QUAERITUR: I went to a TLM and felt like crawling under a pew. But as Mass began…

From a reader:

Thank you kindly, Father. I’ve been to the Extraordinary form once. My sponsor was the celebrant. There is something greater there than at novus ordo. Something heavenly and otherworldly was at play. I definitely felt the fear of the Lord, I felt like crawling under a pew. But as Mass began, I felt flooded with Mercy.

Why is there such a big difference spiritual in the Masses?

That reverential awe, that holy fear at the mystery you encounter, both tremendum et fascinans, is precisely what our liturgical worship must bring us to feel. This is precisely what we need at the heart of any project to revitalize any dimension of Holy Church’s life and action in this post-Christian world.

Awe at transcendence, is what we should require from our liturgical worship.  This experience helps us to put the worldly in perspective and to deal with the mysterious challenge of the fact that, even through our Lord conquered death definitively, we still have to die.

I think one of the reasons that the Extraordinary Form is better at this than the Ordinary Form is because the rites control us, leave us less in control. The difficult elements of Holy Mass in the older form provide a good foundation for our encounter with mystery. Especially important are the silences, the lack of ability to see everything. We seek God in the spaces between the holy signs. There is an apophatic side to Holy Mass that comes through more easily in the older form. This can be fostered in the Ordinary Form, too, but I think it is easier to foster in the older form.

In any event, I am glad that you had that key experience, which will shape your experience of other Masses for some time to come.

Your experience was yet another reason to thank Benedict XVI for the provisions of Summorum Pontificum.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    The most common comment you will hear from the lips of people , both those returning to the EF & those experiencing the EF for the first time is ” I`VE RETURNED HOME ” The visible effect of the EF is indeed extraordinary . A strong desire to assist at Mass is generated in contrast to the feeling of obligation that many have who attend the OF . Rightly it has been called the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven .
    Pax et bonum .
    From Our Lady`s Land of the Southern Cross .

  2. Therese says:

    “But as Mass began, I felt flooded with Mercy.”

    This happens to me EVERY SINGLE TIME I ATTEND A TLM.

  3. Mike says:

    This is great! My first Mass in the Extraordinary Form, a time I’ll never forget, was my sister’s nuptial Low Mass. I remember I was near the front, and hanging above me to the left was a beautiful crucifix, and I remember looking up at it and feeling the Lord’s presence to such a degree I’d never felt before. And as the initial person said, I felt an awe-inspiring quality which isn’t present in the Novus Ordo. It was a beautiful thing, though, and also helped me to love Latin more. It’s a shame the EF isn’t more readily available.

  4. Phil_NL says:

    Why is there such a big difference spiritual in the Masses?

    I think we should be careful on what we compare exactly. More often than not, a reverently offered EF is compared to a run-of-the-mill, hippy-tainted OF we still see all too often (even though there the extremes of the silly season seems to go the way of the dinosaur too). The obvious rejoinder that the EF doesn’t allow 99% of the poor choices made celebrants of those OFs is certainly true, and there’s plenty of self-selection too – most of the hippy-priests wouldn’t touch the EF with a pole.

    All of this though, doesn’t mean that the whole ‘spiritual difference’ between OF and EF is inherent in the forms. I must say that the couple of EFs I attended didn’t have nearly as profound an effect as is often described. Surely, there are important differences, and those reflect upon the role of the priest and laity alike, emphasising different elements than would be at the forefront of any OF Mass. But I come from a parish with a very high quality OF Mass, and I’m convinced that has meant that much of the ‘shock and awe’ present with many first-time EF-goers didn’t hit me at all. It did hit me though, when a decade ago, I moved to my current parish, having previously lived in an area with average OF Masses.

    Now don’t get me wrong, having more EFs will definately change the whole landscape of the Church, and for the better. When the water rises, all boats go up. But I think that we shouldn’t make the perceived difference between OF and EF bigger than it really is. Much of it is also due to the (poor) ars celebrandi in the OF, and since a great many of the faithful – for the foreseeable future a large majority even – will have an OF Mass, we shouldn’t loose sight of the great strides that still can and need to be made in that area. There will be plenty of cases where a better OF Mass will be the only feasible solution for a while longer.

