TLM… the “easier” Mass?

I have sometimes observed that the newer form of Mass is rather like the sort of food more appropriate to children, while the older form of Mass is the "grown up Mass".  

While I don’t intend that this be a polemic, as reasonable people will immediately understand, Inevitably this brings comments cordial and vituperative, concordant and dissenting.

I received this from a reader:

You might appreciate this.

My oldest daughter is 20 years old.  She is a college junior and a devout and orthodox Catholic.

The TLM was (emphasis on the tense) not available in the dioceses we lived in while she grew up.  They are available now, and in her university.  I’ve been gently nagging her to start going, but got a lot of resistance.

She finally went to her first one a few weeks ago. I asked her how it was. She replied "It was an easy Mass. I didn’t have to do anything."  I was a little concerned so I asked what she meant.

She explained: "In the Novus Ordo Mass there’s so much going on it’s always hard work to focus on the Mass and not get distracted. With the TLM, it was easy to focus on God and the sacrifice being offered in front of me. Maybe it’s because I could understand the Latin, but it was a lot easier. No distractions."

I hadn’t heard that argument before: the TLM is easier.  Most people argue the other way around (and I think I even remember one of your blog postings referring to the NO as Mass "light".)

Perhaps we might say that it is easier for grown ups to eat grown up food, rather than pureed goo perfect for babies.  Grown ups can survive on the nourishment intended for the young, but they do not thrive.  When the proper diet is matched to the person, better things happen.

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  1. RANCHER says:

    Bingo–she nailed it!

  2. Fr. A says:

    The daughter is exactly correct. As a pastor who celebrates both forms of the Roman rite, I think this is why children seem to be more attentive at the Tridentine Mass.

  3. Kradcliffe says:

    I agree that it’s easier. I think it’s hard when you approach it with the attitude of needing to participate the way you do with the NO… my first experience with it was one where people prayed along the responses (a “dialog” Mass). That was stressful and I spent the whole time flipping back and forth, trying to figure out what was going on. Now, I follow along if I want to and when it’s obvious where we are in the Mass. But, if I don’t have a missal, I don’t worry about it. I just close my eyes and pray. When the bells ring or whatever, I know what is going on and I just make extemporaneous prayers from my heart to be united with what’s going on at the altar. It’s really very liberating.

  4. Pete says:

    An excellent observation and one my own children have made with adolescent clarity. My kids (8, 6, 4, & 2 years respectively) pay better attention at the EF, my son (6) will “play Mass” for days after attending the EF (but not the OF), and they are often distracted by what others are doing at the OF.

    Even youngsters derive great benefit from grown-up food though they may not appreciate the delicate tastes and textures of the meal.

    May more and more of our young (and old) rediscover the Catholic heritages which has been hidden from us.


  5. I know of many Novus Ordo Masses where I was so … “busy” … “participating” that by the end of Mass I realized I had never really focused on God or intimately prayed to Him.
    That’s why I am thankful for any time of silence in a Novus Ordo. (And thankfully some priests and parishes do have quiet reverent Novus Ordo Masses, but it’s unfortunate that it seems like there are so few that do that).

    I agree with the ability to be able to focus more during a TLM Mass, although sometimes it takes me a bit of spiritual discipline to do so, but at least the opportunity is more consistantly there.

  6. Ingrid says:

    Can understand completely what she says, it’s my experience too, one of the reasons (or perhaps the most important) why I am starting to love the TLM :)

  7. chironomo says:

    Given that it seems that most of the people “out in the pews” participate only begrudgingly (don’t try to tell me that they are super enthusiastic at YOUR parish… been there), wouldn’t the TLM be a more desirable option for most Catholics today? The constant cajoling to “participate” wears thin after a while and people become more annoyed than enlightened in the NO. In the average NO parish, the people in the pews act as though they are at a Mass in Latin anyway! They come in… sit and stare at the priest for an hour… go to communion and leave. I am currently evaluating the “participation” at our liturgies for the purpose of proposing some changes in line with the reform… the results so far seem to show that people sense when they are partisipating “superfluously” (singing goofy songs) and when they are actually supposed to be involved (Gloria…Holy Holy…Lamb of God)… the differences are striking. Getting off track… the TLM is much better suited to the way most people sense that worship should be.

