Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Seven myths regarding the Latin Mass

                          We should not expect our priests to entertain at Mass (or our altar  
                                             servers to do aeroplane impressions)

Having been brought up with the Latin Mass or Mass in the Extraordinary Form as we now call it, I find it more familiar and certainly easier to say than the English version.

The Latin rolls smoothly off the tongue while the English stammers and struggles to sound sensible and reverent.

The EF Mass attracts a great deal of adverse criticism and I regularly prune the comments box, lopping off those anonymous contributors who carp on about this or that concerning the 'Mass of all time'.

I have yet to read a comment that is sound or factual, most are in the realms of fantasy or ignorance.

So this is my attempt (for those born after 1980 or, who have not attended a real Latin Mass in the past forty or so years) to explode some of the myths bandied about by the liberal lobby.

1. "The priest gabbles the Latin"

 Have you ever travelled to France? Or Japan or Oman? Foreign languages, spoken as a first language are voluble and, to the novice listener, often sound unintelligible. They are not; it is just what we call fluency. The same applies to Latin, that's it.

2. "It's a dead language"

Not entirely sure what people mean when they say this.
Latin is at the root of many branches of the sciences and medics use it extensively.
It is also fundamental to many of the languages spoken in Europe including English, French, Spanish and Italian.
And, even if it is classified as 'dead', it is a truly wonderful thing to dedicate a language to the worship of Almighty God; a special language reserved solely for the purpose of giving praise to the Holy Trinity.

3. "We don't know what is being said"

What? I don't understand what you mean. If you look in any Latin missal you will see a vernacular translation alongside the Latin text - read it!

4. "I don't like the way the priest has his back to the congregation"

Let's make certain we know what is taking place here and why.
The priest is acting on our behalf, he is not asking us for forgiveness or for the chance of salvation or for any blessings; he is asking Almighty God for those things on our behalf.
He is acting as an intermediary, and, most vitally, the celebrant priest is the conduit that God uses to transform ordinary bread and wine into His own Body and Blood.
When you ask for anything it is common courtesy to face the person who will, hopefully, answer and fulfil your request; in this instance, Jesus Christ, present on the altar in the form of bread and wine.
If royalty was present you would not turn your back on them; what sort of leader looks backwards rather than forwards?

5. "But I don't speak Latin, the EF Mass is so elitist"

See point 3, the vernacular translation is there for you to follow.
In England and Wales in medieval times, even the peasant laity had a good grasp of Latin so there is nothing necessarily exclusive about it.

6. "Latin Masses are so quiet"

This is not a myth but I thought it worth including. If you have grown up with the dialogue Mass in the vernacular or, if you have not attended a Latin Mass for many years, there is a considerable shock element in the silence attached to the Extraordinary Form.
I view that as being rather like living in the centre of a busy city where noise is incessant and the roar of traffic is with you twenty fours hours a day. Take a break in the country and it will take you time to adjust and to appreciate that peace of mind that comes only when secular noises are excluded and fresh air inhaled.
The House of God should not be a place for noisy chatter and gossipping yet, in the Ordinary Form it so often is.
 The EF Mass allows you a number of options; you may follow in the Missal, you may follow at your own pace through personal prayer preferences or you may use the Mass as a backcloth to meditation - or you may do a combination of all three.

7.  "I find the Latin Mass thing to be old fashioned and out of date"

Fashion should not enter into the liturgical process; the fact is that the EF Mass evolved, after Christ's time on earth, providing the faithful with the most perfect means of us worshipping God and, at the same time, enabling us to fulfil His Son's request at the Last Supper.
In terms of format, that evolution had to stop at some stage; in terms of textual translation, there is a need to ensure that what is said at Mass remains intelligible.
We draw on tradition and ritual to link us back to when Christ walked the earth and to remind ourselves of our heritage - what Pope Emeritus Benedict called the hermeneutic of continuity.

And, if you wish to leave a comment please make it courteous and non anonymous.

Picture: Empower Lingua


  1. Latin as a language is perfect if you wish to attend Mass in a country where you don't speak the language well.

    1. Not necessarily - priests used to use very local pronunciations of Latin. But certainly after a little time, and with a missal.

    2. Latin is certainly preferential, and a consistent patter to the Mass, rather than the vast difference we have today, even between adjacent parishes. And yes, I am serious--my wife, being new to the Mass finds the differences incomprehensible, whereas I find them only jarring.

    3. I agree with Bruv.

      When I travel to a country where I don't speak the language - the Latin in a liturgy is what I understand and I can follow.

  2. 8th myth: The Latin Mass excludes the laity from active participation.
    Noooo. It just prevents unnecessary clutter on the sanctuary . . .

    1. I totally agree with everything you have said.I,too,was brought up on the latin mass and wish it was back big time!!push the altar back against the front of the church;bring back communion rails and the pulpit also.the priest should face the tabernacle ,as should we-we are facing god after all!one more thing let us hear good hard sermons from that pulpit please.not too much to ask eh!Philip Johnson...

