catholic Archive

Latin Mass Walk-Through

We had some new people at the 8:00 Mass this Sunday, and I discovered afterward that we’re not doing a very good job of helping newbies get started and follow along. After you’ve been going a while, it’s easy to forget how confusing it was the first time, but it doesn’t have to be that way if people are helped a little. So for people who are thinking about joining us at St. Rose, here’s a step-by-step guide that I hope will prevent some confusion.

I’m writing about the Low Mass here, since it’s the one I attend at 8:00am every Sunday, and it’s also the form used on other days of the week. The High Mass at 11:00am Sunday and some holy days is different because the choir sings the responses and some other things, and there’s more going on. The Low Mass is easier to follow your first time, since it’s all spoken rather than sung. Maybe I’ll do another walk-through on the High Mass sometime.

When you enter the church on Sunday, there should be a holder attached to the wall next to the doors, containing bulletins and the proper of the Mass. Be sure to grab both, because the proper has the readings and prayers that are particular to that Sunday. More on that below. There are other things on the tables in the vestibule that you dont need for Mass but you might want to check out afterwards, like prayer cards and the FSSP newsletter.

When you enter the actual church, try to be as quiet as possible. There will usually be people praying before and after Mass, and they’ll appreciate the silence. You’ll probably want to sit in the back half so you can see when people do sit and kneel and so on. Rosary starts about twenty minutes before Mass, and Father hears Confessions for about thirty minutes before Mass. The confessionals are at the very back of church behind the pews to the left and right.

In the pew, you’ll find a Sunday missal with a red cover. This has all the prayers that are the same at each Mass, plus instructions and some commentary about what different things mean. Together with the proper, this gives you all the prayers and readings that will be used during the Mass. The Low Mass starts on pages 10-11 of the missal, and each pair of pages has the prayers in Latin and English. It also tells you when the priest moves to one side or the other and when the servers ring the bells, so there are a lot of cues in case you can’t follow the Latin.

Everyone rises when the servers and priest come out to the altar, then kneels when Mass begins with the Sign of the Cross (“In nomine Patris…"). The priest and servers recite the Judica Me (Psalm 42), alternating like it says in the missal. The servers say the words for the congregation, so the people aren’t expected to say the responses. Some people like to, but don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong if you just listen and pray internally.

After the initial prayers at the foot of the altar, the priest goes up and kisses the altar and goes to the book on the right side of the altar (the epistle side) to read the Introit. This is the first point where you’ll need the proper you got at the doorway. The Introit is followed by the Kyrie and Gloria (in the missal), then back to the proper for the Collects. The Collects are the collected prayers of the faithful, for which the Mass is being offered. There is usually one Collect, but may be as many as three if certain feasts overlap.

After the Collects come the Epistle, which is a reading from somewhere in Scripture other than the Gospels, then the Gradual (somewhat analogous to the responsorial psalm in the Ordinary form). These are both in the proper. On weekdays, the priest may read the Epistle in English only, but on Sundays he reads it in Latin, then usually again in English before his homily.

After the Gradual, a server moves the book to the left side of the altar (the Gospel side), and everyone stands for the Gospel, which is in the proper. After the Gospel, everyone sits for the homily, before which the priest may read the Epistle and Gospel in English.

After the homily, everyone stands for the Credo (Creed). We’re back to the missal now. About a third of the way through the Credo, everyone genuflects during the line that ends, “et homo factus est” (“and He was made man”). After the Credo, the priest turns to face the people and says “Dominus vobiscum” (the Lord be with you), and the servers (and the people, if they want) respond with, “Et cum spiritu tuo” (and with your spirit). Everyone sits, and the ushers come around to collect the offering while the priest (quietly) reads the Offertory prayer that’s in the proper.

From this point until Communion, many of the prayers of the priest are silent, which may be one of the strangest things for someone who’s used to the constant activity and dialogue in the modern format. Once I got used to it, though, I found that the silence allowed me to get into a more reverent state.

After the priest mixes the water and wine and washes his hands (the Lavabo), he turns to the people and says the Orate Fratres (Pray, brethren…), and the servers say the reply. Then the priest silently reads the Secret, which is in the proper if you’d like to read it to yourself at the same time. There are a few short prayers and responses by the servers, then the Preface from the proper. There are several different prefaces for different seasons and types of feast day.

