Suggestions for Those New to the Latin Mass


The following guest post was written by Father Eric Andersen, pastor of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Portland, Oregon. St. Stephen’s is a parish which offers both forms of the Roman Rite. 

Many Catholics do not know their liturgical heritage. Experiencing a Solemn Traditional Latin Mass for the first time can seem so unfamiliar. At first, one might feel disoriented. What is going on? How do I participate?

If you are new to the Latin Mass, my recommendation to you is not to worry about how to participate. Put down the booklet all together. Watch and listen in the silence and let your prayer arise. Have no expectations. Let yourself be surprised. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide. Treat this time like a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Realize that during this Holy Hour, something magnificent is happening: Jesus Christ, the High Priest, is offering the Holy Sacrifice.

As you observe in silence, get the big picture first. You know more than you think. You already know the basic structure of the Mass: Procession, Incensing of altar, Kyrie, Gloria, Opening Prayer, readings, Sermon, Credo, Offertory, more incense, Preface, Sanctus, Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I in silence), Pater Noster (Our Father), Agnus Dei, Communion, Ablutions (purifying the vessels), Closing Prayer, Blessing, Recession.

There are some other moments you might not be so familiar with, such as the Sprinkling Rite, the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar and the Last Gospel (The Prologue of St. John). Observe them. Take it all in and get the big picture. Don’t worry about what to say or do. Just follow the directives to sit, stand, or kneel as they are given. If you know the chants and responses, sing along. Otherwise, don’t worry about it at this point.

After one or two Masses participating in this way, then pick up and read through the missalette before the Mass starts. Look at the basic structure of the Mass so you know ahead of time what your road map will be. Once you know where you are going, an appropriate way to participate is to pray the Mass like the Divine Office, silently praying the words in English, while the priest prays them quietly in Latin.

If I could not hear anything, I would still know exactly where the priest was in the Mass by watching it. Whereas, if I were to attend the modern Roman Rite of the Mass, without hearing anything, I would need a translator using sign language, or pointing to the right place in the booklet, to tell me what was happening at any moment in the Mass. Why is that?

The reason is that the modern Roman Rite relies upon the spoken word. On the other hand, the Traditional Roman Rite communicates on various non-linguistic levels, relying heavily on ceremony to communicate what is happening. The spoken words are veiled behind a sacred language, and also veiled in silence because the Canon is prayed in a whisper. Fr. James W. Jackson, FSSP writes:

“The chants of the Sanctus are followed by profound silence, the first time in the Mass for silence of this depth––silence from the priest and silence from the faithful. This calls to mind not only the high priest of old going into the Holy of Holies alone, but also that the carrying of the Cross has come to an end, and Christ is now nailed to it.…The silence of the whole congregation––even if there are priests in attendance or if a bishop is attending––humbles us, as it is symbolic of the fact that none of the apostles or disciples raised their voices in defense of Christ at any time during His Passion” (Nothing Superfluous, p. 200).

Go see for yourself, and let the Traditional Latin Mass surprise you.

Posted on April 16, 2018, in liturgy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Thank you. As a relative newcomer to the EF I think this is excellent advice – better to work down from the big picture to the details than vice versa.
    At my first few attendances I tried desperately and unsuccessfully to keep up in the big missal. Far better to place yourself in the hands of the priest and contemplate the miracle of what is taking place.

  2. What amazes me is the altar boys. Everywhere I go (TLM), there is always an abundant number of them. Everywhere!!!!

    In world (Western Civ) where men at the subject of a massive abuse campaign, this is one of the few male “sanctuary cities” left. And it’s what will eventually save the Catholic Church from the ’68ers.

  3. Franklin P. Uroda

    In high school, Latin was one of my subjects. It helped me immensely later with studying theology and the Holy Sacrifice. My advice is to get a Latin grammar that is Roman Catholic specific-yes, there is at least one-and study it and the vocabulary that is in each chapter. I made the Latin of the Holy Sacrifice MINE, and didn’t have to read the English of the missalette.

  4. Dear ones at Liturgy Guy,

    I would like to know where I can find an explanation of the Mass (in the Latin form)

    For instance why and where these things came from e.g. Procession, incensing, Kyrie etc

    Why is the Opening prayer of the Mass after the Gloria?

    Is there more than one Eucharistic prayer which I find very confusing in the Novus Ordo because we are never told which one we are using.

    Should there be a greeting from the Priest when he comes on to the altar and read from notes people have given him about who we are offering Mass for that day.

    Should there be a “farewell” after Mass from the Priest and should he carry the sacred vessels back to the Sanctuary after Mass or is it okay for the alter server to do so.

    I do notice that we have two credence tables – one beside the altar and the other against the wall.

    The one against the wall holds the sacred vessels and the other beside the altar the cruets and wash bowl.

    I was taught as a youngster that the sacred vessels are just that and should only be handles by the priest.

    The veil which covers the chalice, pal etc is usually just thrown on a chair beside the table which I think is an awful practice for many reasons such as a chair used for sitting on.

    I would also like to know why the chalice is covered and should be carried by the Priest to the altar and should he be the one to unveil it. Where should it be in the first part of the Mass.

    I am finding the Novus Order very shabby and quite frankly at times dare I say Protestant in the way it is presented as a “banquet”

    I find it makes my heart beat harder in my chest when that word is used as I have always considered the Mass to be the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary in an unbloody manner.

    These are the whys and wherefore’s I would like cleared up for myself.

    We have not Latin Mass where I live but if I was reeducated about these very important parts of the Mass I feel as if I could just come my eyes and be in the Latin Mass following the parts in my heart as they should be followed.

    I make reparation and ask God that the Cardinals and Holy Father see that the Novus Ordo has confused many people and numbers are decreasing because they can go to any denominational church and get the happy folk songs and a good homily by a minister.

    How I pray that one day hopefully in my time we will see the beautiful Mass in our churches once again.

    I hope you can point me in the right direction for a reeducation of the beauty I once knew.

    God Bless you all Elaina Lewis (Sydney Australia)

  5. Father Andersen’s advice is the same as mine, when advising others on attending an Eastern Rite Liturgy or a TLM or An Anglican Use Mass. All Rites are Equal. They all go in the same order. it is what they do in between that is different. Somethings are so different.
    Example is the various Byzantine Rites…. Touching the right shoulder first when making the sign of the cross…. deep bows with the right hand almost touching the floor… Procession of the Gospel along with the bread and wine to be consecrated…. Pouring of warm water into the Chalice after the consecration…. Asking your name as Holy Communion is given… communion by intinction or if the Sacred Species are mixed, via a small spoon with a long handle….. and so on….

  6. @Russ Lewis: Treasure and Tradition: The Ultimate Guide to the Latin Mass
    Lisa Bergman

  7. Rus Lewis: On YouTube there are videos meant for priests who want to learn the TLM> I found them very instructive. They will not answer all your questions, but you will learn a lot.

  8. @ Russ Lewis call the FSSP priests at this website They are in Sydney. If they are not close by to you they may know somewhere that is. You will also be able to ask them all your questions 🙂

    God bless!

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