  5. VexillaRegis says:

    Phil_NL: I agree with you. A reverent OF mass beats a “sloppy” and hastily said EF mass, in my opinion!

  6. Supertradmum says:

    Father, this is one of the best posts you have ever had. I would like to see every church have a flyer of your comment in the back where there is a TLM held.

    Great word, apophatic, which. of course, has to do with realizing the Mystery of the Mass, that God is unknowable and that we experience something ineffable at the TLM. The Byzantine Catholics are more comfortable than we Latin rite followers with the mysteries of the Faith, but being at a TLM brings this all home to the heart and head.

  7. moon1234 says:

    ““sloppy” and hastily said EF mass”. I don’t think I have EVER seen one of those in my 35 years on this planet. The only Priests saying the EF are those who choose to say them from what I have seen. When that choice is made I have to imagine it is done to better honor our Lord. This would naturally lead to a better adherence to both the spirit and letter of the “say the black, do the red”.

  8. dominic1955 says:

    The superiority of the TLM over the NO is not found in our subjective impressions of either one. It cannot be boiled down to glorious Solemn High Mass vs. hippy-dippy suburban NO or rushed low Mass vs. Reform of the Reform NO. No, subjective experience of either is completely irrelevant.

    Just look at the history and the pedigree of the NO and tell me that its the same bulwark of orthodoxy that the TLM (or any traditional liturgy, east or west) is. If you can do that with a straight face you’ve either drank the kool-aid or do not know your history. The NO was developed by modernist litniks with agendas inimical to the Catholic faith. No need to cast aspersions about perceived malice, what they did and what was behind their program was not, in reality, the safeguarding of tradition or the promotion of Catholicism! They needed to ditch the TLM in order to make the liturgy a welcoming place for the Nouvelle Theologie, ecumenism and the Zeitgeist. Liturgies that developed out of the mists of time, to the pens of the Early Fathers and the lips of the Apostles have a tendency to not be very supportive of faddish nonsense.

    The NO is the result of modernists like Bugnini and Jungmann remaking the Mass in their own image. They “softened” its Catholic hallmarks to try to make it more acceptable to Protestants and to put emphasis on modern theological ideas and take away from the traditional understandings. All one needs to do is crack open Bugnini’s own book or the various writtings of his pals from around that time to see why they did what they did to the Mass as well as the rest of the sacraments and rituals.

    This is why the NO is inferior to the TLM and why no amount of “Tradding it up” is going to fix it. Lipstick on a pig, Benz hood ornament on a Trabant.

  9. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    Too often the OF just starts, almost with no warning. Which I think is part of the reason for the difference.

    In the EF, the prayers at the foot, confiteor (almost always left out at OF parishes I have attended in the last few years), etc. give a chance to really get into the spiritual mode to prepare for Mass. The OF makes a quick sign of the cross, tosses it to the choir for a overly catchy rendition of what should be a penitential moment (Kyrie), and then generally breaks into full rock mode for the Gloria. There is hardly a moment to stop and slow down, to switch from grocery shopping mode to prayer mode.

    That said other than not having prayers at the foot, contra @Dominic1955, the OF certainly can be performed completely Orthodox (I hate the phrase “tradded up”), and allow for all of that. The confiteor is an option, and a proper schola or choir could do a perfectly traditional version of the Gloria. A pause can be added specifically to enter into the moment of sanctity required by the Mass. Incense (which also denotes that we are some place ‘different’) can be used at every Mass, unlike in the EF.

  10. Suburbanbanshee says:

    moon1234 — Yes, exactly. The priests who said Mass sloppily, rushedly, etc. in the EF generally went on to say Mass more sloppily in the OF.

