A reader shares first experience of Mass in the Extraordinary Form

VOTE FOR WDTPRSFrom time to time I like to post comment from readers about their their first experience of a TLM, Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

This was in my inbox this morning.  The writer has negatives and positives to express.  I was interested to read how, for her, so much seems to have hinged on the priest’s actions and attitude.

My emphases and comments.

I read you enjoy hearing about your readers’ first TLM experiences, so I figured I’d share mine. I attended the only TLM available in Saskatchewan. It was a High Mass with about 30 people (the majority were converts according the Mass organizer), and after much anticipation and excitement to finally have a chance to experience what all the hype is about (I’m not normally where I have easy access to a TLM), I can only describe it in two words, disappointing and confusing.

It was disappointing because after reading so much disdain from other readers about the NO and how much more reverent the TLM is, I didn’t find it anymore reverent. The biggest complaint I’ve heard is how irreverent the NO’s “cattle drive” is for communion, so the irreverence at the TLM really irked me. The way TLM has been described, it sounded like some reverent event where people get on their knees to receive communion ever-so-reverently on their tongue, while the priest recites a much longer communion distribution prayer, giving a better understanding of what Jesus actually did for us. I’m going to give the priest the benefit of the doubt and assume he recited the communion prayer silently, but the “line ‘em up; knock ‘em down. NEXT!” at the communion rail, was a lot less reverent.  [This seems to have more to do with the priest than the rite of Mass or the attitude of the congregation.]

It felt more like the priest was trying to break last week’s communion distribution speed than anything else.

I also found it very confusing. Thankfully I sat next to a nice lady who guided me through the little Latin/English Mass booklet, but I couldn’t for the life of me follow along. I think somewhere I got a misunderstanding of what active participation meant because I was under the impression that there was very little active participation involved in the TLM. I was wrong. Between trying to follow along and sing the responses in Latin, and making sure to stand, sit, kneel, genuflect and make the sign of the cross in all the right places, I was (attempting) to actively participate more than I had ever experienced in the NO. [Now I’m confused.  That sounds like a good thing.] It didn’t take long for me to get lost until I recognized the sound of the Preface from the NO and the bells at consecration. [I am still confused.  How do you not know where you are in the first part of a TLM?  With the exception of the prayers at the foot of the altar, the Novus Ordo follows pretty much the same structure once you get to the Kyrie.] I wasn’t even sure when Mass was officially over and it was okay to leave because nobody left for like ten minutes. It was just very confusing. [Nobody left?  Perhaps they were praying after Mass?  Making an act of thanksgiving?  That is not a flaw of the older form of Mass or a problem with the congregation.  The problem rests in people rushing out immediately (or even before) Mass is ended.  No?]

But I do have some good things to say about the TLM [Actually, some of the negatives seemed like positives, to me.] and my experience. First, I have to tip my hat to the priest who had to be pushing 90, yet seems a lot younger. Hopefully there’s another priest to take over once he retires, otherwise there will be no more TLM. I still have mixed feelings about the lack hymns (by hymns I mean real hymns, not those “Jesus is a Friend of Mine” type songs), but the Gregorian chant does trump a lot of those new Mass compositions for the NO. My experience has not put me off from the attending the TLM per se, but I still prefer the NO Mass as long as I can find a parish that doesn’t turn it into an overly-liberal progressivist Mass.

An interesting collection of observations.

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  1. AnnAsher says:

    It sounds like our friend here perhaps would benefit from digging more deeply into the movements and prayers of the Mass and thy “why” behind them. For me, once I truly understood what was happening – not just my memorized responses- now I can truly go to any Mass (NO, TLM, Byzantine…) and know where I am.
    That said – it did take exactly 8 Sundays for me to be literally in step with the Priest as I follow along in the red book. Finishing prayer for prayer in sync. Now, a year and a half in to weekly TLM ( Sunday) mostly don’t read along- my heart,mind and spirit knows the focus and intention of even the silent parts and I am able to unite myself most fullfillingly.

  2. Aaron B. says:

    I understand how she could be confused at a High Mass. Even after attending several Low Masses and feeling comfortable with it, my first High Mass had me completely lost at times. In the missals we have in our pews, everything is given in order as it happens in a Low Mass. There’s no indication that, at a High Mass, the prayers at the foot of the altar will happen simultaneously (and unheard) with the choir singing the introit, for instance. So the novice is looking at page one while the priest is cruising on through page 2 and the choir is singing the introit from page 3 (or from a separate proper leaflet). It is confusing for the novice. Of course, there didn’t used to be novices in the sense that there are today — you learned the Mass as you grew up, or while being catechized as an adult convert. The phenomenon of adult Catholics having to figure out the Mass is completely new.

    When people ask me about attending their first TLM, I tell them to attend the High Mass if they want to experience the full majesty of it, but not to worry about “knowing what’s going on.” Just sit near the back so you can watch others to see when to sit/stand/kneel, and watch the altar and pray on what’s happening. On the other hand, when you want to learn what’s happening, attend a Low Mass and follow along in the missal.

  3. benedictgal says:

    While I realize that each person has his own individual experiences, in my case, I found it quite rewarding.

    Here is what I wrote:

    Here is an excerpt:
    “It was a very long time since I had been to Mass in the Extraordinary Form. The Mass was celebrated in a small chapel (pictured above) called Holy House, at Our Lady of Walsingham, the Anglican-Use Catholic Parish. There were five of us, including Father. After Father vested, he began the Mass. I admit that I was flustered with myself because I felt this need to have a Missal in my hands so that I could follow along. However, after the Confiteor, it hit me that I just needed to let go of the notion that I needed a book and simply join my feeble prayers to Father’s. I found myself praying the Mass and it was quite liberating. Father’s brief homily was also something that I needed to hear. He reminded us that no matter what storms we may face in life, Jesus is there with us.

    As the Mass progressed, I came to the realization that “active participation” has a truly profound meaning. “Active Participation” does not mean that I have to engage in vocal prayer at every moment. The heart and the soul need to be engaged in this “active participation.” Granted, there were times when I joined in the prayers (Pater Noster, Agnus Dei, Domine non sum dignus), but, the rest of the time, I was focused on the Holy Sacrifice, adding my own supplications to Father’s.”

