A TLM first impression

The old adage is: You only have once chance at a first impression.

I am always interested to read about first impressions from participating at Holy Mass celebrated with the 1962 Missale Romanum.

This is from a reader.  Edited and with my emphases and comments.  For the whole piece go here.

I am one of your blog readers, and I attended my first Mass in the Extraordinary Form this morning, after considering it for some time.
It was such an awesome experience!  I wrote a blog post about it here.

Below is the text of the post, if you’d like to read it that way.

Mainly, I just want to let you know what an inspiration you and your blog have been to me!  I rejoined the Church less than 4 years ago, and have had lots of learning and catching up to do.  I was never even really aware of the EF until I started reading your blog and a few others.  I really appreciate it.  It is our right as Catholics to be able to know and experience our patrimony, [precisely] and thank God that we have people like you to help expose us to it!

Thank you for all that you do.  I love WDTPRS!

God be with you; you are in my prayers every day, with all of our priests!

Heather Barrett


My first encounter with the Extraordinary Form

Well, it’s just after 9 AM–the time when I might just be getting out of bed on any other Saturday–and I’ve just returned from my first Mass in the Extraordinary Form (EF)!  My parish offers it every morning, Monday-Saturday; or rather, an FSSP priest offers it at my parish.  I figured the familiar surroundings would make me less nervous about going, and that the daily Mass might be simpler to start out with.

And now for my impressions…

Well, it was very different from the Ordinary Form (OF), and I felt a little clumsy and a little lost at times.  That didn’t trouble me, because it was only to be expected, right?  Maybe I could have taken more time to prepare myself a little better beforehand, but I didn’t want to start coming up with excuses not to go!  I felt like this was something I really needed to do.  And as with all the "threshold-crossing" moments of my life, the devil was already giving me enough grief about it, trying to discourage me and distract me–I wasn’t going to give in!

No matter how clumsy and lost I might have felt, I did not feel like an outsider.  Reading some other people’s accounts of attending Mass in the EF, I’ve gotten the impression that they have felt sort of like outside observers, like aliens in a foreign land.  I think that is wont to happen if one regards the EF as something foreign or alien. [good]  I regard it as part of my own culture and civilization, part of my patrimony, my inheritance, my treasure. [right!]  This is the kind of Mass my family and ancestors knew.  Like many things handed down from previous generations, it may seem new and different, maybe strange or hard to understand in ways, but it’s still mine.  It’s part of me and I’m part of it.

More than anything I was fascinated and full of wonder! [The point of worship is to experience awe at transcendence.]  I don’t know if I will ever let another Saturday go by without attending morning Mass in the EF.  I feel drawn to it now. [mysterium tremendum et facscinans]  I want to leave behind my clumsiness and disorientation.  I want to know and understand it better.  And I want to participate and enter into it even more fully.

I’m baffled at how some people have said that they don’t get to participate in the EF.  If anything, I think it demands much more focused and alert participation than the OF. [Precisely!  Anyone can do stuff.  It takes real focus to participate with active receptivity.]  The priest prayed most of the prayers silently, and I was reading them to myself.  Reading is a different process than listening, a different encounter with the words and, in this case, the prayers.  I consider it a more active process. [!]  While I read along, I was carefully listening for cues like bells ringing and the priest’s uttering aloud the opening words of certain of the prayers.  I also glanced up to watch for gestures like bows or genuflections or what part of the altar he was standing at.

The overall effect that this process had on me was a dual one:

On one hand, through the act of reading, I felt like the prayers were more my own and that I was playing a more personal, individual, and active part in the MassIn the OF, it’s easy to sort of shut down and slip into a more passive watching and listening to the priest, as if he’s the one who actually "performs" the worship, especially the Eucharistic Prayer, and we’re just the "audience." [This is counter-intuitive for many people, but it is profoundly true.  This is expecially the case when the ordinary form is celebrated versus populum instead of ad orientem.]  I suppose that’s possible with any Mass, but by reading the prayers myself, I felt more unified with the priest, more like I was acting with him and imitating him.  He read the prayers, I read the prayers.