    But there’s always a way to abuse the Mass, if you’re a priest who doesn’t care; there’s always a way to say and do it wrong, if you’re a priest who hasn’t been taught well and hasn’t learned better. Anybody who reads church history, or the contemporary complaints of churchgoers and satirists, will find out that there’s no real difference between East and West or past and present in such matters. The only difference is how hard bishops and teachers and priests fight against this tendency in themselves and others; that makes the difference, along with the grace of God.

  11. acricketchirps says:

    I dunno, d-55. In 2011 before our bishop allowed the EF, I assisted a NO Mass for Corpus Chrisi (it was actually on the Thursday so it was technically a votive Mass, but the liturgy was for CC). It was celebrated ad orientem, entirely in Latin and sung; the schola sang the Introit, Gradual (in place of the newer Responsorial Psalm), Alleluia, Offertory and Communion as well as the standard parts of the Ordinary; the Roman Canon was selected as if there were no other options. If it was not ideal it was no pig/lipstick Mass and I defy you to prove otherwise.

    (2012 CC we had the EF, but transfered to Sunday
    2013 CC EF Mass is planned for Thursday again WITH procession arterwards- Perfect!).

    In any case what you you say about subjective experience being completely irrelevant is certainly false–in fact very Protestant. They don’t need the Mass at all, they think, and approach Christ personally and purely spiritually. The Church and the Sacraments of Matter and Form (and hence the Mass) recognize that man is body and soul, more than just connected, but one person. The subjective emotional experiences of Mass, as relevant to the body, are not to be dismissed.

  12. dominic1955 says:

    @ Salvatore-

    Unless we’re going to strike the Pope from the Canon and add the Ecumentical Patriarch, its kind of hard to celebrate a Catholic liturgy Orthodox.

    Joking aside, its still just adding accidentals that do not change anything of essence. Doing the Confiteor (which isn’t the traditional Roman one anyway) and a traditional Gloria doesn’t change the fact that most of the prayers where moved, butchered, made up anew, gathered from odd sources like the neo-Gallican Parisian Missal etc. or that they introduced an wholly innovated reading cycle nor does it dictate which pericopes get included or axed. Basically, the attempt to reconnect to the liturgical patrimony of the Roman Rite using the NO and its associated books is contrived and superficial (while remaining de facto necessary).

    The TLM has no need for a contrived pause to be added anywhere-silence is built in. Also, the only reason you can do pretty much anything at a NO is that there is no Low Mass/High Mass/Solemn High Mass type of distinction. Thus, you can have incense and a deacon (with practically none of the associated ritual of the TLM) at what basically amounts to a Low Mass and that just looks silly.

    No, the criticism of the NO still strikes at its source, its genesis. It is fundamentally flawed, there is no “fixing” it. It needs to be excised from the Church like the Quinonez breviary and Neo-Gallican/Aufklarung liturgies that came before it. The reason why the “Reform of the Reform” is worthwhile is that we are currently stuck with this lemon until such a time when all the cheerleaders for the Spirit of Vatican II and its associated pathologies have shuffled off this mortal coil. In that mean time, we have to work with what we have.

  13. Joel says:

    I think this is a great post and frankly, its hard to say it much better than what has already been noted.

    One other point though, which I think is worth mentioning, is that the sense that we get of fear and our general unworthiness should in many cases come before the mass begins. In other words, regardless of which type of mass we attend, its the time we spend preparing for mass which can make the difference.

    More specifically, getting to Church early for prayer and preparation, and not 1 minute before the opening hymn or procession can have a very large impact on whether we are in the right frame of mind. Many of us need the quiet contemplation before mass to be ready to acknowledge our inadequacy and to sense and accept God’s Mercy.

  14. APX says:

    I have to agree with D-1955 about the subjective nature and the prayers beig butchered. My gast was flabbered not too long ago when I decided to compare the Offetory prayer in my 1962 Missal to the new corrected translation of the Offetory prayer in the new missal. My first reaction when I tried to compare the two was, “whiskey tango foxtrot? Where’s the Offetory prayer?” Followed by, “Is there no Offetory?? How is it a sacrifice if there is no Offetory?? Wait, that’s the Offetory prayer?? No wonder everyone thinks it’s a meal.” Since it was always said when the choir was singing, thus couldn’t be heard, I assumed the priest was saying something similar to what was in the 1962 Missal.

