Finding the Pearl without Price:
A Catholic Family’s Journey to Traditionalism

Two years ago, at an independent chapel, our family attended its first Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) -- from the opening prayers, we knew we had found what we craved during 30 years attending the Novus Ordo Mass (NOM). Through God’s grace, our Novus Ordo struggles led us to this pearl without price. So like the merchant in Christ’s parable, we sold everything we had in the Novus Ordo -- and now we cherish the TLM and Catholic traditionalism.

Our family’s journey from the Novus Ordo to traditionalism began in 1976 when we married in a beautiful Catholic church that we attended as children pre-Vatican II. With a monsignor saying Mass, we were off to a good start – and as usual, better than we deserved. We had attended the NOM since it first appeared in 1969, but other expressions of our faith – novenas, holy hours, frequent confessions – had long since disappeared from our lives.

Fast forward to 1987 – after several difficult pregnancies, we joyfully welcomed our third child. We still attended the NOM on Sundays, although our lives as Catholics did not extend much beyond. In gratitude for our new baby, we offered to help Catholic Charities. And God touched us again by putting us in contact with an old-fashioned Irish Catholic, retired Marine colonel, who accepted our help in editing his pro-life newsletter.

We’ve worked in the pro-life cause with this fine man for 20 years now. This tough-minded, big-hearted Catholic was two decades ahead of the laity in researching and admonishing American bishops of the homosexual and pederasty scandals. Through editing his newsletter, we were well inoculated when the scandals hit in 2001. While duly outraged, we weren’t shaken in faith. However, we recognized the hypocrisy of the American bishops in continuing to deny the true nature and extent of the problem.

By 2001 we had seven children (God rewarded our offer to help with the pro-life newsletter)! Our faith increased as we added each one. We felt fortunate to live in one of the few American dioceses where a good bishop attracted strong, orthodox priests. Unfortunately, this situation changed drastically when our bishop died suddenly and his successor appeared.  We spent the next few years trying to defend orthodox priests from our new heterodox bishop, who methodically worked to eliminate them one-by-one from our diocese. After enrolling our children in Catholic schools for sixteen years, we decided to homeschool using an orthodox Catholic curriculum.

Our big challenge in 2006 was finding a place to attend Mass: with most of the orthodox priests gone, we had nowhere to go. Our Sunday schedule was almost laughable: Dad attended the 7 a.m. Mass because it was quiet, the kids attended noon Mass because they could sleep in, and Mom attended the 8 p.m. “last gasp” Mass because it took her all day to force herself to go to another irreverent service. 

So there we were: we knew something was very wrong with the NOM, but lacked an alternative. Seems incredible now, but we genuinely didn’t know the TLM still existed, much less the wealth of traditional Catholicism. We didn’t have a clue.

But finally, at a meeting helping yet another persecuted priest (suspended as a whistle-blower), someone said the words that changed our lives: “Well, Father, you might consider working at an independent chapel." What was an independent chapel? We didn’t know, but if it was an alternative for this priest, maybe it was for us too. Using the internet, we located our traditional chapel (SSPX-affiliated), and the rest, as they say, is history.

From our first minutes at the chapel, our family (including children ages 7 – 20) embraced the TLM.  We sensed immediately that whoever replaced this Mass with the NOM was no friend to the Truth. In the TLM we rediscovered the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the priestly function, the sanctity of the altar, the reverence of Mass-goers, the wealth of prayers – this Mass was the one to attend for the rest of our lives.

Starting with our 1962 missals, we began reading avidly about the Mass, traditionalism, and church history.  Our children enrolled in religion classes held in the tiny basement of our modest chapel, and Sunday Mass became the high point of our week as a family. (Given the number of children at our chapel, the TLM really is “the choice of a New Generation,” as my college-age daughter’s bumper sticker proclaims.)

However, for the pearl you must sell everything you own – our chapel priests’ experience and our own with Novus Ordo friends explained that part of the parable. Even priests whom we supported through their trials looked askance on our move to traditionalism – they thought we were scandalized, bitter, or just tired of the fight. Yet, we were at peace knowing that God was ultimately in control —and we were energized to do His will.

Now we frequently discover others who after years as Novus Ordo music directors, teachers, or pro-life activists become traditionalists. Even some priests who questioned our decision two years ago are now learning the TLM. These Catholics are moving beyond church scandals and irreverent services. With Pope Benedict’s 2007 “Motu Proprio” affirming every priest’s right to say the TLM, we are at a watershed moment in the history of the post-VII church. God bless each of you in your spiritual journey – may you find your pearl.

Judith H. Graham, Ph.D.

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