Why I Am Learning the Traditional Latin Mass
My transformation in the way I approach the Mass began with the first Papal Mass I experienced in 1998 with Pope John Paul II. The formality, reverence, seriousness, nobility and a strong sense of transcendence and sacredness all set me on a path toward an appreciation of the Traditional Latin Mass. While it was a Novus Ordo, it was a Novus Ordo that seemed to reach for those higher qualities.
Prior to that Papal Mass, I saw my role of “Presider of the Liturgy,” as one where I needed to “engage” the congregation; doing all I could to make the liturgy stimulating and pleasing and, yes, even entertaining. My motivation was a good one … I wanted people to love God and love the Mass. With all eyes upon me (priest facing the people), I felt this responsibility fell on my shoulders. We had liturgy committee meetings to brainstorm new and exciting ways to make the liturgy more “enjoyable” and “engaging” for the folks. I would frequently interject ad-libs throughout the Mass, sensing that “just doing the same old prayers” would lead to boredom. Of course the music had to be appealing, so we appreciated the “show-tune-like” melodies of the latest songs, or even the emotionally stimulating songs coming out of Evangelical churches. All of this, we felt, kept the folks happy and stimulated and willing to show up week after week.
But, it was in that moment in 1998 that I was changed forever. It was like scales were removed from my eyes, and I began to recognize the rampant frivolity and superficiality in the vast majority of present day Novus Ordos. It began to very much bother me, and I simply could not participate in that frivolous approach to the Mass any longer. God deserves MORE! While I do not believe it was the intention of the designers of the Novus Ordo, many successive additions to the Mass over the years (priest facing people, communion in the hand, no Latin, etc.) all seemed to strip the Mass of these higher qualities.
Also, 1998 was a time when the Internet and the information age was exploding. With more information about liturgy at our fingertips, I began to immerse myself in this knowledge. It seemed with each bit of new understanding, reverent Novus Ordos and the Vetus Ordo were the only appropriate ways to worship God. Up until then, I could blame my poor 1980s seminary training, but we simply “know better” now (or, at least, we should), and there are no excuses for being oblivious to what is most appropriate when offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And, of course, Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum, put the TLM even more on my radar screen. Pope Benedict’s amazing writings and encouragement have been extremely inspirational.
Yes, it is 17 years later that I am “finally” making the move to learn the Traditional Latin Mass. But, it was throughout those 17 years that we have made steady gains, leading to this moment. We would add a little Latin here and there to the Novus Ordo, and teach about the importance of reverence, and offer history lessons (mainly through the homily) on the essence of the Mass. Little by little, many began to understand the importance of due reverence, seriousness and nobility we must offer God. We even got to a point where we could restore the communion rail to our church. And, in one of my parishes, I began offering the Novus Ordo ad orientem (we, literally, removed the free-standing “versus populum” altar).
Not everyone wanted it to go in this direction (I’ve lost a number of parishioners, but gained quite a few too). If a child has been eating nothing but candy his whole life, it is not easy to get him to begin to live a life on fruits and vegetables. This transformation will take longer in those places where they are more resistant to the introduction of more noble and sacred (fruits and vegetables) ways of worshiping at Mass. It’s fascinating to watch that it is the youth who are more drawn to the Traditional Latin Mass. They have not had as many years to become “addicted to candy,” it would seem.
But, I am convinced that many in our Catholic Church are spiritually sick right now, after many years of “only eating candy.” If we hope to become spiritually healthy again, we simply MUST start putting the “good and healthy food” of “proper liturgy” in our people’s souls.
Here is a moving scene from an old film that depicts a woman coming into the same understanding I did at that Papal Mass in 1998 (the woman’s expression at 3:05 was exactly mine at St. Peter’s in Rome in 1998)