congregation, not merely people. Churchgoers arriving, sitting, or kneeling in pews are not necessarily a congregation; they can be simply a roomful of more or less pious individuals. Congregation is formed only when those individuals are present not only corporally but also spiritually, when they have contacted one another in prayer and step together into the spiritual “space” around them; strictly speaking, when they have first widened and heightened that space by prayer. Then true congregation comes into being, which, along with the building that is its architectural expression, forms the vital church in which the sacred act is accomplished. All this takes place only in stillness; out of stillness grows the real sanctuary. It is important to understand this.

Church buildings may be lost or destroyed; then everything depends on whether or not the faithful are capable of forming congregations that erect indestructible “churches” wherever they happen to find themselves, no matter how poor or dreary their quarters. We must learn and practice the art of constructing spiritual cathedrals.

We cannot take stillness too seriously. Not for nothing do these reflections on the Liturgy open with it. If someone were to ask me what the liturgical life begins with, I should answer: with learning stillness. Without it, everything remains superficial, vain. Our understanding of stillness is nothing strange or aesthetic. Were we to approach stillness on the level of aesthetics – of mere withdrawal into the ego – we should spoil everything. What we are striving for is something very grave, very important, and unfortunately sorely neglected: the prerequisite of the liturgical holy act. -Romano Guardini. Preparing Yourself for Mass. (1939.)

1. “behaved” is a term, that for this short text, should be explained: “My son behaved at Mass. He was only removed once, when the altar server’s altar bell jerked my son out of a still reverie and prompted him to involuntarily sing out ‘Ding-a-ling, Ding-a-ling’. He returned and no further problem ensued.”

2. Sitting in the middle of the Church was a new experience for him. He is usually outside or in the cry room. It was the first time he had enough time to be drawn into the artwork and ask questions.

3. His sister is the choir, so he knows the chants and hymns. But he does not know blending yet, so the mother and son in front of us turned around every time my son belted to sing.

4. Romano Guardini. Preparing Yourself for Mass.

5. This is possible in the Ordinary Form too, except having too many options and demoting things to optional makes it far more difficult. “Say the Black, Do the Red.”

6. It was irony, that after being so inspired by our year in the FSSP Mass, a year just crowned by my son’s behavior, that a woman approached us to let us know that, “There’s a room for children in the side of the Church building.” My son’s behavior had bothered and distracted her throughout the Mass so much she felt compelled to speak to me! I said nothing, since no one was going to destroy the joy of that particular moment. But he was a good four-year-old, and deserves to meet God face-to-face, just like the rest of us. Next week, with the one-year-old in tow, we should be back in the “room for children.”