Surprise article at Commonweal about participation in the Traditional Latin Mass

There was a surprise at Commonweal, which generally leans left and against Tradition. It is about a week old, but I missed it: I don’t real Commonweal unless I can’t avoid it.

It starts out with an off-putting reference to the disastrous Silence by Shusaku Endo, but it improves. The writer juxtaposes it with the silence of the traditional Roman Rite.

Silent Grace
Finding Peace in the Latin Mass
By Michael Wright


There was never silence or stillness at Mass for me growing up. I was, and am, afflicted with attention deficit disorder. For a long time, my family worshipped in the gym of the local Catholic school, crammed into folding chairs, kneeling, standing, and watching Father Joe turn purple during a homily on compassion. For me, Mass was a test of endurance. I could never find the peace the nuns told us about in CCD. Although I’d learned what each part of the Mass meant, I couldn’t linger on what was happening in front of me. I raced ahead in the missalette, willing the priest to speak as fast as I read. My restlessness never left enough room for grace to find its way in.


Then, three or four years ago, on a whim, I attended Latin Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Austin, Texas. Just a block from the State Capitol, St. Mary’s is modest, with bare wood pews and a sanctuary set back from the congregation. I paged through a blue book that had Latin text on one page and English text on the facing page, with stage directions and illustrations in the margins.

Despite Catholic school and all that CCD, I didn’t realize until then the Novus ordo wasn’t just a straight translation. The Latin readings confused me; I couldn’t tell, for example, just when the transubstantiation was occurring. But I knew without looking at the translation when we were saying “Lamb of God” and the Lord’s Prayer. I watched these strange ways of doing familiar things. The priest faced away from us. We knelt to take communion on the tongue. All the altar servers were male. I bowed at the priest during the recessional, incense still in my nostrils. Then I did something I’d never done after Mass. I sat in a pew, and I felt it: peace.


He goes on to talk about his life, the older Mass, and even critiques a little the likes of that mass constructor of straw-men of Mass destruction, Massimo “Beans” Faggioli.

And then…


But the Latin Mass has a place for me. I don’t think it’s the future of the church, even though [!] I’ve noticed the pews are filled with fellow Gen X-ers and their children. (My nine-year-old daughter has been to more Latin Masses than English.) The English Mass is too easy; the unfamiliarity of the Latin Mass requires me to quiet my mind, to focus, to attend to my faith in a way that Mass in English does not. It isn’t a refuge from a changing world, but a base from which to engage it. My faith is not certain, and my doubt leads to questions. The Latin Mass welcomes me into the silence that allows me to seek the answers.

Interesting, no?

I applaud his honesty.

His observation that “the English Mass is too easy” hits several nails on the head all at once. Frankly, in no way to people benefit from futile attempts to make what is really hard, Mystery, easy, even simplistic.

The author observes that the people who attend “the Latin Mass” where he goes, “seem to be a community with a community” and that they want a parish of their own.

I often write about the importance of being involved in the whole life of the parish where the TLM is celebrated. On the other hand… I fully understand that people who have what Pope St. John Paul called “legitimate aspirations” should want a parish where they can have the whole package, where they have consistency without being made to feel like second class citizens. It is understandable that they would want to have a parish where the Mass they desire, quite rightly, to attend isn’t relegated to the edges of Sundays. They would prefer to have all the sacraments according to the older rites, including, for example, absolution in the confessional. They would like to have traditional devotions that don’t have to be rediscovered piecemeal.

At times I have written (i.e., whined a little) about those who prefer the older forms and who disappear between Sundays.

On the other hand, even factoring in the fact that people are busy, and sometimes live at quite a distance from the church where they have the older Mass, I am also cognizant of the legitimate aspirations that they have and also suffer with.

Moving on, the writer observes that the pews are filled with young families.  I observe that recent research suggests that there will be traumatic consequences for church attendance in the next few years because the majority of young people don’t identify with any religion.   Moreover, large numbers of priests will exit active ministry one way or another.  On the other hand, traditional groups of priests are growing and young people are filling pews at traditional Masses.

Where tradition is tried, it seems to work.

The future?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    “Where tradition is tried, it seems to work.”

