First impression of a TLM

From a reader:

To begin with, I was born in the late 1970’s in the Milwaukee Archdiocese, so I’ve had my share of erroneous interpretation and liturgical abuse.  I have also found small bastions of the OF ["Ordinary Form" or Novus Ordo] celebrated with an attempt towards dignity.

I also am aware of the complaints that some of my older relatives had towards the EF, [Extraordinary Form or "old Mass" or Traditional Latin Mass] namely the incomprehensibility of Latin[NB: Not the fault of the Mass.] I have learned some in high school, but I am awfully rusty.  I went without a Missal.

So, with that in mind, I went to a Low Mass this morning. 

My first impression when I walked in the door was, "good, I’m not late".  My second was, "hmm…lots of reserved signs for small children".  The back half was, in fact, entirely reserved for such.  It took me some time to run the numbers in the back of my head before Mass began.  There were probably a little over a hundred people there, at least ten of which were less than a year old.  That is probably the same number of infants in a given Mass in my parish of a thousand families.  I also noted that the vast majority of adults attending were my age or younger.  It is just stunning to see people actually serious about the hard parts of their Faith.  [A common experience for new comers: they are amazed at the number of young people, young families.]

The Church is beautiful, perhaps not a masterpiece of art and splendour, but nothing to laugh at either.  I’d certainly prefer to be there today than the Cathedral in terms of ambiance.  [Especially after what Archbp. Weakland did to it.]

Father speaks a few announcements, and I notice a heavy French accent, though not Parisian.  This might be odd, and a little tough, but I’ve comprehended worse.

Mass begins, and I am rather taken aback by how quickly he speaks the prayers.  I may be rusty, but I have enormous difficulty even catching individual words.  There are no breaks except when he moves from book to book.  I ask myself, "how does he breath?" [Yes… I think this is a legitimate criticism.  Sometimes priests don’t account for the fact that the prayers are language and not merely formulas.]

We then hear the reading, Gospel and Homily.  I’d say it is a very solid homily, especially for one of the more difficult Gospels.  He wasn’t Fulton Sheen, but I do wish such homilies were more common.  [Not many priests are.] Even so, he does speak longer than the average OF homily.

For the most part, I can ape through the various postures,  though the genuflections are a bit akward (I’m a big guy, so it takes a little longer). 

By the time Communion begins, I rue that I didn’t sit further back.  I’ve never received Communion like this before. [!] I thankfully figured out that my hands must be beneath the cloth when I receive the Sacrament in time.  My mind is still racing while I get up that I go back to my pew the wrong way.  I felt silly by the time I figured this out, but that’s just how it goes.  Oh well.   [Yes.  But the next time will be much easier.]

Mass concludes, and I am still reeling.  I pray for a little, then leave quietly.  On my way out I notice a rack of pamphlets.  There is one that catches my eye – an encyclical concerning atheistic communism.  I didn’t know if I had to pay for any of these, as this one was rather thick.  It would be an interesting read, and it’s a shame that it has been forgotten as much as H.V.

All in all, it was a positive experience.  Even so, I kinda wished Father hadn’t rattled off the prayers quite so much. 

It is always interesting to hear or read first impressions of the older form, especially from people who are young enough not to have known it at all when growing up.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I remember my first experience with the EF. It was 2 years ago, just prior to Summorum Pontificum. I was only 20 at the time, so obviously grew up only attending OF Masses. I was driving home on a Sunday and looked on for a Mass that would be offered at about the same time I would be heading through any town on the route. As it turned out there was only one such Mass, at 1:30 p.m.

    When I walked into the church I was handed a red booklet (the Ecclesia Dei missal) which I though was a song sheet. When I opened it after sitting down I realized that it was not a song sheet. I didn’t understand anything that went on during that Mass but looked it up when I got home that night. I found out that it was the old form of Mass. A few months later Summorum Pontificum was issued and a monthly TLM started to be offered about 1 hr from my college. I started to go to that monthly Mass and was hooked. The rest is history.

  2. MargaretMN says:

    When I first attended a Latin Mass a few years ago, I was fine with all the latin (could figure it out more or less). The thing that threw me was the communion rail, as in, I wasn’t where to kneel or what to do. I’d received on the tongue certainly but not kneeling nor known where to go with multiple priests moving quickly back and forth along the line. I told my 70+ year old parents and they laughed and said they couldn’t remember it being that hard. I guess if you see it happen enough, it becomes second nature like anything else.

