Sunday, May 22, 2016


Today the Roman Rite, and much of western Christianity, celebrates Trinity Sunday. What began as a local feast in some parts of the Western church in the Middle Ages, was added to the universal Roman calendar by Pope John XXII (1316–1334), and designated as the first Sunday after Pentecost.

Three folds of the cloth,
    yet only one napkin is there,
Three joints in the finger,
    but still only one finger fair,
Three leaves of the shamrock,
    yet no more than one shamrock to wear,
Frost, snowflakes and ice,
    all in water their origin share,
Three Persons in God:
    to one God alone we make our prayer.

(An ancient Irish prayer)

The Reverend Doctor Daniel Meeter is pastor of Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York. He writes:

Unlike most Sundays in our calendar, we are not marking any specific Biblical event, but it makes sense to celebrate the Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost. On Pentecost God exposed God’s self in the Holy Spirit -- God came among us in the third person of God. Fifty days before that, on Easter, God exposed God’s self the Lord Jesus -- God was among us in the second person of God. The Easter season celebrates the mighty acts of God for our salvation as these actions of two persons, so now that the Season is over, we can put God back together!

We continue with what the reformed Roman calendar refers to in English as "ordinary time." This is ostensibly a faithful rendering, if not a literal one, of the Latin "tempus per annum;" literally, "time during the year." There was a time you might have heard the following Sunday referred to incorrectly as "the Umpteenth Sunday of the Year" or the "Umpteenth Sunday of the Church Year," which it is not, but rather, the Umpteenth Sunday of the regular part of the Church year. Thus, "ordinary" refers to that which is part of the regular order (the words "ordinary" and "order" having the same root) of the year.

Personally, this writer would just as soon they referred to Sundays After Epiphany and/or Pentecost, which some Anglican churches still do, even as they have adopted a more contemporary Book of Common Prayer, and a three-year-cycled lectionary.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Roamin’ Catholic: St Rita of Cascia (Alexandria VA)

Following a brief hiatus to allow for the Mother of all Novenas, this temporary Sunday wanderlust continues, with an experience at a different parish church each Sunday. It will run nearly every week until yours truly is tired of running.

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It is difficult to imagine in the present day, but for more than a century after the end of the War Between the States, Virginia was very much a part of the south, and by extension, very Protestant.* Even the northern part of the state outside of the Nation's capital was still virtually a mission territory for the Faith. In 1912, a society of Catholic ladies began a program of religious instruction in a local cobbler's shop, for the children of families in the towns of Abington, Del Ray, and Saint Elmo, those which now comprise the northern part of the city of Alexandria. It was at that little storefront that Mass was first said, and that the story of a faith community began. As a mission of the long-established Saint Mary's Parish in "Old Town" Alexandria, a little stone church was erected just two years later in nearby Mount Ida. In 1924, the Bishop of Richmond elevated it to the status of a parish, in the title of Saint Rita of Cascia, an Italian widow and Augustinian nun of the late Middle Ages, and patroness of hopeless causes.

The war production buildup, already underway by 1940, brought a considerable rise in the population, and the pastor secured a three-acre plot about a mile to the north on Russell Avenue, with enough room for a school, a convent, a rectory, and a larger church. In 1949, a beautiful Gothic edifice of Virginia fieldstone and Indiana limestone was completed and dedicated. But for a narrow separation of the main altar from the reredos, to allow for the celebration of Mass "versus populum," the appearance of the church interior has changed little in more than seventy years since then. In addition to being arguably the most beautiful church in what is now the Diocese of Arlington, there is an impressive listing on the parish website of clubs and activities, with a unique outreach, not only to the Latino community, but to “the young at heart approximately between the ages of eighteen and forty.” (One may wonder just how broadly "young at heart" is interpreted.) And although the parish school is no longer administered by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chestnut Hill, its lower grades are at full capacity, a sure sign of growth among young families.

