Those Baby Boomers and Their “Memories” of the Latin Mass

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Someone in the wonderful world of social media left this comment in response to my most recent Liturgy Guy post on the use of Latin within the Mass:

“I remember Latin Masses.  No one understood what was being said.  If you tried to follow where the priest was you couldn’t because you couldn’t see what he was doing.  So, you took out your rosary and prayed.  The common expression was that the Mass was in Latin so that NO ONE in the world could understand it.”

I’m sincerely beginning to believe that some baby boomer Catholics are making a concerted effort to undermine the resurgence of the Latin Mass with such “memories” as this one.  The comment above is unfortunately a rather common occurrence on social media these days; a recollection that is invariably shared each and every time an attempted discussion of the traditional liturgy begins.

Here’s why I believe it’s total baloney:

1. I have exclusively assisted at the Traditional Latin Mass (sometimes called the Extraordinary Form) for nearly three years now.  It is easy to understand what is going on. Over time those who regularly attend the Mass learn the responses in Latin as well as the Ordinary of the Mass (the Gloria, Creed, Agnus Dei, etc.). After all, let’s use some common sense here: how darn confused can one be about something that they participate in EVERY week?  At what point do you accept personal responsibility for simply having never paid attention at Mass in your younger days; or…

2. …when do you acknowledge that you, your parents, or your parochial instructors, failed in their obligation to catechize you?  Many of us today still utilize the Baltimore Catechism and traditional children’s Latin Mass missals to educate our kids in the faith.  Both are pre-conciliar works.  Someone was buying them back then to teach an entire generation about the faith.  Apparently the boomers in social media who so greatly detest the Latin Mass somehow missed this formation.

3.  It’s interesting that such amazing nineteenth and twentieth century saints like St. Bernadette, St. Therese, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Maximillian Kolbe, St. Padre Pio, and St. Edith Stein managed to attain personal holiness and demonstrate heroic virtue despite having only that confusing Latin Mass.

4.  It’s also interesting to further note that rectories, seminaries, and religious orders boomed in the twentieth century, hitting their highest levels in the 1950’s and early 1960’s despite the fact that (as some try to claim today) no one understood the Mass and were left in the dark, lacking spiritual fulfilment from the very source and summit of the faith. 

Frankly, none of this narrative jives.  This isn’t to say that uninspired Low Masses were never offered (because minimalism will always exist), or that some children were not subjected to deficient religious formation, because that will always be a struggle since fallible humans are responsible for passing along the faith. But the contention that Latin Rite Catholics were confused and stymied by the Mass of the Ages, the “most beautiful thing this side of heaven”, is nothing more than anti-Catholic hogwash.

Rant over.

Posted on January 31, 2016, in liturgy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 127 Comments.

  1. The Last Supper was not some elaborate spectacle of correographed ritual, but an ordinary Passover Seder with friends and family that Our Lord transformed mystically into His Body and Blood, which He shared, both the bread AND the wine, with them. The more we get away from that simplicity, and worship the form of the Mass rather than the substance of receiving the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation that has been given unto us by Him, the more we move to mindless idolatry., no matter how nicely its dressed with frilly lace, elegant robes, elaborate costumes and the like.

    • Okay, Jay, but tell it to St. Francis of Assisi, that master of simplicity whom no one has ever accused of the slightest degree of affectation for “frilliness.” So ascetic that he would sometimes cast off his habit for another with more holes in it, he nonetheless was famously adamant about protecting (his term) the liturgical ceremonies inherited from Apostolic times and all of the rites, vessels, vestments and prayers that had grown up around them—in fact everything connected with the usus antiquior—and he taught this, enforced it even, among his friars. And if you can imagine it, the Mass was even more elaborate in Francis’ day than it was on the eve of the Council in 1962. It’s not like he was focused on himself, either; Francis was not ordained a priest and could not actually offer the holy Sacrifice, except in his own stigmatized body late in life. He knew the difference between pruning, which under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is a good thing, and mere hacking, which is a different thing altogether.

      You can look all this up. I urge you to do so and then to ask yourself why, and spend time thinking about it. There is no one following this thread who could presume to teach the Seraphic Father anything about simplicity. Unless you want to go on record ascribing vanity or some psychological imbalance to the man, you will have to admit that there was something else going on here. What was it; among his spiritual followers today, what is it?

    • To non-Catholics, the Novus Ordo also looks like “some elaborate spectacle of correographed [sic] ritual.” The Mass is not intended as a re-enactment of the Last Supper, which was a one-time event.

      If you feel so strongly that the Eucharist should be as simple as possible, there are a number of Reformed conventicles that would be happy to accommodate you.

