A Can of Worms: In Praise of the Latin Mass

Since I began blogging here at The American Catholic, I’ve yet to see a debate open up between liturgical traditionalists and modernists. Most other Catholic sites I have visited on the Web usually end up in them at least once, if not multiple times. This leads me to wonder: is there an unspoken consensus at TAC about the liturgy, or is it simply a topic no one has yet broached?

Speaking for myself, I am partial to the Latin Mass, the Tridentine rite as it is sometimes called. When I live in the Phoenix area, I am fortunate enough to be able to attend a daily Latin Mass offered by a priest affiliated with the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), though they are also offered by the Norbertines here in Orange County (needless to say, I do not attend Masses offered by “schismatic” sects). I am equally drawn to the peace and quiet of the daily Low Mass and the beautiful chant of the Sunday High Mass. And I also find it quite tragic that had I not been looking for it, I would have never found it – though I know the local community there is now making attempts to publicize itself.

I have never been impressed by some of the common gripes I hear about the Latin Mass or some of the arguments I have heard in favor of the Novus Ordo Rite.  I can also admit that my views are largely subjective. But I do not, and never have had, some burning desire to “participate” in the Mass in the particular way some people do. I don’t mind that the priest faces the altar; I don’t mind that the language is Latin; I don’t mind that we don’t all shake hands in the middle of Mass. Having taken the time to understand what each part of the Mass actually represents, what they actually mean, I don’t find them “boring” or “alienating”.

That said, I realize that Novus Ordo is here to stay, that some people – I guess, most people – actually prefer it (though most people I know don’t even realize they can still attend the Latin Mass, and many are fascinated and excited about the prospect when I bring it up to them in my personal life).  So I am not one of those “trads” who is on a crusade to either purge the Church or start a new sect. I consider myself loyal to the Papacy, and Pope Benedict, in his wisdom, has protected the ancient liturgy and clarified its validity. For that I and millions of others are extremely grateful.

I believe time will vindicate the Latin Mass. I know it may cause great offense to some people, and I wish I could help that, but I can’t, when I say that I just don’t see the Novus Ordo Rite carrying the Church into the future. In many places I have seen it practiced it is not beautiful or inspiring  to me. And when it is done with a “charismatic” bent, it just becomes hokey. Of course I realize that certain hot-headed partisans of NO will retaliate with sinde comments about our “little red books” (with the English translation of Latin). Fair game, right, if I am going to point out what I don’t like about NO? I suppose so. But don’t expect me to be impressed. Whatever shortcomings I find in the NO rite, they don’t come anywhere close to the sheer level of uncharitable contempt and hatred that both extreme traditionalists and extreme modernist/liberals have for one another.

I think a lot of the conflict between some of the more reasonable people on both sides might be resolved if we remember that Mass, while it is an important part of Cahtolic life, is not the only part. Throughout her history the Church has accomodated different preferences and desires in other areas of religious life, from the proliferation of religious orders and lay organizations to the establishment of particular feast days for different societal occupations and roles. No one save the hysterical radical who wanted to “tear it all down” was left out of the Church’s consideration.

In today’s terms a revival of the Latin Mass could go hand-in-hand with the proliferation of any number of organizations that host more “charismatic” events for the young and the restless. In that way the next Catholic generation might recover a greater sense of sacredness and solemnity that is truly worthy of God while also being able to pursue different avenues of worship and expression on their own time.  Speaking from experience, I’ve seen the benefits of the Latin Mass in my own spiritual life. I would urge anyone who hasn’t been to try it out for a little while if they can. You may end up pleasantly surprised.

42 Responses to A Can of Worms: In Praise of the Latin Mass

  1. GodsGadfly says:

    Great post, Joe.

    Your suggestion at the end is one of the most basic comments I’ve seen on the Right regarding the Liturgy Wars: “Why do all that stuff at Mass?” Like Cardinal Arinze says, “What are parish halls for? Do your liturgical dance and praise and worship music there.”

    While I tend to take a hardline, almost RadTrad voice in many contexts, merely to drive the point, I am actually in the true “center” of the Liturgy Wars, standing with the likes of Cardinal Arinze. I like the reverence of the Tridentine Liturgy, but I understand where Reform was needed. I don’t care much for the Novus Ordo as it’s often implemented, but feel most comfortable at what is sometimes referred to as the “EWTN Mass” (although EWTN doesn’t do it anymore) or the “hybrid Mass”: Novus Ordo with the ordinaries in Latin and the Propers in vernacular, with the “optional” trappings favoring the traditional approach.

    However, while it is true that the Mass is the Mass (unless abuses and alterations are to a degree that makes the Mass invalid), and while the liturgy has organically evolved over the last two millennia, I have a great deal of difficulty with the argument, we’ll call it the “Mark Shea approach,” that we should mostly “live and let live” on this.

    Because the question of how we approach the liturgy speaks volumes about how we approach God. There’s this group of Christian stand up comedians–I forget what they call themselves, but I watched a video on Netflix that was a combination of their routines with “behind the scenes” stuff.

    The one guy was talking about “praise and worship” music. He said, “It’s basically saying, ‘Nyah, nyah, our God is better than your God,’ over and over. Whatever happened to lyrics like, ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound’?” Which leads into the title of one of my favorite liturgy articles: “From ‘Tantum Ergo Sacramentum’ to ‘They will Know We Are Christians by Our Love’-WHAT HAPPENED?”