    I’ll also share a little something regarding the externals of the EF Mass. I attend a most reverent and meticulously offered EF Mass, which left me with the same feelings as reciprocated by many here. Unfortunately, just like prayer and all the other things church related, the warm fuzzy feeling eventually go away and going to Mass on Sundays doesn’t bring the same joy it used to. It takes a lot of effort to make it through Mass having give yourself the “You’re not at Mass/praying/some other church thing because it makes you feel good, but because you love God, etc etc.” It’s been almost two months now and sometimes it gets very tempting to bail and just switch back to something more happy clappy. Don’t let yourself get, heheh, hooked on a feeling (it’s a 70s music reference).

  15. Mariana says:

    “A strong desire to assist at Mass is generated”

    Too true, and happy those of you who live in countries with more than our few thousand Catholics, and can actually GET to a EF Mass. Here we have to rely on a saintly FSSP priest to visit us once in a blue moon! I’ve been to three EF Masses in the last five years, that is, all that have been offered. It was heaven!

  16. JonPatrick says:

    Joel, getting to church early to prepare can be difficult if as in many churches the choir is up front practicing the latest Haugen-Hass or one of those horrible modern chants for the Psalm. One time my wife got so disgusted she went out in the car until a few minutes before Mass to do a Rosary as the choir and general chatter like a cocktail party was going on was too much.

    Never a problem in any EF Mass I have attended.


  17. APX says:

    So many people are so quick to, “that would never happen at an EF mass” or something of the such, but I assure you EF Mass goers are not without their faults. Before Mass during Adoration I had my iPhone on silent and airplane mode, yet I didn’t think to disable Siri. I went to check what time it was, but I must have held it down for too long because it went off, quite loudly too, “Siri not available. Connect to the Internet”. Other people have been texting during low Mass with the sound on. Another person’s cell phone rang during the Canon and the person started talking right then and there.

    Then there are those who go around making sure everyone knows about their new discovery of another example of how messed up the church is, or gossips about some nonsense.

    Or then there’s the constant bishop bashing, but then complaining he won’t give them their own church (gee, I wonder why?).

    Or then there’s the overall gnostic attitude that traditionalists seem to have some special knowledge of traditionalism and are somehow above the rest of the church and somehow special, thus look down on those who attend the OF Mass.

    Honestly, I don’t see much difference from the effects of attending the EF Mass much different from those who attend the OF Mass. Sure, it’s quieter, but it takes more to become a saint than to simply attend an “awe-inspiring” Mass in a quiet church.

  18. MAJ Tony says:

    EF Masses tend to be celebrated and attended by people with a more serious, classical, and somber approach to liturgy, whatever their other ideological and moral tendencies may be.

    As for music, my 35 year old sister has no comprehension of my distain for “Haugen-Hass” ditties, especially, as Fr. Paul Scalia references “Anthem” in his article Ritus Narcissus: Why Do We Sing Ourselves and Celebrate Ourselves? (Adoremus Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 1: March 1999) Add to that my basic inability to explain why, though now maybe I have a tool, thanks to Fr. Scalia.

    As for EF vs. OF, I’ll take a well-done Sung EF any day of the week, especially if there’s a schola using the Liber usualis. That said, a basic sung OF using traditional hymns backed with a good organ and hopefully Latin ordinary parts, no handholding at the Pater noster and no extraneous “welcome the folks in the pew next to you” nonsense. Communion rail would be great, too.

  19. acardnal says:

    Mass attendees are people and, consequently, they sometimes forget about their cell phone status prior to Mass beginning because they are imperfect beings. A simple announcement before Mass begins to “silence your cell phones and pagers” is often sufficient.

  20. wmeyer says:

    A simple announcement before Mass begins to “silence your cell phones and pagers” is often sufficient.

    And sometimes not. :-(

  21. acardnal says:

    . . . and sometimes not.

  22. acardnal says:

    idiots often prevail.

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