Guardian (UK): an interesting TLM first impression piece

I was alerted by a reader to a piece on the site of The Guardian.

The following was written by a non-Catholic who seems to be stuck in the externals.  My emphases and comments.

The mysteries of the Latin mass

At a Latin mass, the congregation are more witnesses than participants

David Shariatmadari, Sunday 3 May 2009 11.00 BST

Location: Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London
Denomination: Catholicism
Service: Sung mass of the Tridentine rite (Latin mass)
Texts: 1962 Missal
Age range and numbers: The youngest members of the congregation are in their 20s, but most are older; numbers gradually increase as the service continues, reaching about 30 people in total
Architecture: A small gothic revival church built in 1874

At Vatican II, the great reforming conference [writing with secular terms, at least non-Christian] of the Catholic church at the beginning of the 1960s, sweeping changes were made to the way people worshipped. Use of local languages, rather than Latin, was encouraged, [permitted…at least in the documents…] ritual was made less elaborate and less deferential; [I am not sure what he means by that.  But consider the juxtaposition of "worship" with "less deferential".] the overall aim was greater involvement and understanding by the congregation. 

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI "liberated" the pre-reform 1962 version of the mass. This horrified many progressive Catholics, but was just what a lot of conservatives had been (quite literally) praying for – a return to a more formal, more reverent mode of worship.  [This time we juxtapose "more formal" and "more reverent".]

Up to that point, members of groups like the Latin Mass Society had lobbied for the liberation of the old mass – now they encourage its use and provide services for those who want to experience it. I found Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, where a mass is held in Latin every Monday, through the society’s website.

[The writer isn’t very knowledgeable, but in a way that makes his impressions more interesting.]

Arriving early, I take my place towards the back of the church, [a typically "Catholic" thing to do… come early and get a place in back!] a slightly dingy, late-Victorian space whose main appeal is it’s complete lack of presence on the street – you’d never guess a church was hiding behind the Peabody-esque facade, and that lends it a kind of secret charm. (An aside: I was slightly surprised to find, among the name plaques screwed into the pew in front of me, one for Radclyffe Hall, the lesbian novelist. Next to her was a "Lady Troubridge" – whom later googling reveals to have been Hall’s partner. So Corpus Christi, as well vying with for the title of "actor’s church" with St Paul’s Covent Garden, could also lay claim to be the spiritual home of London’s Christian lesbians.)  [I think many people have the impression that the Catholic Church claims to be the Church of the pure, of the perfect.  Nothing could be farther from the true. The Church is more like a hospital ward for ailing souls than it is a fashion runway for flawless saints.]

Already a few older women, wearing their mantillas, and piously reading from bibles or missals, [Piously?  Either he reads minds or… the image brought something of piety to mind.  ] have gathered in the pews in front. The mantilla is a strange thing – if you’re used to chilly northern Protestantism, it gives the whole experience a Mediterranean flavour: exotic, oriental almost. [Something out of the ordinary… in this context, something quite Catholic.] Since this is a sung mass, there is a choir in the bay to the left of the altar. All men, they sing beautifully, without accompaniment. As the service gets underway a bell sounds and the priest enters, wearing a biretta, amid elaborate choreography. The myrhh roasting in a censer being swung around in the chancel moves slowly down the nave towards us.

There is, of course, a lot of Latin. Some of it whispered by the priest, much of it sung by the choir, a little intoned by the congregation in answer to the blessing Dominus vobiscum ("Et cum spirtu tuo"). To the devout Catholic, this mass is no doubt as clearly signposted as the evensong I attended a few months ago. But to me, it feels like I am witnessing a series of inscrutable – and therefore, rather powerful – rituals. I’m reduced to the level of an illiterate medieval peasant: [Watch this….] all I can do is wonder at the mystery and beauty of the spectacle.  [Exactly.]

Gradually it becomes clear that all the ceremony I’ve seen so far has been geared towards a single moment – towards making it more solemn, more obviously the crux of the mass. This is the point at which the bread and wine are consecrated and transubstantiation is believed to occur. It is marked by the ringing of hand bells, echoed by the bell of church, heard faintly from outside.   [I would not discount the moment of Communion.]

I visited this Corpus Christi twice. After the first time, I found that I could remember few of the details [interesting] I thought I needed in order to get a clear idea of the service across: who stood where and when, at what points incense was used, when the sign of the cross was made and when the priest and acolytes kneeled or bowed. So I went again, and it was just as difficult. Of course, the precise running orders of the various versions of the Tridentine rite mass are easy enough to find online, in all their complex glory. But I began to wonder if my sense of the mass as somehow inaccessible was significant[Well… yes and no.  No, in that you can learn with more experience.  Yes, in that you are having an encounter with mystery.]

I didn’t go up to take communion of course, and were I Catholic, that would have been the really important element of participation. [Above, he saw the consecration as the climax.] But even so, with all the action happening in the chancel, the priest often talking inaudibly, the language alien, there must be (even for the seasoned churchgoer) a stronger sense of witnessing than of joining in. [This is where he goes off the rails.  One can understand why he says this, at his level of experience, but he got this point wrong.  Witnessing and participation are not contradictory.]  Does that breed unthinking religion? [Wow… no.] You go to church, you see the mystery repeated in front of you, you’ve done your duty. In some, it might, and I can see why many at Vatican II thought it necessary to try to reinvigorate worship. Going further back in time, I can also understand how, for the more pedantic mind, this comfortable spectator sport wouldn’t have satisfied: perhaps this is why a split, and the rise of more indivdualistic churches, was always inevitable.