At the end of the Preface, the priest goes straight into the Sanctus with “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” (Holy, holy, holy…), and the server rings the bells three times as everyone kneels. After the Sanctus begins the Canon, much of which he says quietly. It’s all in the missal, so you can follow along by watching his movements at the altar, or just pray and prepare yourself for Communion. The server rings the bells once at “Hanc igitur,” the beginning of the Consecration. Then the servers go up and kneel behind the priest.

After the actual words of Consecration of the Host, the server rings the bells three times: when the priest genuflects, when he elevates the Host, then when he kneels again. This pattern is repeated after the words of Consecration of the Wine. During each elevation, the servers lift the priest’s vestments, which I’ve always thought is nicely symbolic of us (since the servers represent us) assisting him in offering the Sacrifice. Again, this is all done silently except for the bells. Then the servers move back down the steps to where they were before and the Canon continues quietly.

If you’re listening closely, there are three words a bit later in the Canon that the priest says in a louder voice: “Nobis quoque peccatoribus” (To us sinners, also). He finishes the Canon with “Per omnia saecula saeculorum” (World without end) and then goes into the Pater Noster (Our Father). There are some more silent prayers while he breaks the Host and puts a Particle into the Wine, before saying out-loud the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).

Then there are quiet prayers before Communion for Peace, Sanctification, and Grace, followed by the priest’s Communion. Holding the Host, he strikes his breast three times, each time saying out loud, “Domine, non sum dignus” (Lord, I am not worthy) while the server rings the bells, then finishing the prayer quietly.

After the priest receives the Body and Blood, the servers repeat the Confiteor (I confess) that they and the priest each said back at the first part of Mass. The priest turns to the people (for whom the servers are speaking) and says the prayer of absolution. Most people make the Sign of the Cross when he does at this point.

The servers move up the steps again, and the priest turns to the people and again repeats three times the prayer beginning with “Domine, non sum dignus.” Some people like to recite it with him this time. He then gives Communion to the servers and then to everyone else.

Communion is taken on the tongue, kneeling at the Communion rail, for those who are able to do that. People who have trouble kneeling should sit in the front pew, and Father will bring Communion down to them. He usually does that first, so it’s a good idea for the rest of us to stay back until he’s finished with them, to not get in the way. At the Communion rail, ormally 5-6 people go up and kneel down at one time, he distributes Communion to them all, and then they all leave and make room for the next 5-6.

When you kneel down, place your hands beneath the cloth that hangs over the rail. The idea is that if a Host would drop and miss the paten the server is holding under your chin, it would land on the cloth and not on the floor. Stick your tongue out just a bit so he can place the Host on it. Don’t say “Amen” like we do in the new form; the priest says it for you.

After Communion, eveyone goes back to their pews and kneels again (if they can) while the priest cleans the vessels and puts any extra consecrated hosts away in the tabernacle. The servers move the Book back to the right side of the altar, and the priest reads the Communion prayer, then the Postcommunion prayer, both of which are in the proper. (You’re done with the proper after this.)

The priest then turns to the people and says the dismissal, “Ite, missa est” (Go, the Mass is ended). After one more silent prayer toward the altar, he pronounces the Blessing, and everyone makes the Sign of the Cross as he does.

Now everyone stands as he goes to the far left of the altar for the Last Gospel. This is the beginning of the Gospel of John, and is read at the end of most Masses. Everyone genuflects during the words, “Et Verbum caro factum est,” (And the Word was made flesh).

After Low Mass, everyone kneels again for the prayers ordered by Pope Pius XI in 1929 for the salvation of Russia, which are said in English. After these, everyone stands while the priest and servers genuflect one last time and leave the sanctuary. Mass is over. Some people stay and pray for a while or light a candle, so it’s good to leave quietly and go visit in the hall, where there will be coffee and juice and donuts (at least).

