Rediscovering the Riches of the Latin Mass
The following guest post was written by Conor Dugan. Conor is a husband, father, attorney, and parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan. This article originally appeared at the diocesan website and is reprinted here with his permission.
Silence. That was the first thing I noticed about the traditional Latin Mass, more formally known as the Extraordinary Form. Frankly, it was disconcerting. Attending a Mass that has long stretches of silence and requires quiet reflection was a jarring experience. I was born in 1978, well after the liturgical reforms of the 1960s and ’70s. The new rite, or Ordinary Form, is the Mass that has nourished me, taught me. It is the Mass that I still attend the majority of the time.
Yet in recent years, my faith has been deepened by attending the Latin Mass on a more regular basis. The silence, while uncomfortable at first, has given me space to listen for God’s still, quiet voice. I find this carrying over into my workdays. I’ll often shut the door for five minutes of quiet time with the Lord. As the father of four rambunctious kids and a lawyer in a busy practice, these times of reflection are needed!
In 2007, Pope Benedict issued an apostolic letter allowing greater celebration of the Extraordinary Form. I reflect frequently on his words: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” (Summorum Pontificum)
What are these riches that can benefit us all? This is what I have found.
First, there is the deep sense of sacrifice and reverence built into the Extraordinary Form – from the incense to the common orientation of the priest and people toward the altar. Many of the priest’s prayers are whispered or inaudible, which veils them in mystery. The Latin language adds to this mystery. At first, this foreign tongue was also a bit off-putting, but over time I’ve come to appreciate its beauty and cadence. And, paradoxically, not knowing the language reminds me that the liturgy is not my work, but God’s among us.
The prayers are pregnant with meaning and convey the weight of what occurs at Mass, the eternal sacrifice at Calvary re-presented in a humble church. This heightened sense of mystery and majesty carries over when I return to the Ordinary Form. I have a deeper sense of Christ’s presence in the Mass in both its forms.
Second, the connection to our Church’s rich heritage of art and music. In attending the Latin Mass, I am united with my grandparents and great-grandparents who worshiped in this manner week in and week out. My forebears in Germany, Quebec and Ireland celebrated this Mass. Further, the Extraordinary Form is the repository of the organic development of art, music and custom in the Western Church. For instance, one is exposed to the Church’s great treasury of chant, something the Second Vatican Council sought to give primacy to in the Mass. This chant is so unlike the everyday music on my iPhone that it reminds me of the special nature of what we are doing in the liturgy. It takes me out of my everyday routine.
Third, the rich diversity of the Church. Far from being a one-size-fits-all crowd, the Latin Mass has exposed me to the incredible breadth of the Church. On a given Sunday, I can look up and see a retired federal judge, a young father who works a blue-collar job, a tattooed man with long hair, a Latino family and a young artist. There are people of every race and age. There are elderly who need assistance walking and babies who babble. Seeing this diversity allows me to see the universality of the Church.
Fourth, the silence. My days are filled with audible noise and the “noise” of devices – tweets, texts and status updates. There are few places where I can find refuge, few places where I are not overwhelmed by busyness and clamor. The Extraordinary Form is just such a refuge. Silence is built into the liturgy. The silence allows God the space to speak to us.
Ultimately, this form of the Mass has increased my desire to share Christ with the world. I invite you to attend the Extraordinary Form sometime. Come, experience one of the great treasures of our Church.
Photo credit: Markus Kuncoro