    • Victor Wowczuk

      Not really. “Seder” itself means “order”, that is, a ceremony or liturgy for a meal. It is more than a mere gathering of family with friends because it is a ceremony mainly directed towards God. Indeed, even at the Last Supper, Jesus used a liturgical language that few people at the time understood, Hebrew.
      Moreover, the Last Supper cannont be an ordinary Seder meal. The Last Supper was indeed held before the Jewish Passover began. However, it is on the Cross that Jesus drank His ritual last cup that He refused to do at the Last Supper. While the lambs were being slaughtered on Good Friday for the Jewish Passover meal the following night, Jesus was likewise dying on His Cross. There is an important message here, the same message that has been acknowledged since time immemorial and that is that the Mass is a real Sacrifice in which Jesus’ Body and Blood becomes fully present as the Bread and Wine at the altar. Better, that consecrated Bread and Wine is God Himself. People should crawl on their knees to receive the Sacred Species knowing that God, the very source of all existence, is waiting for them. Sacred ceremonies that make known and respect God’s physical presence are certainly in order at Mass.
      Oh, by the way, as a kid I did not understand Latin. But I knew it was important, because it was a language used to address God. So when I was in high school, I made sure I learned it. Sadly, not too many others, it seems, did so.

    • Well my dear sir you are wrong. Last supper was elaborate Ritual. First we see in John 12.12-19 The great procession when Christ is entering the Holy City – well i do not have to say how it is reflected in mass. Next we see all the Liturgy of Word where Christ explains the Old testament and proclaims Gospel, and even prophetess on what will become of Jerusalem. (Luke 19,20&21), next we see preparation of room on top floor – that is first church as building (Luke 22.7-13) that is reflected in preparation for offering on mass. Later act of penance as described by Christ washing feet of Apostols (John 13.1-20) Next we go for the main part that is meal. It is Jewish passover meal … but instead of Lamb they should eat, Christ takes bread and Vine and says it is His Blood and Flesh – as stating that lamb of this passover is He himself. (later killed in right time on cross) and well after communion they go for full night prayer … he prays for father as we now pray (he prays … disciples sleep. – aka old form of our father where laity only say sed libera nos a malo – as disciples only wanted to survive seeing what Christ was saying last couple of days). Sooo well more formalised it could not be at the time … i would say … current mass (even extraordinary form ) is highly reduced form of what Jesus did on last Supper.

    • Dom Michel Joseph, O.S.B.

      With all respect…we do NOT live in the time of Jesus. It was different back then and it’s different now. What of the Apostles who founded many of the Eastern Churches who may I remind you have NEVER changed from day one. Their liturgy has lasted through the ages. We worship God with the oldest liturgies…. and as our Separated Brothers would say: “If it was good enough for Abraham, its good enough for me!” Blessings!

      • Hahahahahaha eastern chuches not changed?
        Where is public confession
        Where came bishops serving in dalmatics (sakkos)?
        Golden spoon?
        Levanderd bread?
        Rejecton of papal primacy
        Sanctification of rulers
        Reduction of planeta (Felonion/chasube)
        Not cut in half Epitrachelion?
        Non white Omoforion (not made of wool)
        Modyfing lithurgy of hours to fit enviroment.
        Oh please tell me more how east is pure and unchangable…

    • William Radovich

      Certainly the bloodless Oblation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is what it is because of the mystical scene at the Last Supper and the bloody Immolation sacrifice of Christ the next day on Calvary for our salvation. The Consecration is the “Sword of the Mass”, says St. Augustine. But where we are in time right now and going on in Heaven is the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, quite a magnificent celebration and a glorious depiction of an Ascended Christ, sitting at the Right Hand of the Father, far beyond that of St.Justin Martyr’s description of the Mass. John the Apostle sees that It is Jesus dressed in white, priestly garments, with a gold sash about Him, and seven censers, seven candle sticks, seven trumpets, seven chalices as large as bowls, that the 144,000 may drink of the Precious Blood of the Lamb, with 24 Elders, dressed in white, casting their golden crowns upon the glassy sea, a Woman clothed the sun, the moon about her feet, and a crown of Twelve Stars on her heed, an the golden Ark of the New Covenant, Perhaps the Latin Rite is not either/or. It is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time as Benedict XVI so well describes.

  2. The Mass given us by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was highly ritualistic, coming from the Jewish Passover ceremony, in an ancient and different language different to that used in general conversation at the time, and with highly choreographed ritual. The Mass of Rome was the Mass of St Peter, passed down through the ages from Christ Himself to us today. Catholics in the Middle Ages gave their lives for that Mass, rather than to attend the garbage protestant community services that came into existence at that time. Catholics at Vatican II and since should have had the same Faith and intelligence to stand for Christ, rather than to go to hell with the Novus Ordo “Mass”.

