Why the Latin Mass? #7: Reverence

(This is the seventh and final 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.)

When people talk about why they like the Latin Mass, lots of reasons come up: organ music, no one wearing shorts or tank tops, the beauty of the language, etc. But one word comes up more than all the others combined: reverence. We seem to be starved for a sense of reverence, a feeling that we’re in God’s Presence with a capital P, not hanging out with our buddy Jesus. The dictionary says reverence means “a feeling of profound awe and respect and often love,” which sums it up pretty well. That’s the feeling I think we get from the Latin Mass, that was hard to feel at Ordinary Masses.

Compare these two scenarios:

The Sign of Peace just ended, so the meditative, prayerful state you attained during the Eucharistic Prayer was broken while you shook hands with the people around you and smiled and waved to some friends across the way. Now you’re in line for Communion, trying to get that solemn feeling back and not be distracted by reading the words on the back of the T-shirt the guy in front of you is wearing. When you reach the front, one of your neighbors says “Body of Christ” and drops the Eucharist in your hand. You quickly mumble “Amen,” step to the side, and get the host in your mouth all in one move, because the people behind you are waiting. Next up, you either take the wine or weave around the people who are waiting for it, and get back to your pew. Now you can finally meditate on the Sacrament you received, while singing “On Eagles’ Wings” or an older song that has had the wording changed to be politically correct.

The Canon—several minutes of silence, broken only by the sound of bells as the priest consecrated the Eucharist—has ended. After a few more prayers of preparation, you go forward and kneel down at the Communion rail and slip your hands under the cloth there. The priest comes over to you, holds up the Eucharist, and says, “Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen,” which your missal tells you means, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto life everlasting.” He places the host on your tongue. A server holds the paten (a metal plate with a handle) below your chin and the priest’s hands, to catch the host in case it falls. If he misses it, which is unlikely, it will land on the cloth that is over your hands. After receiving, you mediate on the Sacrament for a moment while the priest finishes with the rest of the people who are kneeling with you. Then you return to your pew to meditate in silence (Low Mass) or while the choir sings a hymn (High Mass).

Call me crazy, but one of those makes me feel much more reverent than the other. Now, some of the problems with the first scenario wouldn’t have to be there, but they usually are. At the Latin Mass, the second scenario is simply normal—the way you can expect it to be every time. It won’t force you to feel reverent, but it gives you every opportunity. Everything about it—the silence, the kneeling, the care taken with the Eucharist, the lack of haste—all shout, “Pay Attention! God is here; the God who created you and everything else, and loves you enough to come to you in this special way. Show some respect.”

I have to admit, even though I grew up Catholic and spent four years at a high school seminary, I never really thought much about transubstantiation. Sure, I accepted intellectually that the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood. After all, God can do anything, why not that? We were always taught that He’s in everything anyway, so why not in a piece of bread? It was easy enough to believe; I just never thought much about what it really meant.

The Latin Mass makes it harder to be so blasé about that. Maybe I’m just thick, but thousands of Novus Ordo Masses didn’t drive the point home. The Latin Mass did in a few weeks. In many little and big ways, it says so much more clearly and forcefully that this isn’t just any piece of bread that’s being offered to me. It’s not even a holier-than-usual piece of bread. It’s…Everything, really. It’s His Divine Love, His Sacrifice on the Cross, and His promises for our eternal life, everything we could ask God for, plus things we don’t even know we need, all wrapped up in one gift, if we choose to accept it.

That’s not something that’s easy to take lightly. It makes me want to be as worthy as I can be of what I’m being offered, to have my ducks in a row spiritually, to actually be in a state of grace as Catholics are always supposed to be before receiving Communion. It makes me want to be a better husband, man, and person, so when I walk into Mass, I don’t have as much baggage to shed before saying, “Ok, I’m ready.” It makes me want to have kids, so I can introduce them to this miracle of, as St. Athanasius put it, the Son of God becoming man “so that man might become God” through His grace. It even makes me want to stay for coffee and donuts after Mass (even though I can’t eat them), and help out with fundraisers and stuff—not exactly my usual habits. But most of all, it’s made me feel a spiritual connection to Christ that I don’t think I ever felt before. It’s a little strange, but definitely a good thing.

Well, unless I think of something I missed later, that wraps up this series. I hope people enjoyed it and feel free to add their own thoughts.

PS. If you’ve never been to a Latin Mass and I’ve piqued your interest, please join us at St. Rose sometime. It’s really not scary, and you don’t need to know Latin or the secret handshake or anything. Just dress nice and sit toward the back so you can see when people sit and stand and kneel. You shouldn’t go to Communion if you’re not a Catholic in a state of grace, but you’re welcome to participate in every other way. I’m going to write up a Latin Mass How-To soon, where I’ll explain more in detail, but there’s nothing wrong with just being there and assisting with your prayers. (Don’t forget the carbs and caffeine in the hall afterwards.)