As one walks amidst the stone walls and pillars of this place of worship, it speaks to the viewer of permanence, of stability, of a place that weathers the storm, that is here to stay. Such is a reminder of the things that matter, that one need not be far from the kingdom of God. Venturing into the church itself is where architect Samuel J Collins further demonstrates his acute understanding of traditional church architecture. The viewer gazes upon a space that is devoid of excessive decoration that was characteristic of parish churches in North America up to that time. The order and proportion therein speak for themselves through the generations.

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The Sunday Mass at eleven in the morning is said to appeal to those inclined toward a "reform of the reform" of the sacred liturgy. Contrary to popular opinion that such an endeavor is an attempt to create a "hybrid" of both pre-conciliar and post-conciliar forms of the Mass (a rumor generated mostly by those who know just enough to show off what they don't know), it is in fact a two-pronged initiative, both to examine what the Council Fathers actually intended for the reform of the Roman Mass, and in the interim, to celebrate the Novus Ordo Missae in a manner that respects its tradition and heritage. At a time and place when the Traditional Latin Mass becomes more available, this is an opportunity that is often overlooked, one that can reach a broader spectrum of the Latin-rite faithful.

To this end, the parish uses the “Lumen Christi” missal and hymnal, both the work of Illuminare Publications. The choir sings the Propers for the Mass -- the Introit, Offertory, and Communion Antiphons, supplemented by verses based upon the Graduale Romanum (thus reviving an ancient practice associated with the antiphons). Those hymns that are sung are in English or Latin.

Only boys or men serve the priest, and Communion is administered kneeling at the altar rail, whether on the tongue or in the hand, and only by the priests. The reverence accorded to the ars celebrandi is tempered somewhat by a certain minimalism. The procession seems a bit rushed, walking at a somewhat brisk pace, as if on a deadline. Parts of the Mass best chanted (as shown in the pew missal) are spoken, which while a common practice in most parishes today, even at a "sung" Mass, neglects availing itself of one of the features given new emphasis in the 2011 English-language Sacramentary. If a liturgical counter-reform would deign to put the "High" back into the "High Mass," one would hope for no less clear a distinction between "High" and "Low."

It cannot escape notice that the priest here celebrates Mass "ad orientem," that is, "facing East," if only metaphorically, so that he and the faithful are facing the same direction, thus "turning toward the Lord" together. What is equally inescapable is that the priest's chair -- the "sedilia," as it is known -- is conspicuously placed on what appears to be the ledge at one side near the reredos. The celebrant faces the people from a higher place than when he is when the Mass culminates at the altar. It is obvious from the design of the sanctuary (to say nothing of custom) that the sedilia was never intended to be at such a lofty vantage point, but rather down below at the "plano," the floor of the sanctuary. It is from below where the Mass begins, reminiscent of the ascent to the "holy mountain" cited in the traditional prayers at the foot of the altar.

The result of this physical arrangement defies the hierarchy within the Mass itself, wherein one enters into the Holy of Holies from the outer sanctum. All told, and in an otherwise magnificent setting, the priest becomes more noticeable than the ritual action, one of the very things which "ad orientem" worship is intended to avoid.

An ancient and laudable practice that deserves mention, and is commonly overlooked by even "conservative" parishes, is the ability to go to confession immediately before Mass, and even during its beginning. This is how it used to be done in most places, rather than dropping everything and going to church on a Saturday afternoon (which is easy to rail about if you're standing at a pulpit without children to care for), or even worse, making an appointment. In the post-conciliar years, this practice has been looked down upon by pointy-headed liturgical scholars, as a detraction from the central action of the Eucharist (which seems not to be a problem elsewhere for liturgical dancers and a bevy of ministerial minions invading the holy place), the practice serves to highlight both the contemplative and diverse aspects of the sacramental life of the Church. One is there to reconcile with God and neighbor before communing at the table of the Lord.

The church is just over half full this day, and most of the congregants are in their twenties and thirties. (Just like my day job, I'm practically the oldest guy in the building.) The choir of about a dozen young ladies fills the air with lovely voices from the loft. The homily given by the celebrant, who is also the pastor; a young, congenial, squared-away sort of fellow, is bold, enthusiastic, yet conversational. There is no doubt as to one's catholicity, where one is to stand. We hear no call to condemnation, but to conversion.

