People Will Drive Hours for an Extraordinary Mass


In the last two weeks I have met families who drive over three hours round trip to attend a Sunday Latin Mass.  I know of others who travel even further than that to occasionally attend.  Anyone who consistently assists at the Traditional Latin Mass knows how common it is for people to drive upwards of an hour every week to go to Mass. 

Now contrast this with a statistic we are all too familiar with:  only 24% of self-identifying Catholics attend Mass weekly. In other words, nearly eight of ten Catholics skip Mass, even though there are over 17,000 parishes in the United States. Despite most mid to large cities having multiple parishes, over 75% Catholics choose not to make the ten minute drive to go to Church on Sunday.

Many of us on the blogosphere in recent years have written about the Latin Mass and why it is that people seek it out:

A sense of the Sacred
A sense of the transcendent
Ad orientem worship
Incense and sanctus bells
Altar rails

All of these factors help direct us towards God, foster humility, engage the senses, and deepen our love for Jesus and His Real Presence in the Eucharist.

Understanding the why of the Latin Mass, now more of the discussion needs to turn towards the what and the logistical how of this extraordinary weekly occurrence. In other words, people should honestly ask themselves:

Why would anyone drive 2 hours one way just to go to Mass, particularly if there are many other parishes closer?

Conversely, the question needs to be asked:

Why do a vast majority of Catholics stay home every Sunday when going to Church has been made so convenient by proximity and Mass times?

Can it be classified as anything other than a lack of charity when bishops and pastors know that many of their faithful endure this additional hardship due to the lack of availability of the Extraordinary Form Mass? Speak to any parish priest who offers the Latin Mass regularly and he can tell you how far many have to travel just to participate in the Mass of the Ages.

One wonders if bishops inquire to see how many of their flock are travelling to neighboring dioceses just to find the Mass that Pope St. John Paul and Pope Benedict tried to make more available through an indult and two motu proprios.

Finally, if more of the young are being drawn to the Latin Mass (and they are), and if more families are too (and they are), and if vocations (to marriage, the priesthood, and the religious life) are growing at traditional parishes (and they are), shouldn’t the Church look to this as a blueprint for the future?

That so many Catholics today will no longer drive even ten minutes for the most irreverent, banal and anthropocentric liturgy, while others will make an entire day of their Sunday obligation searching for the sacred, turning Mass into a weekly freeway road trip, is worthy of further study.

Pray that those who can do something to address this situation do so.

Posted on December 21, 2015, in liturgy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. Those details can be applied to the faithful in various countries around the world. My hour each way is easy compared to what some families travel. The steady increase in the numbers of young people attending is very noticable. That translates into marriages and babies…and vocations, hence the growth of communities. Yes that is where the Church is healthy, thanks be to God.

  2. “Can it be classified as anything other than a lack of charity when bishops and pastors know that many of their faithful endure this additional hardship due to the lack of availability of the Extraordinary Form Mass?”

    I think many of these bishops and pastors actually relish the thought of it. I think some truly hate the TLM and the Catholics who prefer it.

  3. How many of these EF Masses are held during “normal” Mass times (middle of Sunday morning) in large parishes which have nearby alternatives? I don’t doubt what you say about a certain group of devout Catholics being willing to go to extraordinary lengths to attend an EF Mass; what I sincerely question is whether, if the 10 a.m. Mass at suburban St. Josephs became an EF mass, the attendance of St. Joseph’s parishoners at that Mass would increase–or whether a lot of them would either switch Masses or parishes. Sure, St. Joseph’s might be full at 10, but are the people there people who, but for the EF Mass would be sleeping late, or are they people who but for the EF Mass would be attending Mass in their own parish?

  4. The way our priest, Fr John Osman at St Birinus, Dorchester-on-Thames, UK, has developed things since his own rediscovery of the usus antiquior 10 years ago, is to use this form for two of the weekday Masses, on Wednesday and Saturday. We are a very small, rural parish, so there’s only a handful of folk at any of the weekday Masses. He also regularly arranges visiting singers and musicians for High Mass in the EF on special feasts, which are wonderful.

