August 15 is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics. This year, this blessed commemoration fell just hours after the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office released its scathing report on clergy sexual abuse.
Still, my family and I went to Mass — about that there was no question — but the feast day felt like an afterthought. This was a day of mourning, and anger, and repentance, not of celebration.
We attended the traditional Latin Mass celebrated at St. Boniface Church on the North Side. This wasn’t some kind of protest or implied rebuke of the diocese; we just find the old Mass beautiful, and it didn’t hurt that the evening time fit into our schedule.
The old Mass has an aura of timelessness to it. It almost takes you out of time and place itself: the chanting, the Latin prayers, and the long periods of prayerful stillness. More than a regular ordinary form Mass, it’s jarring to walk out of church and back into the real world where we have to think about things like rape, and child pornography, and grotesquely self-serving cover-ups.
But I must remember, this is also the world of Latin Mass. It might feel like a sanctuary to many, but it was exactly this feeling of security that so many evil men exploited to their own perverse ends. The worst years of abuse spanned both the old Mass and the new. To treat the traditional Mass as a haven of purity is both to indulge irresponsible escapism and to court the same naïveté that left the laity so vulnerable for so long.
During the Mass at St. Boniface, the priest addressed the crisis during his homily, tying it to the Marian feast day. Only with a prayerful recommitment to our Blessed Mother the Queen of Heaven, he said, can we — the laity and the clergy — heal the wounds inflicted by so many evil men and their enablers. It was good. While there has been a great deal of focus on new procedures and policies, none of this will matter unless the deficit of holiness is somehow fixed. And that is everyone’s business, not just the diocesan office’s.
At the end of Mass, the five altar boys who had served faithfully and reverently genuflected at the back of the church to receive the blessing of the priest. Then they went outside and around the building, back to the sacristy, laughing and joking. Their carefreeness was disarming, and it made me smile after a hard day. But I wondered, do they realize that most people now associate the black-and-white garments of altar boys primarily with rape?
On one hand, I hope they don’t. There must be some room left for innocence.
On the other hand, I hope they have accepted this ministry with eyes wide open. I hope they understand how important the trust — and the vigilance — they demonstrate is to reestablishing a wider trust in the Church, and especially in Her priests.
I hope they understand that they, perhaps more than anyone else in St. Boniface that evening, hold the future of the Church in their hands.