You Don’t Need To Be Afraid Of The Latin Mass

by History of the Church, Mass

Have you ever noticed how much buzz there is around the Mass that uses the Missal of 1962, commonly referred to as the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM)? I mean, if you’re into Catholic Twitter, YouTube, or any other social media, you can’t miss it. It seems to dominate a big chunk of the conversation, doesn’t it?

But, why? What, if any, are the major differences between the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo liturgy? Are there different norms you should be aware of? Why do people go to the Traditional Latin Mass?

Don’t worry, I won’t try to convince you that you should only attend the liturgy celebrating the Missal of 1962. The diversity of liturgical celebration in the universal Church is a treasure. I’m simply sharing some things you can expect when attending the Latin Mass for the first time so that you won’t be afraid to give this form of the liturgy a try.

I didn’t start attending the Latin Mass regularly until my late 20s. However, what I found in the Latin Mass was a depth that my soul needed. The profoundness of the prayers, divine silence, and connection to the past has helped to preserve my faith. 

While I am not a theologian or liturgist, I believe that sharing my experiences attending the Traditional Latin Mass may be helpful to those curious about the significance of the TLM. Regardless of where you are on your spiritual journey, my intention is to humbly express the profound beauty and transformative effect that this ancient liturgy has had on my heart and everyday life.

I Have To Wear a Suit, Right?

After a few weeks of watching Youtube videos on the Traditional Latin Mass, I felt “ready” to go. I had been to a Latin Mass while I was in college, but it was a blur. When I walked into the Church, I got a little red booklet at the door that I attempted to follow along with, but had little success. There was no singing during the Mass and I could barely hear the priest (it was a low mass).

The first time I decided to check out the TLM at my local church, I went alone and simply wanted to give it a try. I remember feeling a wave of anxiety on a Saturday night when it suddenly dawned on me, “Wait, do I need to wear a suit for the TLM?!” In a panic, I turned to my trusty laptop and started scouring various websites to find the answer, and lo and behold, they all confirmed that it’s indeed best to wear a suit.

Walking into the parish for the first time, with my black suit a bit wrinkled, I was blown away by the diversity of the parish- not just by race, but by formal wear! Not everyone was wearing a suit, but I sensed that most were wearing a version of their Sunday best. Large families, college students, professionals, and working-class individuals – they were all making their way to the pews.

As I took my seat, a thought from Thomas Merton’s “Seven Story Mountain” came to me. It was the first time Thomas Merton went to a Catholic Mass in New York City:

“The Church was full not only of old ladies and broken-down gentlemen with one foot in the grave, but of men and women and children young and old- especially young: people of all classes, and all ranks on a solid foundation of working men and women and their families… What a revelation it was, to discover so many ordinary people in a place together, more conscious of God than of one another: not there to show off their hats or their clothes, but to pray or at least fulfill a religious obligation, not a human one.”

Don’t be like me- fretting over the minor details, trying to make things perfect on my first attempt at attending the TLM.These days, I wear a suit most Sundays, but not because of fear and pride. The suit is not what’s important but rather that we, the Church, show up in our Sunday best to fulfill an obligation to Almighty God no matter what that Sunday best may look like. 

. A High Mass is scheduled for every Sunday, each Holy Day of Obligation and certain major holy days. Low Masses are generally offered during the week and on Saturdays, especially when only a small group of people are expected to attend.
1 – Low Mass – a Mass that is entirely read or spoken by the celebrant. No parts of the Mass are chanted or sung, but hymns may be sung by the congregation and by the
choir. The celebrant may even lead the singing of the hymns. Sometimes music may be played softly during certain parts of the Mass in order to help create a more uplifting atmosphere.
2 – High Mass – a Mass that has some of its parts chanted or sung by the celebrant, which includes some parts that are sung responsorily between the celebrant and the congregation or the choir. Any day there is more than one Mass celebrated, the High
Mass should be prominent and celebrated when the most people are expected to attend. At the High Mass music is played and hymns are sung, unless prevented by circumstances.

Church Of St. HelenA’s

Sacred Silence with Crying Kids

“One aspect that we must foster in our communities with greater commitment is the experience of silence… the Liturgy, with its different moments and symbols, cannot ignore silence.”

-St. John Paul II: Spiritus et Sponsa n. 13

Our family attended the 8:00 AM low Mass regularly for several years. It proved to be the most convenient time for us due to a few reasons: 1) Our kids were more well-behaved earlier in the day, being refreshed from a full night’s sleep. 2) Both my wife and I are morning people. 3) We appreciate the simplicity and tranquility of the low Mass.