  3. Yes, the Passover Sedar followed a form, prayers were said blessing made, bread and wine were eaten at set points. That was a given. And yes, good men of faith died horrifically for their beliefs, on all sides of the disputes about faith that raged at the time of the Reformation. But as a Catholic of Vatican II, I find the remarks and insinuation about a lack of Faith and intelligence to stand for Christ, when it is we who have chosen to hear His call for change in His Church and follow Him, to be indicative of someone who has ears but does not hear, and eyes, but does not see. Simply mouthing Latin does not ensure a seat at the Lord’s banquet, nor does the Mass in the vernacular, with communion under both species, lay Eucharistic ministers, and women as lectors and altar girls as well as altar boys, Is not the highway to perdition. Vatican II is here to stay, grow up and get over it.

    • “As a Catholic of Vatican II”? How about as a Catholic of Holy Mother Church who has had nearly two dozen councils, some dogmatic and some pastoral in purpose. The meaning and purpose of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass didn’t change because of VII, and in fact a Mass offered ad orientem, 100% in Latin, with sung Propers, communion on tongue and kneeling is also the “Mass of VII”.

      Jay, of course the Second Vatican Council is “here to stay”, as is Vatican I and Trent before it. The “spirit of Vatican II”, however, is already dying…albeit it slowly in some quarters. The ongoing restoration of the sacred and ushering out of the profane is here to stay.

      • For many Catholics, and clergy, there is no reference to anything before VII. They think the church began with VII. And they are right in a way- some call it Nuchurch, Church of Nice, Catholic Lite, etc. Something drastically changed whether the letter or the spirit. Communion wasn’t supposed to be in the hand, the tabernacle was to be in a prominent and central place, we were supposed to keep the Latin except for the propers in vernacular, chant was supposed to be given pride of place, there was never any directive for the priest to say Mass versus populum. What happened?

      • Exactly – what happened? How did such an overturning of the Faith happen without any apparent authority? I’m a convert of four years ago, and it wouldn’t be worth the pain of conversion if I settled for the usual Novus Ordo type of Catholicism. It wouldn’t be a real conversion from the Christianity I believed before. Recent Catholic history is a huge puzzle to me. Why such a huge abandonment of graces and treasures and sanctity?

      • John, yes. You are putting your finger on the reason why I agree with Mother Angelica, the foundress of EWTN, when she said (May 16, 2001): “As for the Secret (of Fatima), well I happen to be one of those individuals who thinks we didn’t get the whole thing.”

    • It wasnt a seder meal. Seder meals are a fabricated ritual that were started after the destruction of the Temple in 70AD. Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover meal not a seder. Hence why there is no “Passover” lamb in a seder meal. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass follows the jewish Passover ceremony (which was highly ritualized, choreographed and elaborate as another commenter noted) not the seder meal. All of this was for the jews who celebrated it edification and to keep them heavenly minded and not the earthly minded.

  4. I belong to an Anglo-Catholic church and we have the Mass in both Latin and English, but the main parts are in Latin, things like the Collects are in English. The booklet has the Latin on one side and the English on the other. It’s very easy to follow along and I have learned a lot of Latin that way. The choir (professionals) always sing the Masses in Latin, and they are usually from the Renaissance or the Middle Ages. It’s quite beautiful and filled with magic and Mystery. I feel sorry for those who have never had this experience. I had the misfortune of going with a friend to a RCC where they were having a guitar Mass. No offense to anyone, but it was boring and sterile. And BTW, I *am* a baby boomer.

  5. Dominic Mercurio

    Don’t say that no one understood the Latin Mass. I have two St. Joseph Sunday Missal’s that are falling apart from use. We participated in the Mass with these Missal’s. We were not bumps on a log so to speak. When they took out the Latin Mass, I left the Church. GOD brought me back later which is another story. I love the Latin Mass. AMEN

    • Samuel P Ferraro

      Well said Dominic!

      • May I qualify my previous comment by saying that I occasionally attend Tridentine Mass at my parish, and love it. Armed with a Missal (I have several variations of Tridentine Missal) I follow and pray the Mass. Using a Missal also requires a greater congitive active participation than merely listening does, in English. The father’s of Vatican 2 surely would not have considered this kind of active participation.

  6. I took Latin in high school as well. I had attended one TLM when I was 12. Although I did not understand the words..it had a profound effect. I still study Latin today in order to understand more.

  7. In some ways, I think it’s because they only remember it as children. It’s a child’s memory, not one of an adult. I remember someone of that age telling me (in IRL) that they remember how relieved they were when the priest “finally turned around”, but the way she described it, it was like a child’s perspective. They never knew the fullness of what was – it was snatched out from under them right at the critical phase of their lives. No wonder they have such disdain for it!