The writer’s strong suit is clearly assessing first impressions.  When it comes to analysis, he seems to lack some necessary tools.

Still… there are a few points of interest here.  He groped his way to the all important encounter with mystery.

I wonder if he won’t go back some day….

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Michael says:

    If he is interested to come to the “bottom of the case”, I would advise him to obtain a Missal and do a homework in preparation for what he evidently experienced as the Mystery. He will certainly find that there is more to it than at the first glance.

  2. Andrew, medievalist says:

    Even more impressive that he writes for the Guardian. Apart from the Independent, this must be the most aggresively secular/liberal paper in the country.

    Another interesting thought lies in this: Since the externals of the Mass are evident to even the “liturgically illiterate” outsider (i.e. the importance of the Consecration) what does this say about the ability of the EF to attract converts and explain the Faith compared to the OF? Might the great sense of “mission”, with which many modern Catholics have a love-hate relationship, actually be the greater preserve of the EF?

    Crudely put, does the EF attract more souls than the OF? Save the liturgy, Save the world…quite literally.

  3. LCB says:

    More real and lasting conversions have started in the last 3 rows of a Catholic Church than this author realizes.

    The secular world views the name plaques on the pews as some sort of hypocrisy. It’s only from the inside that the Church can be fully understood– those 2 women were limping towards Heaven just like the rest of us.

  4. ben says:

    I too had my first experience of the TLM at Maiden Lane: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 1994. I was not a Catholic then.

    My initial reaction? Absolute bafflement. Of course I went back!

  5. Andreas says:

    This is the latest in a number of posts relating the experiences of various individuals attending Holy Mass in the Latin Extraordinary Form for the first time. Their chief objection or difficulty with the rite is chiefly about “not being able to understand” or even “to hear” what is being said by the priest. When I read such comments, I ask myself a basic question: what exactly is the role of laity at Mass? Since the priest can offer the Sacrifice even without any laity present, the sacrifice is clearly not the outcome of a cooperation between the laity and the celebrant. They in fact add nothing by their participation to the sacred action. They can however, be participants by uniting themselves to Christ’s sacrifice for their own sanctification and to the greater glory of God. But in order to achieve that, is it necessary for laity to follow every word uttered by the priest? Is that the essence of full participation? And even if one were to answer yes, is it necessary to synchronize the timing of those prayers? Because that seems to be the main objection of many: that they cannot “follow along”. It seems that those nourished by the Novus Ordo are ready to assert that every action of the priest belongs to them as well. Isn’t that the biggest hurdle to overcome for some people attending the Latin Mass for the first time? What do you tell them?

  6. Ron says:

    Consider this sentence: “The youngest members of the congregation are in their 20s, but most are older; numbers gradually increase as the service continues, reaching about 30 people in total”


    -Mostly old

    -About 30 people in total

    Where the hell are this massive tidal wave of people (young people mostly, apparently) aching for the traditional Mass? This is the middle of London, at a well advertised service at a sociable hour.

    Could it be that this TLM thing just ain’t that popular?

    Or (and let me guess) is this just an isolated example? Of course, TLMs are very very popular ”somewhere else” aren’t they?

  7. Ron says:

    Just noticed,

    This is an 11AM SUNDAY MASS too.

  8. Hans says:

    Another reason his comments are interesting is that not once does he make the usual complaint I have heard from non-Catholic English friends about all the standing, kneeling, and sitting. (Cf.: from the above-mentioned Latin Mass Society It would seem that he was busy enough thinking about what was going on that he didn’t have time to worry about it.

    [The writer isn’t very knowledgeable, but in a way that makes his impressions more interesting.]
    True on both counts, but he clearly bothered enough to do some fact-checking (something the “Guarniad” isn’t famous for), so that he even can use ‘transubstantiation’ correctly. On the whole I thought his tone was surprisingly and refreshingly respectful, especially given my experience with Chicago papers.

    A curious fact found on the Corpus Christi parish web site ( under “Parish details”): “[The Parish] was founded in 1873 and consecrated on 18th October, 1956.” Mr. Shariatmadari says the church was built in 1874, so why wasn’t it consecrated until 1956? Any ideas?

  9. Richard says:

    Why is it that the word constantly used to describe the TLM, especially in its solemn form, is “beauty”? This is true of Catholics and non Catholics who encounter the TLM.

  10. “Could it be that this TLM thing just ain’t that popular?

    Or (and let me guess) is this just an isolated example? Of course, TLMs are very very popular ‘’somewhere else’’ aren’t they?”

    They’re certainly not that popular here. Vast majority of congregants are OAPs.

  11. Hans says:

    I think perhaps you misread, Ron.

    Ron says, “This is an 11AM SUNDAY MASS too.

    The article says, “where a mass is held in Latin every Monday“.

    Post information: “, Sunday 3 May 2009 11.00 BST“.

    Parish web site says, “Latin Mass Society
    Mondays (inc. Bank Holidays) 6.30pm

    Bank Holidays in Britain are roughly the equivalent of Postal holidays in the US.

    I don’t understand your animus in any event, Ron. I haven’t been to such a Mass since I was a child (I pre-date the 1962 Missal), and it seems unlikely that I will get to one soon, but I still see no reason why allowing them isn’t a good thing.

  12. Ron says:

    “They’re certainly not that popular here. Vast majority of congregants are OAPs.”

    Yes, this has been my experience again and again. It’s the same back home in Ireland too when I’m there. TLM congregations are universally small and old.

