This essay was written by Alexandra, 31, who is originally from Los Angeles. Her husband Christopher, 31, is an architect from Medford, New Jersey. Alexandra tells the unlikely story of her discovery of the Faith and its traditions, and how she fell in love and married her Christopher in an astonishingly beautiful historic Catholic church, in a Latin Mass.
My faith-free upbringing
Raised by a lapsed Catholic mother and a Jewish father, faith was never mentioned in my home while I was growing up. I always had a burning curiosity for who God was, even asking my mom to take me to my first Catholic Mass when I was fourteen. I couldn’t describe it, but something about the Catholic Church always intrigued me and rang true.
She wasn’t interested, so I didn’t return to actively looking into the Faith until I was at college, which was formerly Catholic. In the library under stacks of dusty free books, I found what I now know is a Missal. It was from the 1930’s, with the name ‘Zita’ written in flowery script on the inside cover. It was full of underlines, notes, prayer cards, and wedding and funeral mementos. It was like finding the diary of a soul, and I kept that missal for years.
Finally, after graduate school, feeling empty because the degrees and high-powered job I was told would bring fulfillment did not, I joined RCIA. It wasn’t until several months after Baptism that I attended my first Latin Mass, and realized how much richer it was, how I could pray in peace and focus more clearly on God.
Saint Alphonsus is known as Baltimore’s ‘Powerhouse of Prayer,’ a beautiful church built in 1854 by German immigrants. It boasts St. John Neumann as a previous pastor, as well as Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos.
DISCOVERING ST ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
Shortly after my Baptism in 2014, I visited Baltimore with friends. One of them mentioned the beauty of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, so we stopped by. The doors were locked and the lights were out, but through the glass of the vestibule, I saw the glow of the sanctuary candle revealing numerous intricately-carved saints’ statues standing guard above Our Lord. A vaulted ceiling arched majestically above a life-sized statue of Saint Alphonsus, ensconced in the marble high altar. It looked like the kind of church so old that the prayers of the faithful of years’ past still waft above the candle racks.
When I was finally able to return, I found the most beautiful church filled with character and history I’d ever experienced. Celebrating the Latin Mass was Monsignor Arthur Bastress, the longest-serving priest in the diocese of Baltimore until his retirement in 2017. For several years I came for feast days and First Saturday devotions on the train from Washington, D.C., and saw Monsignor for spiritual direction.
Saint Alphonsus was where I was ‘raised’ as a traditional Catholic, with Monsignor telling me the stories of the ‘way things were’ to fill the hunger I had for tradition. I knew that if I was to be married, it would be in this church.
When Monsignor retired, I worried that Saint Alphonsus would lose its traditional identity. I prayed for a traditional order such as the FSSP to take charge, and lo and behold my prayers (and the prayers of many others at St. Alphonsus!) were answered. I arrived for Father Kiefer’s first public Mass, appropriately held on the Feast of Saint Peter in Chains.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH A NON-PRACTICING CATHOLIC
I met Christopher online, and we were engaged seven months later on the feast of Saint Ann.
While in messages he revealed he was not a practicing Catholic — despite a photo of him at his nephew’s baptism –against my initial reservation I decided to meet him. He impressed me with his abundant virtue and sweetness, but on our third date I told him what I knew would be a deal-breaker.
“I go to the Traditional Latin Mass, and not just on Sundays. And, there is absolutely no sex before marriage. If that’s too much for you, I totally understand,” I told him.
Smiling, Christopher responded, “Well, I better go to Confession.”
He made his first Confession in fifteen years the next day. Christopher has taken to the traditional Faith faster than I did, and now leads us in prayer and at Mass.
THE ONE FOR ME: I think I knew Chris was the one for me when he drove me hours to see Cardinal Burke give a talk on marriage while we were courting. Knowing this, Father Cunningham showed Chris a chalice that Cardinal Burke had used during a recent Mass.
OUR WEDDING DAY: I had two goals for my wedding.
First, to have a Traditional Latin Mass that expressed my deep gratitude to God for giving me a wonderful life after entering His church, and sending me my very own St. Joseph in Christopher.
DETAILS & TRADITIONS: Second, to have a day filled with details and traditions, ones that I felt were lost as generations have either let go of the Faith, or tossed it aside as unimportant.
MY BRIDAL LOOK: I used Grace Kelly and Princess Zita as my bridal look inspiration. I particularly love Blessed Karl’s exhortation to his new bride, “Now, we must get each other to Heaven.” I adore Catholic teachings on femininity, and wanted lots of soft, flowing fabrics and lace, as well as a modest silhouette. I struggled, like a lot of Catholic brides do, to find a dress that was modest. I ended up having to make alterations to raise the original neckline. My favorite pieces were the cathedral-length veil, handmade by a seamstress in California, and a vintage seed pearl bridal crown, another nod to Grace Kelly’s style.
FATHER KIEFER, FSSP: What I love about Father Kiefer’s approach to our wedding was acknowledging us as a new brick in the edifice of the mystical Church, with details like the Crucifix and stole blessing.
A LASTING MEMENTO: We used the vows from my Saint Andrew’s missal, a treasured resource for me not only at Mass but in beautiful line art and catechetical notes. It calls for the groom to give the bride silver and gold, so we used a silver Saint Benedict medal and a gold Miraculous Medal that were blessed along with our wedding bands. One of the first things that Father Kiefer did when he arrived at Saint Alphonsus was rebuild the crumbling eastern wall of the church perimeter. He asked parishioners to give religious medals to place inside the wall for extra protection and blessings. After donating ours which included a St. Benedict medal and Miraculous medal, Father asked the mason to place them visibly on the outside of the wall facing the courtyard. It’s a part of us that will be with Saint Alphonsus long after we’re gone, that we hope future generations can go to see.
ANGELIC MUSIC: Father Kiefer also allowed us to draft a personal Litany of Saints to begin our Nuptial Mass, sung in a back-and-forth style between the men’s and women’s choirs. The women’s choir director helped me choose some beautiful Communion hymns, such as Sicut Cervus, Ubi Caritas, and Panis Angelicus. I chose both the Te Deum prelude and Te Deum for the recessional as our thanks to God for His blessings. As a wedding gift, Andrew Balio of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra played the processional on the trumpet.
WHERE SAINTS HAVE STOOD: Father Kiefer invited us to enter the sanctuary for Communion, receiving Our Lord on the very spot where a previous Saint Alphonsus pastor and saint, Cardinal Neumann, received his elevation to cardinal. An extra special blessing was a third priest who graciously drove down from Pennsylvania so we could have a Solemn High Mass.
A TESTIMONIAL: Father Kiefer’s instruction on true Catholic manhood, womanhood, and the dignity of the traditional Faith is what brought Christopher and I even closer together. After attending Saint Alphonsus for close to a year together, receiving instruction from Father Kiefer both at Mass and in Pre-Cana, it was so fitting to have him marry us. Our vocation is a fruit of his labors, and a testament to the traditional apostolate of the FSSP.
THE FUTURE: If I could tell young Catholics anything, it would be to enjoy and grow in the rich spiritual treasures of the traditional Faith. Our generation, and several past, were robbed of the church’s wise wisdom, traditions, and majestic liturgy that is our heritage.
Don’t be afraid of being countercultural. You deserve the richness and fullness of the Faith in your worship and Sacraments.
Photo’s by Allison Girone