  4. Bornacatholic says:

    Because Mass is worship offered to God I wonder if your commentator has considered whether the NO or the EF is objectively a superior from of worship rather than focusing on one’s personal preference for either Liturgy.

    I certainly do think it the case that one has to become some what of an autodidact when it comes to the Traditional Mass if one is to approach it on a rational basis but the very fact that it seems to me that what she described as “confusing” might, at some other time, be described by her as a mystery is a positive.

  5. James Joseph says:

    Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form, I find to be hands down the most edifying. Most significantly I reminded o f the gratuitousness of God’s Love. I am not needed and yet I here I am being asked to gaze at the communion rail, the best thing ever devised.

    My one disappointment is something that I know is not proper to Extraordinary Form. It is that ugly head rearing itself; the heresy of Stoicism, so rampant between 1850 and 1950. It is patently absurd to run through the rites, grinding through to 5th gear, like it’s an enduro race on the Mille Miglia.

    Contrast this with the over-the-top Emotionalism infesting the Ordinary Form. Here, I am thinking of the Espistle reading taking seemingly FOREVER. (ev-er-y wo-rd is o-ver-ly pr-o-nounc-ed, ch-ang-ing p-itch, mi-spro-nounc-ed, and then we have Mal-chez-a-dech)

    Couple this with the endless announcements. Seriously folks, the captive audience thing is bad. I have somewhere to go. Why did that ridiculous Rite of the holy Money Grubbing take like 15-minutes. Why have I been here for an hour and forty-five minutes?

    I have 28 parishes in my little city. Next time, I’ll drive 80 miles roundtrip and go to the edge of the diocese where the Bishop keeps the *dangerous* Extraordinary Form at a safe distance.


  6. Supertradmum says:

    It is the duty of the established community to meet with new people, very quietly before Mass, and hand out any material which may be on tables in the back, such as the red missals. Also, I would highly suggest reading through the Mass before going. However, sometimes, people find out about these EF Masses at the last minute and go unprepared.

    It is our tradition in the West to want to know what is going on, instead of resting in the Mystery of the Mass, as the Eastern brethren do. I think it is an unrealistic expectation to understand and follow everything for the first time, especially if one has never attended an EF ever.

    Having grown up with the Mass, I have not been confused, but take it as a duty to see if there are new people who look puzzled, and help them, if not before, than after Mass.

    As to staying after Mass, I wish more people in our EF community did that. I like to say the “thank you” prayers for Communion, having learned that wonderful tradition from the Byzantine priest who is a friend of the family and always encouraged his congregation to say the prayers of gratitude after the Divine Liturgy. He even went so far as to tell the “coffee ladies” to wait and not rush out to fix the sumptuous breakfasts we had after every Liturgy.

  7. fabyrne says:

    for a large part of my life the Holy Mass in Latin was all we had, I miss it and the great music. It used to be said that Catholics couldn’t sing and now we have the music to prove it.

  8. Henry Edwards says:

    Benedictgal, thanks for a very thoughtful and evocative “first EF Mass reflection”.

    However, after the Confiteor, it hit me that I just needed to let go of the notion that I needed a book and simply join my feeble prayers to Father’s. I found myself praying the Mass and it was quite liberating.

    Before our EF Mass yesterday, I reflexively handed red missalettes and propers leaflets to an obviously first-time family as they entered. Later, during the high Mass with the choir singing glorious Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony, I noticed them thumbing back and forth, obviously lost, and missing the beauty of music and ceremony because of concern with the written word.

    Once again I was reminded of my long held belief that EF newcomers should not even allowed to pick up those ubiquitous red missalettes. Once again, I resolved that, henceforth when an usher, I will hide them whenever I see obvious first-timers coming through the door.

  9. Maltese says:

    Dear Reader,

    I think too often mass-goers do not understand what the mass is a), and b) what their role at Holy Mass should be. The Mass is not always what we get, but what we give. We go to Mass to worship, and to give God a Spiritual bouquet in prayer; if there are times when it is “confusing,” or if, say, you can’t hear the Priest offering the Sacrifice, that’s OK–it is then when we should be offering the strongest prayer. The Mass IS substantially the same Sacrifice as when Christ was Sacrificed (though in an unbloody manner.) The NO just does not adequately offer this essential element of Holy Mass. Here is how St. Pius X explains it:


    Hopefully if you return to the ancient and beautiful rite that is the TLM (the rite which formed the majority of the Saints), you might go armed with a Missal; here is the Biblical underpinnings of the Missal:


  10. APX says:

    I wrote that and Aaron hit it right on the head with the not knowing which page you’re on and the Missals not indicating what’s done silently/simultaneously. Added to that the trying to listen for a distinct word to find which prayer you’re on when everything is sung is difficult. I still don’t recall singing the Our Father or Lamb of God.

    I tried to find a comparison of the TLM to the NO online to figure out what was the same and different, but everything I found seemed to be put out by the SSPX and made the two look like two completely different Masses. Does anyone know of any unbiased web sites comparing the two, or at least one explaining the EF?

    Unfortunately there is only one EF Mass in all of Saskatchewan, and it’s a high mass. It would be nice if there were more options for attending, and to have it in more than one city. In the meantime I’ll have to take advantage of attending EF Masses whenever traveling through the country and the US.

  11. Gail F says:

    I am glad to read this. It is silly to pretend that everyone who ever attends a TLM will be instantly transported by it, just as it is silly to pretend that the NO is the greatest thing since sliced bread. This person gave his first impressions and surely they are valuable as just that — first impressions. They show that 1) it is possible to celebrate a TLM in a perfunctory manner, 2) not everyone figures out what is going on right away, 3) there is a lot more to a TLM than just sitting in the pews, 4) different sorts of music can confuse people who are not used to them… and a lot more. I would not assume this person would never understand or love a TLM, I would take him at his word: The first time at this sort of mass was not what he expected and was a positive experience in some ways and a negative experience in others.

    This weekend I went to a different NO mass than the one I usually attend. There were some good things about it, there were a couple of mistakes (they were mistakes and not deliberate changes, due to a number of things happening with the choir and a special appeal) and there were some things I couldn’t stand. Some of the things I thought were bad happen at my parish too, but I don’t notice them anymore when they are done by familiar people. These are my impressions of the mass — they don’t amount to an indictment or an endorsement. Same with the post above.

  12. benedictgal says:

    In my case, the EF I assisted at was spur of the moment. I only knew that this was going to happen maybe an hour before.

