As someone who loves the Tridentine Mass, sometimes I wonder what it might be like for people who have never experienced it before. Obviously at some point, this was me. I wrote about my first experience of it in the post “Why the Latin Mass”. However, this time I just wanted to give some advice to a person who is considering going to the Latin Mass for the first time!
1. It’s similar, yet different. The Mass is the Mass. You’ll see the same general structure: Confiteor, reading from the Epistles, Gospel, then the Eucharist. If you don’t have a missal and don’t know yet how to follow the Mass, you’ll still recognize these basic parts. However, of course it will all be in….
2. LATIN! Don’t know Latin? That’s okay! Many people when they’re first invited to a Tridentine Mass, wonder how they will understand anything because they don’t know Latin. Perhaps it’s encouraging to remember that most people there don’t know Latin either. (you do pick up little bits here and there and end up memorizing the prayers eventually). This is why we have missals, where you can read the English (or any language) translation.
3. Don’t get discouraged or frustrated if you get lost. That will probably happen. In fact I almost guarantee it will. And that’s OKAY and if that happens, don’t worry, and just enjoy the chant, and the beauty of the Mass. We participate in the Mass not only by saying the responses but by praying in our hearts – and you can pray along with the Mass and just spend that time with Our Lord in the Eucharist, if you get lost. If you decide to come back, eventually you’ll familiarize yourself with the missal and you’ll be able to follow it relatively easily.For more thoughts on participation, please take a look at this document by Pope Benedict.
4. The liturgy is not so ‘linear’. Be prepared for several things to be happening at once: the priest is praying one thing, the choir is singing another. While this can be a bit confusing with the missal, keep in mind that as you’re praying the “Kyrie” with the choir, the priest is going on with the prayers – so let the choir and basic Mass parts guide you in the missal!
5. It’s not so complicated! Even if it seems so from the above suggestions. Just expect a more ‘internal’ participation in the Mass and maybe like me, you’ll find that all the chants/prayers/liturgical actions draw your mind and heart above to God, and it won’t matter too much if the missal is confusing. One great thing about the Latin Mass is that everything is so detailed and beautiful that it does end up raising our souls to Heavenly things – just spend the time in prayer with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
6. Some practical things to expect… There is no sign of peace between people in the congregation. You bow when the altar servers bow to you to give you the sign of peace after the priest gives it. Expect a certain level of formality in the gestures/clothing (we bow our heads at the name of Jesus, many women wear skirts and/or veils, – just something to consider as you plan your outfit for that Sunday).
7. When it’s time for Holy Communion, people don’t go up “row by row”. There is always Confession before every Mass and often during the Mass as well. If you’re ready to receive the Eucharist, you can come up to the altar rail and kneel. We only receive Communion on the tongue, and you don’t have to say “Amen” after receiving, just make the sign of the Cross afterwards. As the priest gives you the Host, he will say a prayer asking for Jesus in the Eucharist to lead you to life everlasting. The altar server will hold a paten to prevent the Host from dropping on the ground. (the paten is the gold circular thing, you’ll definitely see it).
8. This is something that confuses many visitors so it would be good to mention here: we genuflect during the Creed at the part about the Incarnation, and at the Last Gospel (John 1 is read at the end) at the words ‘the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us’.
9. We also kneel for the priest’s blessing.
10. You’ll notice some obvious differences from the Mass in the Ordinary Form in most parishes: for example, the priest faces the High Altar.
One thing I really appreciate about the EF is that there’s a great sense of the Mass being a Sacrifice. There’s a lot of detail in terms of what the priest does and what the altar servers do. If more than one priest is present, they don’t concelebrate, rather the others act as the Deacon or Sub-Deacon in the Mass. In the beginning, there’s the ‘Asperges Me’ where the priest sprinkles the whole church with holy water.
I suggest coming early to Mass and spending a bit of time getting to know the missal (there are often used missals at the back for people to borrow, or like in my church, red booklets with the Ordinary of the Mass and print-outs with the day’s readings). Many people tend to also stay afterwards to pray and make a thanksgiving, and to spend time with Jesus as they’ve just received Him.
If anyone is looking for more information, here is a beautiful website about the Latin Mass with videos! http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/
(image credit: http://holycardheaven.blogspot.ca/