    An encyclical about “atheistic communism”? I think rather than going to contemporary TLM, he actually stumbled into a rift in the space/time continuum and went back in time.

  3. Manrique Zabala de Arizona says:

    Dear Padre,

    What JohnMa writes could be part of my own biography. I discovered TLM because of a friend, who could not attend himself, suggested me to go. I’ve never regretted the decision. At first, I switched from the best Novus Ordo mass I knew, from an old-old-old school jesuit (turned 84, this year) and TLM from week to week.

    But then I remained with the new community I had found. It was friendly people, who cheerfully welcomed me as one of them, and I did really felt part of something way bigger. I’m affraid in the old parrish I was just one in a crowd.

    Today, I cannot regret having started. I cannot regret having learned how to become an altar server and I don’t miss a chance to share all this with my friends.

  4. cheekypinkgirl says:

    This was my first impression of a Latin Mass, at the *same* Milwaukee church as the letter-writer, back in January:

    I was born in the late 1960’s. Also catechized in the liberal (read: Archbishop Weakland) Milwaukee diocese. Have to say it’s going to take alot more for me to want to switch over to the Tridentine, even though I really am coming to like and appreciate all other aspects of Traditional Catholicism.

  5. Jack Hughes says:

    My first experiance with the TLM (not including recordings and videos on youtube) was last Trinity Sunday when my Parish Priest offered to drive me to the only Parish in the diocese that offers the TLM on a daily basis, What struck me (apart from the beauty of the TLM) was the reverence and popular piety (Mantilla’s respectful atire ect) shown by the parishinors, no pre-Mass chatting in this Church. I left with three thoughts (a) why on earth did we ditch the TLM for the N.O?, (C) I feel as if I’ve actually been fed (not being fed is a common complaint I hear from my collage classmates who left the Church for protestant assemblies) and lastly by simple action of promulgating the N.O the cause for Paul VI’s beatification should be closed and never re-opened.

  6. Aaron says:

    I remember in high school French class, when we’d listen to tapes of someone speaking French, how incredibly fast it seemed. It was one thing to translate words on the page, but quite another to try to pick them out of normal-speed speech. I wonder if the same thing doesn’t happen at the TLM, even to people who have a smattering of Latin and a missal in hand. It may not seem fast or perfunctory to him.

    I recently attended a Mass where it seemed like the visiting priest was just mumbling the Latin without any particular feeling or devotion. Then he gave a homily where he talked about how great the TLM is, how much more devotional it seems and so on. I realized he didn’t intend his recitation to sound uninterested at all; maybe he just has trouble with the language.

    Our ancestors either grew up with the Latin Mass so they were used to it long before First Communion, or they were converts who learned it while they were catechists. We “Novus Ordo babies” are the first Catholics in history who walk into the TLM cold and try to grasp the whole thing at once, from when to genuflect to how to take Communion on the tongue. If it takes us a few weeks and a little home-study with a missal to learn what our grandparents years or months learning, that’s not all that surprising.

  7. Natasa says:

    Having grown up with NO (born in the 70s) I’ve never even heard of TLM but was fed prejudice about ‘those weird Catholics who are against the progressive Vatican II and prefer the Latin Mass’.
    That was all I knew and never bothered to learn about our tradition.
    I discovered TLM a few months ago when I started reading religious blogs. Out of curiosity I looked for videos on Youtube. I was absolutely stunned. It seemed so beautiful and spiritual. I’ve been to several since and feel completely at home. I still alternate with my NO parish but I think I will eventually attend TLM exclusively.

  8. The first EF I attended was a private Low Mass celebrated by my brother. He received an altar stone as a gift which he used for the mass. I served at that EF Mass. My mom was also present. We had the EF Mass in our living room since the Philippines is still relatively hostile towards the EF Mass and my brother is afraid that this might be used against him. My mom followed through the prayers and she said that it was like reminiscing the “good old days.” She answered the prayers in Latin well!

    In hiding, in our own living room…Now I know what the early Christians felt like. What a way to have my first time TLM!