Coming from a loud Novus Ordo liturgy, the silence in the low mass can be a bit intimidating. The Liturgy starts with the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar which the Novus Ordo liturgy omits. These prayers, said by the priest, ask for mercy as the priest longs to fulfill his duty and draw closer to our Lord at the altar. The priest and server also pray the Confiteor as each individual recognizes their sin and seeks forgiveness. This is mostly done in silence and the faithful follow in their missal, praying the prayers along with the priest. The Liturgy goes on this way- the priest and the server perform the Liturgy while the faithful actively participate by praying quietly in tandem.

Now throw babies in the mix. Crying, diaper changes, bathroom breaks, hair pulling, one is under the pew. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about. With all respect to St. John Paul II, silence is tough with three little ones.

What we found, however, was an incredibly encouraging community regarding children. After a particularly tough mass with the kids, I’ll never forget the older woman behind me who offered some encouraging words. She sweetly stated, “You are doing what the Lord wants you to do. Make sure you keep bringing them.”

In those early days of our new normal, the inclination towards pessimism was a not-so-subtle inner battle. Our own frustrations and insecurities plagued us and truly tested our resolve to give the Latin Mass the good ol’ college try. For starters, one doubting thought that crossed our minds was the seemingly obvious fact that we didn’t know Latin. We weren’t sure of how tough it would be to follow the Missal due to the constant distraction from the kids. My wife and I often left feeling like we didn’t get anything out of the Mass. However, the unfolding mystery in the Liturgy felt addictive to us.

Somehow. Jesus was piercing my heart, even if I didn’t know what was happening line by line. It didn’t matter if I was getting something; what mattered is I was giving something.

Over time, my prayer changed in the silence leading up to the start of Mass. The inevitable tug on my suit coat by little fingers drawing my attention away from the altar meant I needed to switch up my routine. Those moments before Mass became exponentially more meaningful and gave me time to offer my prayers and presence in whatever way God could use it for His glory. “Lord, take all that I am and have. I offer myself and our family to your service. Please keep my girls safe and in your care. I offer this mass for our family members that I have died. Through this mass, help us to love you more.”

The moral of the story, even if you have kids, don’t be afraid of the silence of the Latin Mass or whatever liturgy you choose to attend. 

Old Prayers. New Fervor.

“The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the sacrifice, dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart, and mouth all that happens at the altar. Further, you must pray with the Priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens at the altar. When acting in this way you have prayed Holy Mass.”

His Holiness, Pope St. Pius X

After attending the Traditional Latin Mass for the first time, you may notice that the structure and parts of the liturgy are very similar to the Novus Ordo mass. The TLM starts with the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar (which the Novus Ordo does not have), but after that is the Introductory Rites which include the Introit (Opening Prayer), the Kyrie, the Gloria, and the Collect. These rites are followed by the epistle reading, Gospel, Creed, offertory, preface, consecration, communion, and dismissal. 

There is a noticeable depth and hallowed reverence of the prayers throughout the TLM. As I intentionally got involved in praying the Mass with the missal, I started noticing and appreciating each prayer’s beauty and clarity. After I started attending the Latin Mass regularly, a dear friend of mine gave me his old missal that opened my mind and heart to the richness of our liturgical prayers. I would sit at night and plunge myself into the mysteries that words can only begin to describe. 

O God, Who in creating human nature didst marvelously ennoble it, and hast still more marvelously renewed it: grant that by the mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of His Divinity Who vouchsafed to become partaker of our humanity, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen

Offertory Prayer

When a person experiences something beautiful, he steps out of himself, even if just for a moment. Beauty reminds us that we are not just a material pile of bones, trudging through life. Instead, beauty, more specifically beautiful words, reminds us that we are partaking in the Divinity of GOD! God, who is the creator of all things and the lover of mankind, wants you, me, and all humanity to partake in what He freely gives. 

In a world that communicates with gifs and emojis, the elaborate prayers of the Latin Mass can seem daunting. But for generation after generation, these prayers fed the faithful and made great saints. I currently live in an area that doesn’t have a Latin Mass that is celebrated regularly, but I attend whenever the opportunity presents itself. Even so, many of the prayers and spiritual practices still hold a significant role in the prayer life of my family.

I am eternally grateful to God for this and do not take lightly what Christ has inspired in me through the TLM. I am a sinner in need of great mercy and I found it in abundance through the Latin Mass.  It is all part of the mystery of God’s grace. He finds us where we are and gently guides us to His heart. So, should you find yourself outside the doors of a Catholic church offering a Traditional Latin Mass one Sunday morning, trust your curiosity. Go inside, give it a try, and do not be afraid of the unknown.

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Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/FSSP_Mass_Zagreb.jpg

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