Whew, that got a lot longer than I expected! I don’t suppose anyone could memorize all that before going, but maybe reading this first will help someone recognize what’s happening and not get lost. The important thing is to make sure you get the proper when you come in, and understand that everything that’s not in the proper is in the missal, and the missal will guide you through the Mass. And when Father isn’t speaking up there during the Canon, it doesn’t mean he’s stuck; he’s actually moving right along. If you need help with anything before Mass, feel free to ask an usher. If you aren’t sure who the ushers are, ask one of the guys sitting in the back pew. (Tell them I said that’s what they get for sitting way back there.)

Hope to see you at St. Rose soon!

Latin Mass FAQ

I’ve been asked several questions about the Latin Mass (which I should really call the Extraordinary Form, since it is technically possible to say the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin) since I started going, and some come up repeatedly, so I thought I’d answer them here. These are not official, just according to my understanding. I’ve touched on some in other posts, but I think I can answer them better now.

Do I have to know Latin?

Not at all. When you enter the church on Sunday, look for a folded piece of paper in a holder on the wall near the door, titled “Saint Rose Latin Mass Propers.” This has all the prayers and readings that change from week to week, in both Latin and English. In your pew you’ll find a red booklet. This is the missal, which has everything which is the same at every Mass, also in Latin and English, plus instructions and explanations for what’s going on. It may be confusing at first, especially if you’re at High Mass with all the singing and incensing, but once you get the hang of it, you can see the English translations of everything that’s being said. Ask an usher for help if you’re confused. Also, on Sundays and Holy Days, the priest will re-read the English versions of the Epistle and Gospel before his sermon.

If you follow along in the missal and watch what’s happening around the altar, it’s not hard to keep track of where you are after a while, even if you can’t follow the Latin. The priest reads certain prayers from certain places, bells ring at certain times, and so on. There are lots of cues to help people keep track.

I’d guess that at least 90% of the congregation couldn’t translate a paragraph of Latin, although they’ve probably picked up a few whole phrases, like “Et cum spiritu tuo”—“and with your spirit.” There may be no one in the pews who knows Latin well enough to translate at speaking speed. (I sure can’t.) Don’t worry about it.

Do I have to wear a head covering (if I’m a woman)?

Many women choose to wear a veil or hat, but it’s not required. I’d guess that about 50% do at Sunday Mass, and more like 80% at daily Masses. Women actually have more freedom in this area than men, since we aren’t allowed to cover our heads at all. :)

The reasoning, as I understand it, is that the Church has a long tradition of veiling “holy vessels.” The tabernacle is often veiled, as are the Communion vessels when the priest is carrying them in and out of Mass. Women are also considered holy vessels, since they carry and nurture new life. Mary, being the holiest vessel of them all, is never pictured without a veil, as far as I know.

I’ve also heard women refer to the veil as a sort of symbolic shield that blocks out the outside world and helps focus their attention on God. Sort of like a football player pulling his helmet down tight and snapping his chin strap, maybe—he’s preparing himself for what’s coming.

Do I have to take Communion on the tongue?

Yes. This is part of the respect we show to the Eucharist that’s more overt at the Latin Mass. A priest’s hands are consecrated when he receives Holy Orders, partly for this very purpose. If you read the missal, you’ll see there are several prayers where he cleanses himself and his hands to prepare for handling the Body and Blood. He holds his fingers and moves his hands in a certain way to ensure as far as possible that not the smallest crumb from a consecrated host is dropped or treated without the greatest respect.

It wouldn’t make much sense to go through all that, and then drop the Eucharist into everyone’s grubby hands, would it? When the priest is finished, he goes back and carefully brushes any particles from his fingers and the patens into the cup to make sure they’re consumed. If you receive the host in your hands, what happens to any particles that might come loose? Whether they end up in your pockets or on the floor, that’s not the way they’re supposed to be treated. Receiving on the tongue eliminates that whole issue.

What’s that business at the end of the Low Mass about the conversion of Russia?

In the mid-19th Century, the Church in Rome was surrounded by enemies: hostile neighboring city states, Masonic societies, and revolutionary groups were all pressing in on Church property and things didn’t look good. Pope Piux IX decreed that a set of prayers be said after each Mass within the Papal States for the intention of defeating these enemies. By the mid 1880s, Rome had fallen and the Church was under direct attack by both physical means and confiscatory laws, so Pope Leo XIII updated these prayers and ordered that they be said around the world. This version was very similar to what we pray today, which is why they’re sometimes called the “Leonine Prayers.”

