Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Let's stamp on this lie now!

It is just not true but it is well on the way to becoming embedded in the Catholic pysche, so much so that a traditionalist priests actually related it to me quite recently and I was duty bound to correct him.

What is the lie?
               The Latin Mass took 6.8 seconds this morning!

That pre Vatican 2, when all was Latin and not a stain of the vernacular in sight, priests babbled through the Mass.

What? You mean they gabbled and babbled and rushed through the Latin at a helter skelter pace so that Holy Mass in its Tridentine Latin form was completed, quite regularly in 6.8 seconds!


Well, it would be amazing it it was true but it ain't (lapse into a bit of Americanese just to show what a worldly chap I am).

So, it is not true; I am sure that there were some priests who gabbled on occasions, like when they had an urgent sick call to make immediately after Mass but as a general rule...no.

How do I know?  Well...I was there and, what is more, I served at multiple Masses offered by a very cosmopolitan variety of priests...an explanation.

We lived less than one hundred yards from the parish church of St Michael's and  St Martin's, in Hounslow, what is now one end of the main London Heathrow Runway.

Because of our proximity to a) the church and b) the airport (then Hounslow Aerodrome) it was encumbent on me to serve many weekday Masses before school and these were, in the main, celebrated by priests who were arriving or exiting Britain and using the parish as a staging post.

So, at a rough estimate, I must have, in a period of ten years, served at something like 1500 plus Masses.
Not a bad poll figure on which to make a claim.

Now what are the reasons for this high speed Latin Mass myth?

I have a hunch that many people, who are not overly familiar with Latin, fail to comprehend it when it is spoken at a normal talking speed. A little like practising one's French before the holiday and yet, when you step off the plane   the locals seem to be speaking in sentences where the words have all become merged into one.

In pre Vatican 2 Britain, all priests spoke Latin as if it were their mother tongue - and why not?

I also seem to recall that there were very specific time limits set by Canon Law, outside of which, a celebrant would have been guilty of fault; for a Low Mass I believe there was a twenty minute minimum...for High Mass....I cannot remember.

As a young altar server I am afraid to say that I would have welcomed a twenty minute Mass with open arms but they did not often come my way.

Instead, I would be treated to a moderate, reverent and clear 40 minute delivery of the holy texts and, who knows, some of the graces received from those 1500 Masses may have stuck with me in later life.

So please, unless you are as old as Methuselah and can challenge me on this point, let's hear no more of it. And when you hear a priest, nun or parish commissar state this lie...correct them, gently and charitably.


  1. I remember low masses on Sundays which were around 35 minutes. The priest did not babble. He simply did not have to raise his voice to the level required in the Ordinary Form today- except for the sermon. There was no time wasted with the kinds of delay we get today as someone goes up to read, as the Offertory procession takes place or as the celebrant sits down after Communion. Perhaps the main difference in terms of time is that resulting from the celebrant's continual stopping and starting and that is before we get onto the notion of "progressive solemnity" and the introduction of hymns.

  2. Weekday lunch-time Low Mass at Farm Street 30 years ago took about 25 minutes and was clearly audible and reverent.

    And you had time for lunch afterwards before going back to work.


  3. I served the Latin Mass in the late Forties and early Fifties and like so many of my age, I can still remember most of the server's prayers even if I cannot remember too much of anything else these days.

    When I came back to the Church in 2008 after a 40-year hiatus, I was deeply disappointed by the Novus Ordo. The Sign of Peace with folks waving to each other still rankles me.

    But as long as the words of Consecration are valid, I can put up with all the Peter Paul and Mary music.

  4. Richard.
    Once again an excellent post,of which I can identify with your statement also! I often had to serve three Masses a day on weekdays in Jarrow! These were often Requiem Masses, which I thought was great at the time; as this got me out of attending school for most of the morning! Often there were two or three Masses to serve on a Saturday and Sunday; particularly the Saturday, which were mainly Nuptial Masses where I always got a tip too! Then there were the various RSB and Novenas etc; I tell you I should have had board and lodgings in the presbytery: you have got me to put my nostalgia hat on. I attest all was done reverently!


  5. Michael, many thanks as always. I recall the Requiems well as, in those days, there was no refrigeration and the bodies were obviously a week or so old before they found their way into church the night before the RM. The odour of decay will stay with me for all my waking days!
    God bless.

    Donal - you have more charity than me.

    Thanks Patricius.

    And Christopher, it was badly phrased by me. I meant to imply that the Mass could be said perfectly reverently and without babbling in any time period beyond 20 minutes. God bless.

  6. Richard,
    Aye I remember the smell well! However, after saying that here in Jarrow we were rather fortunate as during the average week there was: High Mass on a Sunday, Children’s Benediction in the afternoon, RSB on the Sunday evening! During the week there was RSB on Thursdays, Novena and Benediction on Fridays! Then during the Months of May and October every evening there was also RSB. Also the various May Processions and during June there was the Blessed Sacrament Processions for the First Holy Communicants and the Men’s Confraternities and then not forgetting the famous Missions that used to last for three weeks! The incense covered the smells a bit like when there was smoking in pubs and public places, the smoke covered a multitude of smells!