GUEST POST: TLM 1st experience: Extraordinary Form is easier than the Novus Ordo

From a reader:

I just read the post in which you shared a reader’s observation about the pastoral nature of the TLM. I experienced something similar. I went to my first TLM on Nov. 2 for All Souls. A few days before I was chatting with our priest and asked him to tell us how to prepare for the Traditional Mass. His answer surprised me.

He said that for the first few times, we shouldn’t try to follow along or read. We should prepare and participate in a way similar to how we would for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – quiet prayer and meditation, while enjoying the beauty of the Mass without distracting ourselves by trying to follow a text. That could be left for later.

The older form of the Mass, he explained, is actually easier for people at any level, any state of mind or at any place spiritually.
Basically, it’s easier for everyone. Those who want to follow along can do so and get a good deal out of it. Those who are not ready to follow along can still “participate” in the way most suitable for them.

My priest is not anti-NO. He said that the kind of participation required for the NO is good for people who understand the texts, are well prepared (theologically) and in the right frame of mind.
Unfortunately, this does not describe most people who attend the NO Masses. The downside, in his opinion, is that it’s all too easy for people to simply fall through the cracks, to just say the replies, without putting their mind or heart into it. If people are not in the right internal disposition, the “active participation” required can actually be a distraction.

I went to the TLM with this advice, and did precisely what he suggested; I prayed, enjoyed it and did not worry about following along. I brought with me a new-age semi-atheist, an Evangelical, my cradle-Catholic wife who had never been to a TLM, our two oldest sons and my Protestant brother. (Interestingly enough, in my experience non-Catholics are much more interested in attending the TLM than the NO.) I told all of them the same thing my priest had said. Chatting afterwards, everyone agreed that it was very beautiful and that it was in fact a good approach to take; even the least Catholic and the least “prepared” could gain a good deal from this. (For this reason I also believe there would be far more conversions with more TLMs.)

Of course, in the future I do hope to get a missal to follow along.
But for now I’m happy with this approach.

The part that is still very pleasantly surprising for me is this; the TLM is *easier* than the NO! If you had asked me a month ago, I wouldn’t have guessed this; it’s in Latin, it’s more in depth, more theologically intricate, etc – I would’ve assumed that since there is more to get out of it, it would’ve been harder.

But my priest was right; it’s easier. The fact that “there’s truly something for everyone there” makes it easier. It is the “Mass for the advanced,” but it’s also the Mass for the weak, the poor, the suffering, the joyful, the ignorant – it’s the Mass for everyone. As your reader said, it effortlessly “meets people where they’re at.”

It is truly easier for lay people to participate at whatever level they are at, and for that reason it is more pastoral.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Interesting comments about the NO. I never really thought about it, but this priest has a point–how much is someone really participating if they’re just rattling off memorized responses in an automated fashion?

    Easier…hmm. It seems the key there is preparation. This reader went in with the priest’s good advice, and he (or she) shared that advice with the others who accompanied. If I had had a priest explain to me before I went to my first TLM what was expected of me, it would have made a huge difference. Something as simple as a blurb in the bulletin, or maybe a sermon or short presentation after mass would have helped immensely. Instead we were just told “this holy day is going to be a TLM”. I suppose I could have asked about it, but I just had no clue that it would be so different–I thought the TLM would be the same mass I always went to, just in a different language. Boy was I in for a shock! I don’t really think that the typical NO-goer would find it immediately easier, unless they were prepared for the differences beforehand.

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    Another advantage of the TLM is that one does not have the distraction of one member of the congregation being three syllables quicker and twice as loud as anyone else, while reciting a translation of the Our Father that begins, “Our Father who dwells in heaven, blessed by thy name.”

  3. majuscule says:

    Thanks for this! We are expecting our first Latin Mass in December and I have been looking for resources to help people prepare.

    What excellent advice!

  4. “He said that the kind of participation required for the NO is good for people who understand the texts, are well prepared (theologically) and in the right frame of mind.”

    A really prescient remark. I’m inclined to suggest that one may get as much out of the OF (as the EF) only if he puts more into it. For instance, by studying carefully the propers in advance so as to follow them carefully during the Mass. Of course, if you want to study them in Latin before hearing in English, it’s necessary to have a complete Latin-English OF hand missal (the only I know of being the CTS missal from England). And it helps to have an OF priest who goes strictly by the book, so you can anticipate which propers and preface he will use. (In the EF this is automatic because most days there is no choice which Mass to use.)