  13. Mark VA says:

    A very honest report from a young man who had an encounter with something mysterious, holy, and ancient. I like his thinking and writing style, it’s not blighted by bias, and shows his capacity for introspection. Sadly, some of the comments his article received make me cringe – is this the level of “sophistication” secularized people sink to?

    Kudos to this young man for keeping his mind open.

  14. Jim says:

    “Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and our God!” Is that that too “deferential” for the Guardian?

  15. ssoldie says:

    Typical—I would suggest that anyone, non catholic, cafeteria catholic, neo-con catholic, Vatican II catholic, what ever they call themselves, who wants to go to the T.L.M.. please go and find this book and read it then go and pray, “The Heart of the MASS”

    This book is a splended contribution to the work of the Liturgical Revival, because it is simple yet sound and thorough explanation of the meaning of the Mass and its ceremonial. May God bless this little work and multiply its fruit for the sanctification of souls.
    *Charles Hubert La Blond
    Bishop of St. Joseph
    May 19, 1936
    *Canonized by Pope Pius XII on May 29, 1954

    ISBN 0-9639032-3-3

  16. pelerin says:

    Hans asks ‘why was the church not consecrated until 1956?’ I was curious too and have found out that it was because it took 82 years before the original debt was paid off. Presumably a church may not be consecrated until it is paid for?

    I have never visited this church but will do so on my next visit after reading its history . Curiously the Sunday Mass time on its official website is given as 11.30 and not 11 am but perhaps the Guardian journalist was mistaken. The newspaper is known for its mistakes and is often referred to as the Grauniad! Nice to see such an article in this particular newspaper.

  17. David says:

    What’s your point Ron?

  18. Hans says:

    Curiously the Sunday Mass time on its official website is given as 11.30 and not 11 am but perhaps the Guardian journalist was mistaken.

    The “11.00 BST” in the article is the time it was posted to the Grauniad’s website. The Latin Mass there is on Mondays at 6:30 pm.


    I wasn’t aware, Ron, that the Irish experience was universal.

    While I haven’t been to a Latin Mass here, reliable reports reports I’ve had from several parishes in the Chicago area is that they are well attended mostly by young families.

    That is also the population I’ve seen going in and out of the SSPX chapel near where I live.

  19. meg says:

    Ron says his assertions have been proved “again and again” in two different countries no less. Anyone else notice he seems to have an awful lot of experience with the EF for someone so disdainful…?

    For the record the EF Mass we attend is packed with all ages every week (here in the eastern US).

  20. stigmatized says:

    but this is the same exact experience you have when you are at the regular mass…you are just there watching while the priest says a prayer addressed to someone else (it is not addressed to you even though he is facing you). in fact the experience of the regular mass is even less a feeling of participation because when the priest is facing you there is not the sense that you are doing the same thing together…offering a sacrifice…but that he is doing something and you are watching him. most parishes in america only have the people who own the parish doing readings and serving. you have to have the same opinions as the priest to be allowed to be a reader, sacristan, or eucharistic minister.

  21. Way over on the other side of the pond – Alaska – we’re also told what this Londoner seems to imply is the ideal: participation at the expense of mystery and egalitarianism at the expense of hierarchy. Unfortunately, it’s our priests and priest-nun who are delivering the message here. And we’re called to witness and suffer through this abuse of the liturgy and catechism. Please pray for Our Lady of the Angels parish –

    “The faith, together with its praxis, either comes to us from the Lord through his church and the sacramental ministry or it does not exist in the absolute.” — Papa Ratzinger

  22. avecrux says:

    I’m in Chicago. Most attendees here are young families. Same for a friend in Indiana. Also, there is quite a demand among young faithful Catholics at Franciscan University, Wyoming Catholic, Thomas Aquinas, etc. As someone who has spent about a third of my life in the UK, I would say the Church in the US is much more vibrant… its much larger and the US melting pot culture provides more room for variation. (I found the same to be true regarding the pro-life movement.) Things occurring in the US on the liturgical front will take a while to cross the Atlantic.

  23. Garrett says:

    Hm, Ron. That’s sure not been my experience. This twenty-two year old, when attending the local FSSP parish, has seen that most of the people are young parents with lots of kids, with a healthy smattering of baby-boomers and octogenarians.

    Same at the SSPX chapel.

  24. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    Regarding the name plaques in Corpus Christi and Fr. Z’s observation that many think that the Catholic Church regards herself to be the Church of the pure, for two years I lived in Gibbons Hall at the Catholic University of America where the common room is filled with early CUA donors. One that always sticks out in my mind is Charles Bonaparte. In those days at Gibbons Hall, I frequently wondered about the lives and characters of all those persons. These were Catholics with all the faults and spiritual struggles that entails.

    None except the most ideological of Calvinists would ever regard Christians in the world to be a Church of perfecti! A grim humour is to be found in the reality that so many in the midst of secularised modernity unconsciously follow the perverse doctrines of that dour preacher from Geneva!

  25. JW says:

    30 people is really good for a non-obligatory weekday evening mass in a smaller parish. I’ve been to weekday masses in the ordinary form with fewer than 20 attendees – and these are in parishes that would be considered far larger than what I’ve heard is typical in England.

    I’ve never been to an uncrowded Sunday EF.

    I know this is off topic, but I know Fr. Z likes to read articles about the TLM, so I figured I’d post a link to the Kenosha News article about the Latin Mass that’s going to be held here next week: It’s actually very positive.