Apparently it worked—the Church survived these enemies, and by 1929 was able to establish a treaty with the Italian state and regain some of the property that had been stolen. At that time, the Communist government in Russia was really ramping up its persecution of Catholics, so Pope Pius XI decided to redirect these prayers for the freedom of the Church in Russia.

Again, it appears to have worked, or to be working. I don’t know whether Catholics in Russia today are completely free to worship without fear of persecution, but they’re certainly freer than they were under Soviet rule. There seems to be an honest argument at this point about whether the prayers have been answered, and if so, should we still be saying them? Should they perhaps be directed to another intention? Or should we keep them as they are until we’re very sure? Unless the Pope says otherwise, I guess we’ll keep saying them. Surely it couldn’t hurt.

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.)

Why the Latin Mass? #6: What It's Not

(This is the sixth 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.)

I’ve been trying to keep this series positive, focusing on the pros of the Latin Mass (also known as the Extraordinary Form) rather than the cons of the Ordinary Form (aka the Novus Ordo), which is used in most churches today. To avoid that topic completely, though, would be ignoring half the story, because my dissatisfaction with the implementations of the Novus Ordo was part of the process that brought me to the Latin Mass.

Let me start by making clear that I don’t think the Novus Ordo is invalid. Most of the Catholics I know, including my family, still attend the NO Mass, and I don’t think they’re being bad Catholics or failing to get the full Sacrament. The NO is valid. It just seems to invite problems in a way that the Latin Mass doesn’t, and didn’t for over 1500 years.

If you go to YouTube and search for “Catholic liturgical abuse,” you’ll see every goofy thing imaginable being done at Mass: priests dressed as clowns, half-naked dancers, Doritos used as Communion, magic tricks, huge skull decorations, and even mimes. In many Catholic churches today, anything goes, if someone thinks it’ll be fun or attention-getting.

Here in the rural Midwest, fortunately, you can still expect a sane Ordinary Mass. We keep our experimentation more subdued: applause during Mass for things like birthdays and anniversaries, having wine every Sunday even after the Pope reminded us we shouldn’t, distracting arm-waving and hand-holding, dragging the Sign of Peace out forever, people dressed for the beach or the ball-field, the homily replaced with lay people giving fundraising or political speeches, pastors ad-libbing the prayers according to their own preferences, and the Eucharist being handed around like nothing special. These may not be as harmful as Clown Masses, but they take the focus away from the Sacrament and make the Mass seem like something less than it is.

So why did this happen? How did more weirdness and novelty sneak into the Mass in thirty years than in the previous 1500? Modern society has to take some of the blame: weirdness and novelty are idolized throughout our culture today. “Change!” has gotten two presidents elected. I don’t think that’s the whole story, though, because there have been other morally permissive or confused periods in history, and the Latin Mass didn’t change to accommodate those cultures. On the contrary: its permanence seems to have been one of the things that helped the Church survive persecution and scandal. It seems to me that where there’s smoke, there’s fire: the room for interpretation and innovation in the Novus Ordo, which was meant to make it more approachable, in practice opened it up to whatever a priest and his congregation wanted to make of it.

In the Latin Mass, the priest stands in a certain place and holds his hands in a certain way for each prayer, speaks or sings the words as written, and even cleans the vessels a certain way. Maybe that amount of detail in the “rules” isn’t strictly necessary: if he doesn’t keep his fingers and thumbs together for the entire time he’s supposed to, no one will notice and the Mass will be just as reverent. But at least that strictness protected the Latin Mass from the influences of the many secular societies that conflicted with it over the centuries. The New Mass doesn’t seem to have that built-in protection.

One problem I see is that parishes try to work everything else into the Mass. It’s the one time everyone is there (or it was, anyway, when Catholics still attended weekly), so if you want to involve as many people as possible in something, it’s only logical to do it at Mass if you don’t know any better. So the Mass gets used to welcome strangers, chat with friends, teach bible school for kids, collect funds for various activities, applaud parishioners, and hold folk music sing-a-longs.