    If this wasn’t my own parish and just 10 minutes away, I would indeed travel a great distance. And I speak as a recent arrival into the Church aged 60 after a lifetime a devoted Pentecostal. With no baggage from the cultural / liturgical wars within the Church these last decades, it was immediately apparent to me how superior the EF is, and how much more effective for my spiritual formation. My 1962 Missal is so precious to me. That’s another tragic loss since the reform: Catholics don’t use and read the Missal, packed as it is with teaching, devotional aids and explanations. The new Missals have none of those, and of course are already too fat to carry easily around!

    Around here, there’s a lot of other places where we can find the EF, within half an hour’s drive. Most offer both forms – and at St Birinus we also have a NO Latin Mass every Monday. I’ll end by noting that those priests, like our Fr John, who regularly offer the usus antiquior, also offer the novus ordo with greater care, ceremony and meaning. At High Mass on Sunday, we chant the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei – using different settings for Advent and Lent. Nothing is rushed. He takes the time to pray silently at the various points required in the rite. It’s always ad orientem – because our beautiful church was really too small to rearrange!

    God bless your writing, which I’m finding most helpful and encouraging. I’ve a lot to catch up with.

    Happy Christ Mass!

  5. I used to live in a town where the Novus ordo was so watered down they didn’t even have confession! Instead of attending that one 5min away, I drove to the nearest SSPX church which was an hour and 15min away. Even in the bitter New York cold at 6 in the morning.

  6. Stephen Williamson

    Without the TLM, I would have been lost a long time ago and fallen into the devil’s lies. I was a typical fallen away Catholic teenager in Ireland. A friend asked me to attend Mass one Sunday (Which I never did, as I hated the Church) and I said I would out of politeness and it changed my life. Friends and I drive up to 3 hours round trip to get to the Mass some Sundays as the TLM is only offered only twice a Month were we live.

  7. I used to drive with my wife from Sumter SC to Atlanta GA to be able to assist at Holy Mass on Sunday. Now at least one parish in our Diocese offers this Holy Form and we only drive 4 hours round trip instead of 8.

  8. My parish in GA is experiencing something if the same phenomenon but with one exception. Our mass is the OF , BUT, and I think this is the heart of the matter, it is celebrated with great reverence. Our pastor clearly loves the faith, does beautiful chant, our choir is amazing and does beautiful traditional music. The mass is solemn, we have incense & bells, we have a kneeler for communion, we have been taught the Latin responses (which are used every week day day mass and for Advent/ Christmas & Lent/ Easter). Our pastor has done amazing things with the help of the parish to beautify the inside of the church with art work & stained glass windows and the outside with landscaping.
    After many years of liturgical purgatory, Our Lady of the Mountains, a small rural parish in GA mountains, has become a beacon of Catholic light. Come & see us!

  9. I appreciate this article! We drive the very freeway you have photographed. We drive over five hours round trip from Questa to the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend a most pious low mass at the oldest standing Church in the United States…San Miguel Mission.

  10. We drive a mere hour each way for the Traditional Mass, but we know a family that drives five hours round trip every Sunday for the High Mass, and they get a motel room for Holy days and all of Holy Week. It is a pilgrimage every time.

  11. I have never been to one. I think the closest parish that has a traditional mass is 5 hours south of where I live. Maybe when I take my vacation in 2016 I’ll search for where there is a traditional mass and include it in my plans. I’ve watched one online and I really want to attend. I would need a latin to english missal though.

    • Before you go, familiarize yourself with the Mass. I expect you could find resources online, but why not simply buy yourself a Missal? They can be found secondhand if you’re unsure of laying out on a new one. As I mentioned in my previous comment, the Missal has everything beautifully explained down the margins, down to the meaning of every gesture, plus other devotional aids and suggested interior intentions to enable you to immerse yourself in mind and heart in this wonderful, transformative liturgy.

  12. Patrick,
    Most TLM parishes have Latin to English missals available in the pews for those who don’t have their own.