    2. And please, please, please, let the use of EMHCs come to a merciful end.

  3. "Latin masses are so quiet?"Anglican services were quiter, in a lot of ways.
    In the fifties I can only remember one practically childless posh suburb where Sunday morning mass was absolutely pindrop quiet - one or two parishioners with cars- I think as well as fewer cars anyway, catholics went in for kids rather than cars, but nationally that may not be a statistic. , otherwise families, often quite large, and by todays standards suprisingly well behaved and quiet, but you only got absolute complete hush at the consecration.And then you got it! And you could pray before and after mass: families came in and went out quietly.At least , they tried to.
    And some children sometimes misbehaved or were loud.
    Any other old fogey with a stogey remember different?
    Ida thought thats something we might want of , ef, ambrosian, mozarabic, or ukranian.

  4. If you know of anyone who is thinking of attending a TLM, I cannot recommend enough that they receive preparation beforehand.

    Fr Andrew Southwell of the LMS says the same, it's not too different to a non Catholic attending a NO.

    But once you understand the Mass, and that doesn't even mean understanding the languaue, you're away.

    1. Preparation before, during, and even after. With those I've helped introduce towards that Mass (including the one I marry in a few months) its been said that is one of the biggest things. Having someone to talk about things going in, help guiding them along as it happens, and then, most importantly, being willing to do nothing but answer questions, for hours if need be.

      And also.... probably best to cut out the vinegar. When they first come from the Ordinary Form, it is probably best not to talk about your pet theory about how the New mass, the Mass they've always known and sanctified their souls with, is actually Protestant. This doesn't seem to be a problem outside of the internet though. :)

  5. Said with reverence, I prefer the ordinary form because I don't have to follow along with a book. I like Mass with no printed material at all: just my feet and knees, for standing and kneeling; my eyes for seeing and my ears for hearing. I don't care for the notion of "Let's read a Mass." I do like Latin chant on the regular parts (e.g. Agnus Dei, Credo). I have not been to an ordinary form Mass with the priest facing the same direction as the people, although I like the idea since it takes the (sometimes oversized) personality of the priest out of the Mass. In short, I think you can take the positive things about the old Mass and the positive things about the new one and blend them together.

    1. To most of those who have been with the Extraordinary Form for awhile, we don't need a book either. I can tell where the priest is at all times, just by looking at the positioning of his hands.

      The missals where people follow along are there as reference guides, just as every parish did them for the new liturgical translations.

      If people have been going to a Latin mass for 10 years, and still need a missal for every part, yeah, they are probably doing it wrong. Yet for the most part, anything that is a new experience will at first require a visual aid and guide.

      Most traditionalists I know who have been at that Mass for more than a couple years I'd wager only look at the latin for the propers. Those are mostly short, and even the prefaces you eventually realize that the beginning and the end is the same, so just look in the middle. :)

      Or even better, show up to mass 15 minutes early and read it beforehand, so you can focus on the altar!

    2. The Missal also serves to assist me in remaining focused at the OF, despite the endless noise, including that which results from lack of reverence in the pews, which is rarely, if ever, a problem at the EF.

    3. Actually, I don't use my Missal at the EFM. I read the Gospel ahead of time with my children, just like I did with them when we attended the Ordinary Form. At Mass I focus on HIM and HIM alone. Besides, I'm either holding a baby or a toddler making it hard to hold a missal, yet not impossible.

  6. I am all for latin and tradition but the other day I heard something that blew my mind. The bread and wine is consecrated seperately to signify the sacrifice f our Lord as the seperation of blood and body result in death. If the priest is in persona Christi, wouldn't Our Lord be facing us in the last supper? Can someone please enlighten me? Thank you.

    1. No.

      This part is heavily based on the Old Testament customs of sacrifice. In the Old Covenant, the high priest was the only one to enter the Holy of Holies, and he typically had chains or ropes on him. If he went in with serious sin, God would strike him dead, and the people would have to pull him out.

      This is sort of recreated here in the Mass. Only the priest is at the top of the altar, and the servers help elevate his garments. (Of course now since they are in persona Christi they aren't getting struck dead!)

      Yet when the sacrifice was offered, each sacrifice was consecrated in preparation, and then the holocaust was offered, and then the blood was seperated from the victim, as the shedding of blood caused remission of sins. After the sacrifice, the blood was then sprinkled upon the faithful present.

      So the priest consecrates the Body and the Blood, then offers the Sacred Species to God, and then the priest leaves the Holy of Holies (the altar) and applies the fruit of the sacrifice to the people.

      A lot of this information can be taken from the book of Hebrews. It's one of the reasons Luther and Calvin hated that book.

    2. my random observation today is\ a quote from our pope francis for easter for ALL roman catholics "BEING WITH JESUS DEMANDS THAT WE GO OUT FROM OURSELVES,AND FROM LIVING A TIRED AND HABITUAL FAITH" that message is for all of us dont you think?

  7. Anonymous 6:41, no, as Christ and the Apostles ate facing the same direction as was custom for all meals in the ancient world.

  8. "I don't like the way the priest has his back to the congregation"

    I hear that one quite a bit. By that logic, the person in the pew in front of you has his back to you as well. This is the design flaw of the NO Mass, it is far too man-centered, as if the Mass should be a form of entertainment and participation, ie a sporting event or concert.

