QUAERITUR: Taking a RCIA group to a TLM – advice

From a reader:

I am a volunteer for the RCIA group in my parish.  Thanks be to God, eight were baptized and another twenty-two from our parish were received into the Church at the Easter Vigil.  I’ve talked the director into having us take a "field trip" over to a local parish that offers the EF weekly (Missa Cantata).

Are there any brief guides or possibly a video you recommend as an in-class tutorial before we go?  We made this trip with last year’s group, and I must admit, my overview was a bit scatterbrained.  


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  1. Andy K says:

    First, familiarize them with the structure of the Mass, and the postures of the laity.

    Then, go over what will be silent, and how we should be praying.

    Also, explain the significance of ad orientam.

    Remind them that the first time won’t be the time they enjoy it the most.

    Also, print out the propers and such (or whatever the weekly-changing prayers are), and tell them when they show up.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    The red missalettes put out by the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei helped me learn the Extraordinary Form several years ago.

  3. For the Visitor at Mass, reproduced by Angelus Press, is an excellent introductory “sketch.” It’s fairly cheap — ~$4.00 — and can be read in one forty-five minute sitting.

    I once served as a catechist for RCIA. A suggestion that the candidates and catechuments take a field trip to a celebration of the EF would have made the program director spit.

  4. momoften says:

    I totally agree with Geoffrey. They should go through the book and read it. Perhaps if they had the opportunity to meet and ask questions with the priest saying the EF of Mass it would help after they either read the book or otherwise. They will be struck by the silence. They should not feel bad about watching everything happening. There is so much to this Mass, it can not be taken in on just one visit.

  5. I occasionally meet 45 minutes before Mass with such groups that come to visit our TLM, and usually hand out the sheet


    whose purpose is to encourage visitors to relate each part of the older Mass as they view it to a corresponding part of the Mass they’re already familiar with.

    But I advise visitors not to pay too much attention to such detail, and instead just soak up the atmosphere. Indeed, although this sheet itself refers to the ubiquitous “red missalettes” and “propers handouts” (of the variable readings and prayers) that are available at most traditional Latin Masses, I generally suggest that first-time visitors ignore all such printed matter and just focus on sight and sound for first impressions (especially at a sung high Mass).

    For folks who have some time to spend in preparation, or whose further interest is attracted by a first experience, there’s the (previously mentioned) excellent 40-page booklet


    which guides a person through the traditional Mass using simple language and well-chosen color photos of the Mass. (Indeed, almost every left-hand page is a full-color picture, and there are additional color photos on almost every right-hand page.) Our community purchased a stack of these (at about $2.75 each) to make available for a nominal donation.

  6. Jeremy says:

    Here’s a video of Easter Sunday Mass 1941 narrated by Fulton J Sheen.


    Might be a bit long for class at 54 minutes, but certainly worth watching. It was helpful for me the first time I attended.

  7. Houghton G. says:

    Don’t overprepare. I use Knox, The Mass in Slow Motion plus the red Latin-English Booklet Missal and the FSSP DVD: Tradition (rather than the 1941 Sheen Our Lady of Sorrows) but might shift to one of the St. John Cantius DVDs for students. But they have to study up because their grade depends on it.

    I point out that the biggest changes, in some ways, were in the Offertory prayers and walk them through the sacrifice language there.

    And then I tell them to forget most of all that when they attend for the first time and just watch the ductus, the ebb and flow, the choreography of the deacon and subdeacon and MC etc. at a Solemn High Mass–watch things build to a climax etc.

    I agree with an earlier commentor that more important than knowing the actual texts in detail is realizing that certain parts will be inaudible and that the choir will be singing some parts while the priest is saying the same thing or other things–basic principles like this are what is really “new” rather than trying to teach them the details of the entire text.

    I also emphasize that we really have to grapple with the fact that the EF represents the ancient act of offering sacrifice, the ancient way peoples have worshiped for centuries. One of the few things all the Protestants agreed on was that the Mass was not a sacrifice–in so doing they overturned an entire ancient understanding of worship. To the degree that the Bugnini Consilium and the vernacularization process eliminated the sacrifice language and postures, to that degree they took the other fork in the Reformation Era road. Most people today don’t think that this sort of ancient sacrifice-worship frame of mind still exists, but it does and it’s official Catholic belief–but hidden from view in the way the OF is done in most instances, though the OF can be done in such a way as to highlight the sacrificial aspects. (New translations will help some, ad orientem helps; not much can be done about the Offertory prayers in the OF, at least not in the foreseeable future.)

  8. PS says:

    I agree with Houghton G. The single biggest impediment to my enjoyment of the mass is when I’ve screwed up and am on the wrong page, etc. Do a quick run through of the mass and then have them all read it a few times and then come to class and discuss what they read. Not understanding what’s going on can really zap you out of the appropriately prayerful and reverential mood (tengentially, have you been to this specific Mass before? I find that on low EF masses, often-times the Church can make the whole experience wretched. The silence is replaced by chatting, etc.)

  9. Anthony in TX says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z, for posting this, and thank you all for the advice. Please keep it coming.

    @ PS,

    I have been to this EF (Missa Cantata) several times before, and it is very reverent and beautiful. I believe the EF has been celebrated there ever since the indult.


  10. Fr. Michael Woolley says:

    When I began to offer the TLM at my parish a year ago, I gave an hour long talk entitled “Appreciating the Traditional Latin Mass.” The first half of the talk can be viewed on my parish website: http://www.saintjosephwoonsocket.org/Default.aspx?tabid=259

  11. Andreas says:

    While I do not mean to be critical of the many good suggestions I would like to add a different thaught: do not let this become a case of “curiosity”. It is not a field trip: it is a Mass. It should not be a subject of curious scrutiny as if it was something altogether different from any other Mass. Too many “manuals” and an exagerrated focus on finding out “where are we right now?” could be counterproductive. Just go there, be quiet, and pray by all means: don’t let it become a case study. How can one feel at home if instead of praying one is ingaged in some kind of investigative inquiry? There’s no need to have the brain engaged 100% for an hour: if you do you might come out exhausted and disappointed.

