A young person’s first Mass in the Extraordinary Form

On the site of the Archdiocese of Miami a young woman recounts her first experience of Holy Mass in the Roman Rite’s Usus Antiquior.  Here is part of it with my usual treatment:

Praying in the language of the saints
Blanca Morales

Sheer curiosity is what led me to first attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form. I had heard of the terms Missa Cantata, High Mass, Tridentine Rite or Traditional Latin Mass, but didn’t know they all referred to the same thing: Mass as celebrated in the time-honored tradition of centuries past.

I knew very little about the Traditional Latin Mass, which had fallen into disuse after the Second Vatican Council. I also didn’t know that in 2007, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI made it easier for priests to celebrate the Latin Mass in his motu propio Summorum Pontificum. [I find that fascinating.  She didn't know because the mainstream Catholic media and clergy have stuff the news under a rock.]

[...]

Looking to explore something new and different, I entered the quaint Spanish-revival church, the Mission of Sts. Francis and Clare, with preconceived notions of Latin Mass that had been given to me by the media. [Lemme guess... only bitter old people who can't shake their nostalgia go to that.]

Great was my surprise when a great majority of attendees were people of my own generation. Indeed, Pope Benedict noted the demand for greater use of the 1962 missal was not just made by those who grew up with it, but by younger generations who felt an attraction to it and found in it a “a form of encounter with the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist which suited them particularly well.”

The moment Mass began, I was swept into this very mystery in more ways than one. [Telling!]

Being completely unacquainted with this form of the Mass, I stumbled through the Missal, trying to follow in Latin and translating in English. I began to grow a bit frustrated. I knew the new rite like the back of my hand, and now I felt like many a convert must feel when attending their first Mass: confused.In a time and age when we like to have control of our surroundings, I didn’t like the feeling of not knowing what to do. I was unused to surrendering, but that was exactly what I needed to do.

I closed the Missal and put it aside. I decided to just experience the Mass. That’s when it all changed.

As I listened to prayers chanted in Latin, saw trails of incense floating in the air, and observed the priest offer up the Mass, I realized, this is exactly how centuries of Catholics celebrated Mass. Suddenly, I felt transported outside the constraints of time and space. [THIS, dear reader, is where true, full, conscious and active participation begins.]

I always knew we Catholics are united in the Eucharist, but now, at Latin Mass, the term “universal church” carried a fuller, deeper meaning.

At a Mass like this one, St. Therese of Lisieux or Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati recited the same Credo, prayed the same Pater Noster, responded with the same “et cum spiritu tuo.” Now, more than ever, I felt united with the communion of saints: I was praying in the same language they prayed in. They no longer seemed so distant.

As I continued to enjoy the mystery of it all, no greater sense of surrender came than at the time of Communion. In Latin Mass, it is tradition to kneel for Communion and receive the host on the tongue.

I was in a bit of a panic. I had only been taught to receive Communion by hand. And here, there was no option for reception of Communion. I couldn’t have things “my way” as if Mass were a fast-food joint.

As I made my way down the center aisle toward the altar, I felt as jittery as a bride on her wedding night, receiving her groom for the first time. And that’s exactly what was happening: I was receiving the Bridegroom in a way I had not experienced. [Great image.]

At that moment, I stopped thinking and let my focus be on Him alone. I refused to worry about my surroundings, or whether I knew what I was doing. “Let go and let God,” was on my mind and I did the only thing I could do: submit.

And I did. It was not the awkward situation I thought it would be, and the feeling of surrender from that first experience was so liberating that I find that this is how I now prefer to receive communion.

I returned to Latin Mass in the weeks that followed, being attracted to the indescribable beauty of tradition, sacred music, and reverence.

Slowly but surely I am learning the prayers and responses, my Latin vocabulary increasing with each new visit. I am learning deeper truths about the celebration of the Lamb’s Supper. I also now know why the priest in my Children’s Missal was “facing the wrong way,” as I had observed as a child.

I cannot say whether or not I will become a traditionalist Catholic; I am in no way foregoing the novus ordo which has brought Mass to the nations in the language they know. I can say, however, that attending Latin Mass is a bit like finding a hidden treasure box and discovering all the beauty that lies within. It is in every way extraordinary.

Kudos to Blanca Morales!

And kudos to the Archdiocese of Miami for having this on their site!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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15 Responses to A young person’s first Mass in the Extraordinary Form

  1. Salvelinus says:

    I felt the exact same way…. Now I have to put up with older Catholic friends who are saying I’m “abandoning the Church for older things” – Which is strange, considering the New Mass seems that it should be the exception, instead of the rule, forcing my 1-hour drive every Sunday for a late afternoon Mass, in a different parish.

