Attended my first Traditional Latin Mass

Last night I went to see Mark Houck of the King’s Men give a presentation on Chivalry. It was hosted by a newly formed Knights of Columbus council in Scranton (led by EWTN and HLI’s Raymond de Souza).  The announcement on the flyer was that the talk would be preceded by Mass.  Ok, cool I thought.  I don’t often get take the opportunity to go to daily Mass.  Well, a fellow brother in Guardian of the Redeemer put 2 and 2 together, looked at the location of the Mass and said, “I’ll bet it’s going to be a Traditional Latin Mass.  The church (St. Michael the Archangel) is administered by the FSSP.  I’ll have more on the talk by Mark later, as it was strangely appropo for me.  Indeed the whole experience was.

First off, I consider myself a bi-ritual laymen in that I am canonically a Ruthenian Rite Byzantine but I regularly attend Latin Rite Masses.  So the ordinary form of the Latin Rite Mass (Novus Ordo) is not my only experience of Mass.

Well, from what I understand, this Mass at St. Michael’s was a ‘low mass’ the distinction of which is that there was no choir or sung responses during points within the Mass.  I am very very interested in experiencing a high Mass.  As a classical violinist I have often wondered why these beautiful Mass settings by Mozart, Verdi, and others are never used.  They are astoundingly beautiful.  I only recently discovered that it is becasue they were meant for the Trad. Latin Mass.  If you have never listened to one of these pieces of classical music — you will be astounded at the loss to the Christendom by exchanging them for Haugen’s Mass of Creation that we hear ad nauseum.

Before I get to the Mass — I want to say something that is more strictly related to the attitude of the laity there. This doesn’t have to be a fruit only of the latin Mass, and we can all learn.

1) Median Age : If I had to guess I would say the median age of the ADULTS in the Parish is about 38.  Lots of families.  Big families.  I thought my parish was young because we had 36 baptisms last year (1100 families).  There must have been 36 children under the age of 6 present in a church that seats maybe 200 tops — and again — on a Friday night!

2) Clothing:  This was a daily Mass on a Friday evening.  With rare exception, the men were in dress pants, shirt tie — often Suits.  The women were in very classy, modest, dresses (attractive ones, not frumpy things).  This includes the children as young as 4 and 5 from what I could tell.  Yes — little boys in suits!  It was a real statement that these people believe they are presenting themselves to God almighty and wanted to be at their best.  This morning I was talking with a fellow lector about how sometimes Father will call us up to lector due to the absence of the scheduled lector — and how at times we are dressed in a very innapropriate way to be proclaiming the word of God.  You know the deal — jeans and a sweatshirt maybe….  We feel comfortable enough wearing it in the pew, but we immediately sense it’s inappropriateness when called to the sanctuary.  I have some remedial work to do in this department.

3) Silence before Mass — it was absolute.

4) Altar Boys:  Oh my stars and Garters — Altar servers (boys) who KNOW WHAT THEIR DOING and do it with CONFIDENCE!  And there is A LOT for them to do and say.  At my Parish the Altar servers are seated in the first pew, and make about 4 appearances — tops including the procession and recession.  And with rare exception, they either don’t know what to do when; or do it lazily or with a lack of confidence.  This applies to the Girls too.  You get a real sense of them as being similar to the body’s coccyx bone, or appendix — a genetic holdover from an earlier age that serves no purpose in the present body, but there it is anyway.  Oh, and I need to mention that the two Altar boys were about 9 and 11 years old respectively.

5) After Mass:  NO ONE got up to leave.  Everyone stayed and prayed.  Since we were on a schedule, and were there for a presentation, the Grand Knight of the KofC got up and invited those of us visitors to come down to the church hall.

6)  The church bulletin;  I didn’t notice anyone picking one up before Mass, maybe that was becasue they already had them from the prior Sunday.  My latest pet peeve is people who take the bulletin and spend all their time beofre Mass reading the bulletin and chatting rather than preparing their hearts for the Mass.  Even if they did read the bulletin before Mass and bring it into the pew, the lion’s share of it is taken up with seasonal prayers 2 Full pages of Prayers, one and a half pages of Mass Schedules. There was only one small section with very brief announcements.  Oh, and related to the Altar servers — there is an Army of them judging from the schedule.  Apparently an army is needed because the High Mass evidently requires a platoon of 9 young men to serve.  Wow, I gotta see that.

Anyway, I don’t think much of that is too much to ask of ANY Catholic Parish regardless of Rite and Use.  It demonstrates a real appreciation for the Real Presence and what we are all there for.  I don’t think this is or should be a characteristic of TLM communities alone.  I bet that younger charismatic communities are very similar, for example.

Impressions of the Mass itself:

1)  Lack of Altar:  OK this is the first thing you notice.  Oooooooohhhhh, so THAT is what that big decoration on the back wall of the Sanctuary is for in old churches. LOL I knew that.

2) Priestly vestments:  I’m sorry but the Dude just looks like he is there for business.  As a Byzantine, this comes naturally.  I’m not a fan of the Novus Ordo Vestments you usually see.  I understand that even modern priestly vestments are very expensive, so it comes as no surprise to me that you don’t often see nice ones since most Parishes are tight for cash, and we can’t (why?) use the heirloom investments from the pre Vatican II period.  So even the nicesst ones are kinda plain in comparison.  The Altar boys also look dressed for action in comparison to the sloppy ill-fitting alb and rope with the sneakers or flip flops (in the case of Altar Girls) sticking out at the bottom.  Again, not that the Novus Ordo Altar servers make much an appearance anyway.