  2. G-Veg says:

    When I was in the Navy, I attended a largely Africen-American Catholic church in Norfolk, VA. There were many differences in both the tenor and the pacing of the mass. For example, the Sign of Peace lasted about ten minutes with everyone getting out of their pews and mass-mingling during what was almost an intermission. It took some getting used to but it was beautiful in its own way.

    There is a latin mass that my daughter and I sometimes go to and she really enjoys it for its “strangeness.” I like it because it doesn’t distract me in my thoughts the way many of the masses in my home parish do.

    I suppose I am one of those “live and let live” types.

    For my part, I absolutely cannot abide the contemporary spin on the music that takes place at many masses – tunes to responses that I don’t recognize and can’t follow, songs written recently that range up and down the scale beyond what my woefully inadequate range can handle, choirs that interrupt all quiet moments for a performance, etc. However, I recognize that that is MY problem. I can attend the 0700 mass and have no music at all, the 0900 mass and get something close to what I remember as a kid, the 1030 for a performance by the choir, or the 1600 for children’s hour. I can also spend time in reflection in the chapel for Perpetual Adoration or get dressed up to the nines for a Latin mass.

    My point is that few urban or suburban Catholics have much to complain about since the options are many and, given the number of immigrant Catholics from Africa and the Americas in our parishes, we had better learn to be flexible.

    One other… The Norbetines are a schismatic sect?!

  3. Art Deco says:

    Joe, if there is a Byzantine-rite parish in your area, you must attend.

  4. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Joe, your post reflects my sentiments. I tend not to get involved in the liturgical battles on Saint Blogs, but I have always believed that, given a free choice, the Latin Mass will ultimately be the form of the Mass that a majority of Catholics will embrace because of beauty, tradition and universality, and I say this as someone who always attends the NO because that is what is offered in my parish.

  5. Prima says:

    Your theology is incoherent. When you say that the Mass, while an important part of Catholic life is not the only part, you are missing the point. If you read Sacramentum Caritatis, you realize that it is only from the Mass that all of our other “activities” as Catholics are engendered and become meaningful. It is, therefore, central, whether NO or TLM.

  6. paul zummo says:

    Great post Joe, and I share just about all of your sentiments. I am fortunate enough to attend a solemnly and beautifully celebrated Latin Novus Ordo Mass, so I am more fortunate than most trapped by guitar strumming liturgies, but it still – to me – is not as reverent or prayerful as the Extraordinary Form.

    What I appreciate about Latin – and I here I think we need to keep in mind that when we speak of the Latin Mass, we can mean both the Extraordinary Form and Novus Ordo – is that it provides all Catholics with a universal liturgical language so to speak. What impressed me about the few Jewish services that I have attended is that even Reform Jews still incorporate a lot of Hebrew in their services (though not quite as much as Conservative and especially Orthodox). It’s a bind that links Roman Catholics through all ages. It’s a shame that we’ve lost so much of that tradition, and I would if nothing else we can restore the use of Latin in more parts of the Mass. To me there is nothing more beautiful than the Creed chanted in Latin.

  7. John Henry says:

    I try to have as few strong opinions on the liturgy as possible, and appreciate it however it’s celebrated, as long as it’s validly and reverently. I like latin because of the continuity and the way the latin Mass serves as a concrete sign of the unity of the Church through the ages. I like English because it’s my native tongue. I like other languages because it’s wonderful to see the diversity of the Church in celebrating the same Mass, and sometimes it’s nice to meditate a bit during Mass (not understanding the petitions, etc. offers time for contemplation). Hopefully we can avoid re-fighting the liturgy wars on this thread – our gratefulness at being able to celebrate the Eucharist is more significant than our opinions on how it should be celebrated (I’m not saying or implying anyone here has been uncharitable so far; I’ve just observed some fairly harsh threads over the years on this topic – thanks for the thoughtful post Joe!).

  8. Elaine Krewer says:

    I have been to maybe a half dozen Tridentine Latin masses in my lifetime (all of them authorized by the local bishop). I like them once in a while, but I don’t know that I would like it all the time. The fact is I grew up with the Novus Ordo and that’s what I’m used to, in the same way older people are attached to the Tridentine rite.

    I do like to see Latin used more often for the reason Paul cites — it provides a universal language that ties all Catholics together, as Hebrew does for Jews, and (I assume) Arabic does for Muslims.

    About 10 years ago, when hubby became more interested in his Greek heritage, we started attending Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgies on a regular basis, for about a year. They are very beautiful and inspiring. I also attended a Maronite Rite liturgy once — they say the words of consecration in Aramaic, the language Christ Himself used.

    If given a choice between Tridentine and Byzantine/Eastern Rite liturgy I’d probably prefer the latter. Unfortunately Eastern Rite parishes are pretty few and far between in downstate Illinois. Greek Orthodox is about as close as you can get in many communities.

  9. Anthony says:

    I usually have to trot all the way to midtown Manhattan for the Tridentine Rite at St. Agnes’ parish, but every time I do I find it quite rewarding. I would have no problem with this reverent and mysterious form of worship returning to mainstream practice.