But this morning’s Mass really emphasized that for me.  I saw the priest and his role in a different way.  And I realized what a blessing the priest is–what a leader, an advocate, and intercessor we have in him.  And I realized how much I needed and wanted him there for me.  As he prayed before the Crucifix, I sensed that he was carrying my prayers and those of everybody else on his shoulders.

I’ve never been to a Mass celebrated ad orientem before, so I’d never really thought about that before.  …

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. John Enright says:

    This is someone who really gets is. Great post.

  2. Dr. Eric says:

    We are hoping to attend a High Mass at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in St. Louis after my son makes his First Communion (Sunday Catechism Classes will be over.)

  3. Father, thank you for sharing my post, and for your comments. Thanks to Mr. Enright also. I am happy and relieved that I “got it.” :) I truly look forward to learning and experiencing more of the EF. It’s quite exciting!

  4. Fr. WTC says:

    First impressions thank God need not be lasting impressions. I first ran into the TLM in 1983 at a Mass that was celebrated at the Warwick Hotel in NYC. I was still a teen at the time and found the whole thing (a very low Mass) off-putting. Nevertheless something pulled me back, and I returned to a second Mass a year or so later. That Mass was celebrated by the St. Gregory Society in New Haven CT. It was a High Mass, the music was as always with the society first class. I was hooked and remain hooked to this day.

  5. John Enright says:

    Heather: You’re welcome. I thought it was great!

  6. Mitchell says:

    The writer seemed to capture in words my first experience as well, however an added thought when I left was “Well although a bit disoriented at times, I have to learn this. It feels like a Catholic Mass from antiquity in the modern day” “All of us belong here, if not always, then frequently”. Nothing seemed out of place or dated to me..It just felt like how it is supposed to be without questioning what was going on up at the altar. I felt confident that there was little to no abuse. Not at all to question a by the book, reverant NO Mass, but I have not been so fortunate to have attended one. In the bitter end the UA seems to protect the integrity of the Mass and limit the abuse potential to a minimum. Something inside just spoke to me and said if you are going to go to Mass learn this one. Participate and pay attention. In the NO Masses it is just too easy for the mind to wander off, I do not know if that can be fixed without ridding it of the vernacular. Reading is something that commands attention more than listening. If in Latin, and not fluent in the language or the prayers, you must read along in the missal..Doing so will devote 90 to 100 % of your time in attentive (active) mode. Listening, even if good at it I think captures about 60% at best in vernacular service. Any thoughts on this or anyone experience the same thing?

  7. wmeyer says:

    I was raised with the Latin Mass (yes, I’m that old) though I was never baptized. Now I am a catechumen, and am whiling away the months as my case and my wife’s case are considered by the Tribunal for annulment. Meanwhile, I attend weekly Mass in my parish, and dismissal with other catechumens and candidates. The parish, indeed the entire Archdiocese of Atlanta, is most deeply committed to the N.O., to my dismay, and my parish is indeed very liberal. Today I was sad to see that the catechist felt it appropriate to hold up our new president as an example; sad in that (despite his firm stand on abortions-on-demand) I am sure many parishioners voted for him, and may even have consoled themselves by viewing his stance on capital punishment more important.

    At any event, I find myself drawn ever more strongly to drive the 35 miles to the one and only parish in the archdiocese which offers the Latin Mass. Ironically, given today’s readings and the discussion of outcasts, I feel very much an outcast in my own parish.

    In the midst of dismissal, I found myself thinking that I really must not continue to support, or appear to support, the views of catechists which are at odds with the Catechism of the Church. I’ve been an outcast for much of my life, and for many different reasons. It has never troubled me overmuch, as it always resulted from my taking a stand which my conscience compelled me to take.

    This post was wonderful to read. As John Enright said, this person does truly get it.

    I pray that eventually, so will all our bishops.

