By Ariel Hobbs, The Catholic University of America
Why attend a Mass people appreciated hundreds of years ago? After all, it’s part of history and has no place in modern forms of worshipping. Why worship with boring, tedious Gregorian chant when you can belt out some crazy cool praise and worship tunes? Such questions are often asked by the growing divide in Catholic youth between those who embrace modern forms of worship and traditionalists. I’d like to shed some light on the historical importance, relevance and personal significance to me of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. (N.B. The Mass in the Extraordinary Form will be referred to casually in this article as the Latin Mass by the author).
Let’s ask ourselves an important question. What matters more: the way we want to worship God or the way that God wants to be worshipped? From the beginning of time, God dictated how he wanted to be worshipped by us. When Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God, God told the brothers which offering was pleasing to him and thus brought forth favor upon that brother. After the Exodus from Egypt when Moses was leading the Israelites in the desert, God frowned upon their worship of the golden calf and gave them the Ten Commandments. At the Last Supper, Christ said, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” not “Do this in whatever way most suits your personal worship needs!”
When the Second Vatican Council made revisions to the rubrics of the liturgy, they attempted to make the liturgy more accessible and appealing to the people. With this, we lost many traditions that brought a sense of beauty and reverence to the Mass. For example, in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the priest faces ad orientem (to the altar), instead of versus populum (to the people). When the priest faces the people while saying the Mass, he ends up turning his back on the tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament, compared to when he faced the altar and continuously had his full attention on God, whose worship is the very purpose of the liturgy, not the people at it. Why should God’s minister who stands in persona Christi turn his back on God himself during the liturgy? It is details like these that make the Latin Mass so beautiful and sublime with its reverent and deep tradition.
Latin is the language of the Church. Just as Aramaic was the language used for sacred texts in Christ’s time, while Hebrew was used in the vernacular, Latin is the language for the sacred in the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, it emphasizes the divine nature of the liturgy when it is used. It is also a language of power, as seen in exorcisms when it proves to be far more effective than English or other vernacular languages. For the Roman rite, Latin brought more unity to how the Mass was said around the world. It is an interesting perspective to ponder for the universal church, although cultural differences in worship help create a more passionate and personal relationship with God for many. Latin has had the effect of bringing the faithful into a sacred and prayerful mindset for millennia and as the language of the Church, I very much so believe that it should have an important place in the liturgy of the Church.
Personally, my spiritual life was transformed by attending the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. I was struck by the reverence and awe for the Blessed Sacrament I witnessed during the liturgy. Through this reverence and awe, I was drawn into contemplation of the Eucharist and felt compelled to pray more deeply. It really inspired me in a beautiful way to know that I was experiencing my God within the context of Holy Mass in the same way as my favorite saints hundreds of years before me.
Admittedly, if you don’t have experience with Latin or other rites of the Catholic Church, attending the Latin Mass can be very confusing for the first time. The first time one attends it I would advise just immersing yourself in prayer and focusing on the experience of the Mass itself. Perhaps, the second time, start to learn responses and focus more on the details. Yet, withhold your judgement until the third time you have attended the Latin Mass, for it is then that you have attended enough times to truly appreciate the beauty of its tradition and graces.
If you are opposed to the Latin Mass in any way, I challenge you: ask yourself why this is and perhaps attend one yourself if you haven’t already. Experience the liturgy the way the vast majority of the saints did during their lifetimes and allow your soul to rejoice in the beauty and reverence given to God during the liturgy. Most of all, I encourage you to pray with all your heart and worship God always in the most reverent way you can.