  13. MarkJ says:

    I had a “dual-rite experience” this weekend, as I attended the NO on Saturday evening with my daughter and the TLM Sunday morning by myself. My daughter and I were out of town for team sports reasons, so I took her to a Saturday evening to Mass in order to work around her team events. It was a jam-packed NO with all the 70’s trimmings… a banal altar table surrounded with 70’s modern chrome trimmed chairs for the priests… the altar servers, both male and female, were decked out in non-descript white robes, folksy songs were belted out by a sometimes over- enthusiastic male cantor, and the polyester-clad priest delivered the homily down front among the people, doing his best to keep the folks entertained with the Gospel. There were two statues apart from the altar, with electric votives in front of them. The Mary statues was almost hidden by the band instruments in front of her. We left after Communion because the music was becoming unbearable. It felt like we were back in 1975. I had to apologize to my daughter after the Mass for subjecting her to it, and explain to her again why things like that had happened in the Church, and remind her that at least she was able to fulfill her Sunday obligation. Luckily at home we have two churches within 30 minutes that offer weekly TLMs which we attend more often than not… as for my contrasting Sunday morning TLM experience, it was at the SSPX Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Phoenix, AZ. The sign outside identified the Church as Roman Catholic, SSPX. The chapel itself was beautiful – the building looked from the outside like 1970’s modern, and yet the inside had been transformed into something one could only describe as most decidedly Catholic… an exquisite old high altar (maybe from a closed Church) with a large statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, flanked by statues of angels. There was a beautiful almost life-size pieta in a niche in one wall, as well as other statues around the sanctuary, and real votive candles to light. The altar area was done in marble, as was the altar rail. The papal flag was there, as well as the American flag. The stations of the cross were paintings, again probably rescued from a closed church. The priest was young and right on target with his homily, as he was with the rest of the Mass. He wore Roman-style vestments. His Latin was very good. There was a children’s choir (at the 7am Mass!), and an organist. Men and women dressed well, women wore mantillas. I came away knowing I had encountered true worship of God, refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to tackle the task at hand… striving to become a saint. I thanked one of the priests afterwards for the work the Society has done in preseerving the Faith. If I lived in Phoenix and had to choose where to take my family, I would be very tempted to go to the SSPX chapel, where a truly Catholic Mass is offered in all its glory. It seems to me that many NO parishes that so distort the Mass are more in schism than the SSPX ever was. I could not subject my children to a 1970’s NO, and expect them to remain Catholic for long. The more we go to the TLM, the more intolerant we become to the NO and its human-centered worship. I pray every day for the SSPX to be in full Communion with the Church, but it is more a prayer that the Church return to Tradition and re-align with the Faith as preserved by the SSPX, than it is a prayer for the SSPX to convert and align with the NO mindset. I pray for the dialog going on between the SSPX and Rome. In the meantime, I encourage all of us who care for Tradition to explain to people why the TLM is so much more effective at what it does, and to go out of our way to support the TLM wherever it may be found.

  14. sheilal says:

    Thank you, Gail!

  15. MarkJ says:

    As a point of clarification, when I said “the NO and its human-centered worship”, I did not mean to imply that the NO is not valid or that it does not offer True Worship… however, the majority of NOs I have been to seem to focus more on the people rather than on God in the way they are celebrated. And that can lead individual parishioners away from True Worship and toward worship of self. That to me is the danger of the NO as we encounter it in many parishes today.

  16. Jim Dorchak says:

    We can not know God uless we come like a child to him. This is true in the EF Mass as well.

    You know, it is like a marriage or in your case Fr Z, your priestly life. YOU HAVE TO WORK AT IT!
    It is up to us to know God. God already knows us.
    I do not like working all day long for near nothing to feed my family. I would bet priests out there do not like getting up at 3 am to go to the bedside of a dying Catholic. I would venture that there are millions of moms and dads (like my wife and I) who do not like changing diapers, but we find love in the doing and learn in the living. It is our call to live our lives more in what we give, then what we take.

    The Mass in the EF is like that for me. I do not like getting up at 5:30 am and loading the kids up to drive to Mass 1 hour and 45 min away, but the longer I have atteded the Mass in the EF the more this has become a part of our family prayer life and sacrifice. Learning the Mass in the EF for me has been a journey and around each corner has been a beautful maple tree, or a spring, or a sunset that has kept me on the path to greater prayer and faith.
    At the end of the letter the writer seems to get this, we all need to be there to encourage each other in our prayer life and our journery. I do this every Sunday with my children, and my wife and I help each other as well. Maybe the writer needs a guide, but I suggest some good reading would also be enlightening.

    Jim Dorchak

  17. benedictgal says:

    Jim, that is why Liturgy is also called work, the work of the people who are engaged in prayer. It is a labor of love.

  18. APX says:

    Because Mass is worship offered to God I wonder if your commentator has considered whether the NO or the EF is objectively a superior from of worship rather than focusing on one’s personal preference for either Liturgy.

    I don’t consider one to be superior to the other. I do understand the need for the new translation, but as long as the NO is said properly and it’s not a blatant disregard of being a Mass I don’t see it as any less of a Mass. I’m sure if I had the option of attending an EF Mass every weekend and being able to learn it, I would probably grow a preference to the EF just because I like ceremonial/ritualistic types of things. Before knowing we even had the EF Mass I was drawn to the Greek Orthodox mass simply by the sacredness of how they do it.

  19. r7blue1pink says:

    While this isnt a side by side guide APX, you should find this helpful =) and explore the rest of the site as well.
    Dont be discouraged, it took me at least over a month to “get it” but internally, it was at my first EF Mass that I cried thru the entire thing-I had never felt so humbled or internally moved in my life. Every Mass is like that for me- but now, without the crying =)


  20. Jim Dorchak says:

    “benedictgal says:
    21 February 2011 at 11:44 am
    Jim, that is why Liturgy is also called work, the work of the people who are engaged in prayer. It is a labor of love.”

    So true. You have said it so much better than I could hope.

