Attending the Latin Mass

 “We live in the world without poetry, and this means that one should approach the treasures handed on from more fortunate times with twice as much reverence, and not with the illusion that we can do it better ourselves.” ~Dietrich von Hildebrand (b. 1889- d. 1977)


Recently,  Dr. Taylor Marshall discussed with Mr. Eric Sammons the practical aspects of how to attend a Latin Mass. It has been approximately fifty years since the new Mass, or Novus Ordo, was thrust upon the Roman Catholic Church. Now, most living Catholics do not remember the Latin Mass, having been robbed of this beautiful liturgy by “reformers.” Some of the history of this liturgical reform may be heard in this earlier Marshall-Sammons podcast: Ten Reasons to Attend the Latin Mass. But, to today’s topic: since most Catholics do not recall the Latin Mass, or as it is called, the Roman rite; and were not instructed in it during their childhood, it may seem daunting to take that first step and attend one; hence the new Marshall-Sammons podcast, which I think you will find most informative.

I have been attending the Latin Mass, and it as the duo state: at first it is a shock. There is no cult of personality: the priest seems to disappear into the Mass. There are no jarring jokes offered by the priest, who in the new Mass, seems to have become an entertainer. There are long stretches of silence in the Latin Mass. Additionally, there are no lay people running up to the altar doing all sorts of activities which distract, and break up the worship we owe to God.  In the Latin Mass the choir sings from the choir loft, and does not sit in the sanctuary or in the sight of the congregation, thereby lessening their temptation to be lauded as entertainers. There is no Masonic inspired handshake, a forced fraternity, which is opposed to the natural love which we give and receive in normal living. No lay person may touch the sacred Host at the Latin Mass. There is no Communion in the hand, a novelty which began as a rebellion, and has led to innumerable Eucharistic abuses; and a decline in Eucharistic belief and devotion. Marshall and Sammons cover much of this in their How to Attend podcast, here.

The liturgical expert Dr. Peter Kwasniewski wrote a piece this week in New Liturgical Movement that captures the mysterious nature of the Latin Mass. Here are a few quotes from the piece with the source noted at the end:

Ritual action is inherently non-spontaneous, non-original, and non-extemporaneous. The more perfectly one is enacting ritual, the less of one’s creative self is present in it, and the more one is absorbed into a vastly larger mystery.

The traditional Roman liturgy … often looks obscure, complex, or strangely ordered on paper, but it always works in practice. It flows, sweeping all along before it. The motions of the individuals in the sanctuary are scripted and coordinated; there is an organic wholeness to it, and a smoothness like that of rocks caressed by water for a thousand years. Those involved are so intent on “the Father’s business” that it is easy for our attention to be absorbed in whatever they are doing, even when we don’t understand it. So strongly does the rite convey a sense of something extremely important and weighty happening that it has the power to make us want to understand it better…

Even though it is “easier” or “more accessible” — indeed, precisely because it is so — one grows weary of the new Mass over time; it has few secrets and yields them readily. It is the opposite with the old: the longer one attends, the more one discovers in it to appreciate, and one never reaches the bottom of its secrets. The many commentaries on the cherished rites of the Roman Church (Guéranger, Schuster, Parsch, Gihr, Zundel, Vandeur…) contain an inexhaustible wealth of insights, illuminating details one hadn’t noticed before, pointing out reasons for some text or ritual or chant that one had not grasped…

…the old rite is so much more than the words of which it is composed — it is thick with ceremonies, gestures, postures, vestments, incense, music — while the new liturgy is centered on and preoccupied with words and communal action, even when it has some of these “traditional elements” added on to it. Hence it cannot fill us with wonder or amazement because we are already saturated in modern times with words (“talk is cheap”), and the mode of their delivery at the new Mass — almost always spoken, and almost always towards us — is the most ordinary, humdrum, secular mode of communication…

When everything is visible, nothing is seen. When everything is audible, nothing is heard.

The old rite always exceeds its paper description, whereas the new rite always falls short of its paper description. For Paul VI’s rites, the trailer is better than the film, the advertisement better than the product. For the traditional rites to which no individual pope’s name can be accurately pinned (not even that of St. Pius V), the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the impact exceeds the force of its components, the experience transcends reason and imagination. There is always something that “escapes” our notice, our understanding, our human capacity. We do not measure the rite, because our age did not produce it; we are measured by it, and we always fall short…

…In like manner, the Novus Ordo was built by the best team of highly credentialed specialists, loquacious about their ideals, but the finished product is what one would expect from a period known for neither theological sublimity nor aesthetic brilliance. As Dietrich von Hildebrand said: “We live in the world without poetry, and this means that one should approach the treasures handed on from more fortunate times with twice as much reverence, and not with the illusion that we can do it better ourselves.”  (source)

So, do attend a Latin Mass.

As a Roman Catholic it is your liturgical rite.

Hail Tradition!


~Worldwide Latin Mass directory, here.

~Purchase a Roman missal, here.

~Image: source.