  8. wmeyer says:

    As an aside to my previous post, I note that the good Bishop of Saginaw, whose letter on abortion vs. capitol punishment prior to the election was so very well expressed, seems to be off the air. The web site of the Diocese of Saginaw appears to be down. I hope this is only a transient aberration.

  9. Joanne says:

    “Not at all to question a by the book, reverant NO Mass, but I have not been so fortunate to have attended one.”

    LOL at this! Mitchell, I like your post, although I have to say it does not resonate 100% with me. I am blessed to know many priests who offer the OF in a reverent and beautiful way.

    I assist in the daily Latin Low Mass at a parish near me (work schedule permitting), which I really like. The Sunday EF, on the other hand, for a variety of reasons, just hasn’t had the same kind of “pull” on me, which is why I typically assist in the OF on weekends (often offered by the same priest who offers the EF). It’s an individual thing as to whether or not one slips into passivity at the OF, or has a “lesser” experience at it. Every validly offered Mass is a re-presentation of Calvary, is it not?

    That said, Heather, if you are still reading, thank you for sharing your experience, and your enthusiasm! This was a great post, and thought-provoking thread.

  10. Timothy Mulligan says:

    My first impression of the traditional Latin Mass was a “choral Mass.” It was a Solemn High Mass with classical music. I forget the composer. It involved violins, brass instruments, etc. I do not favor this style of music with the traditional Latin Mass, and it detracted from my first experience. To me, the classical music seems very worldly — almost like a “liturgical abuse on the right.” One acquaintance of mine agreed, saying that it is like attending a recital.

    However, when I later attended High Mass with Gregorian chant only, and then Low Mass, I experienced the transcendent nature of the Extraordinary Form and was very deeply moved. Now I try to attend the EF exclusively. But I have decided to avoid “choral Masses” because it feels like a leveling is happening. My soul truly objects. It’s not just a matter of disliking classical music (which I think is fine).

  11. Athelstane says:

    We are hoping to attend a High Mass at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in St. Louis after my son makes his First Communion (Sunday Catechism Classes will be over.)

    You won’t be disappointed, I think.

  12. Hugh says:

    “I figured the familiar surroundings would make me less nervous about going”.

    Heather has touched here on a very important issue, which Card. Hoyos underlined last year when he said the EF should be celebrated in every parish.

    I think many more people will attend and eventually embrace the EF when it is offered regularly in their local parishes. There are all sorts of reasons – practical, and, as Heather intimates, “psychological” (for want of a better word), that impede a significant number of the curious or desirous from travelling across town or country to get to their nearest EF.

    One such reason: People are instinctively hobbity. Tolkein was right. They would prefer to be at home, in their locality with their family and neighbours. That’s where they want to worship. And rightly so. This is a healthy attribute, albeit sometimes it work against our greater good – eg when we are called by God to leave our family and our father’s house and settle in a distant country.

    When Benedict liberated the EF, I think he intended it to be practically, psychologically available for normal hobbit-like Catholics, not just for the heroic rangers and Gandalfs among us for whom zipping across the landscape is a snack, with no young children or ageing grandparents to worry about.

    As much as the work of the FSSP, etc is essential at this early stage, they cannot shed a veil of suspicion harboured by the local hobbits. Only when the parish priests embed the EF within the normal mass timetable will “normal” Catholics overcome their nervousness about attending the EF and come to see its possibilities.

  13. Martin says:

    I agree with the idea that the New Mass is a ‘junior’ version of the ‘adult’ EF Mass. Increasingly, I feel like I’m being treated like a kid in the New Mass, expected to bleat back responses like children in the classroom, with precious little opportunity to actually pray the Mass. I find myself more and more irritated by the as-standard liturgical abuses, the chatter in the church, and the deprivation of my experience of the Mass of the Ages which is my right as a Catholic and instead having to ‘make do’ with the New Mass, which I’ve rarely, if ever, seen done completely properly.

  14. ssoldie says:

    And again what was it that Fr. Faber declared “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven”.