  8. Papabile says:

    I know I can get my 5, 4, and 2 year old to focus on Mass much more easily at the EF. It’s about the same for the 10 month old though. :-)

  9. Lindsay says:

    It is also my experience that my children are well behaved and attentive during the TLM–although, this is also true at the more reverent OFs we attend, too.

    I think the analogy of food is a good one, but given the experiences of those of us with children, I would take it a step further. I tend to not give my babies much in the way of “pureed goo” when learning to eat. I usually serve them the easiest versions of what the rest of us are eating at a given meal, peas for instance. In the same way, I think we underestimate “children” in their ability to “digest” things such as the TLM.

    My children are much less picky eaters than many of their peers. Perhaps genetics plays a role, but I think it is also exposure to a variety of tastes and textures. Many times, children will only eat chicken nuggets out of habit. I think rather than the analogy being that of “young” needing pureed goo, perhaps it is more akin to the acquired taste of better foods versus those of the more processed variety. Yk, Babette’s feast versus McDonalds.

  10. ASD says:

    That is exactly what I think. To my mind, it’s like this:

    1. I think it’s uncontroversial to say that altar servers, who have to focus on cues & responses, can’t enter into the prayers of Mass as much as other people.
    2. But, what “active participation” in NO/OF Mass means is: We’re all like altar servers.
    3. So it’s unsurprising that in EF, where we don’t all have to be altar servers, we can concentrate better.

  11. Cory says:

    I think this article raises a fairly obvious point, one that I find rather interesting. We really have to rethink what “active participation” entails, and I think the best way to do that would be along the lines of what Plato says justice consists in after defining it in the Republic: Doing what one ought to do according to one’s place in society. In the society of the Church, the priest has something to do, the altar boys have something to do, and the people have something to do. When we break down those much-needed distinctions, then we end up with injustice being done to the Sacred Liturgy and to the life of the Church as a whole.

  12. Lirioroja says:

    I’m guess I’m the lone dissenter here re: ability to concentrate. I do like the
    EF very much; however I find it’s more difficult to concentrate than in the OF.
    I believe it’s a personal quirk – my mind is always wandering. So in a sense I
    bring my own distractions wherever I go. The constant responses in the OF force
    me to bring my mind back where it ought to be. When I go to the EF, I must have
    a missal to read along with; otherwise I’ll just sit there with my mind wandering
    everywhere and I’ll not have prayed at all. The funny thing is that this doesn’t
    happen when I go to Divine Liturgy. There I find I’m prayerfully focused for the
    most part from beginning to end. Perhaps it’s the (to me) exoticism of the East
    that makes me pay more attention. All I know is that in the Latin Rite I need
    the prayers and responses in front of me to help me pray. I’d say that says more
    about me than it does about either the EF or the OF.

  13. Rob F. says:

    Hi Father,

    I don’t intend this to be a polemic either, but I remember thinking your milk vs. steak analogy did not quite capture my experience.

    Kradcliffe, I’m affraid I disagree with you too, insofar as I think “participatio actuosa” is much easier in the older form than the newer. I find the best way to take a “lively share” is to follow the mass in my missal. This is much easier to do in the older form than in the newer.

    My EF missale is small, has large type, and is bilingual, that is, the entire mass is printed twice. My OF missal is heavy and thick, and is printed in small type, and this despite most of it being monolingual.

    When I pray the newer form, I never know in advance which of the nine Eucharistic prayers, or dozens of prefaces, I’ll be praying. If the mass is a weekday memorial, I’m never able to figure out which of the dozens of options from the commons we might use, seemingly at the whim of the celebrant. It is quite simply impossible to follow.

