My First SSPX Mass

I do not write to stir up the SSPX/FSSP debate. Nor do I write to raise allegations and threats concerning being in communionschismatic, or a loyal son of the Church. I find doing so tiresome. If a person cannot recognize the Church is in a crisis; if a person thinks it spiritually superior to attend a polka Mass (they still exist, I assure you) over an SSPX Mass; if the mention of Archbishop Lefebvre angers a person more than the deeds of James Martin or the writings of Cardinal Fernandez; heaven help this person. Lord knows I can’t. If one “gets” what I’m saying, read on. If not, I suggest this book instead.

It happened this past summer. My wife and I were planning our usual family pilgrimage to the Canadian Rockies. Climbing mountains while carrying a kid or two, eating rehydrated chili and peanut butter wraps, all while living like dirtbags in a tent, is the closest experience to heaven I know. Moments to live for. All except for one minor detail.

“So,” my wife said, “where will we go to Mass this year?”

I winced. It wasn’t a question but a challenge—a challenge to do better. Thoughts of the previous year’s Mass in Jasper, Alberta, were still fresh in our memory. If you think baby boomers struggle to let go of emotional faith experiences from yesteryear, they have nothing on millennials. Aside from the usual liturgical shenanigans, we were treated to four guitars slamming along to the World Youth Day theme song from 2002 in Toronto. I felt like singing that Disney princess song instead, “Let it go…” But hey, at least the spirit-crushing Jasper Mass was done in communion—the only thing that matters.

“I don’t know!” I complained to my wife. “Golden? Banff? Canmore? Every Mass will be the same. And I’m not driving over two hours to Calgary for the FSSP! Leaving the mountains to choke in a big city would kill us.”

I researched further, and to my surprise, the unlikeliest place caught my attention.

“So,” my wife challenged again some days later, “where will we go to Mass?”

“Rocky Mountain House, Alberta,” I proclaimed. “It’s three hours away from our campground. But the drive along the David Thompson Highway is nice, with hikes and everything. Then we’ll get a hotel. Do laundry. Swim. Eat something besides chili and wraps. And go to Mass.”

“What Mass is there?”

“The SSPX,” I said, nodding dramatically.

It was time. For years, we’d talked about attending the SSPX. We mused on how we’d take a chance if the opportunity ever arose. This was it. This was our time. We were about to become horrible schismatics who hated the pope, belonged in hell, and probably kicked puppies.

The first leg of our mountain adventure went gloriously well—no one died—and far too soon, it was time to head to Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. It’s not a huge town. Maybe six thousand people live there. It seemed hard to believe that they would have a traditional Latin Mass. Why them? I thought only large metropolises got this honor. 

The hotel was excellent. The staff friendly. The laundromat functional. The pool wet. But that is beside the point. We came for the Mass. And that Sunday morning, we waited impatiently for it to arrive. After getting our Mass times confused and waiting outside an extra hour, we finally headed into the small church.

“They need to make it at least…three times as big!” I mused as I looked around.

At least three times.

It wasn’t long before the old building filled up with young people. Families big, small, and bigger still piled in. Ranchers. Farmers. Mothers. Rich folks. Poor folks. Even staff members from the hotel. Chairs were brought in. People sucked in their guts and huddled in like sardines. Kids got stacked one on top of each other. The air was stifling, a blend of hot, humid, and heavy. A rosary was said. A litany, too. I don’t think there was a “St. Marcel Lefebvre, pray for us,” added.

Mass began, and, as is often the case with a TLM, we were transported to another realm. The servers were on point. The prayers were devout. The preaching was instructive and challenging. 

And yet…it all felt different this time. I’ve been to many TLMs in many different places. Some have been said by diocesan priests, others by FSSP clergy. These Masses are filled with devotion, reverence, and, at times, heroic commitment. However, through no fault of the faithful involved, the Masses I usually attend all have one common feature. One that I did not see in Rocky Mountain House. Perhaps it is best to describe what was missing from this SSPX Mass. 

Missing was a table altar in the front, where either the priests and servers must pretend it to be a high altar or dance around it to get to the high altar. Missing was a tabernacle that looked like an impulse purchase from Lowe’s in the 1970s. Missing were the remnants of a Novus Ordo choir at the front left, with a piano, microphone stands, electronic hymn number board, and numerous guitar stands, all waiting for the next Mass. Missing was the need to vacate the church immediately and hastily move vehicles out of the parking lot so that Novus Ordo parishioners avoid the slightest whiff of traditional Catholicism. Missing were references, posters, or pamphlets concerning the bishop’s annual appeal, scandalous Development and Peace campaigns, or diocesan programs led by elderly pant-suited Sister Susan Worldly. Missing were Glory & Praise hymnals, felt banners, dream catchers (been there), and whitewashed walls. Missing were any remnants of a Novus Ordo domination of Catholicism and a post-Vatican II reign of terror. And missing was the slightest feeling or worry about whether or not the Mass would be taken away. It was a traditional Mass, said in a traditional setting, without tension or strife. It was security. It was a step back in time. It was a comfort and joy.

I am not saying every SSPX Mass takes place in an unspoiled setting—funeral homes, I am told, are sometimes a must. Nor am I saying every FSSP or diocesan traditional Latin Mass requires a certain pinch of incense to the lords and masters of the modernist Church—my mind drifts to St. Clement’s in Ottawa, ON. What I am saying is I have never experienced what I did in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, that Sunday.

It was a traditional Mass that belonged where it was—that being a relatively small rural community surrounded by hills and fields, far from the big city chaos. Like a scene from the French-Canadian classic Maria Chapdelaine, it was a Catholicism that I did not know still existed or even could still exist. 

As we left the church that Sunday, friendly families were about, laughing and chatting. I was worried my wife would get us invited over for a visit somewhere when we had a four-hour drive to our next campsite (that or I’m just far too shy). But we escaped. And as we drove towards the Rockies that afternoon, our minds remained on what we’d experienced. For one Sunday, we had bonded with what our ancestors cherished. In a simple town, near simple fields and hills, in a simple church filled with simple people, with a Mass that was everything meet and just. 

Oh, those puppy-kicking, Lefebvre-worshiping, pope-hating, SSPX schismatics of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. In saner days, we might’ve labeled them differently:


Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches and writes in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His writings can be found at or on his personal blog, Millette’s youth adventure novels are available at Amazon

Cover photo from


  1. Good for you! When our local TLM gets shut down at the ned of this year, we will be at the SSPX chapel in Pittsburgh, PA, a mere 45 minutes away.

    1. 45 minutes is as good as it gets, I suppose. I think the nearest place where SSPX priests are stationed is 8 hours from my house (and in another province).

    2. There is also the ICK in Pittsburgh at Most Precious Blood, unless they get shut down too.

  2. This is interesting to read. We're new Catholics, and the only parish we've ever attended is an SSPX. Your descriptions of other parishes sound like the worst of mainstream Protestantism. Interesting to know.


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