None of these things are bad in themselves. They could be great things to do in the hall after Mass, or to get a group together for some weekday evening. They just aren’t part of the Mass, and I think dragging them all into it is one reason people have lost track of what the Mass is really about. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that regular Mass attendance has dropped drastically in the last thirty years, or that polls show most Catholics today don’t think God is truly present in the Eucharist.

So I’m thankful that we have the Latin Mass in Quincy again, not just for what it is, but also for what it’s not. It’s not casual. It’s not changing. It doesn’t try to accommodate society’s wishes. It doesn’t relax its standards to make us comfortable; it expects us to raise our standards in order to be worthy of it. God willing, it will continue to do so for a long time to come.

We are what you once were. We believe what you once believed. We worship as you once worshipped. If you were right then, we are right now. If we are wrong now, you were wrong then. — Traditional Catholics' Motto

Why the Latin Mass? #5: Consistency and Community

(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.

Why the Latin Mass? #4: Snappy Dressers

(This is the fourth 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.)

I’m not exactly what you’d call a clothes-horse. Since I work from home, most days my only fashion decision is whether to bother putting on shoes with my jeans and t-shirt, or stick with slippers. If I couldn’t ask my wife whether my clothes match, I’d have to buy Garanimals. I own one suit and about half a dozen ties—most of which were gifts, and at least one of them was last in style about the time Miami Vice went off the air.

So I don’t want to sound like a clothes snob, and I wouldn’t want anyone to let a lack of dressy clothes to stop them from coming to the Latin Mass, but I’m glad people make an effort to dress nice. The men run the gamut from nice jeans and a collared shirt to three-piece suits. The women wear dresses or nice slacks, and many choose to wear veils. Kids tend to dress like their parents. Some people have to dress more casually for weekday Mass because they’re on their lunch breaks and have to come in their work clothes even if they’re in construction, but they still do their best. No one wears T-shirts with distracting slogans, or jeans or pants tight enough to get the people behind them thinking really inappropriate thoughts.

In general, people look like they’re wearing their “Sunday best,” whatever that is for them. For me, that adds a touch of reverence and respect, and helps set a mood of what we’re doing here is important.

When I was a kid, we had our “church shoes” that we only wore to church, and woe betide the child who got his church shoes dirty! It was just one of those little things that said going to Mass was special, that it deserved something extra, so I’m glad to see people wearing their “church shoes” again.

Why the Latin Mass? #3: The Music, or Lack Thereof

(This is the third in a series of posts called Why the Latin Mass? I’ve been asked by several people why I like the 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.)

I grew up on rock and roll. It’s not my parents' fault; they listened to country at home, and not a lot of that. But I picked up 80s rock and pop from friends: AC/DC, Reo Speedwagon, J. Geils Band, Foreigner, Pat Benetar, Rick Springfield, Toto, and yes, Michael Jackson. (Hey, 10 million other people bought Thriller too; we didn’t know what a freak he was then.) My favorite then was Billy Joel—the Angry Young Man version who did Captain Jack and Glass Houses, not the happy version that was married to Christie Brinkley or the morose version she divorced. Later, when I lived in range of a classic rock station for a while, I caught on to the Eagles, Clapton, BTO, and the like.

All that left me with a definite expectation that music would have a strong drumbeat, and usually a melody carried by electric guitar. Popular music tells you plainly when to tap your foot. There’s nothing subtle about it, but it’s catchy. Now that I’m older and trying to expand my cultural horizons, I try to appreciate classical music and chant, but it’s hard to. It doesn’t give me that obvious beat, and soon my mind is wandering off. The only time I really seem to appreciate classical music is in an auditorium, listening to an orchestra play live.

And the one time I definitely enjoy chanting and “church music” is when I’m in church, fortunately enough. There it just fits. Like most Catholics my age, I grew up with Masses where people played guitar, shook tambourines, and probably even whipped out a kazoo or two that I’ve blocked from memory. Those things all have their place elsewhere, but there’s something special about organ music and chanting in church. I’ve been told that the reason the organ was always allowed at Mass was because it “breathes” through the pipes, so it’s similar to a human voice. I don’t know if that’s the real reason, but whatever the reason, the result works. A choir backed by a real organ makes a sound that is unquestionably “churchy,” that you can’t mistake for an Arlo Guthrie concert.