    That being said, I think the NO can be done properly. I’ve attended some that incorporated a bit of Latin, a bit of silence and seriousness. So it can be done, its just that the NO has such gapping opportunities for do-gooders to mess with things.

  10. Tim Shipe says:

    Good post Joe.

    I have run the table in having strong opinions about how the Mass/Divine Liturgy is celebrated. I have emerged pretty much at peace no matter where I go- of course I have never been to a “circus” Mass like I saw posted at insidecatholic.com:)

    I came into the Church through the Byzantine-Rite- having been introduced to Catholicism by an old National Guard buddy via Papal Encyclicals and Byzantine-rite worship. I would trade time between Ruthenian and Melkite-rite parishes. What seemed missing in the Eastern rite was an appreciation for the social doctrine of the Church. And soon after my conversion I ended up in the Czech Republic just after their Velvet Revolution and began worshipping in Roman Catholic masses where it was the “New Mass” but in a foreign tongue. So I had to cultivate even more of a contemplative approach, which was easier given the way most of the European churches and cathedrals provided many visual cues to keep one’s spiritual focus.

    I even had the great honor to spend my first Holy Week in a seminary in Rome, attending all the Papal masses, in my first year as an official Catholic. So I had a lot of different experiences of the Mass/Divine Liturgy very soon into my Church membership.

    After that year I came home and began studying at Franciscan University in Steubenville, and had my first exposure to Charismatic renewal and some elements which presented themselves during Mass. It was something I liked or had trouble accepting depending on the month- I would come under the influence of folks who were very unkind about “cowboy” Masses with wild guitar play.

    Down the road I spent a year in Phoenix and had some exposure to St. Timothy’s Life Teen Mass and really enjoyed the energy.

    My current view is one of taking a layman’s view that the liturgical norms and rituals are really a primary responsibility of the clergy- and I am not expert on the rubrics. I come to Mass to worship, not to get hung-up on critiqueing this or that. If something is out-of-line like having a guest protestant minister deliver the homily- I will get upset but try not to lose my cool. If I am in one of our school Masses surrounded by teens and faculty who really just dont’ care to be there, I fight back righteous anger and police some of the more egregious behavior- but again I come always to Mass to worship- not be distracted by others. I believe it was in Screwtape Letters, that CS Lewis describes a devilish technique to get one thinking at church how unworthy and blemished the other worshippers are around you, and how hypocritical it must all be if so and so is there pretending to worship.

    Now that I have three small children, I have even more strange experiences- we don’t shuffle them off to a kiddie class, we try to keep them in the mix, and model appropriate behavior at Mass- not sure how it would work out in a Latin Mass- it has been years since I worshipped at one. With lots of kids present it sort of adds to a more casual atmosphere- but casual does not have to mean disrespectful/irreverent- but it does mean that when I am kneeling and closing my eyes in prayer, I am oftentimes keeping one eye on my own kiddies to make sure they aren’t distracting anyone, and are at least trying to understand and show something special during the Liturgy and at Consecration most especially.

    My overall inclination is to let the clergy take the primary responsibility for the rubrics concerning the Sacraments, and as a Layman, I take much more of a direct role in applying the social doctrine- since the laity have a primary responsibility for renewing the temporal order, and of course, the role I play at home is the top priority in working out my own salvation by way of loving and witnessing within my marriage and as a father.

  11. Mr. H says:

    I have been a big proponent of the Latin Mass since I began to attend St. John Cantius Church in Chicago Illinois about two years ago.

    I never found the the “new” mass, which I still attend on occasion, to be very attractive.

    Indeed, when I attend the “new” mass my attention wanders and I find myself looking at my watch. I have to work diligently to keep my focus. This does not happen to me at the Latin Mass. It is as if time stops.

    Mr. H

  12. Donna V. says:

    When I was a new revert, I attended a Tridentine Mass. I have no concious memory of the Tridentine rite from my early childhood, but from time to time something, some phrase, the smell of incense, set off a flash of recognition in my brain. It was rather an eerie feeling. The Tridentine Mass seemed so different and foreign and yet, familiar at the same time.

    I also attended an Eastern Rite Mass and found it very beautiful.

    Most of the time, I attend the N.O. masses at the Cathedral. One thing Archbishop Dolan deserves credit for is incorporating some Latin in the Mass, at least for Holy Days. The Holy Thursday Mass at the Cathedral was lovely, with some Latin and beautiful Gregorian chant. It would be nice if they did more of that for ordinary Masses as well.

    While I am comfortable with the Mass in English, I certainly would like to see it offered in Latin at more than 1 church in the archdiocese. And I’m all for incorporating more Latin and Gregorian chant into the liturgy.

    BTW: I just recently heard Allegri’s “Miserere Mei, Deus” for the first time and it brought tears to my eyes. To go from that to 21st century Catholic church music – Lord, what have we done?

  13. Gabriel Austin says:

    I am slowly coming to the idea of having a Latin / English missal [as we used to have] and reading back into the Latin from the current language. [I say current language because I have often attended Mass in French, which I understand – and occasionally in Portuguese [which I do not].

    And I have often thought why, in our parish, in a Hispanic countryside, there is not more Spanish in the liturgy. Does it not make them feel like 2nd class citizens?

    Is it that our “liturgists” are like most Americans and know only their own dialect of English? It was said of one high school principal who resisted introducing the study of foreign languages “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me”.