  2. janeway529 says:

    Definitely NOT my experience! I first decided to drag my parents with me to a TLM on the Feast of the Sacred Heart some years ago by the Norbertines at a local parish out of curiosity. The whole time I kept trying to figure out where in the side-by-side translation of the program and at what part of the Mass we were. I asked my parents and they couldn’t help me and just told me to follow what everyone else was doing and to “pay attention”. I found myself trying to pray devotional prayers to pass the time, a mere spectator, and somewhat sleepy. Thankfully, my knowledge of the Mass from the Ordinary Form helped me understand the need for the Ordinary Form, and my Mom later revealed to me a similar experience growing up. It took her brother in the seminary to explain things to her because there were no lay catechists in those days and priests and nuns in those days expected memorization, not understanding.

  3. benedetta says:

    I am immensely grateful for Summorum Pontificium, and that the usus antiquior is offered just minutes away from where I live. I think the ancient rite is incredibly beautiful and has positively contributed to spiritual growth in my life. At the same time, I think we should be prepared as Catholics to worship in all the ways that Holy Mother Church provides. So I have not completely abandoned my parish which does not offer the TLM, or abandoned the novus ordo altogether, or the greater Catholic community where I live for that matter. Riding the bike, as Fr. Z. advises, and continuing to support my fellow Catholics, and contributing works of mercy for the building up of the saints.

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    “there were no lay catechists in those days”

    In her parish, quite possibly. But there’ve been lay catechists all over the world in Catholic parishes since forever, and they didn’t stop doing it in our parents’ day. You can spend a good long time going through the annals of martyrdom, picking out lay catechists by the dozen.

    Sometimes we forget that “the old days” had just as many differences from parish to parish as we do today.

    “and priests and nuns in those days expected memorization, not understanding.”

    Again, there were plenty of parishes where priests, nuns, and teachers were almost overly explanatory — I’ve heard people complain about how it was all so academic and there was no mystery, because every possible topic was given a huge explanation and dissertation, even if you were a little kid. So presumably, there were also parishes that got the balance “just right.”

  5. dommattos says:

    This is exactly how I felt at my first TLM on a trip from the UK to visit my friend who is the rector of the Oratory of SS Gregory and Augustine in St Louis (an old rite parish set up by HE Cardinal Burke). Communion on the tongue and Mass Ad Orientem are the most interesting changes I’ve experienced in my personal understanding and devotion, and having made a real effort to get over the discomfort of receiving on the tongue (standing it can be a nightmare if Fr’s the wrong height) I now really can’t face receiving any other way… Indeed over the last few years I’ve consistently come to the conclusion that that the two most damaging things we have seen creep into our liturgical ‘norms’ are mass versus populum and communion in the hand. These both change our outward message of who we are and what we believe. The outward message is what gets understood by children, or those less intellectually engaged, or – heaven forfend – non-catholics. It’s part of a whole raft of a strange intellectual snobbery that can go with the common-or-garden Tabletista mentality; ‘we know – or assume – we believe this, so we don’t need to show it, and won’t, and we sneer at those who do or want to’. The problem is that what we do becomes what we believe, and what we do is what teaches others (and ourselves) what we believe. It’s also a bit mean. Our poor priest was nearly lynched for dressing Our Lady up for the Assumption – but the children LOVED it, and so did some of the rest of us, and I don’t really understand why those who didn’t couldn’t just get over it. But, I digress… I can honestly say that my understanding and faith has deepened immeasurably through attending the Old Mass, and through simply submitting to it as the post above states. In the Old Mass is our whole faith pretty much and it’s easy to find. In the New Mass it’s often much harder to find what we actually are meant to believe, and the messages can often be conflicting (particularly when ‘liturgical directors’ are involved), so it can either be a stark intellectual exercise, or simply impossible for some people, to come to a catholic understanding of what’s happening. In my heart of hearts I believe this is why many fall away from the faith, and why many who return, or who re-engage with their faith, do so through the Old Mass… particularly the young. I’m 29 now, so probably not young anymore. But I came to the Old Mass in my early 20s and it made everything make sense. When that happened I was left with three overwhelming feelings, joy (for obvious reasons), gratitude (much of it to BXVI, and for obvious reasons), confusion – that I’d had to wait so long before having the opportunity to experience it. I suppose I could have summarised all the above with Fr Z’s ‘save the liturgy save the world’ or even just with ‘Lex Orandi Lex Credendi’… but I felt moved to share.