I don’t know enough about chant and terms like “polyphonic” to appreciate it on any deeper level than that. Most of the time I attend Low Mass, which doesn’t have any music, and that’s fine by me too. Either have the real thing, or don’t have music at all, and I’ll be happy. Just keep those tambourines away!

Why the Latin Mass? #2: Beautiful Churches

(This is the second in a series of posts called Why the Latin Mass? I’ve been asked by several people why I like the 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’ll try to answer that in this series.)

This one isn’t an absolute, of course. There are plenty of new-style Masses being said in beautiful, ornate churches like St. Francis in Quincy. There have also been many Masses of both rites said in basements, barns, or outdoors, when the circumstances demanded it, as in missionary locations or when a church is being rebuilt. That’s all good.

But when people get a chance to build a new church of their choice, then we start to see a difference. Latin Mass devotees, today or pre-1960s, tend to build churches like the first one on the right. People attending the Novus Ordo Mass over the few decades of its use have tended to wander to other concepts, like the two below that.

Call me an old fogey if you like (won’t be the first time), but I want a church to look like churches have for centuries. Styles change, but some things are common to what we’d all instantly recognize as a church. I don’t want to feel like I’m walking into an office building or branch library; nor do I want to feel like I might bump into Klingons while I’m there. If you go to a Latin Mass, you can be pretty sure the church will direct the focus to Christ’s presence in the tabernacle and at the altar during Mass. The first priority of the building won’t be comfort or efficiency or community spirit, but worship and glory to God.

What really awes me about older churches is that most of them were built when construction was much harder than it is now. I’ve done some bricklaying and other construction, and I know how much work it is. Even today, with all our power tools and hydraulic lifts and laser levels, building a church like St. Rose would be a huge and expensive project. When it was built nearly a century ago, it would have involved far more sweat and heavy lifting. They didn’t have to build huge domes and towers way up in the sky, and adorn it inside and out with complicated brickwork and vast windows and paintings. They wanted their church to inspire people to worship and direct their gaze to God. In my opinion, it paid off.

Why the Latin Mass? #1: Everything's Better in Latin

(This is the first in a series of posts called Why the Latin Mass? I’ve been asked by several people why I like the 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’ll try to answer that in this series.)

One thing I always tell people is it’s not just about the language. There are many other differences between the TLM and the Novus Ordo (the new Mass said in most churches today). But the Latin is an important part of it, for a variety of reasons. When you hear someone speaking in a foreign language, it gets your attention, whether you can understand it or not. It’s an immediate sign that something unusual is happening here. That helps me focus and want to know what the speaker is saying and why.

Latin is also important because it’s a dead language, so it isn’t changing anymore. The meanings of the words are the same as they were centuries ago. Modern languages are always changing, and the meanings of words can change quite a bit in a short time. The sentence God Is the End of Man is inscribed over the door of a school near here. When that was written, the “final purpose” meaning of the word “end” must have been more commonly used. But now, I picture those kids looking up at that and thinking of God as a sort of Terminator character who will come “end” them someday.

If our prayers are in English, we’re going to have to keep tweaking them over the years to keep the meaning the same. (Anyone know what “vouchsafe” means? It was all over English prayers a century ago.) If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, or just used an online translator to translate something to a foreign language and back again, you know how quickly the meaning can vary with each translation. By sticking with Latin, we don’t have to worry about that. We may use different English words than they used 500 years ago to get the same meaning, but the essential prayers themselves and the meanings of the words won’t have changed.

Different languages lend themselves better to different uses. English is a very blunt, stripped-down language, great for quick dialogue and technical writing. Latin, with its more complex structure, has a formality that works well in the liturgy. Many prayers were originally written in Latin, so they flow better in it than when translated into another language. The Ave Maria (Hail Mary), for example, is awkward in English, but it flows like poetry in Latin, even if you don’t know what it means.

So it’s not about stubbornness, or using something old for oldness’s sake. The Latin language itself adds something to the Mass, especially when combined with the things I’ll talk about in the next articles.