  15. Maureen says:

    Interesting. Maybe some of the trouble I have with the Low Mass is that I’m a such a fast reader. Since most of the Mass prayers are so familiar anyway and my eyes flicked through them so quickly, and since the places I’ve been to Low Mass I’ve been sitting so far back I needed binoculars and couldn’t tell what the priest was up to unless it involved moving his entire body, all I had left to keep my attention (that wasn’t there at an OF Mass, like mental prayer or meditating with aid of the decor) was to mentally translate what Latin I could hear. And I couldn’t hear much, since I was sitting so far back I needed binoculars. :) I guess next time I get to go to a Low Mass, I really will have to sit right down front, even though that is against my grain.

    I like silence fine, but a Missa Cantata is a lot more layered with meaning and naturalness, for me. Also, you can tell where you are without binoculars. But it takes all kinds of Masses to make a world. :)

  16. LeonG says:

    Heather, thank you for your observations: “I saw the priest and his role in a different way. And I realized what a blessing the priest is–what a leader, an advocate, and intercessor we have in him. And I realized how much I needed and wanted him there for me. As he prayed before the Crucifix, I sensed that he was carrying my prayers and those of everybody else on his shoulders.”

    There is the essential understanding of the priest – indeed we really do need him and the sacrifice he performs on our behalf each day. Without him we would have almost no sacramental life at all. I have always been deeply impressed by St Pio of Pietrelcina’s observation for the lay, even without Missal, to go The Holy Mass as Our Blessed Lady and St John accompanied Her Son at the foot of The Cross. Heather has understood this too, in her own manner. We are at Calvary accompanying Him. How truly miraculous it is. We really are at the gates to Heaven: one cross away.

  17. I really enjoyed reading this post today. As someone who has gone to both the EF and the OF, I can really appreciate many of the things that this anonymous writer is saying.

    One of the things that especially struck me was the description of the priest as intercessor and advocate. In the OF, it is very difficult to have that same sense. This is especially the case when the priest has his back to the Crucifix.

    Brother Juniper

  18. Phel says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Heather. I started going to the TLM a little over a year ago, and your letter really captures the experience.

    I often say, “I’m not a recovering Catholic, I’m a Catholic, recovered”. And it’s because of my attendance and practicing of the TLM/Old Rite. Good for you :)

  19. GeoF says:

    Welcome Home ! The more you go to the TLM, the less you’ll feel “lost” — This whole business of the language barrier, etc. is a bunch of baloney. As you point out, following in the missal actually forces active participation (with this being said you needn’t be a slave to the missal either, you could read the readings ahead of time, and many TLM communities provide the Una Voce translations so a missal is not really even required).
    Both my children (ages 5 and 7) know all of the Latin responses for High Mass, so this idea that we need to “dumb down” the Mass is pure baloney.
    You’re really lucky to have a TLM nearby. We travel ~45mins. each way, and many readers of this blog go much farther to worship in the EF.

    In corde Jesu et Maria

  20. Hettie B. says:

    Thanks to everybody for the comments, support, and encouragement! My second-favorite thing about WDTPRS is reading the comments!

    Regarding the OF, I am very blessed in that respect as well. My parish priest always celebrates it very reverently and well, as do the local Dominican friars. Attending the EF has provided me new and valuable insights that I have been able to take with me to the OF, although they may not be as visible in the OF (especially regarding the role of the priest). The EF has cast everything in a new and wonderful light for me!

    God be with you.

  21. (Oops, “Hettie B.” is me!)

  22. Karen says:

    And I realized what a blessing the priest is–what a leader, an advocate, and intercessor we have in him. And I realized how much I needed and wanted him there for me. As he prayed before the Crucifix, I sensed that he was carrying my prayers and those of everybody else on his shoulders.

    This encapsulates perfectly why I refuse to attend a Catholic church. This person is not worshipping God herself, she’s passively delegated the job to a priest. Anyone who delegates worship to another person will abdicate all other responsibilities of adult citizenship to her “betters” whenever she gets the chance. I don’t want a society made up of such cowards.

