I have written posts before about what the Mass is, and the urgent need for Catholics to find and attend reverent Masses. Today I want to point out that nowhere will Roman Rite Catholics find a more appropriate and reverent Mass to attend than a celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass (a.k.a. the Extraordinary Form). If it is offered in your diocese, you should seek it out. To many, the experience is painfully strange at first, to the point perhaps of being frustrating and off-putting. That is because it is out of the ordinary for us, being so different from the celebrations of the Ordinary Form that we are used to. However, the Traditional Latin Mass is the finest and best form of the Mass, although both forms are equally valid. The TLM is utterly faithful to the nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, uses the divinely-inspired texts of Scripture throughout its structure, and in both its elements and its entirety is completely transcendent. Looking to understand how Almighty God wants His people to worship Him, you will find no better indication than the TLM.
The Traditional Latin Mass is fundamentally faithful in every way to the purpose and nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Because the Mass is the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of God the Son to God the Father, the priest stands up at the high altar during the Eucharistic prayer, facing East along with the congregation. Facing East is the traditional position in which to address God the Father. Quite obviously during the celebration of the TLM, the priest performs a distinct function that is his and his alone in the worship of the Church. He is Christ’s instrument here. Unlike with virtually all celebrations of Ordinary Form Masses, at the TLM the purpose, dignity, and preeminence of the priest’s Christlike function in the Church is clearly evident. The congregation understands the purpose of his presence visually, spiritually, and even emotionally. And during the Traditional Latin Mass, due worship and reverence is given to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, communicants kneeling to receive Him in Communion at the altar rail. Lovingly called “the Mass of the saints,” due to the history of love and devotion paid to God through it by centuries of saints, this form of our rite proclaims the truth about the Sacrificial nature of the Mass by every gesture, through every prayer, and in every component of its ordered structure.
Because of the absolute magnificence of the Sacrifice, the Church has composed and assigned beautiful arrangements of divinely-inspired Scriptural passages everywhere through the Mass. As an example of one of my favorite things about the Traditional Latin Mass, I want to mention the glorious psalms and antiphons the choir sings for it. Actually, all Masses of the Roman Rite, in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, are supposed to be singing these Scripture settings called the Propers at three specific times during Mass (during the Entrance Procession, the Offertory, and reception of Communion). However, the faithful rarely, if ever, hear them unless they are attending the EF. These Propers, and other parts of the Mass, have been set to beautiful, ancient melodies that lift listeners almost up to Heaven. These Propers, and all the music and prayers of the Traditional Latin Mass, are solemnly prayed and sung in the Latin language. As Latin is the sacred language of the Universal Church, the TLM makes visible the glorious reality of our unity as Catholics in Faith and worship. Thus we find in the TLM an exclusive continuity with Scripture, tradition, and the teaching of the Church that is not present in virtually all celebrations of the Ordinary Form.
Utterly transcendent, oriented toward exaltation of the Majesty of God, the TLM is distinctly holy and elevated. Unquestionably on a higher level than the normal events of our daily lives in this fallen world, we must reach up and work to raise ourselves to better understand and prayerfully participate in this form of the Mass. Fervently attended by Catholic faithful through the vicissitudes of the Age of Faith, the terrible times of the Protestant Revolt and the Enlightenment, and loved by many even through the dark days of the 20th century, the TLM has always provided and unmistakable sign of identity for Catholics. It still does even today. (Think about how Hollywood signals Catholicism in the movies—usually viewers see priests in cassocks and hear Gregorian Chant as background music.) Growing out of hundreds of years of the history and tradition of the Church, the TLM connects us to the Catholic Faith like nothing else. United to Scripture, to the Faith, and to Tradition, for the glory of God, the Traditional Latin Mass is truly the “complete package” of Christian worship.
Unfortunately, opportunities to attend this form of the Mass are still few and far between in most dioceses in the United States. Until Pope Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007, the older form of the Roman Rite was rather held in suspicion. Growing steadily in Catholics’ appreciation since then however, offerings of this form of the Mass continue gradually expanding. If you are able to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form, I hope you will. Be aware that it will make demands on you, and you will be changed by it. As you stretch and grow in your understanding of the elevated elements of ancient Roman Catholic Liturgy, I hope you come to cherish the Traditional Latin Mass. I hope you will love it as the saints have, and I hope that your love for it will in turn help you to become a saint!