Eight Reasons We’re Going to the Traditional Latin Mass

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.

Background

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.)

cathed1In 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.

#1: Tradition

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but in the Catholic Church, Tradition is of divine origin and cannot be ignored or brushed aside as antiquated or outdated.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.

latmassAt 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.

roseFamMale-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.

fss1They 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.

#8: Community

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.

fss2This 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.

cath1Many 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.

The 6 Attractions of Eastern Orthodoxy

Orthodox Church in Kiev

Many Protestants are facing the interesting but difficult choice between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. I’ve been getting to know some Orthodox guys via the blogs and facebook lately and have grown in respect for Orthodoxy from them.

For Protestant Americans and Westerners in general, Eastern Orthodoxy looks appealing for many reasons. I leave aside in this post the ultimate determination of whether Orthodoxy is indeed the true Church (with the Catholic Church in schism from it) or vice-versa. Instead, I want to focus on what I see as Orthodoxy’s appeal agnostic of whether it is what it claims to be.

1. It’s Eastern

And we Americans are enamored of all things Eastern. The mysticism, the mystery, the culture. India and Thailand are the new Europe for American hippies who want to live cheaply and explore the world. Just look around your city and count the number of Yoga facilities if you doubt the growing interest we have in the East.

It makes sense. We Westerners pride ourselves on our rational powers. When guided and sanctified by Christianity, this use of our reason is something great. But in the increasingly secular society we live in, where God is more often than not met with an indifferent shrug, and Christianity is old hat, reason fails to fill the yawning faith gap. And so we turn to the East, to religions like Buddhism and Hinduism that seem exotic to us and are less chained to reason.

But most Protestants aren’t ready to jettison Christ for Buddha or Shiva. And this is where Eastern Orthodoxy comes in: Christianity, but not Western Christianity. Christ with meditation, with mysticism. The best of both worlds.

2. It’s Ancient

The liturgy is beautiful and apostolic. It’s reverent and deep, the opposite of most Protestant services today, especially among Evangelicalism. It satisfies the growing desire among Protestants for deeper roots, for a more historically plausible faith, for a connection with the ancient Church that’s organic and continuous.

Most of the Great Councils of the Church took place in the East. Many of the most holy Church Fathers lived in the East. The beauty of its iconography is peerless. Which all adds considerable heft to the claims of Eastern Orthodoxy.

3. It’s Traditional

With a capital ‘T’. The Eastern Orthodox also recognize and believe in Apostolic Tradition. My understanding is–and I’m certainly open to Catholics correcting me–that Apostolic Tradition is also found in Orthodoxy, precisely because they have maintained valid Apostolic Succession. Allow me to quote Pope Benedict on the relationship between Tradition and Succession:

It becomes apparent that “apostolic tradition” and “apostolic succession” define each other. The succession is the form of the tradition, and the tradition is the content of the succession. At the same time, the justification of both principles, which are really one, is to be found in this interconnection: the decisive element by which Catholic Christianity (whether Roman or Greek) is differentiated [from Protestantism]. — Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office, 22-28

He goes on to describe in more detail this relationship between Succession and Tradition, revealing that originally they were both denoted by a single Greek word.

Orthodoxy then, like Catholicism, has Apostolic Succession and rejects sola Scriptura. When Protestants come to realize that the Bible alone is unworkable and not a doctrine of divine origin, they look for the Apostolic Tradition, and find it in Orthodoxy.

4. It’s a bit less strict morally

Orthodoxy allows the use of contraception, as well as divorce and remarriage (under certain conditions). There seems to be an ongoing debate on these subjects within Orthodoxy, but from what I have read and heard, the current consensus allows these practices that the Catholic Church rejects as immoral.

These stances understandably appeal to many Protestants, whose denominations allow contraception without question as well as divorce and remarriage (usually for any reason whatsoever, no questions asked).

5. It’s pope-less

The papacy is one of the greatest stumbling blocks for Protestants. Many have so much ingrained distrust and even revulsion at the notion of the papacy that it’s little wonder that Orthodoxy seems attractive due to its lack of a pope.

It’s hard to overestimate the degree of bias against the pope that most Protestants receive from their churches, pastors, and parents growing up. Even once a Protestant overcomes revulsion to Marian devotion–necessary to consider Orthodoxy as well as Catholicism since the Orthodox revere Mary as fervently as do Catholics–to be Catholic they still have to surmount their prejudice against the bishop of Rome.

In this same vein, Orthodoxy is typically something novel to a Protestant, something they haven’t encountered before, and so they do not have built-in barriers against it.

6. It’s got strong community

Katie and I first noticed this attending Eastern Rite Catholic Churches–Maronite and Byzantine. These are Churches in full communion with Rome. Maronite churches are mainly Lebanese, though now more Latin rite Catholics are switching rites, in part because of their tight-knit community.

Go to your average Catholic parish on Sunday and prepare to be ignored, or at least overlooked. But at Eastern Rite churches you will likely be welcomed and asked questions and people will want to tell you all about how and why they do the liturgy differently, the unique features of their church, and so on.

Same with the Orthodox, except often even stronger. Their churches are the focal points that their lives revolve around, much like it used to be with Catholic parishes. Picnics, after-liturgy hummus and pita, you name it. A close group of people with whom you can share life.

Conclusion

I know several people who have considered or are considering Orthodoxy, often alongside Catholicism as the only alternatives to more aimless drifting in the sea of Protestantism. Many express their frustration that after working so hard to figure out that Protestantism is fatally flawed, they have two options still to choose from instead of one. That’s just one more reason why we need to heed Christ’s call to perfect unity in John 17 and heal the schism.

So what did I miss? What else is attractive about Orthodoxy?