July 2023 Print

My Path to Tradition

By Mark Tabish

Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up, and what was your level of exposure to Catholicism as a child and as a young adult?

My first and last real sacramental exposure to the traditional Roman Catholic Church would be for me while I was an infant—at baptism. Of course, I remember nothing of the event. It is abhorrent to me, as I write this reflection, that my next appreciable exposure to the fullness of Roman Catholicism would come fifty-five years later! Talk about being late to the party. Luckily for me, God is good, and so there were glints throughout my life of something intriguing hiding beneath the surface of the New Mass that pointed to more profound realities. I now recognize these things were the first inklings of what I would later recognize as a yearning for traditional Catholicism. Hopefully, these will become clear as I relate my story.

Fortunately, I was exposed early to the Maronite Catholic Church. For those unfamiliar, the Maronite is an Eastern and very venerable rite that dates back, some would argue, to a time even earlier than many of the elements of the Traditional Latin Mass. I came to love the Maronite Ritual; the bema, the stained-glass windows in the old style, the vestments, the incense, the Consecration in Aramaic and as an Eastern Rite Catholic I did receive some much needed “insulation” from the Vatican II storm battering the Barque of Peter.

I was born and grew up in the state of Utah. Most Catholics residing in Utah (still a “mission” territory) were either resilient in their faith and attended “religiously,” or if they were not church-going faithful, were smokers and drinkers. Smoking and drinking was how non-church going Catholics conveyed they were not Mormon. Mom was an avid and faithful churchgoer and under her guidance and example, my older sister and I attended church regularly. God rest his soul, Dad was a smoker and drinker. Because there was a bit of tension between my parents about attending church, we would split attendance between the local Novus Ordo Mass and the Maronite Mass which was a considerable distance from home. Looking back, I came to understand this time in my life as one where I was straddling two different manifestations of the faith—one new and the other old.

This would do two things for me: it would allow me to compare and contrast these experiences and their impact on me spiritually and would initiate a deeper introspection about traditional Catholicism and the modern Novus Ordo Mass.

What experience first piqued your interest in Tradition?

During my college years, I attended St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. I was sent there for my undergraduate degree in Philosophy as a seminarian for the Maronite Rite. At the time, St. John’s Seminary had fully embraced the Novus Ordo Mass. Among a number of seminarians I befriended, was one Mr. John Scully. John was unique. He kept his hands in a praying position while approaching the sacrament. He would receive, like I did, kneeling and on the tongue. He complained that there was not enough Aquinas in the curriculum.

One day during my junior year, at John’s insistence, we went down into the crypt underneath the main body of the church to take a look around. There, I remember seeing all the side altars with their own tabernacles and the most beautiful chalices, ciboria, altar cloths, and vestments—all of it in disuse. John stated that these things “represented the old Mass and were no longer acceptable.” I later learned, whenever a priest of the diocese died, they would take armfuls of these beautiful vestments, altar clothes, albs, chalices, etc., and toss them into the grave with the casket of the deceased. That experience made clear to me that there was an active intention to discard the past. It both angered and frustrated me. Does God not deserve beautiful things—especially since their replacement were clearly inferior? It was at that point that I became more aware that keeping Tradition was not merely remembering it fondly; keeping it would involve an effort, a fight. That experience helped me to understand that the Roman Catholic Church had a history that involved beautiful and dignified things. It instilled in me a greater desire to understand the history of the church in the modern era and what it was tossing aside.

What issues did you wrestle with during your conversion to Tradition, and how have you found resolutions to those concerns?

Fast forward through my seminary graduation, after which I took time off to discern my vocation, met and married my exceptional wife, Wendy (a reform Jew), rejoiced in her subsequent conversion into the Catholic faith, received a Master’s degree, brought five beautiful children into this life with God’s help. Further fast-forward through cancer scares, orthodontist visits, re-locations, funerals, home-schooling, establishing a business, lawsuits, auto accidents, teen-years and male-pattern baldness (the two go together), marriages, more funerals… in fact, fast-forward from 1990 to 2020.

