While it is true that religious congregations are rightly called “families” (and indeed, are built on the family structure, hence, “father” and “mother” and “brother” and “sister”) most people today realize in their hunger for good (and sadly, missing) family life that religious life should reflect family life. But few people remember that family life should also reflect religious life.
When I was a neo-conservative (not yet a traditional priest) I noticed that most priestly discussions on the liturgy revolved around what would be most accessible and most pious for most of the laity. Similarly, during the first year of my priesthood, when I was pushing “Theology of the Body,” I found that priests like me had a very pronounced adulation of the faithful families around us: We listened to lay Catholic leaders on our iPods (this was 10 years ago.) We loved getting invited to big Catholic families’ homes (and I still do.) We took our cue from their support of us and in some sense. For example, when political trouble would hit the parish, we priests took our refuge and strength in the conservative families of the parish. You’ll often these “Theology of the Body” priests holding a child as their profile picture on social media. (And these are not the creepy priests. I mean these are relatively good priests with a profile picture of a baby they baptized or something.)
But you will find no hyper-adulation of family life in the priests of the Traditional Latin Mass world. Rather, families in the traditional Latin Mass world are expected to shift gears up to monastic life when they arrive at Holy Mass. Think about it: Lay people at the Traditional Latin Mass are expected to kneel for all of the Mass (like 7th century Benedictine monks) and they are expected to follow or even sing Gregorian Chant (like 7th century Benedictine monks.) Families are expected at the Traditional Latin Mass to cover nearly as much of their bodies as those in religion (like 7th century Benedictine monks and nuns.) Everything at Mass places God first, the angels and saints second, the priests third and the lay people last. That last sentence would have been very offensive to me in the first year of my priesthood when I was only dabbling in the Traditional Latin Mass. But there is a hierarchy to creation and to grace that makes Catholic families in the traditional movement feel protected, not slighted.
Traditional Latin Mass priests deeply love the families entrusted to them, but there isn not a hyper-obsession with meeting their approval or listening to lay Catholic leaders on their iPhones. In fact, both diocesan priests and families are expected to bring something of the Benedictine world of order back to their rectories and homes, respectively. Hipster guitar-toting Catholic celebrities is not the target of emulation for the family that goes to the Latin Mass. Rather, the order, peace and devotion of a Benedictine monastery is what is brought home for the family that attends the Latin Mass. (Byzantine Catholic families and Eastern Orthodox families also emulate the monastery with their rigorous fasting, Jesus prayer, incense and icons with fire lamps.)
For most traditional families, this doesn’t lead to an odd desire for monastic silence in the home (or things that are impossible for a family with 8 kids.) For most traditional families, the emulation of the monastery is not about regret for one’s married vocation, but simply a desire for order and prayer that suffuses the entire Catholic life during the day.
In fact, I was talking to a young father of several children who was once a hipster neo-conservative Catholic and now attends the Traditional Latin Mass. He agreed fully with the basics I said to him on the phone (outlined above in this blog post. ) He told me he is now becoming a Benedictine Oblate through Clear Creek Monastery (kind of a distanced learning program) and he pointed out to me how the biological father of a Catholic family is supposed to reflect much of Chapter 2 (on the Abbot) of the rule of St. Benedict. Far from a Muslim patriarchy, the Catholic patriarchy is based on leadership and service. One such paragraph from chapter 2 of the Benedictine rule reads:
Therefore when anyone receives the title of abbot he ought to preside over his disciples with twofold manner of teaching: that is, to show forth all that is good and holy by deeds even more than by words, so as by his words to set the commandment of the Lord before the more intelligent disciples: but to those hard of heart and to those of less capacity to show forth the divine precept by his deeds. And all things that he has taught the disciples are contrary to the divine precepts, let his own deeds indicate are things not to be done; lest preaching to others himself be found reprobate; and lest at any time God say to him in his sin: “Wherefore dost thou discourse of My justice and take My covenant upon thy lips, even thou who hatest discipline and hast cast My words behind thee?” And: “Thou who hast been in the habit of seeing a mote in thy brother’s eye, why hast thou not seen the beam in thine own?”
Photo Credit to St. Isidore’s Catholic parish