  21. Well, yeah. For newbies, it’s just plain hard to understand what’s going on at any precise moment, even if you know Latin and can follow it pretty well by ear (especially since most of Mass is done so quietly), unless you’re at a High Mass and there’s a lot of choir singing to be done and you’re holding the book — and even then, you’ll spend a lot of time missing cues. I’ve been tons of times, I’ve got decent amounts of Latin, I understand the format and the whole shebangie, and I’ve got several Missals to choose from. But it’s just not internalized, especially the whole “tell what’s going on by the priest’s back and the acolyte stuff” thing. Sit in the back, sit in the front, no difference. (Heck, we had a book on the EF showing the priest’s positions in photographic color when I was a kid, and I never figured out until a few years ago that the illustrations weren’t just for pretty. If you rely on me to read body language, you’re looking at the wrong person.)

    Some people intuit this stuff more, or are naturally more attentive to certain kinds of cues, or are motivated to watch videos and stomp it all into their heads. These people will learn quickly. There are also a lot of people who remember this stuff from the old days, and can’t picture anybody not having it internalized. They expect too much. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with someone feeling confused instead of having a Pentecostal experience sweep them away.

    Shrug. I just go with the same attitude as when I was five. I got the book, I attend, I watch, I pray; and if a lot of it goes over my head, so what. Sooner or later, I’ll “get it”. Particularly if I’m ever in a position to spend six years attending an EF Mass every Sunday, which is how long it took me to internalize the OF as a kid.

  22. Aaron B. says:

    I tried to find a comparison of the TLM to the NO online to figure out what was the same and different, but everything I found seemed to be put out by the SSPX and made the two look like two completely different Masses.

    Well, if they’re comparing the actual words to the actual words, ignore their commentary and judge for yourself if you don’t trust them. You probably won’t find an unbiased comparison, since an unbiased person wouldn’t care enough to do the work. But be careful, you might not like your conclusions. Even worse, you might find yourself comparing them with Cramner’s Lord’s Supper, and asking yourself some very tough questions.

    The red TLM missal does say what parts are silent, but it doesn’t say what parts will be sung over by the choir, like you say. I also don’t like that it includes the propers from a particular Sunday. The fine print explains that they’re from the feast of the Holy Trinity (I think), but it’d be better if they were just left out and replaced with “See a separate proper for this prayer” (which should be provided at the door for Sundays and holy days).

    But really, the next time you have a chance to attend a High Mass, just forget the missal and trying to understand what’s going on at the level of words, and appreciate it at a different — maybe deeper — level. Watch the priest’s humility as he bows down and confesses before approaching the altar. Enjoy the chant, if you have a good choir. Note the reverence with which various things and people are incensed. Fix your eyes on the Body and Blood as the priest elevates them at the consecration. There’s plenty to appreciate without understanding each step. I go back and forth: sometimes I follow every word in the missal, to remind myself how beautiful the words are; and sometimes I don’t touch it and watch the altar instead.

    One great thing about the TLM is that no one’s watching you. The priest isn’t talking to you (even when he turns around, he shouldn’t make eye contact), so you don’t feel like you have to hold up your end of a conversation. Sometimes I bow my head down on my folded hands and close my eyes for long stretches of the Mass, with none of the self-consciousness that I would have felt doing the same thing at a NO. That’s a bit of a paradox: though TLM-goers are more focused on the rules and doing everything by the book, there’s actually less pressure to conform in how you participate beyond those specific rules.

  23. Henry is just right. For a newcomer, following along in the missal (or rather ATTEMPTING) to follow along, is frustrating and fruitless. For one who is used to the NO, with it’s simple progression of things, the process of having the Priest intone a prayer and the choir carry it forth is very hard to get a grip on. Better to just sit and absorb and pray along with the priest in your own way.

    If you understand what’s going on in general, the need to follow every word fades away. That’s the beauty of the TLM. – if you just relax and allow your spirit to join in the prayers, the MASS ITSELF will carry your spirit and your prayers heavenward.

  24. Henry Edwards says:

    APX: ”I tried to find a comparison of the TLM to the NO online to figure out what was the same and different, but everything I found seemed to be put out by the SSPX and made the two look like two completely different Masses.”

    Au contraire, here is a sheet that our community has used in preparatory sessions with newcomers:


    Its intent is to build upon new Mass experience to get more quickly into the old Mass, and in particular to use the red missalettes more effectively. And I’d hope that this parallel listing of corresponding parts of the old and new form makes clear what our Holy Father has stated, that they are in fact different but closely corresponding forms of one and the same Roman rite.

  25. APX says:

    Aaron, that’s so true about forgetting the Missal. I got so wrapped up in it that I completely forgot about what the priest was doing. Maybe it’s from years of being nagged, scolded, and glared at by my mother for not “actively participating” in Mass, that I feel like there is the expectation to a) be able to participate and b) actually do so in order to be viewed as a good Catholic by other parishioners. This the one thing I dislike about small congregations- everyone notices the newcomer, so when you just want to be left alone to figure things out on your own, you can’t because everyone wants to be helpful and welcoming. That sounds so bad because they have good intetions, but I just dislike being smothered.

    I find it interesting that I somehow expected myself to actually get it all down the first time, as if it’s automatically instilled in you because you’re Catholic.

  26. Henry Edwards says:

    our Holy Father has stated, that they are in fact different but closely corresponding forms of one and the same Roman rite.

    Admittedly, this is easier to believe when you can see the OF celebrated properly. At 8 am this morning I attended the OF Mass of a priest who celebrates a daily EF Mass at 6:30 am. It was strictly Say the Red, Do the Black, no ad libs, no noise before, during or after Mass, from the Confiteor after the opening Sign of the Cross to the Prayer to St. Michael at the end. People sang the Kyrie (Greek), Sanctus and Agnus Dei (both Latin) in plain chant (whereas yesterday at TLM the choir sang them in elaborate Gregorian chant). The offertory rite was silent just as at a TLM. The Roman Canon was so quietly pronounced — clearly it was addressed to God rather than us — that it had almost the effect of a silent canon. Those who wished knelt at kneelers for communion on the tongue. Probably the sacrificial aspect was as apparent as at the preceding EF Mass.

    Perhaps the only point is that either form can be celebrated either well or not, though admittedly because of different selectivities in the two forms nowadays, one rarely sees the OF celebrated as well or the EF as poorly as in some of these accounts.