  13. The reasons for the lack of availability of Traditional Latin Masses, even where it is welcome, are mostly practical. In other words, there are not enough priests who know how to say it — add to that there not being enough priests, period! — as well as not enough people willing to attend. (The most reliable numbers available are at less than one percent of Latin-rite Catholics.)

    Meanwhile, those in priestly formation have only had the option available to them for such training in the last five or six years, at most. (The course of studies for the diocesan priesthood lasts from six to eight years.) While some seminaries are open to it, others are still hostile, causing some young men to keep their preferences to themselves until after ordination, when they can teach themselves in what little spare time they have.

    There is more on the subject.

    The Latin Mass: Why You Can’t Have It

  14. I go to an Ordinate Mass and many of our parishioners drive one to two hours every week.

  15. Try 4 hours round trip.

  16. While I do understand the draw to the Traditional Mass, I think you need to take a step back when saying that Mass ”irreverent, banal and anthropocentric liturgy.” That is such a ridiculous claim. The Eucharist is just as present at that Mass than at any Traditional Mass. Let’s stop comparing the two types of Mass and trying to make one superior to the other and rather focus on the beauty of both and try to bring the love of Jesus Christ, which is present in the Mass, to the world.

    • The late English writer Michael Davies once attended a celebration of the Novus Ordo Missae at the Brompton Oratory. It was in Latin, with the altar facing “liturgical east,” only vested males performing ministerial roles, Gregorian chant, and Communion kneeling and on the tongue. He remarked that if the reformed liturgy were usually performed this way, “there wouldn’t be any problems.”

      The overwhelming majority of complaints about the “novus ordo” have absolutely nothing to do with either the official texts, or the proper rubrics. They have mostly to do with certain other liberties, even abuses that might just as well have occurred (and did, in abundance) before the Missal of Paul VI was even promulgated. Granted, the rubrics of the “new Mass” tend not to be as specific, and that is one of the problems. But keep in mind that the travesty that was Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” first performed at the Kennedy Center on its opening night, was not based on the reformed text that had yet to be released, but the traditional one.

      So it can happen, and it did, at least once. (And don’t imagine that crazy things didn’t happen before 1970. Many of them were worse than what is seen at a typical parish on Sunday.) People don’t travel four hours round trip over a set of books. They do it for what is beyond a set of books, for the transcendent, an awareness of the Other.

  17. Regardless of the form you should NEVER refer to the mass as irreverent! It’s actually quite disgusting that this article is even posted

    • A case of shooting the messenger. You should be more concerned with priests who irreverently offer the Holy Sacrifice, and the laity who willingly join in to profane the sacred, and not disgusted by those who write about it. In addition, possibly you could muster some outrage for those bishops who would rather see their flock travel hours for a traditional Mass instead of providing for their pastoral needs.

  18. Well, often, they make that sacrifice because they don’t understand the Mass very well. As one traditionalists told me: “I don’t feel like I’ve been to Mass unless it’s the TLM.”

    Wow – so many errors packed into one little sentence:
    Catholic Faith is reduced to feeling
    Feeling is so screwed up that it cannot detect Christ at a valid Mass
    Implicit assertion that personal feeling is infallible
    Implicit refusal to acknowledge the validity of the Novus Ordo
    It’s all about ME, not about God.

    • This of course is not what is being discussed in the post. I would condemn immanentism (as Holy Mother Church has) whether it comes from the most charismatic Novus Ordo attending Catholic, or the most spiritually pre-concilliar TLM only traditionalist.

      The point of my post, however, is that after the papacies, indults, and motu proprios of the last 30+ years, there is no reason for the faithful to not have access to a regularly scheduled and readily available TLM. That is the only point being made here.

      • Given the Protestant attitude entertained by so many traditionalists, in that they refuse to attend a local Mass but instead insist on attending a Mass hours away, isn’t it a lack of charity on the part of traditionalists?

      • Um, no. I don’t recall St. John Paul, Pope Benedict, or Pope Francis, questioning the motives of those who hold a devotion to, and preference for, the Traditional Mass. Why do you Steve?

        Withholding this liturgy from the faithful, knowing that members of your flock travel hours, sometimes to neighboring dioceses and even other states, is indeed uncharitable on the part of those specific bishops.