  23. Joanne says:

    Hi, Karen:

    I don’t really get that from Heather’s post. There are alot of places in our lives where we might have “leaders” or “advocates” and that does not mean that we are just sitting back, doing NONE of the heavy lifting ourselves. I can only speak for myself though, and I will say that when I assist in the Mass, I participate actively regardless of which Mass I’m attending, and don’t simply zone out and let the priest do all the “work” of prayer. (I put “work” in parentheses because it’s a joy as well.) In fact, even the language we use (the priest “offers,” we “assist”) indicates a joint effort!

    Take care –

  24. Ed Francis says:

    Hi Karen – There are many “delegated” responsibilities, things that have been taken care of for us by others; we need to be grateful for this, and to accept it with humility. If you, though not Catholic, hold yourself as a Christian, God’s delegation of his Son, as a ransom for all, will be of first concern.

    “When Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45), he summed up in these words the essential purpose of his messianic mission: “to give his life as a ransom.” It is a redemptive mission for all humanity, because the expression, ‘as a ransom for many,’ according to the Semitic mode of thought, does not exclude anyone.”

    That’s from a General Audience at the Vatican, by Pope John Paul II:


    Pope John was recognized internationally, by people of all faiths, as someone with deep insight into spiritual matters. He is worth reading, as is our current Pope, Benedict XVI. Based on your post, I think you will be surprised by what you find in the writings of these two Catholics. I think you will be surprised. Curious?

  25. JW says:

    Hugh, with his “Hobbit” post hits the nail on the head. Most people belong to a parish because they live near it, or grew up there. I live in a small city with several old ethnic parishes. You know what parish a lot of the people with Italian, or German, or Polish last names belong to because they stuck with the parish their grandparents built.

    I must confess that as much as I love traditional stuff, I could never belong completely to a traditional parish. I am, as Hugh described, a Hobbit. I would miss the sense of neighborhood “community” I have where I’m at. If I go to the grocery store I might run into my parish priest, or a little kid who points me out because I helped take up the collection, or I might run into the sweet lady who tells me she’ll pray to Saint Anthony to help me find a job. I like going to church with my family at a place that only takes five minutes to get to, where a freeway wreck, bad weather, or some road work won’t cause me to a miss a weekday mass and a long commute won’t force me to skip the pancake breakfast served by the parish boy scouts because I have to get home in time to go to work.

    I hope that doesn’t come off as shallow.

  26. Karen: If I just “passively delegated the job to a priest” then why, in my post, do I keep saying things like:

    “it demands much more focused and alert participation”
    “I consider it a more active process”
    “I felt like the prayers were more my own and that I was playing a more personal, individual, and active part in the Mass”
    “I felt more unified with the priest, more like I was acting with him and imitating him”?

    I loved this particular liturgy because it helped and inspired me to worship in a new, absorbing, and compelling way. The fact that I appreciated the role of the priest more didn’t detract from my own worship–it supported and encouraged it!

    Worship is never a “job,” by the way. It’s an all-consuming encounter with God, a just duty, a privilege. One to which I strive to dedicate my entire life and person, both in and out of church–and I think I speak for all faithful Catholics.

    You clearly don’t know me, so I’ll just overlook the part where you suggest I’m a coward and a bad citizen… except to say that I forgive you. God be with you.

  27. supertradmom says:

    When we can afford extra gas, we travel to another town about an hour away to go to the TLM. However, it is a question of budget and family needs. We would like to go every week. It is not our home parish, which is totally and irrevocably OF. How does one balance parish involvement with traveling to a parish which one can not possibly join or take part in the ordinary parish events? I am not a typical Hobbit, but more like Bilbo, who likes adventure and the bigger world of the EF. However, sadly, we cannot always go….

    This posting is excellent and very profound. Thanks for the great thoughts.

