There are many debates about the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form. There are sometimes many arguments, accusations, yet also – detailed examinations of the theology and history of the Mass. (For anyone interested in the last point, I have always liked the analysis of Bishop Athanasius Schneider). However, this is not the focus of this post. It will not be a comparison or analysis of the two liturgies but just a personal reflection. I have found my own spirituality with the Traditional Latin Mass, and I just wanted to share what my experience of it has been like.
I first attended a Latin Mass shortly before becoming Catholic. I had already decided to join the Church and much of my spirituality was formed by devotions or writings of the Saints like St Faustina or St Alphonsus Liguori or St Therese of Lisieux. I loved the Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy devotions, the beautiful words of Jesus in revelations to the Saints, and prayers filled with loving and devout expressions (like the ones found in “Visits to the Blessed Sacrament” by St Alphonsus Liguori). I had never read such things before, though it seems that as a Protestant, I was always looking for them. I also loved Adoration and Jesus’ Real Presence in the Mass. Everything was new and so beautiful. I found out about other aspects of the faith like the brown scapular, Miraculous Medal, and other Marian devotions.
I also loved watching videos about Catholic topics. Some of my favourites were those featuring beautiful traditional art and architecture, and some had Gregorian chant with pictures of old holy cards and images of priests and altar boys saying the Latin Mass. This affected my imagination powerfully and seemed to fit so perfectly with all the things I was reading – the emphasis on Christ, the reverence, love, beauty – and I felt a deep and keen longing for these things but I couldn’t find them anywhere to the extent I wanted. I loved going to Mass at my parish… and I loved the Eucharist there… but sometimes, when I would watch the videos of the Latin Mass, I could sense there was something in it that appealed directly to me. For some reason, there was a sense of something – contemplative, ancient, peaceful, almost monastic – it gave me a lot of peace but I couldn’t figure out where I could find it. I knew Jesus’ presence in the Mass, but the externals of it seemed different.
Then, I went to my first Latin Mass. It was organized by a local university and they invited a priest to come and say the Mass. I came in late, had no idea what was going on, didn’t have a missal… and minutes into the Mass, I was completely amazed and almost crying (in fact by the end, I was trying to hide my tears) because of the amazing peace and presence of Jesus that I felt there. It was a moment of grace. I knew I had found exactly what I felt this longing in my heart for all that time. I do not believe it was a search for aesthetics, but for the beautiful reverence that filled every moment of the Mass. I am not saying that the OF Mass cannot be done reverently, but the amount of detail in the Latin Mass made it very noticeable to me.
Currently, I’m very blessed to be able to attend a Latin Mass parish with the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter. This has been such a gift from God. Not only are there great sermons, there are also all the beautiful traditions that I never knew existed. A few weeks ago, I came to Mass not expecting it to finish after 1 (it started at 10:30) because we had a procession with candles, and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament with Benediction afterwards. Father got real beeswax candles for the procession that each person received. In the spring, I attended something I dreamed of for several years – my first Corpus Christi procession, complete with rose petals (just like in Story of a Soul!) and a canopy for the Blessed Sacrament. Everything is done with detail and reverence. Especially, I love the reverence. Something simple like receiving Blessed Palm Leaves on Palm Sunday, becomes a mini ritual in how it is done. Just these little things, emphasize the point that these are not just any old leaves, candles, water, etc – these are blessed objects that received a special blessing from God through the priest. The priests’ vestments, altar, etc, – are all decorated with detail and beauty. My parish also has Confession before every Mass (even before the 7 am Masses on all weekdays), and two Masses a day on Monday – Saturday, and three on Sunday.
I know how sometimes it’s said, that we could still have a Mass without these things. But I have just found that all these things help me to lift my mind to the eternal. For this reason, I believe it is my particular spirituality in the Church. When you’re at this Mass, you might struggle with the missal at first, and not know what’s going on during the long periods of silence – but it makes sense as you learn, and you begin to love the silences because then you can just contemplate and come closer to Our Lord in prayer. There are times to pray silently and times to pray together with others. By being connected through the Eucharist and participation in Heavenly worship and spiritual participation in Calvary, we are all united in a mystical way and this is expressed through following the order of the Mass and prayers. I’m not saying that external expressions of unity (such as saying the Creed) are unimportant and that it doesn’t matter if we join in them or not. But the Mass also gives us opportunities to just connect with Jesus and make the experience very fruitful. There’s no rush, especially after Communion.
Speaking of Communion, I know there are many debates about receiving Communion on the tongue vs the hand, and kneeling or standing… I have found that it has just brought me closer to Christ to receive Him kneeling, and on the tongue.
I’ve found the Latin Mass gives many instances to find and experience intimacy with Our Lord, where we can forget everything and just be close to Him, immersed in all the beauty, the chant, incense, art.. it’s very contemplative and distances you from worldly things. Even the fact that it’s in Latin – a language we don’t really hear anywhere else, especially chanted. Everything feels special because it’s different from what’s in the world – we see that this is special and Holy and not like everything else that we experience. I sometimes wonder what would a person think if they came to the Latin Mass without knowing anything about the faith – but I think they would see that this is something different and mysterious. There’s a real sense of mystery and a clear perception that we’re present at a Sacrifice, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The reality of the Mass becomes evident, so that we don’t forget it.
I’ll leave with this beautiful rendition of a traditional hymn by Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYhfQwxnYw0
(image credit: http://holycardheaven.blogspot.ca/