We’ve been attending the Traditional Latin Mass regularly over the past two months, and it’s raised some eyebrows among our friends. In this post I’ll explain why we made this decision.
The Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) or Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, based on the 1962 Missal, is the “Old Mass” that the Church used for centuries and centuries. (It is also sometimes called, somewhat inaccurately, the Tridentine Mass because of the Council of Trent in the mid-1500s, but its origins are much more ancient, and it has been modified in certain ways since then in any case.)
In the fifteen years since becoming Catholic from atheism and Protestantism, I’ve almost exclusively gone to the Ordinary Form (Novus Ordo) of the Mass, which is the normal English Mass that most Catholics in the U.S. attend.
Prior to the most recent few months, in the preceding ten years I had only gone to the TLM a few times. I found it inaccessible and hard to follow, even using the blue booklet with Latin and English on facing pages.
But several factors led me to want to take my family to the TLM. Here are eight of them.
The TLM is the traditional liturgy of the Church in the Latin Rite.
This liturgy has ancient roots and is substantially similar to the Mass that the vast majority of the saints in the West experienced. Its language is Latin, the traditional language of the Church in the West.
For most other institutions, a bare appeal to tradition alone is not enough to retain a practice, but in the Catholic Church, Tradition is of divine origin and cannot be ignored or brushed aside as antiquated or outdated.
#2: It’s Approved
The TLM was never abolished, in spite of the fact that it became quite hard to find after the Second Vatican Council.
Not only was it never abolished, but in 2007 Pope Benedict issued a motu propio called Summorum Pontificum that greatly expanded its ability to be celebrated by priests in the Latin Rite.
The Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite Mass are, therefore, both completely valid, saith the Church. For a good book that discusses the TLM and the current state of the Church today, check out Peter Kwasniewski’s Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis.
#3: Beauty, Transcendence, Reverence
The TLM is beautiful; it points clearly to the transcendence of God; and is celebrated reverently.
At many parishes, the Mass is something of a busy affair. There’s lots of bustle, chatter, and little silence. At almost every moment of many Ordinary Form Masses, there is sound: priest speaking or praying, congregation responding/speaking, choir singing, or musicians playing music to fill in the gaps. This isn’t the case everywhere but is fairly common from my experience at many different parishes.
The TLM, on the other hand, provides ample space for silence. The priest prays inaudibly while the congregation is kneeling, for instance. This silence fosters reverent worship and prayer.
I love the priests at parishes that we’ve been members of over the years, but, as an example, one of them would walk up the aisle at the start of Mass high-fiving the children. My kids loved it, but it didn’t cultivate a reverent tone for the liturgy. My son even tried high-fiving him during communion one time (he was still a few years away from his first communion).
At many parishes, including ones with good priests and lots of faithful Catholics, it is not uncommon to hear multiple outbursts of applause and clapping during the Mass.
I’ve heard applause for catechists, or new extraordinary ministers of holy communion, or a married couple on their anniversary, or the Boy Scouts, or the students going off the college, for the priest, for the lectors…you get the idea.
Now, most of these things are laudable, and I understand why the congregation and priests want to publicly recognize them, but having clapping during the Mass for them is distracting and makes the liturgy feel more like a civic event than a holy sacrifice. And every time I hear it, Pope Benedict’s words are called to my mind:
Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.
Is it the goal of our parish priests to be doing “religious entertainment”? Of course not. And none of the parish priests I know and respect think this way. They believe in the sacredness of the Mass and its central importance to our Faith.
Nonetheless, though turning the Mass into religious entertainment is not their intent, it perhaps can be the effect of such frequent clapping.
#4: Male Altar Servers
At the TLM all the altar servers are male.
My young son sees many of his friends–boys a few years older than he generally–up by the altar and wants to emulate them. They are kneeling reverently and assisting in small ways at Mass.
Male-only altar servers is traditional in the Church and also in stark contrast to the gender-nullifying ideas of the spirit of the age. Male-only altar servers give boys a special group they can belong to and provide fertile ground for discerning a vocation to the priesthood, a calling that only males can receive in the Catholic Church.
I’ve seen parishes where almost all the altar servers were female. Combine this with the majority of extraordinary ministers of holy communion being female, and boys can feel that serving at the altar and being involved in the Mass is a feminine thing, rather than a masculine one.
