In May 2008 I attended my first Traditional Latin Mass. It was simple, humble and yet profoundly beautiful.
The Holy Sacrifice was offered by a priest with no deacon or sub-deacon. There was only one server assisting. The altar had only two candles adorning it. As this was a Low Mass, the church was filled with the sound of sacred silence.
The Little Red Booklet
First, let me take a step back. In July 2007 Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum which clearly stated that it was permissable “to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Bl. John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Liturgy of the Church.” In the months that followed several priests of my diocese were sent to receive training in offering the old Mass. My pastor, the Very Reverend Timothy Reid, was one of them.
By May of 2008 both pastor and parish were finally ready for the return of the Traditional Latin Mass to Charlotte, North Carolina. In the months leading up I had ordered several copies of that famous “little red booklet” distributed by the Coalition Ecclesia Dei. I had also read excerpts from The Holy Mass by Dom Prosper Gueranger as well as portions of The Latin Mass Explained by Msgr. George Moorman, all in an effort to better understand this ancient liturgy of the Church.
Truth be told, however, reading books and watching You Tube clips about the Mass can only do so much. Ultimately it is only through our presence and participation at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that we can begin to appreciate this great mystery.
At that very first Latin Mass there were three things that immediately caught my attention.
Since this was a Low Mass, beginning with the prayers at the foot of the altar and continuing until the gospel, everyone knelt. This change in posture from what I had always experienced at the Novus Ordo was extremely powerful. Kneeling to receive the final blessing at the conclusion of the Mass also seemed to better communicate the dignity and sacredness of both the priestly office, as well as the blessing itself.
With regards to kneeling within the Mass, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in Spirit of the Liturgy:
It may well be that kneeling is alien to modern culture — insofar as it is a culture, for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the one before whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary gesture. The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core.
Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ Himself.
The next thing that caught my attention was the silence. Blessed silence. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before at Mass. The silence was broken at times by the most amazing and transcendent sound: a priest quietly offering prayers in Latin at the altar, Ad Orientem.
Since most of us present had never been to a Latin Mass before, the silence was occasionally disturbed by the sound of pages quickly turning in those little red booklets as many felt obligated to follow every word. However, just as many were content to simply participate through their own prayers and attentiveness.
This was the first time at Mass that I had ever received the Holy Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling. This moment, more than any other from that first Latin Mass, stands out in my memory. As Father administered Holy Communion to each of us he made the sign of the cross with the consecrated host and said, “Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen.” (which means “May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto life everlasting. Amen”).
Receiving in such a manner was a thorough catechesis in itself regarding our Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in his excellent work Dominus Est -It is the Lord!, provides spiritual understanding and pastoral clarity to what I had experienced at that moment:
The moment of Holy Communion, inasmuch as it is the encounter of the faithful with the Divine Person of the Redeemer, demands by its very nature typically sacred gestures such as prostration to the ground. (p. 49)
His Excellency continues:
Allowing oneself to be fed like a baby by receiving Communion directly into the mouth ritually expresses in a better way the character of receptivity and of being a child before Christ Who feeds us and nourishes us spiritually. (p. 50)
The Mass Speaks to Our Entire Person
It has been over five years since that first Traditional Latin Mass. During these intervening years I have continued to grow in my love and appreciation for the liturgy in large part due to my exposure to the Latin Mass. This form of the Roman rite is a sacred treasure of the Church which must be shared.
For his part, Father Timothy Reid regularly encourages people to attend a Latin Mass, especially those who have never done so before.
I know a lot of people feel too intimidated to come because the Mass is in Latin, and they worry they won’t be able to understand. For this reason, we have worship aids that have both the Latin and English translations to make it easy to follow along.
But I would also note that the Mass speaks to our entire person. Even if our brains do not understand every word being said at the Mass, our souls do! (Catholic News Herald. 13 August 2012)
Please feel free to share what your experience was like at your first Traditional Latin Mass.
Ad majorem Dei gloriam!