    But it is not only a question of Latin; it’s a question of decent English. The other day, the responsorial Psalm was the 23rd. Instead of the beautiful “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” we were fed “I shall want for nothing”, which is, it seems, a copyrighted Jesuit version.

  14. As Paul Zummo noted, you should not set up the “Latin Mass” and the “Novus Ordo”. The Novus Ordo is in fact a Mass in Latin, and the vernacular version is merely a translation, and -in the English-speaking world- a rather poor translation.

    One question therefore is whether we should seek more Latin Novus Ordo Masses, or seek the extraordinary form. And they are connected — the pope’s letter accompanying his motu proprio stated clearly that the aim was not the replace the ordinary form, but to let the extraordinary form shine a light on the ordinary form and hence improve it.

    Personally, my Sunday Mass is a Latin Novus Ordo and I have trained to serve as an MC at the extraordinary form Missa Cantata, so it’s clear where my sympathies lie. That said, I find the “liturgical nazis” a little annoying — if people derive spriritual benefit from guitar/ folk Masses, let them have it, as long as the rubrics are followed.

  15. don gormley says:

    Although i do miss the Latin Mass,I would not encourage it due to it’s lack of scripture readings as compared to the present rite. If the Latin rite would be updated to include present day cycle of readings, it would be the best of both worlds.

  16. Eric Brown says:

    “Liturgical nazis” — Ha! I swear, I find myself using phrases in daily conversation and I wonder where I’ve been getting them from.

  17. G-Veg says:

    Out of curiosity and a little off topic… are any of you willing to share your daily devotion?

    I am pretty good about daily rosaries. For a few weeks last fall I worked with the Liturgy of the Hours as well but I found it too difficult to follow and maintain.

    I manage confession once every 10 days or so and mass during lunch on holy days that fall during the week but I find it very difficult to get away for lesser occasions like saints’ feast days and such. During Lent I fast sun-up to sun-down on Mon., Wed., and Fri. but, a few weeks into Lent, it becomes too “easy” and doesn’t seem to help my awareness or reflectiveness very much. (It almost becomes a “resigned duty.”)

    So, what do you do during your hectic schedules to keep you centered between Sundays?

  18. Donald R. McClarey says:

    My wife and I lead our kids in prayer and a Bible reading each day, and we also say prayers together. I read a chapter from the New Testament and the Old Testament each day. During Lent we say the sorrowful mysteries as a family, a decade each day, and I usually have some devotional reading I am doing through Lent each day.

  19. GodsGadfly says:

    The Adoremus Society has a perfectly good English translation in their guide to the Novus Ordo in Latin, and my wife and I don’t understand why the Church doesn’t just adopt their translation.

    The Maronites shift back and forth between Syriac and vernacular.

    On guitars: guitars can be beautiful instruments, if used for beauty and reverence and not for rock and roll dancing.
    Contemporary music: I actually like a lot of the stuff, so long as it’s biblical and not heretical. I realize the problem some have with “God speaking in the first person” songs, but I love “I am the Bread of Life,” “Here I am Lord,” “On Eagle’s Wings,” and “Blest are They.” “Now We Remain” is my favorite hymn after “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”.

    But part of the purpose of hymnody is catechesis, and from the Arians to the Lutherans to Marty “I’d be a Catholic except I don’t like the Church’s teachings on women’s ordination, contraception and homosexuality” Haugen, “snappy” hymns have long been a strategy of those who want to change the Church.

    As for daily devotions, I can’t say I’m good about doing any particular devotion *every* day, but if I were, it would be the 15 Prayers of St. Bridget. I’m obligated to say the Office, so that’s not a devotion per se. Try to go to Confession once a month, or ideally every two weeks. Like to work towards plenary indulgences. Adoration for an hour every Thursday night. Try to read the Bible for a half an hour at least a couple days a week.

    Try to make Sunday a day of devotion.

  20. I’ve been to “Tridentine” masses about a dozen times, and I guess I’m a bit conflicted in that on the one hand, I love the text, I love going to mass in Latin and I love the traditional chant and polyphany (though we’re lucky to get a certain amount of that at our parish’s English masses via the parish schola) but I am “novus ordo” enough to wish that I could actually hear all the Latin spoken out loud. I find the long silence of the communion rite in the old missal hard to concentrate during at the best of times, and with four kids under eight it’s well nigh hopeless.

    My absolute preference is for the new missal with all but the readings in Latin — something I wish we saw a whole lot more of.

  21. Rebecca says:

    Thank you, Joe, for opening up this “can of worms”! This is certainly a topic we need to be aware of, especially in an English-speaking country, where it has already been noted we do not have the best translations.

    While I attend Mass in English on a regular basis and do not foresee changing that any time soon, I certainly appreciate the Tridentine Mass and the use of Latin in the NO because there is a sense in which we experience the prayers of Mass as something holier and more set apart from the other areas of life when we use Latin or even a better English Translation (I have several friends and acquaintances who attend an Anglican Use parish). I should also point out that while I attend Mass in English, we usually do have the Kyrie sung in Greek and the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei sung in Latin and that we are very blessed not to suffer from many of the liturgical abuses that are wide-spread in many parishes.