I want to point out here that, at one parish we go to the Ordinary Form Mass at, almost all the altar servers are male. Knowing many of the families who have their children doing altar serving there, I can say that these families, even without going to the TLM, see the sound reasoning for only have their sons as altar servers. So this is a positive sign of renewal happening in the Ordinary Form Masses.
Another argument for male-only altar servers is that, because it is traditional, it appeals to other traditional Christians, namely Eastern Orthodox. I have corresponded many times over the years with an Eastern Orthodox apologist, and frequently during our dialogues he has brought up female altar servers as being a hindrance to him ever becoming Catholic.
For me, that is not a deal-breaking reason to remain outside of full communion with the Catholic Church, but for him it is a big deal. The TLM is a refuge and example for such people, showing them that the Catholic Church has not abandoned her liturgical tradition.
#5: People Dress Appropriately
This is a small but important factor. On any given Sunday at most parishes, how appropriately people dress is a crap-shoot.
During summer here in Texas, it is not unusual to see people wearing shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. Women wear clothes appropriate for laying out at the beach but not for holy Mass. Our regular parish has pew inserts that clearly spell out what is appropriate dress for Mass, but these are often ignored.
And even in the other seasons, people generally don’t dress up too much for Mass. If a man is wearing jeans and a polo shirt, he’s above average.
For whatever reason, at the TLM people dress much more appropriately. Men usually wear button up shirts and khakis or slacks. Some wear jackets or sport coats. Women wear more appropriate attire, covering up more of their body.
We show reverence to God in how we dress, and respect for our fellow man. So how we dress is not just an irrelevant accident that doesn’t matter.
#6: Our Children See That This Is Different
This reason is the most important to me: our children see that something special and different is happening at the Traditional Latin Mass.
They intuitively pick up on the distinctive qualities of the TLM and act accordingly: they’re more reverent and silent.
This isn’t just another performance or musical concert. It’s much greater. It points to God. We are in His presence. And they are aware that something important and awe-inspiring is happening.
I have seen so many of my friends’ children leave the Catholic Faith in their teens or in college. Somehow, the seed that was planted, even among families who went to daily Mass, was snatched up by the evil one.
Our modern society is incredibly alluring: gadgets, games, sexual pleasure without consequences, luxury, money, and worldly success. I want to provide a bulwark against those powerful allures, and the TLM is a key part of that.
If “Church” is no different from–or worse a boring imitation of–the world outside, our children will continue to fall away. We have to effectively present to them the Gospel and the mysteries of our Catholic Faith. We have to present to them the truth of the Good Shepherd in ways they can grasp as they grow up, to provide a fertile soil for the seeds God has planted to take root. A reverent and traditional liturgy is central to that.
#7: Hearing Sacred Music
Music in the Mass should be sacred music.
The Church has long-affirmed this and the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed it in unequivocal language. Now, in the past fifty years that guidance has not been widely put into practice, a perplexing fact that has only dubious justifications.
The TLM has sacred music. Most of the Ordinary Form Masses I’ve been to over the years have not had sacred music. In fact, many of the songs have been campy, doctrinally incorrect folk tunes of one kind or another.
Yet, these unfortunate songs are deeply entrenched with the musical directors and leaders at countless parishes. I’ve seen “Anthem” sung regularly at several parishes:
We are called, we are chosen.
We are Christ for one another.
We are promise to tomorrow,
while we are for him today.
We are sign, we are wonder,
we are sower, we are seed.
We are harvest, we are hunger.
We are question, we are creed.
No doubt in the 1970s this song was cutting edge. But the only “question” about it is its questionableness for being sung in the liturgy. It should not be. Yet it is still, with few signs of its popularity abating.
A professor and good friend of mine explained sacred music this way:
There is a difference between sacred music, religious music, and secular music. If we should strive for excellence in art in general, then we should do so even more in the case of religious art, the purpose of which is to lift up our hearts and minds to contemplate the divine truths about God and the honor and praise due to Him.
Sacred music enters most intimately into sacred liturgy, and so it must be suited for lifting up the minds of the faithful to God, not distracting them or entertaining them. Sacred music is to be the very servant of sacred liturgy. The purpose of the liturgy is the worship of the infinite and unchanging God, who made heaven and earth. And God should be worshiped in a way that is fitting to His transcendence and dignity. That’s why pop music is not fitting for Church, even if it ‘reaches’ the youth, as found at various Protestant mega-churches.