  9. NLucas says:

    I was taken this posting–even though it’s taken a week to reply. It was interesting, and your response was, as usual, thoughtful and thought-provoking. I would like to offer my own observations.

    Unlike most cradle Catholics or even those who suffered through the liturgical changes, I had an unusual introduction to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In 1980, when I was sixteen years old, I went through instruction and was received into the Catholic Church through the (pre-excommunications) Society of St Pius X. To be more accurate, I received my instruction for about a year from a dear laywoman and then went to St Marys (SSPX central) for a week of instruction from a priest prior to conditional baptism. I lived in a section of the country where there are still very few Catholics, so I had almost no exposure to any type of church service other than evangelical Protestant prior to my conversion.

    Because my catechists were battle-scarred Trads, my instruction in the Faith (mostly the Baltimore Catechism and Radio Replies) included an exposition of the texts of the prayers of the TLM. My first Catholic Mass that I attended was a Divine Liturgy in a Maronite Church, which I found exciting and mysterious, although I had no real idea what was happening. My first Mass in the Roman Rite was a Solemn High Mass, which was truly like what I imagined heaven to be. Even though a neophyte, I learned quickly to follow the TLM in the missal and I expected all Catholic Masses to have something of the ars celebrandi of the traditional that I had seen in the Maronite Rite and the TLM.

    Because I now had the obligation to attend Holy Mass and the nearest TLM was a four hour drive from my home, I went to the local Catholic parish, in a diocese that was, at the time, somewhat notorious for heterodoxy and liturgical license.

    As I remember, my first impression was confusion. Serious confusion. Where were the mantillas? Where was the Tabernacle? Where was the silence? I knew it was going to be said in English, but why was so much of it extemporaneous? Why was the priest saying Mass to God while he was looking at me? Why didn’t anybody kneel? Quite honestly, even with a missalette, I could not follow the Mass because I didn’t know if the priest was going to use option A, B, or C, or make up something new, and the cues weren’t clear. Following the Latin (I think mostly because I didn’t bring expectations and because I studied the TLM beforehand) in the TLM was easier! Mostly I remember realizing that almost nothing I learned belonged to the Catholic Mass was in what I immediately took away that morning.

    I think I was most upset by the lay people distributing Holy Communion and people standing and grabbing (pardon my term, it accurately reflects my feelings at the time) the Host. My reaction called to mind what I later heard as Protestant criticism of Catholics in general—“if you really believe the Holy Eucharist to be the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, then why are you so casual about It when you take Holy Communion?” I also remember thinking that these Catholics didn’t do Protestant-type worship very well. I could find better hymn singing and improvisational prayer at the local Methodist or Pentecostal Holiness church.

    Because it was so different, I came to an erroneous conclusion—the Novus Ordo must reflect a different religion than what I had just entered. For the next year and a half, guided by my lay Trad friends and SSPX priests, I went to Holy Mass every 2-3 weeks, when I could make the 4 hour drive.

    Going off to college, I was even further away from any TLM (there were precious few around, even with the SSPX, in 1982), and I quickly realized that I have to actually be serious about my commitment to the Catholic Church. I also had a number of cradle Catholics in the dorms with whom I could find out more. I confessed, started making my Sunday obligation, and tried to cooperate as best as a prideful youth can with grace towards obedience. It wasn’t easy—I knew full well (after all, I had read Michael Davies’ Pope Paul’s New Mass!) about the ICEL mistranslations, gritting my teeth through each “peace to His people on earth” and “for all,” I scrupulously avoided the then popular “honey cakes” Masses, and went a lot (for various faults) to Confession. Only then did I learn more about the continuity between the Novus Ordo and the TLM, and began to hope for a day when a decent translation and reverence would return. I spent the next fifteen or so years exclusively in the Novus Ordo, until we moved to where I found an approved TLM within an hour’s drive.

    I admit my lack of formation and my pride in these first impressions, almost thirty years ago. I also think that the celebration of the Novus Ordo has improved exponentially, in general, since my first exposure, due largely to the new generation of priests. Nonetheless, the Traditional Latin Mass will always be home for me, and after a long time, is still a slice of heaven on earth. As WDPRS-ers read about first impressions of the TLM, I think it’s useful to also keep in mind the novelty and the first reactions to the Ordinary Form as a balance.

    In Christ,

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