  27. I think it’s important to encourage persons new to the TLM to go for several weeks in a row, or if not in a row, close together. It is a very different experience from a typical NO, and it does often take a while to really get into the rhythm of it. It is also helpful to read as much as possible on the theology and reason behind everything that is going on, and the way it is going on, so that one can enter more fully into the beauty of the Mass – this is true of the NO, as well, but especially of an unfamiliar TLM. So I would encourage the new attendee to go back again, and a few more times, and then offer another assessment to see if anything has changed in his or her experience.

  28. Anonymous Seminarian says:

    Giving the ‘reader’ the benefit of the doubt, I take this as evidence of the fault-lines in the church before the Council, that there were many priests who offered the TLM in a hasty, irreverent manner. This, and other experiences like it, should be a clarion call for seminarians and priests to remind us that the form itself, while encouraging more reverence, God-focused worship, etc., will not do it on its own. Thank you, Fr. Z, for posting it; I think we always need these reminders, lest we should think the rite will do everything for us. Well, at least I need them.

  29. Rachel says:

    I usually tell a person who is going to the EF for the first time to just sit, pray, relax, and take it all in. Don’t worry about following along since it is inevitable that the person will get lost. It took a couple of times for me to figure out what is going on. Now its second nature. Sadly, not every EF is done well. We are fortunate to have two EF masses here in Jacksonville but one of them (the one that just got started less than 2 years ago) has a lot of problems. It stems from the fact that the priests, God bless them, need to practice the Mass more. They forget some stuff :(. As a result, attendance at that Mass is small. Also, another important part is making newcomers feel welcome. Smile, hand them a missalette if they want one, and answer any questions they might have before the Mass starts. If you have coffee/dougnuts or something else after Mass then invite them too. Rude, cold, and unfriendly people will turn many newcomers away who might have a curiosity about the Mass and want to check it out. It is very important to be friendly to everyone who comes through the doors :).

  30. APX says:


    There is no doubt in my mind that I need to attend the EF more often to really get it. Unfortunately I don’t reside someplace during the school year that offers an EF mass and the 500 km roundtrip to Calgary every weekend is too expensive. I just happen to be home for the break and decided to attend. It’ll be 2 months until I can attend regularly, unless work gets in the way.

  31. Henry Edwards says:

    Rachel: What you say is very true. It seems to me that the camaraderie that people share in a typical TLM community is an added benefit. Just this morning someone named Michael S. posted the following comment to the yahoo trad group, and I hope he will not mind my quoting it here:

    “I attended my first high Mass today, it was amazing. Even more amazing was the Parish breakfast afterward where I saw how much everyone there loved Jesus. We were overwhelmed with how nice and welcoming everyone was. As a convert from an evangelical church I can say you Latin Mass people are just as hospitable as any Protestant group.”

  32. MarkJ says:

    APX – I would encourage you to get a group of TLM supporters together (fellow students?) and approach the parish pastor to request a local TLM. Explain your situation as students in need of pastoral support while away from home. Explain that many students have no car, etc., etc. Offer to help him get what he needs to celebrate the Mass. Be an enabler… if and when it happens, post the news in the Student Newspaper… encourage your friends to attend. Write a letter of thanks to the pastor afterwards… In short, there is no reason you should have to travel 500 km to get what Pope Benedict has said is your right as a Catholic.

  33. Lirioroja says:

    Thank you so much Fr. Z for posting this and thanks also to Gail for your comments. I was also underwhelmed by my first EF experience – and that was a sung Requiem! I walked out of the church thinking, “Well, now I know why they changed things!” However, I’ve been spoiled in that my parish offers a beautiful and reverent say-the-black, do-the-red OF Mass with parts of the ordinary sung in Latin. I’ve also been to Divine Liturgy a few times and loved it each time. But the EF left me cold for a while. It took going to a few more EF Masses, only at the instigation of friends, to learn to appreciate it. Ultimately it was only after attending a Solemn Pontifical Mass that I finally learned to like it.

    I’ve given up trying to follow along in the missal. I have all the readings and propers in mine however I only use it for the readings and for the responses I don’t have memorized yet (which are fewer and fewer these days.) I usually focus on the music and the words the schola is singing. I attentively listen to that and offer it as my prayer. I’m one of the few around here who openly admits to not liking Low Mass. I really don’t. I avoid it if I can (and I usually can.) Without the music the EF seems stripped. And I still can’t get used to the silent canon. My weakness is that my mind easily wanders so when there’s silence it’s not long before my mind leaves the church and goes where it shouldn’t. Hearing the prayers helps my mind focus. I still regularly attend the OF at my parish. I have worked the EF into my spiritual life and I’ve been blessed by it. I don’t have a preference of one over the other except when it comes to two things: death and dealing with the devil. For that it’s the EF or bust. It’s ironic that now the only Mass I want for my funeral is a Sung Requiem!

  34. Charles says:

    That mass in Saskatchewan was at my home parish! Fr. Bruno may be a bit quick and perfunctory in his celebration, and his Polish accent is so thick that it’s difficult to understand when he does the readings and homilies, but overall I have experienced reverence and beauty in that parish. At first it was extremely off-putting, because I was expecting low mass and I couldn’t follow along with everything, but it was certainly better than anything else in Toon town. It took me several months just to get used to sung mass; I eventually gave up following anything except the music using my handy Liber Usualis.

  35. Charles says:

    I’ve also had two of my children baptized in the older form there, and have attended a wedding in the same.

  36. APX says:


    I don’t think the priests here could offer an EF Mass. As it is there a 2 priests trying to run 3 churches and I live in a Mormon community, so I don’t run into too many Catholic students. Even my friends are Mormon. I also wouldn’t be able to be an enabler because I simply don’t have the time, especially this time of the year. Getting an EF mass organized is no small feat, and it wouldn’t be fair to get it started and then move away right away. These things also tend to cost money, which I don’t have, nor does the parish. They’re trying to build a new church and restore the old church, which I’ll admit would suit an EF mass quite nicely.

    It’s one thing to have a right to something, but at the same time demanding that right when it really isn’t feasible seems kind of selfish. I’m not a resident of this province, city, diocese, or even a registered parishioner, so it’s really not my place to start demanding rights simply because I have a right to it. The EF is just that, extraordinary. Sure, it’s nice to have, but as Catholics we should be able to attend the OF just as well.

  37. PJ says:

    There’s no shame in feeling rather “lost” during one’s first EF. It can be very confusing when one is used to the OF. Fr Z’s red text comment in the article seems a bit harsh.