    When I am not attending the Sunday Mass I regularly attend, I often return to my parents’ neighborhood and attend the Mass there and I realize that this Mass resembles much more accurately the average experience for Catholics living in suburbs and rural areas. From walking in to the sanctuary (where the Blessed Sacrament is not present) where people are carrying on conversations, to having the music director teaching new songs in the few already noisy minutes before Mass, to not knowing the sung parts like the Gloria because they are new and have several words changed, to having my hand grabbed during the “Our Father”, to spending 5 minutes at the sign of peace, to seeing lay people “purify” the vessels after Communion, I certainly find myself distracted and understand many peoples qualms with the actual use of the NO in English. There are many issues to be discussed and I would argue that while there is a certain amount we need to have faith in our priests and those leading the Church, we as lay faithful cannot remain ignorant and indifferent to these issues.

    I can see why many people who are able to attend Latin Mass of either form and why it would be wonderful if the Mass were offered that way more widely, but practically speaking, there is a very large number of American Catholics who are not prepared for it. The problem stems from a poor catechesis that leaves many American young people knowing next to nothing about what the Mass is, and is continued by a culture of entertainment that we have allowed our Mass experience to fall into. I certainly would like to see more people attend Mass with more understanding than they currently do, and I think with this understanding can come an appreciation for the Extraordinary Form and our rich heritage as Catholics, but I think that to discuss liturgy requires seeing the broader problem culturally-a lack of education and a lack of family structure to raise children to appreciate the Mass for what it is, and not just a form of entertainment.

    Earlier I mentioned I attend Mass in English (although I do occasionally attend a Tridentine Mass very near where I live) and I would like to explain why I do so, even though I certainly appreciate that we have such a rich liturgical heritage. I attend Mass at the university where I am a student and am very involved in campus ministry. I do not want to reduce Mass to “just another part of being Catholic” but I certainly appreciate worshiping in a perfectly valid Mass within a 5 minute walk with my other classmates and professors. I find it fitting and appropriate to attend Mass with those I have a close relationship with and whom I work and pray with throughout the week. The chaplain that says Mass most often happens to be someone I see on a daily basis and I appreciate hearing his homilies and reflecting on them throughout the week in the work we do together. I know that many people who attend the Extraordinary form of the Mass and even some who attend the NO in Latin must travel a large distance, and even some who are close to it, but they are not always as involved in the community life. While the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, I find it also important to share the other aspects as well and when that means praying with a local community in English, rather than making my spiritual home with strangers in Latin, I choose the first and respect that some others may choose the second for their own reasons.

  22. Elaine Krewer says:

    I also have no problem with many of the “God in the first person” songs either, particularly “I Am The Bread of Life,” which due to its frequent use for funerals, always brings to mind my departed friends and relatives. The first time I ever heard it was at the funeral of a high school classmate who had been killed in a car wreck a few weeks before graduation, almost 30 years ago; the last time I heard it was at my father’s funeral in May.

    I haven’t been too good at sticking to daily devotions, other than trying to squeeze in a rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy while driving around doing errands, or while stuck waiting anywhere; so I’ve decided to try a WEEKLY devotion: a 30-minute visit to a perpetual adoration chapel on my lunch hour, once a week. The day and time vary depending on my work schedule. I can only do 1/2 an hour because it takes 15 minutes to get there and another 15 to get back to work, which uses up the whole hour. I find I really look forward to it, almost like a weekly “lunch date” with a friend 😉

  23. Joe Hargrave says:

    Michael I,

    Don and others may be willing to tolerate your crap on their posts.

    I am not. If you enjoy having your posts summarily deleted, keep making them in exactly the fashion you did.

  24. Joe Hargrave says:

    I also want to say that I think it’s great that so many people here have expressed an appreciation for the Tridentine rite.

    Thank you all for your civil and respectful comments.

  25. Joe Hargrave says:

    Michael I,

    Please don’t try to deny that you posted an extremely rude and sarcastic comment here that I subsequently deleted. I still have it saved. You remember, the one that began with

    “I prefer the Tridentine Liturgy with patriotic hymns introduced.”

    And proceeded to get worse from there.

    I won’t tolerate it. I don’t tolerate it from E and Matt on the other side of the spectrum either.

  26. G-Veg says:

    “It’s almost like a lunch date with a friend.”

    What a wonderful way to put it.

  27. G-Veg says:


    Your comment gets to the heart of both why I find our 1030 mass so distracting and why I should recognize that it is my problem and get over it.

    Our 1030 mass has a sort of “disney” quality to it. This is to say that the music is almost always new and intrudes into every silent space. More difficult for me are the portions of the mass that are usually chanted because they seem to be ever-changing.

    My father and I are usually a row or two apart and we often exchange glances as each tries to reach the high notes and travel up and down the scales. When there is a song that we know well like Amazing Grace or the Eternal Father, it is an unlooked-for blessing.

    I wonder… a common thread to many of the comments here and in other places where I have seen this discussion is the intrusion of music into contemplation.

    Joe, why is there so much variation in the music and the sung/chanted portions of the mass?

  28. Elaine Krewer says:

    A couple of other tips I have found helpful:

    — I don’t worry as much about being distracted at prayer anymore. Instead, if I find my mind wandering at Mass, while saying the rosary, etc, I work whatever I’m thinking of into my prayer; the same way I would if I were talking to my husband or a friend and they said “What’s on your mind?”