  26. Tony from Oz says:


    It may be true of some TLM congregations in UK/Ireland that their demography is, on balance, aged. However this is not true here in Australia – and I know it not to be true of the situation in the USA. I attended the dedication of the Clear Creek monastery buildings in Oklahoma in April 2008 – a traditionalist Benedictine foundation from France which, in the space of 9 years has 34 monks average age c.33 – and the crowd of a thousand laity was comprised of loads of young families.

    To be fair, Ron, I have noticed, continuously on my visits to UK, that there is, by comparison, a lack of ‘vibrancy’/dynamism there. Whether this be due to a certain endemic social stodginess, I know not – but there is often even a ‘young fogey’ feel about some of the younger folk there: by which I mean a temptation to embrace a sentimental attachment to sub-optimal forms of TLM worship from the 1950s [which was what the true liturgical movement was trying to address back then, ironically!] rather than being willing to rediscover the riches of the normative (sung)liturgy already laid out in the rubrics (but little performed in the Irish missionised world – ie UK/Australia/USA) before the Council).

  27. Dominic says:

    “…a typically “Catholic” thing to do… come early and get a place in back!”

    LOL! How true. That phenomenon deserves its own analysis…

  28. “Unthinking religion”

    Like that of St. Thomas Aquinas?

  29. MichaelD says:

    In Oakland, CA the Traditional Mass is celebrated each Sunday with an average congregation of 300 attending. Low Mass is celebrated each evening (except weekends) with an attendance averaging 40 persons. All ages and races are represented, with the bulk of the congregation on Sundays being below 30 years of age.

  30. One thing that did impress me is he understands that it is mystical, and out of the ordinary. Why can an outsider get this, and you can go to mass on a given sunday and 60 percent of the people not get it? Says something about the older form of the mass indeed (though again, a novous ordo done right can also marvel, and make us “in fear and trembling stand”.

  31. Clement says:

    My family and I like to come early to the TLM and sit in the front pew where I am blessed to lead the rosary with a typically full house of mostly young families of 40 and younger.
    Usually over 120 people, in a church that seats 150.

    In my diocese in the American Southeast, at least.

  32. Nan says:

    stigmatized, by having the same opinions as the priest, do you mean actually being Catholic?

  33. Stephen says:

    The first part of this reads not terribly unlike the conversion story of Thomas Merton. Perhaps.

  34. Carlos Palad says:

    This piece sounds like it was written for the “Ship of Fools” project.

  35. Hans says:

    \” most parishes in america only have the people who own the parish doing readings and serving. you have to have the same opinions as the priest to be allowed to be a reader, sacristan, or eucharistic minister.\”

    I\’m not quite clear, stigmatized, just what you mean.

    Do you mean that the people who are involved in the workings of the parish are those who do things? Or do you know of privately-held parishes?

    How is it a problem for lectors, sacristans, or extraordinary ministers to hold the same \”opinions\” as a (properly formed) priest? Should we have Animist lectors, Atheist sacristans, or Albigensian extraordinary ministers? Or are you suggesting that they must all hold the same opinions as the priest on such things as the poetry of Ezra Pound?

    Are you saying that ill-formed priests are only selecting ill-formed parishioners for these roles? Or, as Nan suggests, do you find it scandalous for them to have to be Catholic?

  36. “At a Latin mass, the congregation are more witnesses than participants”

    Well, witness is a kind of participation isn’t it? Besides, it would seem that the importance of the key actor in the Mass (Christ) is so far beyond our participation, that the difference in external participation between even a silent low Mass in the old rite and the Novus Ordo pales in comparison to that gulf in level of participation.

  37. Alina ofs says:

    Hi everyone,

    I first came in contact with older forms of H. Mass in 2005, 3 years after I became a Catholic, converted via the babtist church from atheism. It was an NO Mass, but in Latin and with “people and priest all facing God”. But the church (St. Willibrordus in Utrecht) was not in accordance with the local bishop. But I had the same experience as the writer of the article. When in 2007 the TLM was granted to be served by FSSP in Amsterdam, I went there to find out what it was.
    You must realize, I was 28 when, after a long search, I was baptized, formed and became a catholic on Easter Vigil. It was a very thoutfull and well considered choice. And in Amsterdam, during the TLM (low)Mass, all peaces just fell even more into place.

    Yes, I was baffeled. Didn’t yet understood fully everything, but for the first time after my baptism, I felt Christ’s precense in the liturgy.

    I love the NO form of Mass. When done properly and reverently, it can be very devout. But….I like TLM more! So I am very glad to travel almost 2 hours (for a dutch person, that IS very far) to participate in this wonderful, heavenly form of celebrating H. Mass.

    We must be very thankfull that the clergy finally realize that in our Holy Church there must be room for everyone, and that if we deprive people from TLM, we deprive them from a peace of heaven!

    Pace e bene,


  38. Observations from the generation of noise. Silence to this generation is truly alien, so he will need a while to be deprogrammed to make correct conclusions. His current conclusions are based on the false premise that more “stuff”, more “doing” is better. But he did get the main point, in spite of the cultural noise programming. It reminds me of a phrase by Pope Pius XII – the “heresy of action.” This generation of noise has always got to be doing some action, so quiet time and quiet prayer are out the window such that God, Who speaks in a whisper, cannot be heard. Twitter reminds me that that too.

  39. Kimberly says:

    I just recieved an invitation to the annual “Polka Mass” in a nearby parish. I’m wondering what the writer of the article would think if he attended one of these? I also attend the NO and the TLM. The TLM is full of young couples with tons of little ones who are unbelivably respectful and quiet. The NO is full of older people who talk out loud and want to hold my hand.

  40. Nicola says:

    He’s hooked but doesn’t know it yet. Alleluia!!!