    I am sure that many people find they have mixed feelings after attending their first EF – I know I did. I found it really rather disorientating. But something about the EF grew on me – what I initially saw as being rather confusing or disconnecting, I slowly began to appreciate. For instance, whereas I first felt very disconnected at my first EF Mass, and thought the dialogue of the OF seemed a definite improvement, I now feel like I am being bombarded with words at an OF Mass (even an OF Mass celebrated to a high standard of ars celebrandi) and the EF has instead begun to seem more gentle.

    Personally, I have always found prayer very difficult. I find I have the “space” to pray the Mass in the EF. If I were a saint already then I daresay I would find the OF quite satisfactory in this regard. But I am not.

    So I suppose my comment would be: sometimes the EF takes time to grow on us.

  38. elaine says:

    I too was underwhelmed by my first several EF Masses. I wanted to be able to hear what the priest was praying; heck, I wanted to hear the priest during his homily but he seemed to refuse to believe in speaking above a whisper. I found the fact that everyone stayed kneeling after Mass a bit “put on”, and I was then intimidated to leave myself. It seemed a game of “who can stay in the pew the longest”– we had just had 90 min of quiet and contemplation to offer thanksgiving several times over.
    After several Masses I discovered the best thing to do is to put the missal aside completely and visually learn where in the Mass we are by certain cues (posture, bells, etc). This helped with the feeling of being completely and utterly lost. I do find the priest’s refusal to speak above a certain volume level bothersome still… I bet his homilies are great, if I could hear them. (I was told this is how FSSP priests are trained- to minimize their own personality as much as possible so that it isn’t a “cult of personality”. Frankly, I like a little personality in the priest).
    I love the EF for the reverence of the rite and the worshippers. I think if we could reproduce that in the NO I would be just as satisfied (perhaps a bit more?)— especially if it is a nice Adoremus-style NO Mass in latin with ad orientum and kneeling for communion and altar boys and patens and whatnot.

  39. APX,

    I understand completely. I’m a novice in a religious order (the Augustinians) right now and don’t have any access at all to the EF for a full year, and before coming here I’d only just begun to really get into the flow of it. And in reality, my actual preference was not for the EF, but rather for the OF celebrated in Latin with Gregorian Chant at Our Lady of Lourdes in Philadelphia. In the end I’m probably a Novus Ordo guy who really wants to see the NO enriched by the EF, and who definitely wants to see a more liberal use of the EF throughout the Church. But I digress…I just encourage you to be patient and take advantage of the EF whenever you can, whenever it’s available, and in the meantime do as much reading as time allows on the theology of the Mass. You could check out Adrian Fortescue’s The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, a classic which helped my understanding of the Mass tremendously.

    Blessings to you!

  40. One other thing, and I think this is important. During those times when you do feel lost and aren’t able to follow along, as others have suggested – put the Missal down altogether. Let yourself watch what is going on, and during the Canon, turn inward into your heart and praise God for coming to us in the Eucharist, pray for the priest offering the Mass, and allow your heart to be set on fire with adoration. The Mass is supposed to be contemplative, and it is often precisely in this getting lost that we are able to find the mysterious God Who comes to us in such a humble yet powerful way.

  41. Fr. Basil says:

    My only personal complaint about the EF is that I’d like to be able to say–or better, sing–the responses, Credo, Sanctus, and such without being given the hairy eyeball by people around me.

    Language is NOT the issue for me. I love and esteem all authorized Liturgies of the Church when celebrated properly according to the rules and rubrics. They are ALL (not just the EF) the Mass of the/all ages.

  42. It took me three Masses in the EF before I was “un-self-conscious” enough for it to be worshipful. Before that it was too disorienting and unfamiliar, which I suspect is what troubled this observer.

  43. MarkJ says:

    APX –
    I understand your situation and I know how busy student life is… and yes, it can take a lot of effort to get an EF Mass up and running. The reason I mentioned it being a “right” wasn’t to encourage you to demand it (which never works out very well), but just to emphasize that it is a legitimate aspiration in ANY parish, and so I try to encourage people to ask for it (in a nice way, of course). And if the 2 priests in the area are not up to it, then the bishop may be able to help… again, I know it takes time, but we need to build brick-by-brick – maybe a quick letter could get the ball rolling. In the meantime, I hope you have a reverent OF to attend…

  44. Andrew says:

    Anonymous Seminarian:


  45. Bornacatholic says:

    We Christian Catholics almost always fall-back into all of the old familiar arguments about the superiority of the Organically Developed Traditional Mass vs the Intellectual Liberal Liturgical Project. I have a way to think about it differently.

    The Bugnini Mass and the Traditional Mass are similar in structure; one could claim that they, in fact, have similar Liturgical skeletons.

    And one could also claim that the 18 year old Brigitte Bardot and the 42 year old Ruth Buzzi had similar physical skeletons.

    So, in a sort of Canticle of Canticle approach, one can see why the young would be attracted to the organic beauty and eternal youth of the Traditional Mass vs the 42 year old Bugnini-Buzzi Television Era Liturgy.

  46. kallman says:

    Please persist, with increasing familiarity things will become second nature to you in the TLM, just as they already are for the NO. Once this happens you will relax and be able at the same time to concentrate on the sacred mysteries more.

    All the postures, actions etc will come to you automatically after a while.

  47. Before my first TLM, I went out and bought a 1962 Missal and read through the whole Ordinary of the Mass. I also made sure I had the propers marked (this is a lot easier if you know how to navigate a breviary). The TLM was still outside my comfort zone the first time around, but the advance preparation turned out to be very helpful and made a big difference.

  48. thereseb says:

    Actually, that’s not too far from my own first impressions, having been familiar with the Latin OF. My first EF was while a student, and I thought it terribly rushed, and I was the only person among some serious uber-traddies who hadn’t a clue what was going on. Then when I started re-attending more recently, I had my father’s missal, and spent a long time getting lost. Also – I didn’t read chant, and we had Orbis Factor, rather than Missa de Angelis to contend with. Hmm. However, I still got hooked. It was the silent canon, and the prayers in the missal that did it for me. Reading through the missal also gave me a feeling of communion with all those in my family who had been to the same Mass over the years – I could imagine myself in a Pugin chapel, or out by a windy Mass Rock, or in a hidden garret. And after months of warbling, I can finally read chant notation with confidence.