Two good resources for how music should be done in the liturgy are MusicaSacra.com and ChantCafe.com.
I long regarded Catholics who went to the TLM as aloof and somewhat snobbish. They seemed to regard the TLM as “the only right way” and had disdain for the Ordinary Form and Catholics who attended it.
This bias was strengthened on the occasion of receiving a disapproving glare from a man at a daily TLM I was attending with my two very young children. He turned full around and made a face at me, in spite of the fact that I had already retreated with my boisterous children beyond the glass-paneled doors into the narthex, where they were being quiet. I could tell that my children’s small noises had polluted his pure experience of the Latin Mass
Fast forward four years to a few months ago, when we started going to the TLM on Sundays to see if it would be endurable for our family. The atmosphere felt a bit stuffy at first, probably because of our own fears of being judged, but we persevered to give it a fair chance.
After a few weeks, we learned that after every Mass many families would go to the bishop’s hall and have light snacks and coffee together. We began going to that and meeting the families. Soon we had made new friends and to our surprise discovered that they were from a variety of backgrounds. Some had started going to the TLM only recently, or went when they could, or had happened upon the TLM at some point and thought it very attractive.
In short, they were normal families and not the stereotype I had for “rad traddies” (more on that moniker in the conclusion at the end of this post). And they were an active and close knit group, in part because of their love of the TLM and traditional practices of Catholicism.
While we have many good friends at our regular parish, most of the time after Mass we all just go home. Perhaps once a week there’s a play date with the moms, and once a month I may see one of the husbands whom I’m friends with, but that’s about it. The sense of a close community of faith is more dispersed.
Suspicious of Traddies
“Traddies” and “rad[ical] traddies” are two nicknames given for Catholics who go to the TLM. But they are also used for Catholics who are members of the SSPX. And they are used for people who have broken in schism from the Catholic Church. These are three distinct groups of people that cannot be spoken of as a single entity.
The ambiguity of these nicknames renders them unhelpful, yet many Catholics lump all these groups together under the “trad” banner and paint them all with the same broad brush.
I understand why this is the case. I just received an email from a man who unsubscribed from my email list with the following reason:
Pro Vatican 2 site. I stick with purely Traditional sites. Such as novusordowatch, tradcatknight.blogspot.com tradition in action, tradito, daily catholic etc. My apologies god bless in your mission.
For this man, either you are a “Vatican 2 Catholic” or you are a “Traditional” Catholic. This is the hermeneutic of rupture, and a false dichotomy. The Second Vatican Council can be defended from a traditional Catholic standpoint, which I did here.
Many Catholics read statements like the one this man wrote to me and their suspicion of “rad traddies” is affirmed. But his beliefs and mine are quite different, in spite of the fact that, quite possibly, both he and I go to the TLM.
I take my family to the TLM, not in spite of the Church, but because we believe it is taking us deeper into the heart of the Church.
Traditional Catholicism is nothing to be suspicious of. A very broad spectrum exists here, and most of the TLMers I have met are simply faithful Catholics who have discovered and prize the buried gem that is the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass.
The New-Old Evangelization
Yes! It is possible to take part in the New Evangelization by means of the Old Mass. In fact, it may just be the best way to be a new evangelist.
In the Traditional Latin Mass, we come to know Christ more deeply and intimately. God gave us the Mass for just this purpose, to worship Him in spirit and truth. Thus, there is no opposition between the New Evangelization and the TLM. Rather, they go hand-in-hand.
Personally, I hope to see 1) an increase of reverence and renewal of the Ordinary Form of the Mass, 2) an expansion of the Mass of the Anglican Ordinariate, and 3) an increase in the number of parishes offering the Traditional Latin Mass.
All three would help people encounter Christ and His Church and grow in holiness, consequently drawing more people to the Catholic Church.
For all these reasons, my family and I are going to the Traditional Latin Mass. But while we do so, we continue to respect our regular parish, its priests, and all our Catholic friends, no matter which Mass they go to. The Church has made multiple Forms available, and you can be a faithful Catholic by going to any of them.