(This is the fifth in a series of posts called Why the Latin Mass? I’ve been asked by several people why I like the Traditional Latin Mass—why people will drive a hundred miles to get to one, or spend a lot of time and money bringing it to their area. I’m trying to answer that from my perspective in this series.)
Surprises are fun–in birthday gifts and haunted houses. I don’t find that they’re very conducive to a prayerful state, though. I’m trying to keep these posts positive about the Latin Mass, rather than a list of negatives about the Novus Ordo Mass, but one thing I never liked with the NO Mass was the tendency for surprises. I’ve never seen extremes like clown masses or Dorito “hosts” around here, but you never knew when you’d be asked to hold hands with the people across the aisle, or a priest would start the Mass by striding out front and asking the out-of-towners to introduce themselves, or someone would give a talk after Mass with a puppet.
Even if you enjoy those things, the variations mean you have to keep your head up and stay prepared so you can react when something unexpected happens. (If you’re easily spooked, they make you feel like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, as the saying goes.) If you’re deep in prayer, the people next to you will think you hate them when you don’t hold hands or whatever the latest thing is. I much prefer the consistency of the Latin Mass. There will be no surprises, so I know exactly what’s going to happen (now that I’ve been to a few), and I can relax and be as deeply meditative or as focused on the Sacrament as I like. The priest is going to say all the prayers and readings as they are in the missal, the bells are going to ring at the proper times, and everything will be nice and consistent. No surprises.
That’s not only true from week to week within a single church that practices the Roman Rite, but also for all Latin Masses held around the world. You might walk into two Novus Ordo Masses in the same town and have two very different experiences, but you can walk into two Latin Masses anywhere in the world and assist at the very same Mass (except for the sermon, which will be in the local language). That gives me a sense of unity with the entire Church that I never felt before.
This unity even stretches over time, as the Latin Mass has been changed very little for the past 1500 years, and substantially goes all the way back to the Apostles. At any hour of the day, a Mass with the same language and motions and meaning is being said somewhere on the surface of the earth. In a sense, the Latin Mass is one long prayer that Catholics of all nations and races have been saying consistently and continuously for centuries! That seems like a very powerful idea to me; one that inspires me whenever I’m part of it.
When I’m at Mass now, I’m praying the same prayers and assisting at the same rite as my grandparents (until the 1970s, anyway), my great-grandparents, and most of the saints. There’s a real feeling of connection there that goes way beyond the group of people in the pews. I’m not usually much of a joiner, but that’s one “community” I like being a part of.