  41. Ron says:

    “[I think many people have the impression that the Catholic Church claims to be the Church of the pure, of the perfect. Nothing could be farther from the true. The Church is more like a hospital ward for ailing souls than it is a fashion runway for flawless saints.]”

    I really wish this was emphasized more. Hopefully this isn’t a rabbit hole but many times at the TLM I feel like everyone there is perfect and I am the one outcast sinner. I don’t know where that comes from but it just can have that appearance.

    Pax Christi tecum

  42. Aaron says:

    As you say, Father, it’s very interesting to read this “secular journalist” sort of perspective. So much that’s written about the EF is either inside baseball or people with an axe to grind. This guy actually seems to have gone with a fairly open mind.

    Given that perspective, I’m impressed by how much he seemed to “get it” on his first visit, using words like mystery, piously, powerful, and reverent. (As someone said, he does sound a little like Thomas Merton, who was sort of awed by his first Mass experience, but didn’t take it into his own heart until later.) Even “witnessing,” which he suggests may fall short of “joining in,” is a more positive term than the usual “observing” or “just watching.” “Witnessing” *is* a valid term what we’re doing, to a large extent, right? Standing witness to the Sacrifice as it is renewed?

    Talking to TLM newbies lately, it occurs to me that perhaps one of our “selling points” should be that it’s *not* easy. Tell people right up front that this isn’t a sitcom or a blog or a fast food burger; it wasn’t designed for quick and easy consumption. They may not get it the first time–or even like it–and they almost surely won’t understand it. That’s okay. Truly worthwhile things rarely come easy.

  43. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    Hans and Nan, i think Stigmatized is referring to those parishes with non-faithful priests who choose non-faithful parishioners to run things and be the face of the parish at Mass. I have seen this around here too.

  44. Ron says:

    ““Witnessing” is a valid term what we’re doing, to a large extent, right? Standing witness to the Sacrifice as it is renewed?”

    Yes. If we found ourselves at the foot of the Holy Cross, what could we do? All we could do, it seems to me, is adore, worship and take in the actions of Christ the Lord.

    What would our external actions be any way without the internal contemplation and reception of His Cross?

    Pax Christi tecum.

  45. dcs says:

    The TLM is full of young couples with tons of little ones who are unbelivably respectful and quiet. The NO is full of older people who talk out loud and want to hold my hand.

    That has been my experience (with a few exceptions) as well. I have never seen a crowd of younger families at a Novus ordo Mass (admittedly I do live in an older neighborhood). I have attended a TLM at which the congregation is mostly older but it’s a 2:00 pm Sunday Mass, not exactly a convenient time for young families.

    My wife and I have been at our current (TLM-only) parish for nearly eight years and at age 36 are no longer really among the ‘young’ families there. ;-)

  46. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    There are nice reverent OF Masses too. I attend one regularly. No handholding or talking there. Dominican preaching too.

    One day I might get up the courage to go to an EF Mass. Not now though.

    I like posts like this. I learn a lot.

  47. Maureen says:

    Banjo Pickin’ Girl –

    Just remember, this is part of your heritage. There’s nothing to be scared about. Awed about or baffled about, maybe, but not scared.

    That’s the trouble with trying to “sell” some of this stuff. If you push the mystery and difficulty, some people will be intrigued and others scared off. If you push the fact that it’s not brain surgery or rocket science, some people will be reassured and others disappointed.

    Shrug. Not a people person, me.

  48. Greg Smisek says:

    “If we found ourselves at the foot of the Holy Cross, what could we do? All we could do, it seems to me, is adore, worship and take in the actions of Christ the Lord.”

    The catechetical text we use for our Confirmands describes our Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross as offering her Son to the Father, as He Himself offers Himself to the Father, which is, of course, an apt description of what we do at every Mass.

  49. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    Maureen, there have been several threads mentioning people’s reluctance to deal with the judgmentalism that seems to go with the TLM. That is my sticking point as it is with several others here. For now I am staying at a parish where externals are not a problem.

    The problem is not the Mass itself, it is the other stuff that goes with it.

  50. Phil Steinacker says:


    It may interest you to know that the Novus Ordo celebrated at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at a local Catholic parish in my neighborhood in Maryland only manages to exceed 30 attendees during Lent. The remainder of the year they average 18-25, and this is a “strong” NO parish. I fail to see what the big deal is about a TLM at the same time hitting that same number.

    The truly big deal is that when the TLM reigned supreme in the USA my local parish at that time offered on Sundays this line-up: 6:30, 7:45, 9:00, 10:15: 11:30; 12:45. We had such great attendence for the TLM what we were forced to add two overflow Masses, scheduled simultaneously in the basement school cafeteria at 11:30 & 12:45 – and they quickly filled. Parking was terrible, we had so many people coming to the TLM.

    Today the Sunday Mass schedule is as follows: 7, 8, 10:30am & 12:30pm (no double Masses anymore) It’s also worth noting that the daily schedule once offered a 6:30 & 7:45 a.m. Mass. Today they offer only 8:00 a.m. Mass.

    Ron, where do you think all those Catholics went? Clearly, if measured by attendence, one could reasonably conclude the Novus Ordo failed miserably in keeping Catholics in the fold. Some claim the NO actually drove them out, and I don’t doubt that some reacted (badly) that way to the NO, but in my case I realize now that when I felt the pull to drop out of Church so often experienced by folks in their early 20s, I can remember feeling there was nothing about the new Mass to keep me there. I was most decidedly NOT attached to the NO – it was missing ALL the attributes I mentioned above, and still lacks them except when celebrated by the rare priest who diminishes himself and restores them to the Mass.