After Mass, there are those who stay briefly, and it would appear that a number of them make their way to the nearby Wafle Shop. (That's "Wafle" with one "F." Don't ask me why.) This diversion is yet to be confirmed, but it only makes sense. Conspicuously absent here is the suburban mentality of emptying a huge parking lot as quickly as possible (the needs of families with young children notwithstanding), in a mad dash to what is ostensibly a day of rest.

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There are those among the status quo at both ends of the ideological spectrum, for whom St Rita's might stand as a defiance of conventional wisdom. They do not see the "Tridentine" Mass offered on Sundays (as at present it is available on holydays of obligation and select weeknights), and decry the faithful rallying around a "reverent Novus Ordo" as if to a lost cause. Conversely, there is also no attempt at rebranding, as witnessed by some Protestant "emerging churches" (and a few Catholic ones only recently), with the usual unbridled enthusiasm and soon-to-be-dated musical genré (or in the manner of some progressive urban parishes administered by the Society of Jesus, which is another story for another day). What is found in a renewed urban neighborhood in northern Virginia, is a renewed approach to a tried-and-true model of parish life, one that reaches its people where they are, whether under forty, or over fifty, and leads them higher.

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* When this writer first moved to northern Virginia in December of 1980 and was looking for an apartment, one high-rise development had a line on its application for "Religion." It was left blank. Whether or not this was a factor in being passed over remains a mystery to this day.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Novena: Pentecost

Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,
da perenne gaudium.
Amen. Alleluia.

Give them virtue's sure reward;
give them thy salvation, Lord;
give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.


Come, O Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, And enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

V: Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created,

R: And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Oh God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Ghost, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise and to ever rejoice in His consolations, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.


(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which have appeared in this series without permission or shame. To view this entire series, click here.)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Novena Day 9: The Fruits of the Holy Ghost

Da tuis fidelibus
in te confidentibus
sacrum septenarium.

On the faithful, who adore
and confess thee, evermore
in thy sevenfold gift descend.


The gifts of the Holy Ghost perfect the supernatural virtues by enabling us to practice them with greater docility to divine inspiration. As we grow in the knowledge and love of God under the direction of the Holy Ghost, our service becomes more sincere and generous, the practice of virtue more perfect. Such acts of virtue leave the heart filled with joy and consolation and are known as Fruits of the Holy Ghost. These fruits in turn render the practice of virtue more attractive and become a powerful incentive for still greater efforts in the service of God, to serve Whom is to reign.


Come, O Divine Spirit, fill my heart with Thy heavenly fruits, Thy charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, faith, mildness, and temperance, that I may never weary in the service of God, but by continued faithful submission to Thy inspiration, may merit to be united eternally with Thee in the love of the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which have appeared in this series without permission or shame. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Novena Day 8: The Gift of Wisdom

Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
melt the frozen, warm the chill;
guide the steps that go astray.


Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written “all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.” It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Wisdom enlightens the mind to discern and relish things divine, in the appreciation of which earthly joys lose their savor, whilst the Cross of Christ yields a divine sweetness according to the words of the Savior: “Take up thy cross and follow Me, for My yoke is sweet, and My burden light.”


Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to my soul the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, power and beauty. Teach me to love them above and beyond all passing joys and satisfactions of the earth. Help me to attain them and possess them for ever. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series without permission or shame. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Novena Day 7: The Gift of Counsel

Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
on our dryness pour thy dew;
wash the stains of guilt away.


The gift of Counsel endows the soul with supernatural prudence, enabling it to judge promptly and rightly what must be done, especially in difficult circumstances. Counsel applies the principles furnished by Knowledge and Understanding to the innumerable concrete cases that confront us in the course of our daily duty as parents, teachers, public servants and Christian citizens. Counsel is supernatural common sense, a priceless treasure in the quest of salvation. “Above all these things, pray to the Most High, that He may direct thy way in truth.”


Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do Thy holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good; turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the straight path of Thy commandments to that goal of eternal life for which I long. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series without permission or shame. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Novena Day 6: The Gift of Understanding

Sine tuo numine
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.

Where thou art not, man hath naught,
nothing good in deed or thought,
nothing free from taint of ill.


Understanding, as a gift of the Holy Ghost, helps us to grasp the meaning of the truths of our holy religion. By faith we know them, but by Understanding we learn to appreciate and relish them. It enables us to penetrate the inner meaning of revealed truths and through them to be quickened to newness of life. Our faith ceases to be sterile and inactive, but inspires a mode of life that bears eloquent testimony to the faith that is in us; we begin to “walk worthy of God in all things pleasing, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”


Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation; and may merit at last to see the eternal light in Thy light; and in the light of glory to have a clear vision of Thee and the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series without permission or shame. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Novena Day 5: The Gift of Knowledge

O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.

O most blessed Light divine,
shine within these hearts of thine,
and our inmost being fill!


The gift of Knowledge enables the soul to evaluate created things at their true worth -- in relation to God. Knowledge unmasks the pretense of creatures, reveals their emptiness, and points out their only true purpose as instruments in the service of God. It shows us the loving care of God even in adversity, and directs us to glorify Him in every circumstance of life. Guided by its light, we put first things first, and prize the friendship of God beyond all else. “Knowledge is a fountain of life to him that possesseth it.”


Come, O Blessed Spirit of Knowledge, and grant that I may perceive the will of the Father; show me the nothingness of earthly things, that I may realize their vanity and use them only for Thy glory and my own salvation, looking ever beyond them to Thee, and Thy eternal rewards. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series without permission or shame. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Monday, May 09, 2016

Novena Day 4: The Gift of Fortitude

In labore requies,
in aestu temperies,
in fletu solacium.

In our labor, rest most sweet;
grateful coolness in the heat;
solace in the midst of woe.


By the gift of Fortitude, the soul is strengthened against natural fear, and supported to the end in the performance of duty. Fortitude imparts to the will an impulse and energy which move it to undertake without hesitancy the most arduous tasks, to face dangers, to trample under foot human respect, and to endure without complaint the slow martyrdom of even lifelong tribulation. “He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.”


Come, O Blessed Spirit of Fortitude, uphold my soul in times of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage against all the assaults of my enemies, that I may never be overcome and separated from Thee, my God and greatest Good. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series without permission or shame. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Novena Day 3: The Gift of Piety

Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.

Thou, of comforters the best;
thou, the soul's most welcome guest;
sweet refreshment here below.


The gift of Piety begets in our hearts a filial affection for God as our most loving Father. It inspires us to love and respect for His sake persons and things consecrated to Him, as well as those who are vested with His authority, His Blessed Mother and the Saints, the Church and its visible Head, our parents and superiors, our country and its rulers. He who is filled with the gift of Piety finds the practice of his religion, not a burdensome duty, but a delightful service. Where there is love, there is no labor.


Come, O Blessed Spirit of Piety, possess my heart. Enkindle therein such a love for God, that I may find satisfaction only in His service, and for His sake lovingly submit to all legitimate authority. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series without permission or shame. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Novena Day 2: The Gift of Fear

Veni pater pauperum,
veni dator munerum,
veni lumen cordium.

Come, thou Father of the poor!
Come, thou Source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine!


The gift of Fear fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread nothing so much as to offend Him by Sin. It is a fear that arises, not from the thought of hell, but from sentiments of reverence and filial submission to our heavenly Father. It is the fear that is the beginning of wisdom, detaching us from worldly pleasures that could in any way separate us from God. “They that fear the Lord will prepare their hearts, and in His sight will sanctify their souls.”


Come, O blessed Spirit of Holy Fear, penetrate my inmost heart, that I may set Thee, my Lord and God, before my face forever; help me to shun all things that can offend Thee, and make me worthy to appear before the pure eyes of Thy Divine Majesty in heaven, where Thou livest and reignest in the unity of the ever Blessed Trinity, God world without end. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series without permission or shame. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Friday, May 06, 2016

Novena Day 1: The Holy Ghost

Veni Sancte Spiritus
et emitte caelitus
lucis tuae radium.