  49. Prof. Basto says:

    Perhaps the very first step for this person, and for others who are curious about the TLM but doesn’t know much about it, is either to research the Order of the Mass on the internet, or to have a fellow member of the congregation give him a comparison of the two orders of Mass (TLM and NO), for him to study.

    If he does not know Latin, he should be handed, or look up in the internet, a vernacular version of the TLM Order of Mass for his study.

    He will then appreciate the most important factor in deciding that one prefers the TLM over the NO: the fact that, in the NO, several doctrinal Truths concering the Sacrificial nature of the Mass are less explicit in the text of the prayers, as are less explicit also the veneration of the Saints, and the very fact of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (the dogma of the Transubstatiation is made less explicit in the NO because the adoration of the Eucharist is simplified in that form of the Mass, with the undue suppresion of gestures that are due before the Real Presence of God).

    Once our friend compares, for instance, the two Offertory prayers, he will find out that the NO almost lacks an Offertory.

    All in all, he will find out that the TLM places stress on the common worship of God by the congregation, while the anointed bishop or priest who stands at the head of the faithful looking up to God functions as a “bridge” between this reality and the reality of the world above, offering to God, as only a priest can, in persona Christi, the Sacrifice of the Altar. He will find that, with its undue focus on community, on dialogue between people and priest, and, especially, due to the possibility, almost in universal use, of celebration not ad orientem, the Novus Ordo oblterates the fact that we are, or should be, a people prostrate before the glory of Almighty God, offering him, our praise and, trough the ministry of the priest, the unblemished Sacrifice instituted by Christ.

    The most important point is this: one needs to compare side by side the two ordinaries of the Mass, of the TLM and of the NO, in print. And then one will reach the inevitable conclusion, that the TLM is, by its very rubrics, more reverent to God.

  50. C. says:

    I was disappointed my first time too.

    Now I go as often as I can.

  51. Hieronymus says:

    I still prefer the NO Mass as long as I can find a parish that doesn’t turn it into an overly-liberal progressivist Mass.

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Bugnini and his Consilium already took care of that part.

    Sorry to hear of your negative experience. I would highly recommend trying to go to/watch one that is offered properly by the orders devoted to its use, and to actually read the older missal itself and study it a little. Compare texts. Compare rubrics. Check the historical theology of the liturgy. Then train your sensibilities to be more comfortable with that which is superior. Broken, confused, and malformed, we in the modern world are ever ready to judge something by our own emotional reaction to it, when too often the fault lies with us. There is no doubt about the Catholicity of the TLM, if we are not comfortable with it, we need to do some real soul searching.

  52. bmadamsberry says:

    I think that some of the negatives that people have with the EF and the OF stem not from the Mass itself or the Rite, but instead from the actions of priests or laity, or, as you pointed out, aren’t negatives to begin with. I think that this disdain for the EF and this disdain for the OF both come from an incorrect view of the Mass.

  53. Kate says:

    I was confused my first time, too. Disappointed? Probably. I was definitely intrigued, though.

    Isn’t active participation something that is more of the mind and the heart than external actions?

    I do not have a local EF, but as time goes by, I appreciate the EF more and more.

    I say stick with it. Try again. There are certainly works of art and literature that demand our time and quiet reflection in order for us to truly appreciate them. I say the EF is in that vein.

  54. julie f says:

    It took me three or four EF masses to be able to follow along. If you have attended the NO your whole life, you have very specific phases or parts of the mass in your mind and you are on the look-out for them in the EF. You’re used to knowing exactly when to sit and stand, when a response is coming up, etc, and so it’s disorienting. Furthermore, it takes experience just to be able to follow along with a booklet; having the texts helps but real comfort is about predictability which only comes with time. Again, it took me probably three EF masses to be able to follow along comfortably — and that with 8 years of (classical, admittedly) Latin including a BA. As others have mentioned, many of the prayers are inaudible and the choir is very frequently at a different point from the priest, two circumstances that basically never occur in the NO. Confusion, I would argue, is a perfectly understandable reaction.

    Personally, learning to pray the EF was a lot like learning the rosary (something else I came to much too late). I had to have all of the rosary prayers and mysteries memorized smoothly before I could even begin to think about meditating on the mysteries. As long as I was flipping through booklets or reading off cards, I found the rosary frustrating and unprayerful; finally I just gave up on trying to pray or meditate and dedicated myself for a week to memorizing the prayers and being able to rattle them off. I recommend a similar method to EF newbies: just accept that your next couple of masses are going to be more or less dedicated to learning the ropes and offer up your efforts to Christ. (Another thing that helps is having a proper missal or something with all the mass texts for the day, rather than a generic guide.) Obviously this is less easy for those without a weekly opportunity which is another reason to pray for wider adoption of the old rite! For me, once I had been a few times I started to feel more comfortable and able to relax, reflect, and pray.

    Cheers to your correspondent for her honest reactions and I hope she will continue to explore our common heritage!

  55. iudicame says:

    Same as HENRY EDWARDS…

    Chill-out, soak it in a half-dozen times, listen for the rhythms, enjoy the wonderment and study your missal at HOME. After a little while it will be apparent where YOU stand in the liturgy and when responses are required and when consulting a missal is necessary AND not necessary and when contemplative activity is preferred to proofing the priest’s every utterance. Works for me.


  56. Geoffrey says:

    I think this is an excellent post and discussion. Believe it or not, but there are many good orthodox Catholics out there who don’t really like Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Personally, I like both forms equally (when done properly!).

    The very first time I attended an EF Mass, it was a Low Mass and I had read up on it extensively for years beforehand. I decided to not use a missal and just “watch”. I have since mastered using a hand missal.

    One thing I noticed is that the EF Mass requires more “active participation” on the part of the faithful as opposed to the OF Mass. For example, at the new Mass everything is very easily done for me… almost “spoon fed”, and I get what I need. At the old Mass, to “get anything out of it”, I have to put a lot more into it; more is required of me.

  57. APX says:

    One thing I noticed is that the EF Mass requires more “active participation” on the part of the faithful as opposed to the OF Mass

    See, and I thought the OF was created to increase active participation.

