I read Shūsaku Endō’s Silence a few months ago, and at the end of chapter four, made a long annotation that opened, “In this letter, we are beginning to see that grace lies in the silence.”
There was never silence or stillness at Mass for me growing up. I was, and am, afflicted with attention deficit disorder. For a long time, my family worshipped in the gym of the local Catholic school, crammed into folding chairs, kneeling, standing, and watching Father Joe turn purple during a homily on compassion. For me, Mass was a test of endurance. I could never find the peace the nuns told us about in CCD. Although I'd learned what each part of the Mass meant, I couldn't linger on what was happening in front of me. I raced ahead in the missalette, willing the priest to speak as fast as I read. My restlessness never left enough room for grace to find its way in.
When I was eleven, a new church opened and we moved out of the gym. I remember two things. One was that Jesus was nailed to the cross through the wrists, which one of the priests explained was historically accurate because the hands wouldn't support His weight and nails would rip through them. The other was the old lady I sat next to one day, frail as her black lace mantilla. She had an honest-to-God missal, which I'd heard of but had never seen. It was in Latin. I immediately thought her the most Catholic woman on earth.
Later, as an adult, I attended Mass in fits and spurts, always seeking the shortest service. My wife and I managed to stay involved just enough for our sons to be baptized and receive communion, but I was just checking the boxes. So I tried living and experiencing my faith in other ways. I mimicked the church's outreach. I went into journalism because I thought I could help people. I read Flannery O’Connor. And I recalled how much I loved my religion classes in high school, where my teachers stressed morality over theology and questioning over conformity.
Then, three or four years ago, on a whim, I attended Latin Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Austin, Texas. Just a block from the State Capitol, St. Mary’s is modest, with bare wood pews and a sanctuary set back from the congregation. I paged through a blue book that had Latin text on one page and English text on the facing page, with stage directions and illustrations in the margins.