    I’d say the looming question is this: if the TLM is so inferior to the Novus Ordo as you imply, how come attendence for the Ordinary Form of today (at ANY scheduled Mass) is far, far, far below what it was in the days when the Ordinary Form was the TLM?

    It looks to me that a lot of folks voted with their feet and left when all the elements of mystery, sacredness, awe, transcendence, majesty, and reverence were stripped outright from what long had been central to their worship experience.

    The burden of an historic drop in attendence in the Catholic Church cannot be laid on the TLM. That burden falls instead on those who pushed the TLM out of the way. If you wish to connect the TLM to “poor” attendence then you must also acknowledge far greater significance to the dramatic decline in the numbers for attendence of the Novus Ordo. That significance is great enough to choke a large horse.

  51. meg says:

    “…but many times at the TLM I feel like everyone there is perfect and I am the one outcast sinner…”

    Ron, believe me, they’re not and you’re not which I’m sure many on this blog could personally verify.

    I felt the same way for a while – like I didn’t deserve the EF somehow. I had been away from the Church and out in the world for a time and thought I was the only one. Getting to know the stories of fellow parishioners helped (many had left the Faith and returned like me). Good confessions helped. If you love the EF that’s where you belong. Remember not so long ago that’s all there was.

  52. Ottaviani says:

    The problem is not the Mass itself, it is the other stuff that goes with it.

    If we judged the faith by how people behave, then God knows how small the Catholic church would be. The same could easily be applied to assisting at the Novus Ordo – people who dissent on the church’s teaching on birth control, homosexuality, women priests, etc are more likely to be found going to the new mass, so therefore we should hold off going to it. That simply does not make sense even if it may be true the majority of cases.

    Go to the traditional mass and judge it for what it is – and don’t be surprised if you find sinners there too.

  53. Ron: Yes, this has been my experience again and again. It’s the same back home in Ireland too when I’m there. TLM congregations are universally small and old.

    It’s quite the opposite in the southern U.S. where I attend the TLM. At the one I attended yesterday — at 1:30 pm in a small country church 20 miles from a population center — there were about 90 in attendance — and about a third were children, over a third were their parents or students or young adults, and less than a third were older folks. This sees pretty typical of the TLM’s I’ve attended elsewhere.

    I attend the newer OF Mass daily except Sundays, and never see a crowd as young as those at TLM’s. My wife and I, admittedly in that older third, often comment that the chance to meet young folks is a real bonus of the TLM.

  54. Banjo Pickin’ Girl: The problem is not the Mass itself, it is the other stuff that goes with it.

    I know the kind of “other stuff” you’re referring to. I see it all over internet threads, but essentially never see at an actual TLM. I’m beginning to wonder whether these sour types actually attend it themselves.

    At the TLM mentioned in my preceding post, everyone I recognized — essentially all of them — is someone who I know attends the OF Mass regularly, many of them daily. Most of them are quite active (choir, religious education or RCIA teachers, etc.) in their home parishes. In a half-century of ordinary parishes, I’ve never known a more amiable and friendly bunch of people.

    In our Latin Mass community, there’s simply none of that “stuff” you’re thinking about. Zero, zilch, nada.

    I wonder if it’s really different in the one nearest you. Why don’t you try it out? You might be really surprised. Might find some of the nicest people you’ve ever meet. Maybe not, but I’ll certainly bet they’ll be closer to your own age — if I guess it right — than the folks at the Masses you’re used to.

  55. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    Henry, Thank you for the advice. I also wonder if the sourpuss posters on this blog actually go to Mass all that much. If they did you would think they would have heard a homily about charity once in a while! And it might have sunk in by now!

    And when you mention charity they yell *but who is being uncharitable, it’s those other people, grrrr grrrr grrrrr*

    I am in my 50’s and my NO parish is very mixed with lots of young large families and lots of older people and lots of middle aged people. It’s the Dominican preaching that keeps us and the attention the priests give to confession (every day! long lines!) and just being there for us, especially us converts who don’t know that much. But we are “the faithful parish” in the diocese. So sad they have to use the definite article in that phrase. Sigh…

  56. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    PS and we have Communion kneeling at the rail on the tongue served by only priests with altar boys with patens. Not even female lectors!

  57. kat says:

    Articles like this make me wonder what the TLM attendance would be like if it was schelduled at a more reasonable time. Our only local TLM is at 8am, making the difficult task of getting 6 children dressed, fed, and out the door for Mass harder by the early hour. Even so this past Sunday there were quite a few families, at coffee hour I chatted with a mom of 9, one with 6 year old triplets, and several others mothers with 3 children.

    It took me a year of attending the TLM to feel comfortable with the rubrics, but still loved the majesty and beauty of the Mass of the Ages.

  58. Aaron says:

    That’s a good point. You can certainly find harshness and judgmentalism in traditional forums online, but people often take on more extreme personalities online than they display in person. That isn’t to say those things never happen at a TLM parish, but I really doubt they’re as prevalent as they are online. I’ll bet many people who come online and say, “Women should never wear pants!” would be perfectly nice to you if you show up at Mass wearing some, and glad to see you become a member. That’s how it is at our church, anyway. There’s online ranting and then there’s how you treat real people in person.

    At our TLM, the main thing you see is families–old, young, and in between; families that held onto tradition over the years and passed it down. Then you also see the people like me who didn’t have that background, who are all ages and come for a variety of reasons, the most common being the lack of reverence they’ve seen elsewhere. The former group, who were ready with their veils and missals on day one, can seem a little intimidating to the novice at first, but at our church they’ve been extremely welcoming and friendly. I’d guess (or at least hope) that’s more common than the “other stuff” that people are worried about.

