Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Latin Mass

Today I attended a Traditional Latin Mass for the first time. It is held in a parish a few towns over on a weekly basis. In order to help me understand what was going on (and because he had not been to one for decades), my Dad - a former altar server and seminarian schooled in the Tridentine Mass - came along as well.

Until today, I questioned the reasoning of why we as Church need an Extraordinary Rite for the Mass anymore. Mass in the Ordinary form, the vernacular, is more than sufficient. The people are able to participate, you can see and hear the priest, it's a community celebration, the music is modern. The Tridentine Mass is in a dead language that no one speaks, the priest has his back to the faithful, and the faithful don't really participate at all. However, this is my Church and my legacy. I figured it would to me good to experience the Latin Mass once and then I could scoff at this antiquated mode of worship from a position of having experienced it firsthand.

God must be laughing at me right now, boy.

The two words that keep coming to mind are Reverence and Mystery. The careful, meticulous set-up by the sacristan, the well-practiced altar servers, the cadence and beauty of the Latin language (did I say it was a 'dead language'???). I was reminded today that the focus and purpose of the Mass is not on the priest, his homily, keeping the congregation entertained with fine music. As I mentioned in my previous entry on Reconciliation, IT'S THE SACRAMENT, STUPID! The priest has his back to us because he is focused on the same thing the congregation is supposed be focused on...The Real Presence, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist. The Word made Flesh in our very midst.

I didn't understand the Latin or course, even though I tried to follow along in the Missal. This didn't bother me, however. Surprisingly enough, it added to the sense of Mystery I was experiencing as Mass went on, that there was something awesome and supernatural going on. My Dad however, was intent on the priest, always knew where to respond, even was mouthing the words along with him. "I guess it's like riding a never really forget!" he had said to me afterwards.

And receiving Communion - kneeling before the priest with the server holding a paten under my chin ('lest He strike His foot against a stone' - Luke 4:11). Indescribable.

Here are some thoughts from a Catholic tutorial on the web, describing Latin Mass as a source of Unity for the Church. Thanks go out to the folks at SanctaMissa,org:

"Latin is well adapted for the services of the Catholic Church, because it is both venerable and mysterious. It is venerable on account of its origin and its antiquity; it is the language in which the praises of God resounded from the lips of Christians during the first centuries. It is a sublime and solemn thought that the holy sacrifice is now offered in the same language, nay, with the very same words as it was offered in times long past in the obscurity of the Catacombs. There is also an element of mystery about the Latin tongue; it is a dead language, not understood by the people. The use of an unknown tongue conveys to the mind of the vulgar that something is going on upon the altar, which is past their comprehension, that a mystery is being enacted. In the first centuries of Christianity a curtain used to be drawn during the time from the Sanctus to the communion, to conceal the altar from the sight of the worshippers. This is now no longer done, but the use of an unknown tongue has something of the same effect, by inspiring the awe into the minds of the common people. It is a striking fact that Israelites and pagans made use, in the worship of the Deity, of a language with which the multitude were not conversant. The Israelites made use of the ancient Hebrew, the language of the patriarchs; we do not find Our Lord or the apostles censuring this practice. The Greek Church, both orthodox and schismatic, employs the old form of the Greek language for divine service, not that spoken at present. The same language is in use in the Russian (so-called orthodox) Church, not the vernacular, which is a Slavonic dialect."

I will definitely make it a point to make it to a Tridentine Mass on a fairly regualr basis. Learning a bit of Latin wouldn't hurt, either!


Daily Mass Readings
Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23,24
Psalm 30:2-6, 11-13
2 Corinthians, 8:7, 9, 13-15
Mark 5:21-43

1 comment:

  1. not understanding the language sometimes makes the meaning even more significant. When I was in Russia attending church was overwhelmed with God's presence even though i couldn't understand the words. What was even more amazing was when we all sang hymns together - us in English, them in Russian - it was beautiful. Two nationalities - worlds apart - yet sharing in the most important aspect of life - Jesus. It was amazing.