    — Also, don’t feel obliged to keep “talking” when you pray, by keeping up a constant stream of vocal or mental prayers. As above, take the same attitude you would if you were with your spouse or a friend; shut up and let them get a word in edgewise occasionally, or, don’t say anything at all, just be there for them.

    This applies also to “active participation” in Mass. It does not mean you HAVE to be constantly singing, standing up, kneeling, sitting down, or doing something; if you are there and your mind is on Jesus, you are participating (the same way people attending a play or concert can “participate” by listening and do not have to be up on stage or playing the instruments to be participating).

  29. paul zummo says:

    I wonder… a common thread to many of the comments here and in other places where I have seen this discussion is the intrusion of music into contemplation.

    Good point. I just wish there was more silence during Mass. It seems that the music director feels it is necessary to jam as much music as possible, and that any bit of silence is to be strictly avoided. I notice this especially during Communion where the organist almost seems to be vamping because it is taking too long. What’s wrong with a few minutes of simple silence?

  30. G-Veg says:

    I am, perhaps, a bit more sensitive to this issue because our choir director has been in that post for as long as I can remember. She goes through choir members like grain through a goose because of her strong personality. The result is that the 1030 mass and the special masses for the Easter and Christmas seasons are simply “spectaculars.” This is to say that they music is utterly overwhelming with multiple accompaniments and interludes.

    I prefer the 0900 mass precisely because the guitarist plays what is needed to keep the simple music going and relies upon the community to carry the prayer.

    The difference between the two is striking.

  31. Joe – I’d prefer if you did not make fun of my spiritual practices.

  32. Phillip says:

    Have vague memories of the Tridentine Mass. Mine was the last class to receive First Holy Communion in that rite. Have attended a number of low and high Tridentine masses over the years. They don’t appeal to me as much as I have lost all familiarity with them and the High Mass seems overly long for me. (Sorry, I am much too much in a hurry.) I have attended a number of Byzantine Rite Liturgies (also long.) I have attended quite a few Maronite Rite masses as I used to live near a parish. Loved it especially the Aramaic. Was tempted to learn Aramaic for a while as a result but realized I’m having a hard enough time in English these days. I’ve even attended a few Domincan Rite Masses.
    In the end I appreciate a well said Novus Ordo Mass whether in English or Latin. Particularly if there is a mix of both. I appreciate the universality of Latin. I was once at Loudes in the vast underground abomination that is a church. Mass was said in a number of languages as it was for all the pilgrims. One area of the church would reply and then another as one’s respective language was being used. But then there would be some ordinary prayers that were said in Latin. The whole church lit up in response. It was quite moving in that the whole world was united in Liturgy through this common language.

  33. Patrick Duffy says:

    I grew up with the Tridentine Mass. I took four years of Latin in high school. Having said that, my Latin is gone. (I have “little Latin,” which someone defined as the ability to read inscriptions on buildings.)

    We all believe in slightly different ways. (And we can debate endlessly how “slightly” is acceptable and to whom it has to be acceptable.) If we believe in different ways, however, then different liturgies will appeal to different people. Big tent. I don’t have any problem with people to whom the Tridentine Mass appeals and has meaning.

    For me, though, I find more meaning in the NO form of the Mass. In fact, I have found it even more meaningful since I became a Eucharistic Minister and Lector. The one liturgical change I would like to see is modernization of some of the language. I find that words like “thy”, “thine”, “art” etc. are language of the 16th century and they place a barrier between my 21st century brain and understanding and appreciation.

    Music is probably the weakest part of the Mass, in my opinion. Choir directors come and go, but seem to have little sense of the appropriate music for a particular Mass. Too often, I find that music directors fall on what, for me, is the wrong side of the divide between performance and participation. Trained musicians tend to make the music their performance, rather than something shared by the congregation doing the best they can musically, just like we do in the rest of our lives. Of course, I’m sure there are some who would rather listen to the music than participate in its creation. Frankly, I’m not a singer. (Traumatized by being a 7th grader with a double bass voice. The poor nuns didn’t know what to do with me.) But I still make noises as I feel called to do. And the rest of the time I fake it. I still enjoy Tantum Ergo but most of the time I prefer the music of the St. Louis Jesuits, who wrote “I am the bread of life,” “Here I am, Lord,” etc.

    It really comes down to what you can relate to. Some still want “the old ways” and that’s fine with me.

  34. Joe Hargrave says:

    I think it is perhaps the daily process of my final transformation from a young atheist radical into an older Catholic reactionary that really fuels my love of the Tridentine rite.

    I feel as if it gives me a link to a past that is fading away – a past that several ‘revolutions’ of the violent and cultural kind have tried to completely destroy, from the Protestant rebellion to the French Revolution, from Communism to the modern “sexual revolution” and post-modernism.

    I mean, the Tridentine Rite embodies so many pre-modern elements that the hysterical liberals, feminists and post-modernists view as legacies of “oppression”. Of course not even the Vatican II Church and the Novus Ordo Rite are enough to satisfy those types, but the Tridentine Rite really rials them up.

    I don’t wish to be a “liturgical nazi”, but I do wonder why, in the end, charismatic ‘praise and worship’ stuff can’t find other venues outside of Mass.

