Melissa and I had a great weekend up in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a kind-of mini-vacation, since we (mostly Melissa) have been really busy for the last several weeks. It was good to get away together for the weekend and relax and do a little touristing. We went up on Friday night, stayed the night at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel Friday and Saturday night, and came back this afternoon.

On Saturday we took it easy, walked around the Inner Harbor, went to the National Aquarium, had a nice dinner at an Irish Pub, and that was really about it. I also posted some Chuck Norris ‘facts’ on my Facebook wall. Heh.

Then this morning we had a nice breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant before heading to Mass at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church (which is also the St. John Neumann Shrine; it’s a beautiful, historic church that goes back to 1845). We went there instead of the nearby Baltimore Basilica at the recommendation of our Pastor, Fr. Hathaway, but we did visit the Basilica afterwards.

We chose to go to the 11:30 a.m. ‘Tridentine’ Mass, which is now properly called ‘an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.’ This was the Roman Catholic order of Mass used from 1570 to 1962 before being replaced with the current ‘Ordinary’ Mass, or Novus Ordo, after the Second Vatican Council. The Tridentine Mass is still permitted and is still a valid Catholic Mass, but is pretty rarely used nowadays.

To the modern American, the Tridentine Mass seems to be a historical curiosity. It is almost entirely in Latin, the celebrant spends most of his time with his back to the congregation, and so on. Many ‘traditionalist’ Catholics, however, will go out of their way for a Tridentine Mass and see the Novus Ordo as being a crass modernization of something timeless. Well, as in many things, I’m finding that I fall somewhere in-between (although I am admittedly still a ‘new’ Catholic, so I’m not sure how much my opinion counts for at this point ;-)).

Many parishes celebrate the Novus Ordo in a, shall we say, irreverent way. When celebrated well, however, I find it to be a very good balance of ‘congregant involvement’ with ‘timeless solemnity.’ Many parishes, including my own St. Veronica Catholic Church, have started reintroducing Latin for at least some of the ‘ordinary’ of the Mass (stuff that doesn’t change from week to week) which provides a nice connection with the history and universality of the faith without using the benefits of worshipping in your own vernacular. The updated English translation of the Mass that will go into effect next year is a much better and more accurate translation, which will make the Novus Ordo even that much better (at least in English-speaking countries).

Having said that, the Tridentine Mass was a nice change of pace. I could see myself seeking one out now-and-then for a different experience and to remind myself of the sheer ancientness of the faith . . . although I’m not going to be one of those hyper-traditionalists that seeks it out every single Sunday. I really appreciate the timelessness, reverence, and symbolism of the old Mass; they are quite lovely.

I also appreciate that the celebrant has his back to the congregation for much of the Mass (I guess that makes me a contrarian, since this is one of the biggest objections to the Tridentine Mass). This is not the ‘anti-layperson’ or ‘disconnected from the people’ symbol it was often made out to be. I felt it did the opposite, actually . . . the celebrant (Priest) is facing God along with you, looking the same way. You’re not looking at the Priest, you’re looking toward God in worship with him, although he is ahead of you as a leader. At least that’s how I interpret it; having not sufficiently researched it, I may have completely missed the point.

Anyway, after Mass we visited the nearby Baltimore Basilica (Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary). It was the first Cathedral built in the United States, dating back to 1806, and was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Latrobe also designed the U.S. Capitol and many other landmarks in the Washington, DC, and Baltimore area. The building was strikingly beautiful and also included a crypt with a lovely little chapel and a pretty awesome little museum. Since I’m interested in both Church and American history, the museum was a real high point—it had letters from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others, as well as documents from the last Papal Conclave and a lot of other cool stuff.

Anyway, enough blather. Here are 105 photos I took on my cell phone. They are not high-quality pictures, of course (I realized after I got there that I should have brought my Canon). In fact, some of them are downright crappy, but they give you an idea of what we did and saw. Crappy photos or not, we had fun!