Moving back to Canada, especially moving to a metropolis, has brought with it all the fun & frustrations of finding a new parish to call home. In Greater Vancouver there are too many choices and unfortunately none are within walking distance of our home. This is the first time in ten years that I haven’t lived within reasonable walking distance of a parish and it is rather frustrating at times – more on that later.
Because we aren’t within walking distance of a Catholic Church, we had to approach the whole “find a new parish” question a bit differently. Did we go with a parish in our city? A parish in our transit zone? A parish near the sky train? Or do we seek out a longer commute for a unique parish community?
The initial answer when we moved here was the last one. Over the years my fondness for Latin has developed into a love of the Latin Mass, both the ordinary & extraordinary! In Cambridge we often attended the 9am Latin Mass at our dear Fisher House, and when we went to Berlin it made sense for us to attend the nearby Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) parish as we had an easier time with the Latin than we would’ve with the German. So when I reminded David that Vancouver boasts a TLM parish, he thought that would be a good place to start our search for a parish.
If you ever get me started on the Latin Mass I could probably bend your ear for a good hour or so. It really carries the dignitas that I believe is fitting for the Mass. After all, Christ is coming to us in the flesh – our worship should be a fitting reflection of that blessed miracle. I’ve written elsewhere about why I wear a head covering and perhaps one day I’ll write about why I love altar rails (in short – it means those of us with bad knees can still kneel to receive Holy Communion). Because the TLM is relatively rare, we are often blessed with the best of the best when it comes to liturgy & music. These are communities offering all their talents in creating something beautiful and worthy, communities formed with a real commitment to the beauty & sanctity of the Mass. I don’t believe that this is only possible in TLM parishes, in fact I know from personal experience that it’s not, but the reality is that not every church has the willing resources/enthusiasm/encouragement to make this happen. Yes, it is in Latin. No, that doesn’t mean you need to have studied Latin extensively to get it. There are always handy little books with translations into English (or German or Spanish or Cantonese). And the homily is, get this, in the vernacular. And if you can manage “amen” and “et cum spiritu tuo” you’ve got down most of the responses right there. See, I’ve just made you into an instant expert.
Our experiences at Holy Family were, for the most part, wonderful. The community was so welcoming of our whole family and the parish is full of children so the antics of two more restless toddlers were mere drops in the pond. I found that the older children at the parish were very helpful & polite and that there was a nice level of sympathy & commiseration between all of the mothers (and some fathers!) who ended up spending most of the Mass trying to quiet their restless/active/tantruming children in the back. It is the only parish I have been to where I have felt that my children’s age-appropriate behavior was just that – age appropriate, expected, and understood. It’s not that other parishes I’ve attended are anti-child by any means, but I suppose it’s just that the sheer numbers of young families at Holy Family meant that young families/large families were in the majority. After Mass there was always a lunch & social time in the hall, and on any special feast days there was a potluck. It’s a rare treat to see a parish that is so connected as a community.
There is a streak of ultra-conservatism present among some of the people attracted to TLM that I’m not comfortable with, but to be fair there is a streak of ultra-liberalism among some of the people attracted to some regular parishes so you just have to sort the wheat from the chaff... At times it was frustrating running up against certain attitudes, especially from certain people who really should know better, so my heart wasn’t 100% happy. I loved the community, loved the liturgy, but worried about some of the attitudes we’ve run across. Can I stress again that this isn’t a TLM problem? It’s a people problem , an education problem perhaps, and it’s something we could’ve, would’ve, continued to work past. Unfortunately it was taking us over an hour to commute to Mass and until recently Sunday was the first day of my weekend, meaning that I was inevitably exhausted on Sunday morning and getting out the door at 9:30 was hard. It also rains a really absurd amount here and we don’t have a car, and getting to the church was a rather long journey of train & bus transfers. Mass attendance was dropping worryingly low.
It was time to find an interim solution. We started off by heading one city over to a parish in New Westminster. The plus side was that the church was just off of the train line we live near. The down sides were its position on top of a ridiculously steep hill and its possible leanings towards that airy-fairy-“spirit of Vatican II” culture that I’d already had enough of when we left BC in 2006 (it seems to be endemic in this part of our fair country).
Back to the drawing board, or more specifically the Google Map board. There was another parish on our train line, although it was one zone over (which in mercenary terms means that it costs twice as much to get there Mon-Fri before 6:30pm). The downside is that it is huge, although we’ve been cultivating a pride in how large the parish is. To give an idea, there is a Mass every 2-3 hours from sunrise to sunset on Sunday, and even with the large sanctuary & balcony & crying room it is still standing room only at every Mass. It is difficult to find a place in such a large community, especially given our limited free time, but in time, in time... and at least with so many Masses on Sundays it is a lot easier to go even when Sunday morning isn’t working.
The biggest plus for me about this parish is that it is run by Dominicans. Cambridge certainly inspired me with a love for Dominicans, and the preaching at St Mary’s has not disappointed (Fr Gabe!). It even got the seal of approval from my [Baptist] mother. The music may be a little more modern than I am naturally attracted to, but the choir is good nonetheless. It’s not overflowing with large young families, but it has its fair share of noisy toddlers & babies, meaning that mine aren’t the only ones causing shenanigans, and Fr Gabe in particular has always gone out of his way to make young families, us, feel welcome. And on more mundane notes, we can get there & back again on one ticket if we rush AND there is a Tim Horton’s coffee shop less than three minutes from the church!
David & I still discuss our parish options. We’ve moved to new cities so many times that I know it’s not a simple matter of finding a parish and sticking to it. It would be different if we lived within walking distance of one, but as we don’t I feel we have some flexibility to look around. We both miss attending the TLM, but there are the practicalities to consider. Right now I am mostly just grateful that we have the options of amazing liturgy & fantastic preaching in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The rest will sort itself out in time.