    Because I’m not a theologian and because I haven’t invested nearly as much time in reading and thinking about these matters as I have politics, I am not prepared to make the definitive argument for it now, but I do believe that there is a kind of worship that is better than other kinds, more reverent, more worthy of God, more worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. I do not believe in liturgical relativism: “one kind is as good as any other”. These things can and must be objectively evaluated.

    I notice one person mentioned the lack of Scripture reading at the Tridentine Rite. Well, why does Mass have to be a Scripture reading? Eventually us Tridentine regulars purchase a Daily Missal with the readings of the whole year in it. We are encouraged, at least at my parish, to go to Mass every day and hear the readings every day – but to read in the Missal if we cannot attend. If we did that every day, we would have more than enough Scripture.

    Point being, it isn’t the job of the Mass to educate us. Mass has a specific purpose, does it not? Pope Pius X said that we do not “pray at Mass”, we “pray the Mass” – the Mass is a prayer – we participate not through Scripture reading but by praying what the priest is praying.

    And everyone here seems to take issue (almost everyone) with the music you find at most NO Masses. It isn’t all completely awful but it all pales in comparison to the complimentary nature of chant, Gregorian or polyphonic, to the Mass. I am a Platonist in that regard – I believe music affects our mood, it affects our contemplative abilities, down to the subconscious level, and plenty of scientific studies have shown this.

    Guitar and drum bands are nice but they are objectively less compatible with any kind of prayer that is focused and concentrated – which is exactly what the Mass is – than chant. If you are unfortunate enough to end up sitting near the band and you still think you can pray, you’re either super-human or you have a different understanding of prayer than I do.

    In the end, I just reject relativism. I reject it in cultural and political and philosophical matters so I don’t see why I should accept it in liturgical matters. Not all forms of worship are equal. I believe the “extraordinary form” – the Tridentine Rite – is superior. And I guess people will just have to learn to live with such a terrible thing.

  35. I feel as if it gives me a link to a past that is fading away – a past that several ‘revolutions’ of the violent and cultural kind have tried to completely destroy, from the Protestant rebellion to the French Revolution, from Communism to the modern “sexual revolution” and post-modernism.

    Chesterton would be proud of you. 🙂

  36. Tim Shipe says:

    Joe- I’m not sure how to translate my own wide range of exposure to the various liturgies into a firm position as to whether it all comes down to something more or less subjective- or an objective basis for endorsing the Tridentine Mass. Which liturgy is most reverential? Which is best suited for more people to have more active participation? It seems that the clear direction post-VAt.2 was for vernacular and more participatory aspects for more people- and wasn’t the Tridentine Mass pretty much shut down by the Magisterium in order to solidify their authority on the subject of Liturgy. Am I mistaken on this? This wasn’t a qualitative statement on the reverential value of the Tridentine Mass, but rather it was in keeping with the command decision to go with a new direction with the rituals of the Mass for Roman/Latin Rite Catholics, excluded were Byzantine-Rite, who were left alone to celebrate what they call the Divine Liturgy as they had been.

    So, the question comes down to whether the way to go is one that increases the reverence factor, or one that meets the people more at the accomodation level- to get more direct participation in the liturgy. Is there a right and wrong here as Joe suggests? My own experiences as a single man finding his way back to the more ancient rituals via the byzantine-rite, and then having later positive experiences in charismatic circles, and now with young children in tow- lead me to conclude that liturgy is something that is best left in the hands of the experts, and the Magisterium, and I am in the place of the small child just trying to find my way to Daddy in Heaven when I immerse myself in worship- public or private. I’m not prepared to lay my sword down on one side of the liturgical debate- I have witnessed strong supporters for the Latin and strong supporters of the vernacular, both fully convinced that their preferred liturgy is the better half and even sharing a certain disdain for the other liturgical forms- and I just can’t side with either. To be honest if I could find a nearby Melkite-rite parish, I would take my family there, but there isn’t, and I am not crying over spilled milk, I am just doing the best I can, and trying to maintain the best possible attitude-especially when I arrive to worship- even at our very irksome teenage school masses- I just repeat to myself- “I am here to worship- not to be angry and focused on all the liturgical and fellow-worshipper inadequacies around me.”

    Some of my colleagues will say that they just can’t “enjoy” the Mass, that it is a great suffering- and I respond that experiencing such suffering at Mass is not all that inappropriate given what the paschal mystery is all about- to offer that suffering up during the Mass itself seems a good opportunity for linkages to the sufferings of Christ on Calvary.

  37. G-Veg says:


    You raise good points. I have a hard enough time making sure that my young family attends regularly, my 8-year old gets in the habit of confession, and that I model, as best I can, a good and Christian life. In many ways, the debates that rage much fiercer than this on other blogs are more theoretical for me than practical.

    Still, I can’t help but feel that the soon-to-retirees that run the committees in my church have little appreciation for other than their perception of what Vatican II was aiming for.

    I have never taken a leadership role in anything in the Parish because, given all that is going on in my life, I am certain that I would be overextended and not do justice to any role that I committed myself to. However, I volunteer where I can and hear the same thing again and again; some variation of disgust at what older Catholics perceive as going back to a pre-Vatican II church by younger Catholics.

    For example, my daughter has a white and a black lace veil for the times that we go to the Latin mass. She asked me to buy her one after the first Latin mass she went to when she was six.