Come, thou Holy Spirit, come,
and from thy celestial home
shed a ray of light divine!


Only one thing is important -- eternal salvation. Only one thing, therefore, is to be feared -- sin. Sin is the result of ignorance, weakness, and indifference. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Light, of Strength, and of Love. With His sevenfold gifts, He enlightens the mind, strengthens the will, and inflames the heart with love of God. To ensure our salvation, we ought to invoke the Divine Spirit daily, for “The Spirit helpeth our infirmity. We know not what we should pray for as we ought. But the Spirit Himself asketh for us.”


Almighty and eternal God, Who hast vouchsafed to regenerate us by water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given us forgiveness of all our sins, vouchsafe to send forth from heaven upon us Thy sevenfold Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Fortitude, the Spirit of Knowledge and Piety, and fill us with the Spirit of Holy Fear. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are to appear in this series without permission or shame. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Novena: Prelude

Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who is to be taken up from you into heaven had to re-schedule his departure to the following Sunday in order to accomodate the busy schedules of the faithful. Now, get back to work.

(Acts 1:11, dynamic equivalent translation)

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension, when Christ ascended into Heaven forty days after He rose from the dead.

Then again ...

In most provinces of the USA, and in entire countries throughout the world, the Feast has been moved to the following Sunday. We could just leave well enough alone, and transfer the obligation itself to the Sunday within the octave of the Feast, but the Western church got rid of many of its octaves in the mid-1950s, and a few more since then. You'd have to explain to people what an octave is, and that is such a pain. So unless you attend the Traditional Mass or an Eastern Rite Divine Liturgy today, in which case the aforementioned silliness does not apply, today will be remembered as just another Easter weekday.

If only they put the right spin on it, in which case it would go something like this:

“Most biblical scholars agree that Jesus ascended into Heaven forty-three days after He rose from the dead, not forty days as previously believed. The number of forty was arrived at by the end of the third century, to make it easier for Christians to count the days after Easter on their fingers and toes and double the total. But we’re so much more sophisticated now, and we can use calculators to count that high, or have our smartphones remind us.”

Whether or not we would fall for that, moving a Feast Day to a Sunday because we're all too damned lazy to go to Mass on a weekday (or a weeknight) makes about as much sense.

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But suppose that sacred time actually mattered, in which case it would go something like this:

The Church was born on the Jewish feast of the Pentecost. After the ascension of Christ into heaven, a group which, according to tradition, numbered about 120, remained sequestered in the Upper Room for nine days, awaiting the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

They returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:12-14)

Thus the birth of our Holy Mother the Church was preceded by a novena.

From the Latin word "novem," meaning "nine," a novena is a prayer that is repeated for nine days, after which, according to pious belief, special graces are obtained. Fisheaters elaborates on the devotion, and gives a complete listing of popular novenas for any and all occasions.

The novena to Saint Jude may be the most popular, as he is the patron saint of hopeless causes. Many a Catholic has found a holy card or slip of paper in the pew with the prayer written on it, left by a pious soul whose intention was granted. One of them was the late entertainer Danny Thomas, whose devotion to the saint moved him to establish the children's hospital that bears the saint's name.

We here at man with black hat will present our exclusive adaptation of the mother of all novenas, that which is devoted to the Holy Spirit, over the next nine days. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Roamin’ Catholic: St Francis de Sales (Benedict MD)

With this entry, I begin to chronicle my temporary Sunday wanderlust, in the form of an experience at a different parish church each Sunday. It will run each week until I'm tired of running.

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One need not go far from Arlington, Virginia, to see a dramatic change in the topography, from that of the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the Piedmont region. In less than an hour, the rolling hills where was fought the Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas, depending on your point of view) become the flat lowlands where the tropical winds are more likely to reach, where corn and tobacco still rule the landscape, and where the Faith was first brought by the Jesuit missionaries, to what became the colony named for the Blessed Mother. To this day, many of the native tribes that greeted the men in black robes still have a presence -- the Piscataway and Powhatan in Maryland, or the Chickahominy and Mattaponi in Virginia, to name a few -- if only a smaller (and in some cases, intermarried) version of their former selves.