    When I pray the older form, I know exactly what is being prayed, all the time, and I can pray it too, rather than just listen to it. (And the fact that I can’t just *listen* to much of it actually helps!)

    In short, more options make more complexity, and greater complexity makes active participation more difficult in the newer form.

    Chironomo, is it any wonder that most people in the newer form “come in… sit and stare at the priest for an hour… go to communion and leave”? What else can they do? They can’t follow in their missal, and it’s too noisy to pray a rosary.

    I just pick an appropriate option out of my missal and pray that, even though much of the time it is not what is being prayed by the celebrant. The fact that the text is in front of my eyes helps me block out the noise in my ears. I do NOT consider this to be an ideal form of “participatio actuosa”, but the alternative seems to be to spend an hour staring at the priest, which is not ideal either.

  14. MJS says:

    And it’s simply much easier to anticipate and follow the progression of the TLM — just turning back and forth between the propers and the ordinary — than trying to keep up with all the options allowed in the NO. Try going to a Latin NO sometime if you really want to be challenged.

  15. MJS says:

    Sorry to repeat some of your sentiments, Rob F. You must have posted your note while I was composing mine.

  16. Rob F. says:

    Not at all MJS. It’s good to know that I’m not alone.

    I know that many of the changes made were done to encourage participatio actuosa, and many of them do. But the complexity of the rite undermines all the other changes, IMHO.

  17. Tom says:

    Father, your opening observation is spot on, and reverses the common canard: supposedly the new form was reflective of a supposedly “grown up” and mature Catholicism. I remember growing up that this was a common refrain, and that the old rite was said to be a relic of a simpler faith for a more block-headed laity. The new liturgy was more suited, so they said, for the new era of smarter, more mature Catholics.

    And of course, events have spoken for themselves concerning the alleged mature faith of contemporary Catholics.

  18. AnneMarie says:

    My 8 year old niece attended an OF after attending the EF for about 3 weeks in a row. After Mass, she was crying (real tears) to her mother in the parking lot. “Mama, I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand what was going on up there. It was moving too fast. When can we go back to the Latin Mass?”

    8 years old.

    My one year old was much better behaved at the EF than at the OF when we first started going. She now no longer remembers the OF and I am so grateful for that. Most of my gratitude stems from how fortunate we are to have access to the Gregorian Rite.

    Deo Gratias.

  19. She has it right, there are two different approaches as far as OF and EF goes. I think the EF is much easier to participate in simply because more silence allows us to better contemplate on God and Calvary being made ananmnesis in front of us. In the OF you’re so busy responding to every little thing the time for contemplation isn’t there…(which is why I REALLY appreciate when I go to the OF Mass when the Offertory prayers are said sotto voce by the priest)

  20. dominic1962 says:

    I would take issue with the comment on altar serving. Actually, according to one instruction booklet on serving the TLM, the server is participating as much or more than anyone simply because they are serving. This would not be a ploy for “activist” participation, but rather along the lines of the different things expected of someone according to their state in life. Since the altar boy’s duty is to serve the Mass, that is the best participation he can enter into according to his role. When he’s out in the nave, then other forms of participation would be appropriate.

    As to my own participation, I do find the EF easier to actually participate in and find myself more distracted during the OF, even a well celebrated one. One thing that struck my right away was the fact that you don’t have any liturgy police (well, OK, sometimes you do but not very often and the priest will usually say something about it) at the EF barking at you to turn to page such and such and sing such and such banal and uninspired ditty or to sit, stand, etc. It seems the external participation at the EF (for both choir and nave) is much more organic-i.e. there is no strict enforcement of what to do and when to do it unless in a more formal choir situation with enough clerics to make it worthwhile to observe choir rules.

  21. meg says:

    We switched to the TLM a little more than a year ago, when my kids were 11, 9 and 5. They never missed a beat and now prefer it to the point that if we have to go to an OF Mass (the EF is a 45 minute drive, and occasionally untenable), it’s whining: “Oh, mom, do we have to?”