  6. AA Cunningham says:

    [I find that fascinating. She didn't know because the mainstream Catholic media and clergy have stuff the news under a rock.] (emphasis added)

    Many pastors and their Bishops simply refuse to implement Summorum Pontificum, without comment.

    Art. 5, §1 In parishes where a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition stably exists, the parish priest should willingly accede to their requests to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 Roman Missal. He should ensure that the good of these members of the faithful is harmonized with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the governance of the bishop in accordance with Canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church.

    Can. 392 §1 Since the Bishop must defend the unity of the universal Church, he is bound to foster the discipline which is common to the whole Church, and so press for the observance of all ecclesiastical laws.

    §2 He is to ensure that abuses do not creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially concerning the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and the cult of the saints, and the administration of goods.

  7. APX says:

    In all fairness, I’ve found that many traditionalists who regularly attend the EF don’t know about Summorum Pontificum. I just assumed they all knew because they talk about how much this and that is being done wrong by priests, bishops, etc and they seem to know about everything else.

  8. maryh says:

    I went to my first TLM mass since I was a child for the Feast of the Assumption. It was then that I discovered that the Mass I remembered must have been one of the earlier post-Vatican Masses that stayed reasonably close to what Vatican II actually called for.

    The people chanted the propers in English (we had three types of accent marks to show where to go up, down, or stay the same in a phrase). We said the Our Father, in English I think. We received communion on the tongue while kneeling at the altar rail, and the priest faced the tabernacle, not the people. And the Eucharistic prayer was done silently, in Latin. I remember that, because I used to read the English as fast as I could, but the priest always finished his silent Latin faster than I could read my silent English.

    At this Mass, the big difference was that there were almost no responses from the congregation at all. I have been learning prayers in Latin, and I was all ready to say the Pater Noster, but that isn’t said by the congregation in the TLM (it wasn’t a Missa Cantata, in case that was why).

    I’ve gone to an OF Mass a couple of times where I can kneel to receive on the tongue, so that wasn’t a big difference, although it was very welcome. Even at the OF Mass at my own parish, I am one of a small but increasing number of people who receive communion on the tongue, but I have to stand. I can’t get all the way down to my knees and up again easily and without holding up the line.

    I wasn’t transported like the examples I’ve heard. I think I would need to get more “into the spirit of it”, whereas I just spent most of the time confused. Also, I think it would make a big difference if there were more music – a Missa Cantata? The place where the Mass was held wasn’t as ugly as some new Church arrangements, but it still was very distracting, so the silence mainly left my eyes to wander, and they rarely rested on anything actually conducive to prayer.

    There was one thing that was very different though. When I used to receive Communion in the hand, I always knew it was the Real Presence, but it was just head knowledge.

    When I started receiving on the tongue while standing, I began to realize that this was really Jesus, and began to feel that it was disrespectful to touch Him with unconsecrated hands. I also began to get the urge to kneel when receiving. If it wasn’t appropriate to kneel to receive our Lord, when else could it possibly be more appropriate? So when I had a chance to kneel, it just felt right.

    But when I went up to Communion at the TLM, after the silent Eucharistic prayer and the Latin, for the first time it really hit me (I’d already known this before, but it really hit me) that I was unworthy to receive Him. And I examined my conscience, worried that I might actually be committing sacrilege. Again, I’ve always known those things, and that it is very important to be in a state of grace, and I know what that means. But for the first time, it was serious. And that attitude does carry over, for me, into the OF, at least for the time being.

    Every parish ought to have at least one Sunday Mass regularly celebrated in the EF. It really ought to be available. I’ll probably always be attached to the OF, but we need the EF.

  9. Lepidus says:

    maryh – I really like your suggesting about every parish having one EF Mass per week. I would make one little tweak to that suggestion by adding “randomly assigned”. This way everybody gets to experience it.

  10. maryh says:

    @Lepidus
    If by randomly assigned, you mean a regular schedule that doesn’t stick the TLM as always at 5:30am on Sunday morning, then I could agree with you. But I think completely random would be bad – I don’t think it’s good to surprise people with this. Some people who might take some time to get used to the Mass may never give it a second try if they’re the kind of people who hate surprises.

    I really think the main thing we need to do is to work towards making it easily available, and they will come. We’ll never get more than a small percentage of people who are willing to dedicate themselves to finding a TLM mass, but if it’s just there, I don’t think most people (under a certain age, at least) would object to it. And a lot would try it out simply out of curiosity, I think.