IMAGE: Oyster boats and pleasure craft docked in the Patuxent River at Benedict, 1941. (National Archives)

In the midst of the low country that is southern Maryland, is the little fishing village once established in 1683 as Benedict-Leonardtown (named for the Benedict Leonard Calvert, who eventually became Proprietary Governor of Maryland), and the site of two British invasions (both the Revolution and the War of 1812), the place eventually known as Benedict remains the oldest surviving town in Charles County, and one of the oldest in Maryland, albeit with a population of less than three hundred. Although unincorporated, it has its own post office, a fire station for the county, two seafood restaurants, and what has been up to now the only church in southern Maryland that offers the Traditional Latin Mass.

St Francis de Sales was established as a mission in 1896, and as a parish in 1903. The small wooden structure that served as the original mission eventually succumbed to a fire, and the present stucco building was completed in 1924. To enter the little town just off State Route 231 is to emerge in a sort of Lake Wobegon kind of place, and one is first greeted by the little country church on the side of the road.

Looks quaint, doesn't it?

You pass by that little country church on the side of the road, and you expect to walk in and step back in time just a little, don't you? If that church is Catholic, this would have been likely in the 1970s. But try that today, and you'll probably step back into the 1970s, complete with ill-conceived renovations, a mismatched free-standing altar, and a little old lady who couldn't play canasta on a good day, much less the church organ, pumping out tunes from the Saint Louis Jesuits, or maybe some ditty about banging "glad tambourines" (which never seemed to inspire waking up, much less playing them, but anyway ...)

When the current pastor, Father Kevin Michael Cusick, took over the parish several years ago, it was more like that than unlike that.

Gregarious, welcoming, and with the distinct bearing of a military man (which is fitting for a Navy chaplain serving the Marines), the good Father set about to enact a "reform of the reform." Altar service was returned to the boys (and the men), traditional hymnody became the standard fare, and the sanctuary was eventually restored to its former glory, without the excessive wallpapered ornamental decoration, the type that typified American parish churches from the mid-19th to mid-20th century. The free-standing altar is still brought out from its place as a side altar for some Masses, but Father is gradually weaning the parish toward a steady diet of "turning toward the Lord" for worship, at the traditional altar, regardless of which set of books is being used.

The parish has a Traditional Latin Mass every Sunday at 11:00am. The first Sunday of the month is reserved for a “Missa Cantata” (High Mass). That was what I was expecting. But when I walked in, I could already hear the murmuring about the change in plans. Between the previous day's wedding, and the coming Thursday's traditional commemoration of the Ascension, a burnout situation was anticipated. An executive decision was made, to go with Plan B, a Low Mass with hymns.

(This is what became known in the past century --- a hymn for the entrance, offertory, communion, and recession -- as the “four-hymn sandwich.” While acceptable for a missa recitata in and of itself, it has in the reformed liturgy become the basis for any form of sung Mass, as opposed to a schola or cantor singing the "propers," the antiphon and/or psalm verse for the Mass of the day. This was never intended, but that's another story ...)

The coffee hour afterwords was at the parish hall just a short walk from the church (or an even shorter drive when it's raining). They make a complete stranger feel right at home. It probably didn't hurt that they recognized the hat. (What can I tell you?) And while some have walked away from changes that were only made for their own good, others have taken their place, including young adults and young families from the surrounding countryside, throughout Charles County, and even beyond. (The scholameister comes all the way from Manassas, Virginia, which is which is even farther away than yours truly.) All in all, that little country church on the side of the road must be doing something right.

I imagine living in a small town, and being able to walk to a church like this one. Indeed, the fictional Lake Woebegon is described as “the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve.” A faithful Catholic who likes to "kick it old school" might find his own piece of that here, then head down to the local establishment for a taste of fruits of the sea. This weary traveler hopes to visit that little country church again on some first Sunday later in the year.

I should probably call first.