    A good moment was when my now 12 year old was receiving communion at the OF and I heard the priest say, annoyed, “Aren’t you going say ‘Amen’?”

    The EF has changed our lives, it’s so beautiful.

    Off subject – do we have to go to the nearby OF if we can’t get to the EF due to weather,etc? Or is a spiritual communion a better option? My friends have different opinions and I would appreciate some advice.

  22. TomW says:

    I’ve said it before, but my girls, ages 8 and 6 are mesmerized at the EF and it’s always a challenge at the OF to keep them from fidgeting and distraction. Clearly the EF allows me to focus on and worship God, as opposed to the continuous chatter that is the OF.

  23. Having a quiet time to focus is something totally lacking in society today. With all the noise, how can we hear God? At 20, the young lady learned the value of quieter prayer, probably for the first time.

  24. Pedro says:

    Yeah! I have been discovering the same thing!

    When I serve in Traditional Mass I certainly find myself more distracted with all the answers and movements and requirements. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to serve at the altar of the Lord, next to the priest; but it’s just more conductive to distraction.

    But down in the pews is different. In the silence of the EF Mass you can actually pray. I have started to apply some of that in OF Masses too… just kneeling, hearing, praying in silence. It has been very good so far. Being silent helps me be more “into the Mass”, in prayerful adoration. I certainly hope more Catholics could be able to discover what a powerful and prayerful experience is attending the Traditional Mass.

    Things are certainly looking good in the future :)

  25. Michael says:

    What many of the revisionists failed to consider is that there is a very good reason why Liturigical acts are repetitive – in fact the whole Liturgical calendar is repetitive year to year (it always has been from ancient times, including pre-Rabbinical priestly Judaism). The reason is that we learn through repetition, we internalize through repetition, we start responding to Communal prayer only after we have repeated the response enough for it to become ours. If the Communal prayers of the priest (those which require Congregational response) change from day to day without standard, we have no internalization of the Prayer we state with our lips. Would any of us have learned the Our Father or Hail Mary if we had heard it differently each and every time? If we had learned the exceptions to the rules of grammar, before learning basic grammar and the alphabet, would we have ever learned English?

    I am an Eastern Catholic and I normally pray the Malankara Syriac Liturgy, but I also find richness in many of the Roman Liturgical Rites, including the Pauline, the Gregorian, the Ambrosian, and the Mozarabic. The Pauline Liturgy is not inherently bad – the Latin version is exceptional when prayed exceptionally. The problem is that a liturgically bad priest makes it bad, the same holds true for the Gregorian form.

    I spoke to a few anti-Gregorian Rite older (mainly 60’s era) religious prior to the Pope’s letter, they kept mentioning the abuses of the older form. These including priests speedily praying Requiem Masses within 15 minutes and other such Liturgical abuses. While I’m sure this has occurred, the same issue holds true today with the Pauline Rite – I work in a Catholic facility, where daily Mass (Latin Rite) is available. One day I was 2 minutes late and the Gospel was already being read, the whole Mass was over in 15 minutes. What’s needed (and Pope Benedict is implementing) is a re-education of the clergy, who will in turn re-educate the laity. Of course, Father No-It-All won’t allow himself to learn or inform his laity because he is above being educated, but thankfully many of his kind are on the way out.

  26. Megan says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the daughter’s sentiments. I often find myself unable to pray well (if at all) during the NO Mass, simply because the congregation is distracting. A lot of Masses I have been to consist of the priest putting on a show for his congregation, speaking to us rather than to God. At the EF, all the focus is on God Himself, and it is more conducive to prayer, silent meditation, worship, and adoration. In the EF Mass, the priest speaks to God, the servers participate in the liturgy firsthand, and the congregation lifts their souls and minds directly to God. Thanks for the post, Fr. Z. And let us pray fervently for what Michael mentions – re-education of clergy and laity!!

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