My wife and I, with three of our children, re-located from San Antonio, Texas to Canon City, Colorado in February of 2020, just prior to the COVID outbreak and the “two weeks to flatten the curve” hustle. By April, our local Novus Ordo church, under the direction of the Bishop of Pueblo, was no longer offering the faithful access to the Mass. As a life-long, committed Catholic, I found that reprehensible and unacceptable. Without local access to any Catholic church, we elected to attend the Latin Mass of a sedevacantist priest in Westcliffe, a 45-minute drive one way. It was while attending mass in Westcliffe that I came to realize how some insulation from the Steward in Rome was not something to be totally dismissed. In fact, I learned that a little insulation with inclusion can be healthy and balanced. Just to be clear, going to a sedevacantist Mass was a last and only resort for us. As soon as the Bishop reopened our Novus Ordo church, we began attending there again.

During the worst of the COVID outbreak, I began seeing video streams online of priests in beautiful and stately vestments offering Mass in the back of moving trucks, parking lots, parks and in private homes. It became clear to me that the priests who were offering the Sacrifice of the Mass in the Vetus Ordo were serious about the salvation of souls in a manner that set them quite apart from the average Novus Ordo priest. I knew that I had to find a way to make attending at a Latin Mass parish a consistent and regular experience. My soul and the souls of my family members matter. The question was “How to do that from Canon City?”

During the same time frame, an online outlet provided an exposé on newly-printed material from Rome regarding the “spiritual component” of the Synod on Synodality. Under the guidance of the Pope, who ascribed his inspiration to the “Holy Spirit,” the Synod proposed the works of Isaac the Syrian, a man condemned by the ancient church for subscribing to the notion of “Universal Salvation”—a teaching which clearly contradicts the express statements of Christ in the Gospels. At that point, my mind had almost been settled. I needed just one more invaluable insight, which was soon to be providentially provided by Our Blessed Mother herself.

When Our Mother appeared to Melanie and Maximin at La Salette in 1846, she was pictured with her head in her hands and her eyes full of tears. She had much to lament, but of all the saddest concerns she intimated, the one that struck me the hardest was her comment to Melanie that “the Precious Body of her Son would soon be trampled by filthy feet.” I could think of no other place than at a Novus Ordo Mass, where Our Lord’s Precious Body is handed out like a carnival ride ticket, that this horrific lament could be realized. In fact, I recall one of the last times I attended a Novus Ordo Mass, I nearly stepped on a fragment of a consecrated Host. That was it. I determined at that moment, I would never set foot in another Novus Ordo church again. The thought of contributing to Our Lady’s sorrow by trampling upon the vulnerable Body of her Precious Son filled me with great grief. I had to move on… or back to Tradition. I had to attend Mass where it was not possible to trample on the Precious Body of Our Lord. For me, this was possible only at a Mass where all those attending received on the tongue.

Why did you settle on the SSPX as opposed to some other TLM community?

For many people here, Canon City is a retirement community. Naturally, this also corresponds to those that attend the local Novus Ordo parish—especially post-COVID. I suspect that within three to six years, many of those that currently attend the parish will pass on from this life and the parish will no longer have a large enough population attending to merit its continued operation. At that point, absent divine intervention, the Catholic Church in any manifestation will no longer exist here in Canon City. Seeing this dire situation, I contacted the SSPX Chapel of St. Isidore’s in Watkins, Colorado to inquire about the possibility of a “mission” in Canon City.

I knew enough about the Latin Mass to understand its appeal to the young. Prior to COVID, when we were visiting the Canon City area, we saw many young Catholic families at the local Novus Ordo church. They just now happen to no longer attend even though all the COVID restrictions have long been lifted. Apparently, this phenomenon is rather common throughout the Novus Ordo dioceses in the United States. Locking the doors to the churches not only tells the faithful, but screams to the faithful the statement that the Sacrifice of the Mass is just not “essential.”

For my wife and I, there were a number of factors that we considered prior to contacting the SSPX about the potential for a mission in Canon City. We knew that the SSPX is the oldest and largest of all the Latin Mass Societies, that it was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and that the Archbishop was one of the most prominent proponents of the Latin Mass after Vatican II and that the Society looked favorably upon missionary work. Finally, we also later learned that the SSPX were in the church, but somewhat insulated from the Pope and his local ordinates who, we sadly witnessed, locked the doors of the churches to the faithful.

What practices or devotions within Tradition have you found to be most fruitful for you?

