Ultimately the proper response to the
question is probably: anywhere, anytime, because it is the same Mass,
the same sacrifice of the Lord on the Cross at Calvary.
But having said that, try to consider
where that eternal and cosmic sacrifice might mostly clearly shine
through to you. I’m not referring to churches just as
architectural works, but as places where the liturgy continues to be
offered and is at home there.
I could imagine answering for myself
that it would be the London Oratory (often called the “Brompton
Oratory”; photo above), for the solemn Mass offered every Sunday at 11 a.m. The
grandeur, integrity, and solemnity in the celebration of the Mass
there must come very close to parting the veil. Also, even though
the church therethe Church of the Immaculate Heart of Maryis a
magnificent neo-baroque edifice, it has certainly not become a museum
of past glories, like many churches in Europe (and elsewhere) have
been, but is the center of a thriving parish. That must surely
affect the tenor of the liturgy as well.
I may or may not ever be able to attend
Mass there, however. So I would like to offer two other
possibilities, in the United States, which are places where I have in
fact been. I offer them with the hope that others will volunteer
their own suggestions in the comments. Think of this as a kind of
church swap meet, which is really the purpose of this post.
(I have heard some great homilies, and
have certainly had some singular experiences at Masses I have
attended around the country and elsewhere, some wonderful and some
not, but I am not focusing on that here, but rather on the place
itself and on the ordinary conduct of the liturgy there.)
The Sunday morning 6:30 Tridentine
Mass at the Serra Chapel at San Juan Capistrano, California.
The Serra Chapel is not exactly
isolated because it has troops of tourists in and out of it most of
the week and is just a stone’s throw away from the basilica of San
Juan Capistrano, where hundreds and hundreds of people attend Mass,
but when I was there in the Chapel, it was positively cave-like, and
the accumulated smell of centuries of incense and burning candles
reminded me of the old monasteries on the high plains of Tibet. More
than smellswhen one walks in, the accumulated devotions of
centuries of use become almost palpable and nearly overwhelming. And
right outside the door is a splendid courtyard garden. It is a
The Sunday afternoon 5:30
Tridentine Mass at Stella Maris Catholic Church at Sullivan’s
Island, South Carolina.
Stella Maris was built after the Civil
War with bricks from the ruins of Fort Moultrie next to it. The bell
tower looks out across the bay to Charleston in the distance. After
Mass, I remember clumps of smiling altar boys in starched cassocks
standing under palmettos and blooming crepe myrtle to shield their
eyes from the sun. The wide white beach is just across the park
lawn. The dark and sometimes creaking wood inside is under a wooden
dome rather like an overturned ship. The Mass attendance is large
enough that people stand along the outer aisles, as I remember Masses
from my young days. No tank tops or flip-flops. It is a very “Say
the Black Do the Red” kind of place, and the parishioners are
attentive and reverent during Mass and cordial and funny afterwards.
As with the Serra Chapel, the weight of history over it feels
profound, but sits lightly upon it.
Now that I’ve listed them, I notice
that both of these are Tridentine Masses in small, out of the way
places. Perhaps I therefore imagine Catholic worship in the future
will be driven into the catacombs, as it were, or light out for the
territories, and that, in the end, these sorts of places may be where
one finds the remnant at prayer.
Just so that you know that in principal
I am entirely open to suggestions of more unusual places, I offer as
an example, the notion that the most extraordinary Novus Ordo Mass I
could imagine (assuming it was offered ad populum) might take
place on a poured concrete table in the abandoned
cooling tower #3 of the Satsop nuclear power plant in Washington
State. It may be that the celebrant would not even have to wear a
mic. No puppets, though, please, or streamers, or liturgical
dancers, just the tremendous whoosh of upward movement to heaven. A
sort of close encounter of the liturgical kind.