  5. “I thought the TLM would be the same mass I always went to, just in a different language.”

    Actually, it can be argued that it really is, at least textually (to a surprising extent). Though this fact tends to be obscured by the Latin in the EF and the accustomed aberrations in the usual parish celebration of the OF. For instance, see the step-by-step similarities tabulated here:

  6. The EF is much easier. Since the last EF Mass I attended in September, I have been reflecting on the contrasts between the respective roles of the priest and the laity in both forms of the Mass. In the EF, there is a rule for every word and every gesture of the priest and the other ministers at the altar, while there are no set rules for the laity in the pews. In the OF, the laity in the pews have many appointed tasks, while many priests feel free to do whatever they want at the altar. This, apparently, is what is known as throwing off the straitjacket of the Bad Old Pre-Vatican-II Days.

    And nothing brought home to me the structural simplicity of the EF Mass compared to the OF like the new English translation. Trying to follow the OF in a missal is a nightmare. The Ordinary of the EF Mass is always substantially the same, whereas every part of the Ordinary in the OF has at least half a dozen options to it. You have to have never experienced both forms of the Mass to think that the OF is easier and simpler.

  7. slainewe says:

    What an excellent post! This could be modified and placed in the brochures which try to introduce Catholics to the TLM.

    It matches my daily Mass experience of the NO before I knew of the TLM. I would arrive at the church an hour before Mass for prayer and meditation. Then I would suffer the 1/2 hour distraction of the NO. Then I would go back to prayer and meditation after Mass.

    My first experience of the TLM was a revelation: I was able to pray and meditate DURING the Mass also! Then I realized I could go back to the NO and stop “actively participating” with my lips, which allowed me to actively participate with my HEART, that is, pray and meditate sometimes during this Mass as well. It was so freeing to realize I did not have to make the rote oral responses that imprisoned my heart in the cave of my mind.

    (Of course, I received some disapproving looks for not making oral responses when there were few people attending the NO. Which made me wonder why the altar servers in the NO do not give responses. Is this a rule?)

  8. marytoo says:

    Yes, great advice from that priest. The EF is truly for everyone – just a few short decades ago that’s all there was. Also, Know Your Mass was recommended to me. Made back in the 50’s, it’s in comic book form – but don’t anyone be put off, it’s not just for kids: there are illustrations using stair steps to explain the parts of the Mass in quite a profound and illuminating way. Very simple but very helpful.

    The link Henry Edwards comparing similarities between the two forms is a great resource. I know it would have helped me when I first started going to the EF. Maybe priests planning a first TLM for their parishes could print it in chart form in the bulletin beforehand, or have a brief presentation, both good suggestions from mamajen.

    I remember being very confused when I first attended the High Mass because I didn’t understand that the Introit was being chanted *over the action on the altar*, in other words, Father is carrying on with the prayers at the foot of the altar, the Confiteor, etc. etc. while the scola chants the introit. I was always relieved when the choir sang the Kyrie so I could catch up and find my place!

  9. Denis says:

    I agree. I have spiritual ADHD and I find it much easier to remain prayerful at the EF. One day, if I become blind or deaf, I hope that the EF will be widely available, because either the sounds and sights of the EF would keep me on track, much more than the cacophony (from my perspective) of the OF.

  10. MikeM says:

    “If people are not in the right internal disposition, the ‘active participation’ required can actually be a distraction.”

    That does fit with my experience.

  11. WGS says:

    For the E.F. there are no rubrics for the layman worshipping in the pew.
    One can find suggestions in various hand missals, and one should respectfully consider what is going on in the liturgy, and it’s appropriate to act charitably in accord with neighbors in the congregation, but there is no justification for others finding fault with your style of worshipping in the E.F.

  12. Gratias says:

    Excellent advice, just relax and take in the Mass. If afterwards you wish to know what was said an incredibly good internet resource is:

  13. albinus1 says:

    A priest of my acquaintance who had much experience training altar servers once remarked to me that the TLM was also easier for altar servers. There is a steeper initial learning curve, of course, with learning the responses and choreography. But once a server learns his part, he always knows how to serve Mass, and it is always essentially the same. For the NO Mass, on the other hand, the server always has to be alert in case Father decides to do something different or unexpected this time.

    As a former altar server myself, for both TLM and NO, this describes my experience as well.

  14. Imrahil says:


    (my shortest comment ever, I guess.)

