An American Girl in Scotland
She’s in her twenties, raised in America’s Midwest – and now she lives in Scotland. She’s also a devout Catholic, and a university student with a particular love for the Traditional Latin Mass, like many in her generation.
What’s it like, we wondered, to be a serious young Catholic far from home, in an anti-Catholic environment? Our interviewee was willing to talk freely of the Catholic Church in Scotland, but wary of professional blowback, she asked to remain anonymous. Here’s her story:
Q. What would you say is the key difference between life in America and in Scotland?
A. As an American, I was raised in a culture with an “up and at ‘em” attitude. We’re up at the crack of dawn, always rushing back and forth – living the “American Dream” right?
Here, I feel like I’ve thrown back into a different era. Everything is more relaxed, simple and economical, more old-fashioned. I walk everywhere, sometimes up to five or six miles a day, on cobblestone pavements, past castles and stone cottages. Further, I’m only a five minute walk from the most breath-taking view of the Scottish seaside, rolling countryside, and the highland mountains as a backdrop!
The Scottish culture, steeped in ancient history, has an appreciation for the little things which we Americans have relinquished for a life in the modernist fast lane.
I walk everywhere, sometimes up to five or six miles a day, on cobblestone pavements, past castles and stone cottages.
Q. How does the way the Scottish Catholics of your generation view the Faith differ from your own experience as an American?
A. Catholicism is a minority religion in Scotland, which is a stark contrast to my own background. I grew up in the “Rome of the West” – good ol’ St. Louis, Missouri. One of the most conservative Catholic cities in the USA. Catholicism was everywhere. Most people I met were Catholic… or at least they claimed to be.
Here atheism and agnosticism are always on the rise, and the Church of England and Church of Scotland being the most prominent Christian communities. The Scottish Catholic community is suffering dearly. Parish priests are being stretched thin, often responsible for two or three parishes on their own. In St Louis, I have four parishes within a ten minute drive from my house, each having at least two priests residing there.
Q. It certainly seems like the priests are labouring under a terrific workload.
A. Where the priests suffer, the laity suffer as well. To my bitter disappointment, the sacraments are not always readily available, especially to the majority of working laity. I am only aware of one parish in the town where I live which offers Mass every day, and even then, Mass, confession and Adoration are only offered during the day, at times when most of us are unavailable due to work or school.
It almost seems as if the sanctifying grace of the sacraments is only for the retired, or unemployed. Combine this with a very serious lack of proper faith formation and cultural/familial support, and it’s no wonder why so many Catholics (young and old) aren’t embracing their faith.
It almost seems as if the sanctifying grace of the sacraments is only for the retired, or unemployed.
Q. What about young people your age?
A. Young Scottish Catholics in my generation are particularly few and far between. For those few I meet, while I can’t truly speak of their understanding of the Catholic Church, it seems to me that they are simply ignorant of what Catholicism is.
There is so little interaction with the Church outside of their Sunday obligation (even if that), they have no idea how to embrace Catholicism or embed it into their everyday lives. They are “Catholic” out of a mindless, cultural habit. This is far more extensive than what I have seen back in the States.
Young Scottish Catholics in my generation are particularly few and far between.
Q. So, pretty harsh conditions, right?
A. Yes, but harsh conditions offer the opportunity for the hardiest of plants to persevere and thrive. In the same way, in the parched anti-Catholic culture, there are a small handful of young Scottish Catholics thriving with solid devotion despite these hardships.
Back home in the USA, the opportunities to be “Catholic” are like sea shells on a beach – they roll in and we take them quite for granted. In contrast, being Catholic in Scotland is not a matter of convenience, and these brave young Catholics must also have the desire and determination to actively seek out Christ and His Church, cultivating a deep and devout Faith in the process.
Being Catholic in Scotland is not a matter of convenience, and these brave young Catholics must also have the desire and determination to actively seek out Christ and His Church, cultivating a deep and devout Faith in the process.
Q. Is there a Latin Mass available in Scotland?
A. If Scottish Catholics are few and far between, those willing to attend the Traditional Latin Mass are even more so. For the most part, the TLM is unheard of, so those interested are an extremely small subset of the already small population of Catholics.
As a result, I feel as though I probably know almost every “Trad Catholic” (so to speak) in the UK – even if I have never met them in person. As I mentioned before, those few hardy Catholics willing to go the extra mile for their faith are, most often, captivated by the devout beauty of the TLM as well.
Those few hardy Catholics willing to go the extra mile for their faith are, most often, captivated by the devout beauty of the TLM as well.
Q, How would you describe the community of Catholics attending the TLM around you?
A. Most Catholics attending the TLM around here are older individuals, who miss how the Mass used to be. Often I have been one of a small handful or the only younger attendee. Not that younger Catholics interested in the TLM don’t exist; they certainly do. Interestingly, when the TLM does attract the younger crowd, it is often younger guys in their 20’s –most often, students from nearby universities.
I found this rather interesting as it seems to be the opposite in the US, where young women are more predominant in the TLM crowd. From what I’ve gathered, the young Scottish guys here are attracted to the silent reverence and rigorous structure of the how the TLM is celebrated compared to the Novus Ordo. They don’t seem quite as satisfied with the lenience and charisma the local parish priests now have a bit of leeway with.
Scotland seems to be the opposite from the US, where young women are more predominant in the TLM crowd. Young Scottish guys here are attracted to the TLM’s silent reverence and rigorous structure.