  19. Why would a bishop want to encourage Protestant wannabees in his diocese? That’s what “traditionalism” generally is – focused on FEELINGS, not on the reality of the Mass. They are the very people they claim to be running from

    • What an odd comeback. Not really much of a contribution to the conversation. Also, thank you for linking your recent blog post to this one. So far, one view via your site.

  20. I live in a very rural area and we must travel to the TLM and even doctors and real stores. It’s 93 miles each way (1 hour 40 minutes each way). We also attend the local NO about 1/3 to 1/2 the time. The NO parish is dying, there are only maybe 30 attendees every week. Most of the time our children are the only children there.
    I’d be dishonest if I told you that I didn’t hate the drive. It’s very difficult, especially with a van packed full of little ones. They are cranky by the time we get there.
    Being so far away, going to Mass takes up the whole day. Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest and revitalizing and a day of family time, and it fails. We go on a road trip and in a way it’s better to go to NO and then have family time. In a way, I feel like by going to TLM, we are not “Keep[ing] the Sabbath Day holy”.
    We are usually unable to attend “extra” stuff at the TLM parish, like Lenten Missions, social activities, etc. Since the NO parish is hanging on by a thread, there are no “extra” things there. I struggle: should we be the change at the NO parish or just abandon it? I see it closing within the next five years, which is a tragedy.
    And yet I just can’t wrap my head around so many things there, like the liturgical abuses and irreverence that is common at NO parishes. I don’t want my children to think such behavior is acceptable. I don’t want to loose a sense of the sacred. (When I was college-age, I fell away from the Church. I came back as a “Trad”. If it wasn’t for the TLM, I don’t know if I would have reverted and I now know that I would have gone to hell if I did not revert.)

  21. I drive one hour for the Latin Tridentine Mass which is still today the Roman Rite. There were not two forms of the mass before VII.

    • … but there are now, at least of the *Roman* Mass. The pope said so, and whatever we think of one or the other, some form of juridical or other distinction was necessary to be made, and so he made it. Somebody had to.

  22. Folks will go a long way, and for their own reasons (you’ve listed some here) to be gratified and satisfied by an event they treasure. That event is the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus. A real damnable, discordant, disconnect will happen (signs are around that predict it might) when those folks will declare to other folks, who are content where they are, that the “Holy Sacrifice of Jesus that you go to is NOT REALLY the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus.” And that their Holy Communion is not THE True, Real One, i.e., a phony.

  23. I inadvertently deleted a comment by Janine, a subscriber to the blog. Please accept my apology Janine. Here is your comment in its entirety:

    We travel three hours each way to attend Mass with the SSPX.
    There’s a Novus Ordo 20 minutes from me, but I’m not taking my kids to that. It’s a danger to the Faith, with its Protestant liturgy, women in trousers handing out the Eucharist to people in their hands and laity doing everything the priest should do.

  24. Yep! I drive 45 minutes one way. Everyone at my FSSP parish drives a longer distance. It’s out in the country

  25. The bishops only seem to allow the TLM when the SSPX comes into the geographical region of the diocese and sets up shop. Then it’s “let me make two or three TLM’s available, let’s have the FSSP and ICK with their own churches in the diocese etc. So be thankful for the SSPX setting up shop in your diocese.

  26. Rita and Eric Michaelson

    We drive an hour and fifty minutes one way every Sunday for the 8:00 a.m. TLM. We get up at 4:40 a.m. and leave at 5:45 a.m. We will keep doing this until we can no longer drive or get a TLM closer to us. For us, the drive is well worth it!

  27. I think the statistics on how many people attend Mass every week does not take into consideration that so many Catholics “church hop” nowadays. Weekend travel, schedules, pilgrimages, soul-searching, and people disgruntled with their parish’s current priest have Catholics turning up in different churches far from their neighborhood parish. The church-hoppers are not missing Mass. They’re just popping in at Masses all over the map. How can anyone honestly come up with a statistic as to who is or isn’t fulfilling their Sunday Mass obligation?

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