  12. Jason Keener says:

    I agree with Andreas. You might want to just encourage your RCIA group to go and take in the beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass with their senses and spirit. One probably shouldn\’t even bother fumbling around with the hand missal at first. Let the beauty and mystery of the Mass speak for itself.

    Having said that, you might want to show this video to the RCIA group before they go, so they know a bit about what to expect. When the group is ready, maybe they could even use a hand missal to follow along with the video:


    (Almost forgot, you probably will want to tell your RCIA group about the protocol for receiving Communion at the Extraordinary Form and also about wearing proper attire, etc. You don’t want them to feel out of place or not dressed properly.)

  13. michigancatholic says:

    There’s some basic teaching type preparation to do, but it shouldn’t be hard and it will make the experience MUCH MORE POSITIVE and more likely to be repeated when you’re not around! Here’s what I’d do:

    1. Let the celebrant of the TLM you’re going to know when you’re coming so he can be conscious of the fact that there will be people who have not heard much Latin before so he won’t go terribly fast and they can hear & follow.

    2. Check with him to see what resources his parishoners use to follow along with him during the TLM. Get enough copies so everyone can have their own copy and really SEE it while the mass goes on. IF they can see it ahead of time, great!! (If there is nothing from there you can use or you’re not sure, find a good readable copy online and make enough copies for everybody to take. Make sure they don’t have to stand there empty-handed!! Their copy should be very clear & as straightforward as possible, not too much flipping around from page to page, etc.) If you have time, there are some really good pamphlets, as someone noted above, that can be bought really cheaply (unless you have about 50 people and then OUCH).

    3. Prep the RCIA students beforehand by putting the two masses side by side and letting them know the common responses and what they mean. Et cum spiritu tuo, Deo Gratias, etc. A video clip might be nice to show them how it looks at key points. Do they need to watch the whole thing–maybe not, but they might want to.

    4. Don’t insist that they get veils, dress to the hilt, and so on. Many people at this stage won’t know how to wear veils, will feel self-conscious, underdressed, overdressed, uncomfortable, etc if all this becomes an issue. But they can if they want to–either way is fine. It should be up to them. Let them know this and discuss it if they want. (No shorts should be allowed, though–I don’t know where in the country you are.)

    5. If this is a group that’s already come into the church, teach them how to kneel & receive on the tongue. Let the nervous ones practice with a wheat thin & a friend or something, so they know how to do that. It’s a source of real awkwardness for some people and receiving in the hand is never appropriate at a TLM. Let them get into the spirit of it, it’s something that can be enjoyed and given to God as a special occasion. (PS, my little sister who preceded me in conversion taught me, bless her heart.)

    6. Let them know that it’s okay if they just follow along and do what everybody else does. It takes a while for everybody to learn how to go to a TLM.

    7. Enjoy!

  14. michigancatholic says:

    OH, and as you can see from the replies here, you are going to see a lot of diversity (bad word) in the way people respond to the experience. Some people are going to follow along in the missal more; some won’t so much. Some will just listen closely or pray through the whole thing. Some will look around a lot. Some people are going to feel at home; some people not so much. Some people may want to receive Holy Communion; some not because it will be so different to them. Some will try the responses; some won’t. It’s all okay. For the first time out, these are all fine.

    It’s your job to help them be as prepared as they want to be, whatever that means to them. The list I gave earlier is a list of the things that some of the people will really need, others less so. In order to do this well, you’re going to have to listen closely to what each one says while you ready them for this. And then you can give thanks at the TLM when it all turns out wonderfully!

  15. TomW says:

    I agree with some of the others, don’t make this into a case study. Also, there’s really no need to get too caught up in all that is going on. Just advise the participants to take it all in and offer up their hearts and souls to their Lord. If it is a Cantata and they have a good choir, they will be in awe at the singing of the Credo. Magnificent and holy.

  16. Regina says:

    In areas where the Latin Mass is a viable option, the RCIA classes should spend time in instruction comparing the two Masses. You can’t just give them a flyer. When you study the two Masses – the parts of them- side by side, it is easier to understand and appreciate the older form without necessarily rejecting totally the newer form which is the one they would probably find easier to understand. To simply take converts, or anyone unfamiliar for that matter, to the Latin Mass when they don’t know the Mass, don’t know how to use the missal,and regard Latin as a “dead language”, they simply come away marveling at the serene music, the devout stance of the priest,and the precision of the young altar boys. Other than that, they have absolutely no clue as to what they could have experienced.

  17. Wyatt says:

    My second Mass in the Extraordinary Form, I happened to pass a table with a pile of different booklets and brochures. One of them was a small green booklet, titled ‘For The Visitor at Mass’, published by Angelus Press, that explained the Mass in brevity and yet well. It was specifically written for the EF and seemed to be aimed at people who were new to the Mass in general, as it explained the ceremony, the sacrifice at its center, and various features of the church, sanctuary, altar, and clerical garb. It helped me immensely- you may look and see if they offer similar brochures when you attend, or if it would be possible to get a hold of a handful beforehand.

  18. cathomommy says:

    Also, for a fun, interesting and completely orthodox introduction to the EF: The old “comic book-style” Know Your Mass, currently published by Angelus Press. It’s a full-color re-print of a book from the 50s; my boys love it, but adults will also learn a LOT from reading it. I know I did!

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