3)  Back to the people:  Shock and Awe — the Priest is ignoring us!  I have heard this many many a time, and having seen it now — I don’t understand that complaint.  I immediately grasped that we were ALL facing the Cross and the Lord on the Altar.  I think the people who emphasize that as being a problem are badly in need of Catechesis about what happens at ANY Mass or Divine Luturgy.  Just my $0.02.

4) Latin, Latin, everywhere not a drop of English:  I sat in the Third row, and I could hear most of the first half of Mass.  I only understood about 1 word out of 20, and so I gave up trying.  I got the idea that the Altar Boys verbal responses was meant to represent the people’s responses.  And for the most part I could Hear the responses made by two little boys speaking latin.  Again, kudos to the Altar Boys.  What really surprised me was the Gospel and reading (not sure if there was a reading other than the Gospel) were in Latin.  I thought this was just wrong.  Not much use in proclaiming the Good news of Jesus Christ if the laity does not speak the language.  I referred to my Magnificat, but I’m not entirely sure the TLM follows the same Reading schedule for Daily Mass.  Does this happen on Sundays and at High Mass too?

5) Homily: Father gave the Homily from the Altar, (the gospel too now that I think about it), not the Ambo.  And although he faced the Laity he kept his eyes closed for the entire thing.  Can someone enlighten me as to why that might be?  It became a bit distracting wondering what was up with that.  The homily was based both on the Gospel (I think, not being sure which one it was) as well as a little description of the role of the priest in certain actions within the TLM.  Very interesting.  Also, completely memorized due to the eyes being closed.  Kudos.

6)  Genuflecting:  Every single time the Altar Boys had to do something or change position, they went before the center of the Altar and genuflected.  I think the instruction in the Novus Ordo is that a server or Lector/Cantor has only to give a profound bow (or head nod in the case of the ladies) when passing the Altar.  It is done so casually in comparison to this…

7) Communion Rail:  What’s the problem again with kneeling and communion on the tongue?  This wasn’t hard, humiliating, or casual.

8) Silence/Active Participation:  Most of the Mass was very quiet.  I doubt the priest could be heard from the middle or back of the church during the audible parts.  Since there were very few opportunities for the Laity to say anything, AND since what little I could hear I could not understand, I thought about the whole ‘active participation thing.’  During the Novus Ordo there is a lot of things to pay attention to and say and sing.  Then of course, the whole break in the action at the Presentation of gifts (kind like a half-time performance) where you can fidget around and talk to your neighbor, and of course the sign of peace glad handing break in the action.  Lots to keep you occupied.  Not a lot of opportunity to pray.  No, let me change that.  In the Novus Ordo, I often find myself zoning out if the Mass is being done in a rather banal fashion (uh… Children or monotone lectors I’m looking at you!).  But when I am paying attention to everything that is gong on, I am often not really truly praying I think.  I guess, I’m saying that there is a lot of things to distract you.  In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Byzantine Divine Liturgy) there is an enormous amount of Laity response but the pace and amount of it keeps you in continual prayer without break.  Here, at this Latin Low Mass — the silence and , mystery of the latin led me to realize I had a choice.  I could zone out, or I could pray on my own and join those prayers to the laity and the priest directing them to our Lord.  But this would require concerted effort on my part.  Active participation I suppose you could call it.  It reminded me of one reason God remains somewhat hidden from us.  If he was obviously and commandingly present in our lives — his sheer glory would relieve of of some of the free will to choose NOT to adore him.  God wants us to love Him because WE want and choose to do so.  Free will requires choice and action on our part.  So here , in the Latin Mass I have again that choice to make, unfettered by the structure the Mass would present to me to ‘help’ me along in making that choice.

9)  How did we get to the current Celebration of Mass from here?  One other thing I thought about during Mass was how VERY different the experience was, and I am really stunned at how we got here from there.

Overall, I’m not sure if the TLM is ‘my cup of tea’.  I’d like to experience a high Mass soon.  But it has definitely given me new perspective on the Novus Ordo.

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3 Comments on “Attended my first Traditional Latin Mass”

  1. Philothea Says:

    It’s great to read your response to your first Latin Mass.

    By all means, visit a sung Mass (truly beautiful!), 10:15 a.m. on Sundays at St. Michael’s in Scranton. And when you arrive, pick up a booklet in the vestibule in back of church. You can follow along the words of the Mass in Latin and English, side-by-side. After a few times it will begin to make sense.

    But don’t worry if you don’t understand everything the priest is saying. “Active participation” can be participation of the mind and heart; it’s not always saying and doing stuff. The priest has his parts, the laity have theirs (not a lot verbally, but if you observe the actions of the Mass you can figure out what is happening).

    Many priests who offer the Latin Mass repeat the Epistle and Gospel in English for the benefit of the laity. If your priest doesn’t, and if you plan to visit frequently, pick up a copy of a hand Missal. It will have all the Epistle and Gospel readings so you can follow along.

    Thanks for sharing your observations.

  2. Mike Says:

    I don’t know why Father had his eyes closed the whole homily. But if you noticed, none of his gestures or overall demeanor suggested that he was seeking attention on himself. He never extended his hands beyond his shoulders (laterally). I was told once that this is to provide for the sense that the priest is NOT looking for attention on himself. Perhaps the closed eyes is related.

    Humility was what I concluded.

  3. Christian Says:

    Thanks for the tip on the booklet Philothea! That will definitely come in handy. It was a really interesting experience overall, and provides much food for thought.

    Mike, the one thing that hadn’t occurred to me was achieving a sense of humility. Good thought there! When I realized he was consciously doing it, I was so taken with wondering why that I nearly lost track of the more important thing: what he was saying.

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