  11. Transportsjoie says:

    I appreciated this article very much, and have had similar experiences attending the EF – finally this was the “full and active participation” that felt right and natural to me. I was much older than this young lady when I experienced it, though, I was a convert at age 50 from Anglicanism (in Canada) after growing up (in Wisconsin) as a staunch Wisconsin Synod Lutheran who secretly was drawn to Catholicism.

    I have now been a Catholic for just over 10 years, and I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me – I always was grateful for becoming Catholic, loved receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion and loved the Magesterium, but having been an organist and choir director at a high Anglican church, I couldn’t seem to make the switch playing for the Novus Ordo Mass. I was forced to go to diocesan music and liturgy workshops where we were taught how to encourage people to sing some re-worked Protestant hymns, watered down Catholic hymns, or worse so they would be fully participating at Mass. There was so much activity and busyness – announcing hymn numbers and Psalm refrains and singing countless verses – it was hard to find a moment’s peace. I couldn’t articulate it, but something was missing, not to mention the very casual attitude so many seemed to have while attending Mass.

    Attending the EF, I found what was missing – silence, awe, mystery and beauty.
    I have learned a great deal from this blog in a short time, and it has been wonderful to have so many perceptions articulated and validated that I have been struggling with. Many thanks!

  12. PA mom says:

    Took all of the kids for the Assumption. Only had to take someone to the bathroom once this time so I was able to see much more. I had to stand in the back after that, which gave me the chance to watch my older children. So attentive, they LOVED the homily, which mentioned appearance s of Our Lady, and miracles. The times of silence are wonderful, though I missed hearing the words of consecration, which I find very moving. I swear that the constant activity and sounds makes them misbehave more. Maybe kids really WERE better behaved then…
    Including the original languages of the Church and the Bible gives such weight of history. Again, I am glad some of the Mass is in English, but it is so foolish to have NONE of it in the old language.
    There was no music. I thought I had read it to say it was sung, promised the kids music for our long trek, but was wrong. That’s ok, maybe I need to “get” this part better first.

  13. PA mom says:

    Constant activity and sounds of the New Mass makes them misbehave more… That is.

  14. Alaina says:

    This article is something that should be read to children when they are preparing to receive their First Holy Communion. Both the TLM and Novus Ordo should both be explained, and this article would be a wonderful introduction to the TLM. There is not the option to attend a TLM at our parish. No one has ever mentioned it, as far as I know, except for myself, and the reply I received was the sound of crickets. It would still be nice to see the Novus Ordo celebrated properly, especially when it comes to receiving the Eucharist.

    On the Feast of the Assumption, my oldest son wanted to sit a little closer to the alter than we normally do. I usually try to sit in locations where I can exit with my younger two children to the bathroom without disturbing anyone else. Surprisingly, my younger two behaved better sitting closer. There seems to be more of an effort lately (at a snails pace) to bring traditional aspects to our Novus Ordo. I almost fell off the pew when the Ave Maria was sung in chant form. When it came time to receive the Eucharist, the usual large number of Eucharistic Ministers approached the alter. I won’t get into the full extent of my opinion on this matter for the sake of getting to the point. We left our pew and my oldest was in front of me. An EM was waiting for us at the front of the line. I know my mind should be on receiving Our Lord, but the usual “darn!” entered my mind. Then Father walked over and stood next to the EM to form a second line, I guess because our line was rather long. No one would get out of line to receive from Father. Another thought of mine “What?!” My son just received the Eucharist for the first time this past May, so I know he still has anxiety about doing something wrong. I put my hands on his shoulders and began to steer him to Father. He looked at me with wide eyes and I whispered in his ear, “Put your hands together and only receive the Eucharist in your mouth.” When we got in the car there were more questions than usual from all three of my children. My oldest asked if he “did OK” receiving Communion. I told him he did it just as it was meant to be. He then said that he really enjoyed Mass this time.

    Catholic mainstream has shoved quite a bit under a rock. It’s to the degree where everything that makes the Mass extraordinary must be subdued or made “approachable”. It has gotten to the point where parishioners are hesitant to receive the Eucharist from a priest. We owe it to our children to expose them to the true forms of the Mass so that they can feel joy and choose to submit.

  15. irishromancatholic says:

    I found this Catholic internet radio station to have allot of good content about the Extraodinary Form http://www.m-a-r-yradio.com/ . They also post news about the Holy Father and the Vatican from time to time.