  59. Michael says:


    To assess accurately what the people want one would have to employ a statistian. I am not; but off hand, for example: suppose a well attended NO Mass at 10.30 am, and less attended at 12.00, in a geographically isolated parish of 2000 practising parishioners. And supposing the TLM introduced on a parity basis; so that, say, for three months the times of the NO and TLM changed every Sunday, so that on the first Sunday of the experiment the NO were at 10.00 and the TLM at 12.00; the second Sunday the TLM at 10.00 and the NO at 12.00 etc. The numbers of those attending counted on each occasion and comparison made from the viewpoint of what the people prefer.

    Whether there woould be a switch of attendance from the more popular 10.00 Mass to the less popular 12.00 Mass when the TLM is at 10.00; and whether there would be any drop in attendance at 12.00 and raise at 10.00 when the NO is moved to 10.00.

    My guess is that there would be no statistically significant difference. Majority would choose time which suited them rather than what kind of Mass took place at the chosen time. All that even if no attempt were permitted to inform the people about the nature of the TLM, no bilingual texts provided, no instruction about what they were expected to do and how to behave.

    At least in the place where I lived when the NO was intruduced, for several Sundays during the Mass before the NO was fully introduced, instructions were given on it from the sanctuary. Also, the hybrid form had been already celebrated long before these instructions started. Thus, for example, the versus populum celebration and Communion in the hand were introduced before 1965, and a vernacular translation between 1965 and 1970. And nobody was asked whether he wanted any change or not, while an orchestrated brainwashing was going on in media, handouts, educational institutions etc., and the resources squandered on vandalization of churches, paid by parishioners.

    Not to mention the systematic brainwashing since the NO introduction, particularly in seminaries and colleges.

  60. TJM says:

    I think we would all agree there is a certain degree of judgmentalism found with folks who attend the TLM or the Novus Ordo. However, in my life’s
    experience, having been involved in Church music over the past 45 years, I have to say I’ve found liberals to be far more judgmental, rigid, and
    inflexible in terms of liturgical matters (they’re very flexible with the Faith when it comes to abortion, contraception, gay marriage, though;
    strange isn’t it?) than traditionalists. One reason is because they have controlled the levers of power since the Council until lately so they didn’t
    feel the need to be “accomodative.” I think that what is true, beyond peradventure, is that many ardent young Catholics are very drawn to Latin, chant, and older expressions of the Faith. I am so pleased when I attend a Latin liturgy (whether EF or OF) the congregation seems to be very young. I know now that
    this “Mass of the Ages” will outlive me. Tom

  61. Banjo Pickin’ Girl: It sounds like you’re fortunate to have a really fine parish, one I’d be proud to be a member of myself. Although in my own home parish, I can attend daily a reverent OF Mass without the kind of liturgical abuse one reads about in blogs, with many of the features you describe other than a communion rail.

    I’ve been around here since the beginning of WDTPRS, and at other Catholic forums before that. It’s long since been clear to me that the extremes are greatly over-represented on the internet — both the liturgical abuses of the NO that I practically never see in person, and the sourpuss TLM types I practically never see in person. (Although I do recall a few of both on rare occasions in the past.)

    At any rate, with such a nice parish as you enjoy, I can see why you wouldn’t feel any urgent compulsion to try anything else. Nevertheless, I’ll love to hear your impressions in case you decide sometime to just take a look at the TLM, especially to see whether your exemplary OF background gives you a different perspective than most of these first-time reports.

  62. stigmatized says:

    when i spoke of the opinions of the priest i was referring to these opinions:

    that the celebration of mass ad orientem is harmful to people

    that the hymns of wesley and the old 100th tune are the only music that represents the american church as they occurred organically here and therefore must be used daily at mass.

    that people who wear certain types of jeans and blouses should be distributing communion as they represent the majority of the american people. priests know the right look and they annoint those who have it

    that candles should be on the floor by the altar to flank the priestperson and highlight him

    having candles on the altar during the mass highlights the eucharist and takes attention away from the presider

    these are some of the opinions of priests i was referring to.

  63. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    Henry, I should do that. I heard last week that our local EF parish (we still have the indult system here, apparently) is very good and a friend of mine is now attending their OF Mass.

    I have wondered recently whether the “meanies” have somewhere forgotten that liturgy is a means to an end and are now looking at it as an end in itself with all the obsessive compulsive stuff that goes along with the perfection-seeking. And then the perfection-seeking spills over into other areas as well. Being “judgmental about liturgy” is far less serious than being judgmental about a person’s personal appearance, etc. That would be Jesus’ view anyway, that one gets from looking at the way he treated people in the Gospels. I have never heard a homily that said otherwise or read a book that said otherwise. And also the way the apostles went around trying to be nice to everybody to get them into the Church. They told people the truth about their beliefs but didn’t hammer them meanly about personal issues, despite their being quite a bit of racial friction, with the Samaritans, for example.

  64. Banjo Pickin’ Girl,

    Darn, if your parish doesn’t sound like Holy Rosary in Portland OR, run by the Western Dominicans.

    If so, give a greeting from me to Fr. Anthony Patalano and Fr. Vincent Benoit when you next see them.

  65. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    Stigmatized, I understand. I have seen similar priestly opinions being used to sort the washed from the unwashed (guess which one I am? 8-P ). I once failed the vetting process for the priestly gossip club so I went elsewhere to a parish where the priests choose people for jobs based on ability and talent rather than gossiping ability and ability to look the other way when things are going wrong.