    But I (born in the late 70’s) love the Latin Mass. I speak French, but not Latin, but I have no trouble following – and even if I did, the Mass isn’t about me but about God. Where their patrimony was snatched out from under them (the Boomers), mine wasn’t even on the table. I had to search for it.

  8. the Latin Mass was beautiful. I sang in the choir from the 3rd grade so what we sang was mostly in Latin. There was an awe about it and people were respectful.

    • I attended that Mass in the early 60’s (and still do) If someone really loves the faith they would make the effort to understand it. What a beautiful thing

  9. Actually in the days before the translation of the liturgy we were MOREcarefully instructed about the mass because it was in Latin
    Once it was in English it was assumed that people would understand without being taught.

    • That’s an interesting observation, Jem. I have a 1962 Missal which I use for EF Masses. All the Latin is translated, of course (that puts paid to spurious complaints that no-one understands the Latin), but also, it contains a wealth of explanations and additional devotional meditations in the margin. What a rich resource! As a late in life convert with so much to catch up with, I am so grateful for my wonderful Missal

  10. You will know them by their fruits. The faith of Catholics and the Curch has been sinking like the Titanic in both attendance, vocations, and practice since the changes. When will we realize that it isnt about what I want but what God wants t g at counts.

  11. I find the idea of these “memories” themselves questionable. I am 55 and I have no memory of the Pre-Vatican 2 mass. My brother who is 65 was in high school when it changed. So let’s say you have to be 75 to have developed adult memories of the mass. At various parishes etc. At 75 do you really think your memory is that accurate or are you parroting what you’ve heard and filling in the rest?

  12. Well I, for one, am a baby boomer who remembers the old Mass, and I didnt understand it, nor cod I see what the priest was doing. But then I was also a child who barely knew English, and probably couldn’t see over the pew ahead of me.

    This hardly denigrates that Mass. Many of hadn’t come of the age of adult faith.

    This is an instance of the victors still being around to write the history. And they didn’t liked Holy Mass or the Church it rode in on.

    Born in ’54.

    • I too was born in 1954, I had an understanding of TLM even before Vatican II. Used a missal and knew what was going on. I rejected the changes and Vatican II already by 1964.

  13. Margaret Philbin

    It is, unfortunately, common these days to hear…I happen to be a baby-boomer (70 yrs. old) and I so desperately miss Latin…I learned it as a child from the good Sisters and Priests and every missal used by the faithful had Latin on one side and English on the other, making it so simple to know what was going on…my newest pastor when he arrived to head our parrish, stopped our TLM with his reason being he did not speak Latin and he had no interest in learning…yet, he instituted a Spanish Mass…????…he is my age…SHAME ON HIM…where I live, on a remote peninsula, I have no choice but to either attend the NO Mass with all it’s silliness and noise and abominations or not meet my duty to attend Mass..some choice….

  14. I am a baby boomer and I hardly remember the Latin Mass but it was beautiful and I attend it now. Deo Gratias for Benedict XVI’s summorum pontificum. The Latin Mass is the only thing growing in the Church and some who like guitars and the like fear it.

  15. While you may be on to something, from what I can gather liturgical abuse before Vatican II was not so uncommon. There is a reason why the world’s bishops almost unanimously agreed on a reform, and voted that constitution first. Here is Alice Von Hildebrand:

    “The problem that ushered in the present crisis was not the traditional Mass. The problem was that priests who offered it had already lost the sense of the supernatural and the transcendent. They rushed through the prayers, they mumbled and didn’t enunciate them.” (http://tinyurl.com/AVHDNLM)

    The Extraordinary Form Mass we can attend today is likely markedly different from that which was common in many places before the council. For example, the people saying the responses was very far from universal, or having the readings in the vernacular, etc. People at TLM’s today are also much more liturgically educated than the average Catholic back then.

    • Thank you for your comment. I did touch upon your point in the article. We know that the heresy of Modernism was prevalent in seminaries and had infected much of the priesthood & episcopate by V2. Having said that, rushed Low Masses or infrequent High Masses in no way compare to the liturgical devastation of the last 50 years. And from many I’ve spoken to, they knew indeed what they had and what they had lost.

  16. Frank C Turner

    I was born in 1951. I served at mass from about 1961- 69 and had no difficulty following. The ‘nobody understands Latin’ line was part of the propaganda campaign to create the ‘new church’. Thanks for the article.
    PS I never saw a mantilla at mass until about 1983.

    • As I recall women always wore hats or silk scarves to Mass until Jackie Kennedy made veils popular. As was your experience, not everyone took her example, and just a few years later head coverings were jettisoned altogether anyway.

  17. Ecclesia semper reformanda

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