  28. Matt says:


    I could never belong completely to a traditional parish

    I think that you’re setting your sights too low… It is my belief that the Holy Father’s intention, with our help, and the Lord’s Grace, to make ALL parishes traditional.

    429 South 20th St. #A Dr. Rudolph Masciantonio, Chairman
    Philadelphia, PA 19146 William A. Torchia, Esquire, Vice Chairman
    Telephone: 215 732-6431
    E Mail: Rudolphus9@aol.com
    LLA Website:www.LatinLiturgy.com
    Advisory Council: Dr. Harold Boatrite, Jean Buckalew Dr. Lucy E. Carroll, Anthony Corvaia, Jane Errera, Dr. Francis X. Kelly, Esq., Michael J. Miller, Dr. Timothy S. McDonnell, Charles L. Myers, Dr. Temple Painter, Father Robert C. Pasley, KHS, John F.X. Reilly, Esq.

    February 17, 2009
    To: Members and Friends of the Philadelphia Chapter, Latin Liturgy Association, Inc.
    Re: Adult Education Lenten Course on the Extraordinary Form Taught by Msgr. Chas. Sangermano in Norristown

    I am very happy to bring to your attention a unique Adult Education Lenten Course on the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass taught by Msgr. Charles Sangermano, Pastor of Holy Saviour Parish in Norristown. Msgr. Sangermano is known to many of our members as a long time celebrant of the Traditional Latin Mass and has coordinated efforts in the Archdiocese to prepare priests and laity for the Extraordinary Form. Here is the announcement:

    Adult Education Lenten Course at Holy Saviour Parish, Norristown
    Mondays of Lent at 7:00 PM, beginning Monday, March 2, 2009
    “The Extraordinary Form of the Holy Mass: Its History, Theology and Manner of Celebration”
    Course given by Msgr. Sangermano in the Church Hall
    409 East Main Street
    Norristown, PA 19401
    Ample parking in Parking Lot adjacent to the Church

    All are most welcome. We are very grateful to Msgr. Sangermano for making this opportunity possible.
    Vivat Jesus in cordibus nostris in aeternum!
    Most cordially,
    Rudy Masciantonio

    Dr. Rudolph Masciantonio
    Chairman, Philadelphia Chapter, Latin Liturgy Association, Inc.
    429 S. 20th St. #A
    Philadelphia, PA 19146
    215 732-6431

  30. Heather,

    As a long-timer here at WDTPRS, let me add my thanks for sharing with us your first experience with the traditional Mass, together with your very perceptive insights about prayerful participation, which reflect some I’ve held over the half century since my own first one.

    And the thought that your quite gracious reply above was perhaps more than its most ungracious recipient deserved.

  31. Nancy says:

    “And I realized what a blessing the priest is–what a leader, an advocate, and intercessor we have in him. And I realized how much I needed and wanted him there for me. As he prayed before the Crucifix, I sensed that he was carrying my prayers and those of everybody else on his shoulders.”

    Every Sunday, as I watch the priest at my traditional parish process to the altar, I thank God for him; for his sacrifice; for his willingness to intercede; to listen to my sins and offer absolution (as well as, usually, a pep talk); for his willingness to live a life dedicated to the saving of my soul. What an extraordinary thing to do.

    While this is always the case, the TLM reminds us so much better than the OF that Catholicism is, after all, a priestly religion – as it was established by Christ.

    Thanks, Heather, you’ve expressed it perfectly!

  32. peregrinator says:

    I’m always the tardy commenter on blog entries, (I don’t visit frequently enough to catch posts when they are first published, and then I like to think before I comment) so I realize this post may go unnoticed.

    Fr. Z, I am struck and a bit shocked by your interlinear comment that “The point of worship is to experience awe at transcendence.” And I admit that I am so struck by this statement because it does not jibe with what I have been taught.

    (I have always been taught to regard liturgy, public worship, as the Benedictines do- as the Opus Dei that we joyfully undertake. One’s personal “experience,” during worship, I’ve always thought, has more to do with one’s own state at the time.)

    Care to elaborate??

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