  66. stigmatized says:

    dear banjopickin’girl, you are being given ‘special’ graces, as they would say…that reminds me of how they begin the mass…with the priest’s representative coming out of the sacristy as a sign of their approval/ownership by the priest and saying into the microfone that today we will remember in a ‘special way’ N. (the person for whom the mass is offered). this same person will serve, read, and distribute communion to the same people who do nothing every day. this is the reality of americhurch, and you have experienced it.

  67. therese b says:

    Diverse points.

    I think the final paragraph in the piece is referring to the Reformation/Cranmer.

    “Ailing soul” is a good description of Radclyffe Hall. She was a Catholic, with diversions into spiritualism, and led a fairly rackety personal life by anyone’s standards, with several short and long term lesbian affairs, sometimes running concurrently. She was the author of “The Well of Loneliness” which was banned in 1928.

    Ireland is suffering a terrible crisis in confidence in the Church, and the Mass-going demographic is generally older, in my experience, than that of England. I’m not going down a rabbit hole to discuss why. There are people working very hard to change this (as we saw on this blog recently), and they deserve support and encouragement.

    “that candles should be on the floor by the altar to flank the priestperson and highlight him”, says stigmatised. I would have thought that they would certainly “highlight” him if his alb catches fire as he brushes past.

  68. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    Stigmatized, I have also known the joy of having the Host flicked into my mouth like a Tiddly Wink. Cornhole Toss, anyone?

  69. jaykay says:

    Just to put things in perspective, this is a series that the Guardian has been running for the best part of 20 years, to my recollection, called “At your service”. They take a random church of any denomination and send a reporter to cover it – hence the menu-like description at the top.

    In some Guardian reports on religious matters the tone can be so condescending as to seem like a superior species visiting some sort of weird animal habitat. This reporter however is clearly not in that category and what I’ve read of this series over the years has been objective and honest. That said, I wouldn’t think he’s about to have a Pauline conversion…even in this year :) Still, yah never know.

  70. Hans says:

    Thanks for clarifying, stigmatized. It can, for me at least, be hard to tell where someone is coming from sometimes. I have come across that sort of thing as well. It\’s a disease that has infected some of the Newman Centers (sometimes the priests but moreso the staff) in this area as well, driving away Catholic students, though some of them would find the bros. Wesley FAR too traditional.

    Those who decry the distinction between priest and lay bring to mind this quote:
    For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen.” (Written by Pope St. Clement I, not later than A.D. 98, in his extant Letter to the Corinthians.)

    Oh, and thanks to pelerin for the information about debt and Corpus Christi. That at least seems plausible, though my home parish would never have been consecrated if that had been a condition.

  71. English Catholic says:

    Wow! I’m utterly astonished that The Guardian published such a *positive* piece!
    Sorry, Father – I must admit I was so astonished I had to click on the link just to confirm it was true!
    Luckily, reading the comments that followed on the Guardian web page restored my faith in the arrogance and stupidity of the typical Guardian reader.

  72. Hello,

    David, the author of the article here. Many thanks for your comments. And thanks to Fr. Z for his fisking – quite mild I thought – and I can’t really disagree with most of his points. In the series I wrote this for, where I visit places of worship of different faiths, the point is that I come from a position of relatively little knowledge, and give my impressions. It is what it is.

    About the Guardian being “aggressively secular”, well, I hope that you’ll all visit the Belief site from time to time (, and *add your voices to the comments*. You’ll find we do a fair amount of Catholic coverage, and though we provide space the full spectrum of opinion, we’re proud to have Mary Kenny and Francis Davis, Clifford Longley, Austen Ivereigh etc. among our Catholic contributors.

  73. Hans says:

    Coming from an American perspective, David, where the unknown (in the sense of ‘being unaware of the details of’, not ‘unheard of’) belief is often the target of ridicule and uninformed commentary in the press here. After the installation of the new archbishop in New York, a major news organization called his crozier his “sacred scepter”, for instance. So I appreciate that you seem to have made a reasonable effort in that regard.

    For general knowledge re: fisking

  74. Hans says:

    The term fisking, or to fisk, is blogosphere slang describing a point-by-point criticism that highlights perceived errors, or disputes the analysis in a statement, article, or essay.

  75. Latekate says:

    This seems to be a fairly written article.
    Still the hostile forum comments about the TLM. Even if true that there are few attendees at the TLMs, does that prove their inferiority? How many folks actually read the classics, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, etc.? How many actually listen to and appreciate classical music or look at great art and poetry? Is the lack of such popular appreciation an indication of the worth of those things or a statement on the education/discernment of the population? Isn’t there an obligation on the part of those who DO know better to preserve and appreciate the excellent??
    I have only seen the TLM on TV, never been to one. The negatives I have heard about it seem inadequate. “People didn’t understand the Latin”….well, TEACH them in Catholic schools! This is not a deficiency on the liturgy, it is a deficiency in the education of the people. Why dumb down the Mass? “The priest had his back to the people”….so, who is the prayer to?? Why make the people the focus? Why the push to entertain?
    And more of the same.
    I have been struck by the antipathy to Latin that seemed to have begun in the 1960’s. I was talked out of taking it by a high school guidance counselor although I was receiving “A”s in Spanish. I didn’t know the counselor but she explained soothingly that it was “much too hard” for me. I thought she was so thoughtful. I have found that this same experience has been shared by others who went to government schools.

Comments are closed.