The racehorse Sea Biscuit was known to have a “secret weapon” in him were he ever to look into the eye of a competitor while under the duress of a race. Just as soon as he was nose-to-nose with another horse, a new gear would kick in and the jockey would just let him loose. He did the rest, which usually meant leaving his competitor in the dust. Since finding the Traditional Latin Mass, it seems I have discovered a whole new spiritual gear in me that I had no idea even existed. The new gear arises out of the difference that exists between “participating” in a “prayer service” modeled after Reformed Protestant services as opposed to “assisting” the priest at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

At the Catholic Latin Mass, I no longer have to ignore the music. It edifies me. I no longer have to close my eyes to avoid any number of unpleasant and even scandalous distractions. I no longer have to endure the cognitive dissonance of a priest directing his prayers to God all while having his back to Him at the “altar.”

While “participating” in the Novus Ordo Mass, I actually had gotten to the point where I would close myself off so completely to whatever was going on around me that I wondered afterward whether I had even attended Mass. The Latin Mass represents “a whole new gear,” one I gladly shift into and which nourishes my soul, edifies my life, and draws me nearer to heaven.

I would be remiss not to mention other components of traditional Catholicism, perhaps specific to the priory of St. Isidore’s or the SSPX that have made a notable impact on my spiritual growth. In particular, the manner in which confession is offered to the faithful. Quite simply, I can make confession before Mass. Gone are the days of having to contact the parish office to make an appointment for confession or arriving early for Mass to make confession only to find out the priest cannot accommodate. To their credit, just like the Vetus Ordo priests who would offer the Latin Mass in the back of moving vans during the COVID lock down, the priests of our priory are exemplary regarding their vocation and their mission to facilitate the salvation of souls.

I have also noticed that it is possible to live a broader, deeper Catholic life. I believe there is no better example of this currently than St. Marys, Kansas. While visiting the city recently for the consecration of the New Immaculata, my family caught a glimpse of what life is like within a God-centered society. Try as I might, I cannot recall a single equivalent community coming out of the Novus Ordo church, nor have I heard anything like this discussed during the many years I attended Mass at a Novus Ordo parish.

Finally, my fellow parishioners are an inspiration. They send their kids to the school, foster vocations within their families and allow God to bless them with an abundance of children. All of this requires sacrifice, an effort to swim hard against the tide of modern life. Joyfully, with respect to the parishioners of St. Isidore, I can relate to the inspiration of a Maronite prayer from my recent past—“the Just shall gather around me when You have been good to me.”

Now that you are a traditional Catholic, what are the greatest challenges that you face?

As my wife and I age, our priorities have aged with us. We are no longer eager and, quite honestly, we are less inclined to make our mark on the world. We’ve been there—we’ve done that. For us, the next chapter will include reshuffling our priorities to better ensure that we are able to confidently step through the threshold of this life and into a Heavenly Eternity. To that end, we have already been discussing how it might be possible to relocate to where we can attend a daily Latin Mass, to contribute more to a Latin Mass Chapel and to deepen our intimacy with our sacramental Lord.

Do you have any advice for the reader who may be considering, but not yet committed to, Tradition?

During Lent 2021, I decided to embark on a deep dive into the Second Vatican Council. What I learned came as a shock to me. I credit the writings of Mr. Michael Davies, God rest his soul, as bringing to my mind a perspective on the Council that I had never been aware of before. The Council Fathers meant to retain all those beautiful things that were being discarded from the crypt of the seminary. Not only that, but all the various other elements of the old Mass were to be retained. Latin was to be retained. Gregorian chant was to be given “pride of place.” The Mass was intended to undergo as little change as possible. With the benefit of hindsight, clearly, what happened was a tragedy of massive proportion.

For all those still sitting on the fence, I just have four words that I would recommend: look at the fruit. In legal terms, this is called “res ipsa loquitur” or the thing speaks for itself. While the Novus Ordo church is withering (with very few exceptions), the fruit of the Latin Mass is bearing three and four-fold (with very few exceptions). It is not uncommon for us to see three or four generations of Latin Mass goers of the same family line in the same pew. I do not see that changing any time soon. Frankly, I have only one rather massive regret: that it took me fifty-five years to find the fullness and beauty of the Catholic Church. Late to the party, indeed; but here I am and here I will stay.