  9. Are you in the LMS? Are you based in the "Dead See" Richard? You know, Cardiff,Wales? I moved here recently and TLM is not welcome- a liturgical desert. Despite a miserably signed petition to Archbishop (who ignores everything anyway) the TLM continues to be obstructed in this Diocese. A mass organised a fortnight ago was shunted at the last minute. At least the Canon did not lock everyone out the church this time and sabotage the rubrics. Progress! Good luck with persuading your local priests as they are all openly irrationally hostile with comments about not going back to lace and smoke. In homily just after Pope Francis was elected I heard one nice priest say here that the Church can now focus on real issues and forget those ones of the last two popes. Unbelievably shameful bias against anything traditional from the faith of our fathers. We have no chance in the medium term here for a TLM. But still the LMS must keep asking, organising and campaigning,as Summorum Pontificum allows and as Benedict XVI and Francis would really want us to.

  10. The combination of versus populum and the vernacular has tended to make the liturgy subjective, didactic and clerical. Say the NO in Latin and it immediately becomes objective - there is no point in the celebrant ad-libbing or interrupting the Mass with mini-homilies. Face the priest in the same direction as the people and you also lose the clericalism. Sing the Mass and the musical heritage, especially Gregorian chant, returns. It's still the NO, but having got this far, you might as well go the whole hog and use the EF.

    The liturgical movement didn't really have a problem with sung or solemn Mass - it was the perceived 'low Mass problem' which they believed needed addressing.

  11. Shame, this thread started off so well, then the silliness crept in 'protestant' 'campaigning' etc etc. This lack of respect of the Eucharist is what gives those of us with a devotion to the old rite a bad name.

  12. I think the confusion over whether the priest should face the congregation or whether he and they should face the same way lies in how people have been taught what the emphasis of Holy Mass actually is.
    In living memory it seems to have transmuted from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to celebration of the Lord's Supper. Lex Orandi, etc.

  13. Thank you all for your comments. Tony Flavin, I actually agree with your 5.24pm comment (faint). That is a very sound suggestion. Genty sums it up well and, of course, Eccles makes the key point in favour of Latin, the fact that it applies wherever you are in the world. God bless.
    And, NIPO, you have my sympathies, I am 2 hours further west than you and if you think that Cardiff is a desert......come to Pembrokeshire.

  14. Bene! Optimum est!

    A holy Triduum to all.

    - Mack in Texas

  15. I see thank you For the replies. That is why I ask. It makes sense now, davinci's last supper is a view from the altar towards the congregation, everyone facing the same way with Jesus leading just like in the TLM. The Holy Spirit must have a really good reason to inspire the church to allow a change to that!

  16. I came of age just at the institution of the Mass of Paul VI. I never attended a Latin Mass. However, I do like when our parish adds the Latin version of prayers or hymns into the mass. There is an inherent solemnity to the Latin which is tacitly acknowledged because it has been used during Lent expressly to heighten our appreciation for the season. But there is balanace- the ordinary mass *with* Latin in song and prayer.

  17. I would like to go to a Latin Mass. But really what do I need to know?

  18. Lena - you need to know nothing. Sit (don't kneel except when the bell rings) and absorb all that you see and hear. It may take a few TLMs before you feel fully at home. A Holy Easter to you.

  19. I converted 16yrs ago. The Irish NO priest that I had for the first 11 of those years gave a beautiful Mass and expected quiet and reverence. When he left the quiet and reverence left and the fullness of the NO came to my parish. As my parish was becoming increasingly protestant and was becoming increasingly frustrated I happened upon the local, new, TLM. I began attending during the weekday and on some Sundays. I can say that there were tears of Joy and tears from realizing that I was experiencing the Sacrifice and tears at the work of the Priest for us and the work of our Lord in His Sacrifice...tears just flowed. We changed parishes but not to the TLM as my cradle catholic husband has difficulty with change. The NO we changed to is also protestantized as evidenced by the lack of reverence, prayer, lay people all over the altar (area) and girls as servers. So now I attend both. This morning I attended the 7am TLM and the 11:45 NO. My daughter and I began receiving on the tongue at the old NO mass. We wear veils to the NO mass and about a year ago I began kneeling to receive at the NO. One priest became increasingly hesitant to administer the Blessed Sacrament and the day that I had to lean so far forward, on my knees, in a skirt, that my skirt caught onto the heel of my shoe that I almost had a wardrobe malfunction...I set an appt. with him and we had an hr. long talk. I told him of my pagan/satanic-like influences in my childhood and that once we realize what Jesus has done for us, why would we not kneel. He agreed to allow me to kneel. I know longer wear heals but flats until we get kneelers (the Lord Willing). I'm not getting any younger but I ask the Angels to assist me and I get up and down without a problem. I ask. Lord. How should I worship you? And here I am at TLM and kneeling at NO. How can I comfort and minister to the Lord?
    God Bless.

  20. I prefer the latin mass. It sounds better to me, even though the Pope is happy with the new translated versions