    Occasionally, she wears it to the regular mass in our parish, having been assured by me and my wife (my wife does not wear one) that the choice was hers and that, whether other girls in the parish wore one or not should not affect her decision. Among the truly elderly, there are more than a few smiles and it is not unusual to have one of them stop her to tell her how nice she looks and how much they like her veil. (One older woman told me that she had seen Kate wearing a veil the week before and searched her dresser to find her old veil because she had forgotten how nice it was to wear one.)

    Kate hasn’t gotten any flack from the girls she goes to school with but my mother has related comments that she has heard from people my parent’s age that the veil reminded them of the “old church” that I shouldn’t be forcing my daughter to dress like that.

    My point is only that I don’t see a lot of pressure to force the Church back to the Latin right but I surely see a lot of pressure to force conformity in the other direction.

  38. Tim Shipe says:

    Yea- I actually started a little ruckus during the first communion education for my daughter at our parish- they have a separate class for adults while the children go off for their instruction. I felt that the negative view of the pre-VaticanII Mass was a bit too much after a while- all these little snide remarks about how backwards and cold things were back in the day, when no one knew what was going on during the Latin Mass- I finally raised my hand and said- “It sounds like you are trashing the Latin Mass- I came into the Church through the Byzantine- rite myself, and the Mass is the Mass” Before I could elaborate there were a few ladies who jumped at my comments to say “No one is trashing the Mass!” and the Deacon jumped in with some off-the-topic story about his father that didn’t have anything to do with the Mass- and instead of asking me to clarify or allowing me to go on with my complaint, everyone just went into “let’s wrap this up” mode. I tried to go up afterwards for a follow-up but it was like everyone was freaked out by my outspokenness. And I don’t even go to the Latin Mass- I just don’t like hearing anyone getting too superior-minded over their Mass preference, and particularly it seems that many at the parish level staffing seem to make a lot of negative remarks about how the Church was when they were growing up before Vatican II. I thought about how the Byzantine-Rite is probably the same as it was prior to Vatican II and it is a fine liturgy- who are these people to judge the efficacy of Mass today as compared to yesteryear- isn’t the Mass the Mass? Unless there is something really unusual going on- or some really silly liturgical dances or “theme” Mass like a “Clown” Mass or “Polka Mass”, where I suspect the rubrics of liturgical norms are being violated- I just don’t see the value in making a lot of negative remarks about the liturgy except in private conversations with friends, or the clergy, or as part of some liturgy board at one’s parish.

  39. Joe Hargrave says:

    “all these little snide remarks about how backwards and cold things were back in the day, when no one knew what was going on during the Latin Mass-”

    Isn’t it just ridiculous? These people project their own incompetence onto everyone else. Anyone with basic literacy can follow a translation of the Tridentine Mass.

    That usually means that those people who “don’t know what is going on” don’t want to know.

  40. GodsGadfly says:

    Yet, when I reply to those comments that “People say they don’t understand what’s going on at Mass *now*,” people will say, “Well, that’s just a matter of catechesis.”
    Also, a big part of understanding at TLM has to do with the long sections where the priest prays in silence, not the Latin as such. That is one of the reasons I prefer the rarely used TLM dialogue Mass or the Vatican II Mass in Latin.

    Also, it’s noteworthy that “participation” is a bit of a red herring itself: Yes, Rome wanted to get away from people “just showing up,” but there is the argument–used directly by Ralph McInerny but also used (I’m not sure if it’s direct or implicit) in some of Cdl. Ratzinger’s writings, that the cliched “old lady saying her rosary during the TLM” is more in keeping with what Vatican II meant by “participation” than people flipping through 5 different missalettes and songbooks trying to find their place, tripping over each other to be EMCs, etc.

    Too often, the “participation” called for by the Council–which is a spiritual, prayerful thing–is treated as a more superifical “everyone needs a job mentality.”

    But, Tim, there’s one thing I strongly agree with in what you say: it’s a whole other ballgame when you have young children. One of the things I like about TLM–in the right church, at least (a lot of them take place in small very family unfriendly chapels)–is that I feel less obligation to externally “participate”.

    At a traditional liturgy (Tridentine Latin/Byzantine/Maronite/Paul VI Latin) with kids, I find that there’s a bit of a paradox: on the one hand, they’re more inclined to behave themselves because the liturgy is less “energetic.” On the other hand, whatever they do tends to be more pronounced, unless it’s a High Mass with a loud enough schola.

  41. Elaine Krewer says:

    “I don’t wish to be a “liturgical nazi”, but I do wonder why, in the end, charismatic ‘praise and worship’ stuff can’t find other venues outside of Mass.”

    My mom and I were somewhat involved in the charismatic renewal back in the 70s and early 80s (when I was a teenager). At that time, the most orthodox and reverent Catholics were those we met at charismatic Masses and other gatherings. They were in no hurry to leave Mass, they took it seriously, and the music could be very uplifting and beautiful (think “Our God Reigns”, “Majesty,” etc.) Today many of those people have moved on to devotions like Divine Mercy, Eucharistic adoration, etc.

    Although there did come a point when I (and many others) got burned out on the constant external enthusiasm the movement seemed to demand, and moved on to quieter forms of devotion, I believe the charismatic movement did help a lot of serious Catholics get through the worst of the post-Vatican II fallout with their faith intact.

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