  58. MissOH says:

    I was definitely confused during my first EF mass as it was a low mass and I had no idea you would not be able to hear the prayers of the priest. I had a booklet, but just had no frame of reference as I am a mid-80’s convert. I did attend some EF masses occasionally, though, even after I was introduced to Gregorian chant and had the opportunity to sing in a woman’s schola, I did not really “get” the EF mass. We moved to a new area after having attended for 5-6 years a parish that celebrated the OF in a very reverent way- communion rail used, polyphony by the choir and silence after communion, no EMHC, altar servers not serviettes, no guitars, confession 7 days a week including before every Sunday mass etc. I found no parish comparable but found no communion rails, guitars, cantors or choirs leading everyone in at least one hymn a week from the 70’s top 40 contemp hymns list. I tried to convince myself that if Jesus can be there so can I, but I found myself not wanting to go to mass. It took me about 3-4 Sundays to really understand and feel comfortable with my missal and with attending both low and high masses. It has been almost 2 years and with a few exceptions, I have only attended the OF weekdays.

    There is a difference in the forms that I “feel” and am trying to figure out how to translate it into words. I had the chance to attend an OF mass in Latin and it was really apparent how much the prayers had been edited and cut down. It seemed less full, if that makes any sense. That is not necessarily bad- I know if would be a challenge for me to attend daily mass if it was in the EF as it is just naturally longer than the OF. I do know that in the event that our family decides to move, I will be making certain that availability of the EF is wherever we move.

  59. Denis says:

    I also left my first EF Mass with mixed feelings. My impression was that the congregation wasn’t doing anything. It’s funny, and quite embarassing to talk about it now, but what really angered me was not being able to sing the whole of the “Pater Noster.” “I can sing it better than the priest,” I thought; “why can’t I and the other parishioners help him along?”

    But that first experience planted a seed. After it, whenever I attended the OF, I wondered, when noticing some difference between the OF and the EF: “Why do we do thing this way now?”

    It’s strange, but, with time, reading, and more EFs (which I was forced to attend because the only alternative was an OF accompanied by an organ/cantor combination that reminded me of the singing of the anthem at the beginning of a hockey game) everything about the more traditional rite began to make sense. I not only began to understand why things were different in the EF, but I began to wonder why they were ever changed.

    To cut a long story–one that lasted a few years–short, I am now in love with the EF. I’d take even an EF low Mass over the most reverent OF. I now appreciate everything about EF that put me off at first, the silence most of all. I cannot bear the thought of not being able to attend the EF. When I make vacation plans or contemplate a work-related move, the first thing I do is look for a parish that offers the EF within driving distance. If there isn’t one, the trip or move is out of the question.

    I’d say to the person who wrote this letter to Father Z., or to anyone who is new to the EF and who feels the same way: study the EF and attend it whenever you get a chance. You will not come out of that experience without being improved. At the very least, you’ll understand what’s going on in the OF better–because the OF, even when celebrated reverently, tends to meld together very distinct liturgical acts that are clearly differentiated in the EF.

  60. Seraphic Spouse says:

    I would dearly like to know which Saskatchewan parish this is. I write a column about the TLM for Saskatchewan’s “The Prairie Messenger” and my topic next week is about active participation, so I am very intrigued by the letter-writer’s experiences.

    The first time I went to a TLM (a Low Mass), I found it dull and confusing. Years later, I found the first two subsequent TLMs (Missae Cantatae) intriguing but confusing. I really didn’t get any kind of hang of it until the third one.

  61. Sam Schmitt says:


    Very well said. Thank you.

  62. Centristian says:

    The first time I attended a Tridentine Mass, I didn’t have a missal and didn’t want one, in any case. My preference was to simply observe and listen and enjoy it. As I began to attend on a weekly basis, I eventually yielded to the practice of following along in the Missal. It was no easy task, at first, to keep up with the celebrant, but I eventually got the hang of it.

    Alot of time went by before I realized that I had gotten into the habit of burying my face in a book, more or less ignoring the actual Mass that was taking place before me. I remember that moment very clearly: I looked up from my missal to see this magnificent ceremony unfolding before a congregation that was all but oblivious to it because they, too, all had their faces buried in their books.

    Later, as a seminarian in a traditionalist seminary, I found myself so frequently involved in ceremonies that there wasn’t the opportunity to follow along in the book, at least not at High Mass. One had no choice but to actively participate in those circumstances. Leaving the seminary years later and returning back to the pews at home, the notion of a personal missal seemed quaint, almost childish, certainly unnecessary, and I never took it up again.

    In my opinion, there is no point in making an extra effort to attend a Mass of the Roman Rite celebrated according to one of her extraordinary forms if you are only going to ignore it in favor of a book when you get there.

  63. DMA says:

    I have just recently read the comments from someone who attended the TLM in Saskatoon. Having attended this same TLM for over 15 years, I have some further comments to add. I agree that, like me, many people’s first experience at a TLM can be one of being confused and frustrated. I wonder if those who come for the first time to the TLM think it will be just like the NO, only in Latin instead of English, French, Spanish, etc. Do these same people expect to understand the Byzantine Rite of Divine Liturgy the first time they attend that? The TLM does take some effort to understand. I think the commentaries previously made by others address these problems. I also agree that there are many ways to “participate” at a TLM, and that following the prayers is only one of the options. However, I would like to note that at the TLM in Saskatoon, we also have the booklet, For the Visitor at Mass, in addition to the red missal; this booklet can be helpful to those who attend, especially for the first time. Perhaps the woman didn’t see those booklets. As well, several people in the congregation, including me, are more than willing to help people to learn more about the TLM; I strongly encourage visitors to ask for help. Yes, High Mass can be confusing, but we also have Low Mass every Friday at 5:15 pm.; people may find Low Mass easier to follow with the red missal when they are learning about the TLM. I have a couple of corrections to add to the original comment. Our usual attendance is about 80 people, including children and the choir, but this number is less on holiday weekends. Although the majority of our congregation is not converts, we do have many devout converts. And yes, Father, you are right –most people at the TLM in Saskatoon stay after Mass to pray, and to make acts of thanksgiving. We would be happy to see this woman again at the TLM, and to help her understand the Mass. For general information, the TLM is celebrated at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, 301 Ave. Y South; High Mass is at 9:00 am on Sundays, and Low Mass at 5:15 pm on Fridays and feast days. We are in the process of building a website (www.saskatoonlatinmass.com), and more information will be available on it soon.

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