Why I like the Traditional Latin Mass
by Mrs. Mollie Garcia
I’d like to preface my remarks with this comment. Alan has asked me to speak a few words on -what the Traditional Latin Mass means to me. My comments are obviously subjective and there are doubtless others who favor the NO as their preference. We have a choice of liturgy and I respect their preference; I hope that they will tolerate mine.
Silence, Reverence, Dignity, Unity
These words sum up my experience of the Latin Mass and why I am drawn to it.
When we first began attending the Traditional Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form, Tridentine Mass, Mass of St.Gregory the Great), almost 10 years ago, the first thing we felt was out of place. Like most newcomers, we were very aware of our failure to understand what was happening. This of course was not due to the Mass, but to our own failure. But something else made us uncomfortable: the silence. Everyone, even the children, were so quiet. We were accustomed to a steady stream of sound and activity at the Novus Ordo. The silence of the tlm was a shock to us.
The ability or desire to tolerate the commotion at an average Novus Ordo Mass prompted one priest in this diocese to cite some sort of “study” that alleged that the attendees of the Latin Mass were the “liturgical autistics” of the Church, incapable of dealing with the multiple activities of the Novus Ordo. This is quite offensive and also untrue. I find the ceaseless chatter and activity burdensome, trapping my soul on earth rather than freeing it and lifting it to heaven.
I grew up a child of Vatican II; all the novelties that developed, from bongos to liturgical dancing, were “normal” to me, as I knew no differently. As I grew into an adult, however, I found the novelties tiresome, and the attempts to be “relevant” insulting. I did not need dumbed-down translations in order for me to understand; I did not need the penitential language removed in order for my self esteem to remain intact; I did not need hackneyed contemporary melodies to make the Mass seem fresh; I did not need a priest to be hip and witty in order to relate to him. I needed to worship God.
While a solemnly celebrated Novus Ordo as Vatican II intended is beautiful, the Traditional Latin Mass appeals to me on a deeper spiritual level. It allows me to find God in silence that is holy, language that is noble, music that is uplifting, and in a priesthood that is set apart. I can participate in the Mass more fully thru silent meditation than I can thru sense-jarring sound and activity. I can worship God more as He deserves.
At the Old Mass, you are enveloped in a reverent silence as soon as you enter the church. There is a total absence of frivolous chattering, laughing, and social activity which would imply a total lack of awareness of the Real Presence of Christ in the Tabernacle. Instead, there is only the silence of preparation for Mass. Each soul is quietly approaching God, praising Him, asking His pardon, or simply being in His presence. To do this, silence is essential. The interior of a church before a Latin Mass makes very real the fact that we are in a sanctuary, a place apart from the world, a place to meet God. This is no occasion for mundane social exchange.
The most holy, awesome of silences is found during the canon of the Mass when the priest recites the prayers of consecration in an inaudible voice. This quiet reminds us that we are truly at the foot of the Cross. This moment when Christ comes down to our altars cannot be polluted with loud, hurried words and musical intrusion. As one priest friend puts it: “This is an earth shattering moment.” Let all mortal flesh keep silent.
The traditional Latin Mass has taught us that real participation at Mass does not mean external activity; genuine participation is interior and requires silence. Just as an athlete, or scientist, or student needs quiet to prepare, work, and study, in order to focus fully on the task at hand, so do we need silence to focus fully on God and our presence before Him. This is hard work.
But this hard work bears great fruit. In this silence we achieved as never before a deeper understanding of both forms of the Mass. Until now we had recited the well-known prayers of the Ordinary Form, but had never really prayed them. We were more passive spectators watching a performance than participants actively worshipping God.
But through the Extraordinary Form, we became aware of our very real presence before God and saw clearly the need, the obligation, for the utmost reverence and attention. We learned to follow the prayers of the Old Mass in our missals and made them our own as we truly prayed the Mass. This new, more real participation has enabled us to do the same at the new Mass as well.
I once read that “Words are fundamental to Catholicism: Christ is the Word, the Gospel is words, the Consecration is effected through words.” The prayers of the ancient liturgy use words of the highest reverence worthy of addressing God. They are full of humble, penitential language, acknowledging our unworthiness before God. The language is noble, devout, and full of awe.
Of course, these prayers are in Latin. Many who do not attend the Old Mass believe the use of Latin to be the main reason some of us prefer the ancient rite. This is not so. But the use of Latin is significant. This “dead” language provides an integrity which binds and unifies us today with those all around the world who celebrate in the extraordinary form, regardless of language, and with all who went before: we are participating in the exact same liturgy as almost all known saints, from Aquinas to Xavier. This is our inheritance! And precisely because it is a dead language, Latin adds to the timelessness of the Mass; the need for constant revisions and translations becomes unnecessary as there is no “development” of language—and this is a good thing, since too often in history, the alteration of a few simple words has lead to heresy.
But it is not just the language that is important. Every gesture of the priest expresses ultimate respect and awareness of God and the Sacrifice being offered on the altar. Every action is deliberate and purposeful—there is no variation, and no superfluous activity (even from the altar boys). This lack of individual expression, as well as the ad orientem posture, frees the priest and allows him to become anonymous, or better, to become alter Christus, another Christ. Christ offers Himself as our Sacrifice, He does not entertain us.
This is liberating. The rigor of the rubrics, rather than being onerous to the priest, frees him from the burden of own ego: there is no need for him to amuse, host or otherwise divert the attention of the worshippers from the Sacrifice of the Mass.
The unvarying nature of the rubrics prevents any decline into play-acting or vanity-a very real temptation for all of us when we seem to be the center of attention. The dignity of the rubrics and the anonymity of the priest keeps our focus on the Sacrifice and Its importance. The very clear separation of priest from laity, marked by the presence of the altar rail and the absence of laymen in the sanctuary, helps us to see the priest for who he truly is: Christ’s chosen one, set apart, here to intercede for us. Since attending the Latin Mass, we have learned to have more respect for the priest as we came to better appreciate the distinction and honor of the priestly office.
On a final note, at the request of my 20 year old daughter, I’d like to address the wider appeal of the Old Mass. The Extraordinary Form is not simply for my parents’ generation—my family is an example of that. In fact, just in the short time we’ve attended the Latin Mass at Immaculate Conception, Jacksonville, FL. we have seen not only the number of people who attend double (at least), but the demographics are changing, too. Yes, there are still many of that older generation for whom this Mass is the liturgy of their childhood, but more and more young families and single, college-aged or 20-somethings (generation Xers?) attend. And they attend for some of same reasons I’ve talked about to night. Namely, they are tired of liturgical experimentation and long for something deeper. If our small, downtown parish with an inconvenient, early morning Latin Mass can grow like this, imagine the benefit of being in a large, spiritually vibrant parish like St. Joe’s! Because of the kindness and generosity of Fr. Cody, there is so much richness in this community, so many good things and good people; having the Old Mass here would only add to that. Many Catholics, of all backgrounds and liturgical preferences, will find refuge at St. Joseph’s.
The Latin Mass is part of our heritage and culture as Catholics. We cannot look at it as something foreign or alien to us. We are blessed to have a choice of liturgy and we must not show hostility towards one or the other. I am drawn to it because I see it as truly catholic in every sense of the word. It is universally catholic, historically catholic, liturgically catholic and unmistakably Catholic. It affects me at soul-level. When I attended my first Latin Mass, my soul leapt and said “YES! I am home!”