  15. babochka69 says:

    I’m going to be the lone dissenting voice here, I’m afraid. I’m cradle Byzantine Rite and perhaps that affects my experience with the TLM – perhaps my spiritual formation has been so different that I just don’t have a natural appreciation for the Roman Rite. I don’t know what it is. I want to love the TLM. I have attended 3 or 4 low Masses and 5 high Masses. One was a midnight Mass and one was Easter Vigil. All but one were at an FSSP parish and the remaining Mass was at an SSPX parish. I’ve tried to just be prayerfully present. I’ve tried following along and just praying when I find myself to be utterly lost. I’ve attended with my kids (which is very distracting) and I’ve attended alone. I’ve read The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Ratzinger and it is one of my favorite books. I had high expectations when I first had the opportunity to attend. Bottom line is that I just don’t get it. I mean, it is fine. Sure, I liked it, but I wouldn’t seek it out among other good choices.

  16. Magpie says:


    Earlier I was at a N.O. and it was just so much talking. I felt audibly assaulted. I don’t always feel like parroting back, school boy style, the set responses. The TLM just lets you be you, wherever you are.

  17. Imrahil says:

    Dear @slainewe,

    really? Normally, the altar boys in the NO do give responses.

  18. slainewe says:


    I’ve lived a lot of places and have never seen it, except from an adult server and only when the congregation was non-responsive. You mean they actually respond as though leading the people? Even the Responsorial Psalm?

  19. lana says:

    Doesn’t this advice go against Pope St Pius X exhortation, “Don’t pray at the Holy Mass, pray the Holy Mass.” ?

    If it helps people get over the discomfort level that comes with any change, great, or if you do this on days when you can’t focus, fine. But I hope people don’t stay there permanently, because they would really be missing out. You can do personal meditations before and after Mass, but the Mass is something (beyond) special, no matter which form.

    As an aside, I find that taking the time to do significant preparation makes a world of difference in being able to participate at the NO (and EF, for that matter).

  20. Dialogos says:

    I can absolutely see what the writer means about the EF being “easier.” As one who came to the Latin Rite from Eastern Orthodoxy, some current liturgical practice can be quite a challenge. That said, I find that the younger generation of priests typically say the OF in a reverent manner. The main stumbling block for me has always been being prepared to assist at the liturgy. I am usually glad to see squirmy kids at Mass because, after all, they are just a smaller version of me and a useful reminder that I need to pay attention, too.

  21. Imrahil says:

    Dear @slainewe,

    sorry! I misunderstood you, by interpreting literally. In the NO the altar boys say the responses just as well as the congregation.

    I do think they tend to get some experience, though. All our altar boys now that “Our help is in the Name of the Lord” has the response “who created Heaven and Earth”, because it is said before the entrance procession.

  22. babochka69, The Roman Liturgy takes a different style of participation that isn’t in the Byzantine Rite. (I grew up Roman, but attend Divine Liturgy often now and days)….The Roman style is more cerebral vs the Byzantine Liturgy of constant motion. I do find it hard to go back to the TLM after Divine Liturgy…but I do partially agree with your analysis :)

  23. Sonshine135 says:


    I would love to see these Bilingual Masses (which are really nothing but Spanish Speaking Masses) changed over to EF Masses. I really think the Holy Church is missing the boat with this idea. Otherwise, your church becomes like to separate churches. I would gladly attend a High Mass in Latin. That would go much father in placing churches on an even keel as both English and Spanish speaking Parishioners would be at the same place liturgically. How is that for an idea in equality? Now, it is just a tale of two churches. I would love to see the TLM be part of every church in the world.

  24. JacobWall says:


    I’ve been to both the TLM and the Divine Liturgy, and they are strikingly different – both incredibly beautiful, but each reflecting its own liturgical tradition fully and very distinctly. I am amazed by the Divine Liturgy, but I just ever so slightly prefer the TLM. I grew up in a traditional protestant group (Mennonite) where reverence is silence, kneeling, etc. I think the TLM makes most sense to the traditional Western concept of reverence. I also love Gregorian Chant. Byzantine style chant is very beautiful but feels foreign to me. Even though I’ve experienced only once in my life, hearing Gregorian chant above during Mass feels right at home to me. I can see why those from an Eastern tradition might find it hard to “get.” I have to keep this in mind; I have some Orthodox friends who want to come to the TLM some time soon. I should tell them about this ahead of time. If anyone knows of a good write up describing these differences, I would appreciate so I can share.

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