    Yes! I dare to say, wherever is the TLM, the Mass of all Ages tried, there must be significant feeling of increase of the presence of holiness. There where is the will, there is also a Hope.

  2. Lorra says:

    “… I don’t think it’s the future of the church…”

    I very much disagree with the author. The new Mass will fade away eventually. It may be offered in the future the same way the Latin Mass is offered – here and there – until eventually the only folks in the pews will be a few elderly folk who grew up with it. Then it will fade into oblivion and talked about in church history books.

  3. JesusFreak84 says:

    I’m one of those elusive females with ADD, and can confirm I can focus in a TLM or Divine Liturgy faaaaaaar more than I can in the OF Masses. (I admit some of this might be the bad acoustics of newer church buildings echoing distracting noises, but I don’t think it’s entirely that.)

  4. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    A few years ago, one Commonweal contributor suggested that if the altar is turned around again, people will wonder what the priest is doing.

    Maybe 10 years ago, atheist Susan Jacoby recalled that her family often slept during the Latin Mass and did not understand it.

    She then said the Latin Mass would promote anti-Semitism. (Never mind that Jews aren’t mentioned in the Latin Mass celebrated on weekdays or Sundays. She was referring to the old Good Friday prayer.)

    Does anyone see the contradiction in Jacoby’s logic?

  5. FrAnt says:

    “The English mass is too easy.” Wow, that is what I have been feeling all this time, but could not put it into words. I’m going to need some time to process this revelation. Thanks for sharing the article.

  6. RichR says:

    The Latin Mass at the Cathedral was presided over by Fr. Albert LaForet (now our pastor in College Station…..and we love him!). While rector at the Cathedral, he oversaw the GORGEOUS renovation of the cathedral being careful to preserve the original beauty of this iconic church that means so much to central Texas Catholics. He loves the Church, loves our Faith, and loves the Mass. You can see how the EF Masses he still offers color the way he offers OF Masses. It’s a very natural thing for him. If you want to catch a glimpse of him, he was in a documentary where Our Lord blessed the Texas State Capitol in a Eucharistic procession from the cathedral to the rotunda inside the capitol. Fr. Albert is the priest blessing the crowd with the monstrance.

  7. ServusChristi says:

    Yes, tradition succeeds where it’s tried because its origins are within the unity of the Catholic church and aren’t tarnished by outside religions or sects. As a priest put it, ‘every word and gesture conveys a theological idea’.

    I don’t intend to criticize the character of the priests who still offer the NO mass, but there are many places of discontinuity and inorganic change/additions that took place when looking at the 1962 Missal and the Novus Ordo Missae. I don’t think these changes have served to increase reverence but rather the exact opposite to the point where a sense of the sacred is lost and the mass is referred to as a meal without any reference to sacrifice.

    P.S. If you haven’t already Father as well as others, I recommend joining the ‘Catholic discussions’ group on Facebook. Literally every strip of mostly Catholic millennial are there and I think it accurately represents the Catholic world of our time: some traditional minded, much progressivism and even heresy here and there.

  8. Fr. Reader says:

    By chance, are you Ivan Mi Je Ime? I met you somewhere else recently… ?

  9. DeGaulle says:

    Lorra astutely quotes the author’s opinion that ‘…I don’t think it’s the future of the Church…’.

    Why, then, the extraordinary efforts of the last half-century to suppress, oppress and discourage it?

  10. Benedict Joseph says:

    They deny the credence of their own experience.
    This is an example from the microcosm of the reality the entire Church is living through. We are clinging to a lie in the face of a harsh reality. The last sixty years have been a tragic experiment in terror.
    It failed! And it is far beyond time to give it up.
    Real “reform” requires restoration and it begins with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

  11. taylorhall95 says:

    I am currently attending the Latin Mass in Austin, TX while I’m here for the summer. The mass is really well attended by young families, and is very reverent! I read the article and agreed with some points, though I strongly disagreed with his negative attitude towards families that want to protect their children from worldly influences, and especially with assertion that he doesn’t think the Latin Mass is the future of the church (Bro! The writing is on the wall! Everything in your article is suggestive that it is!). But then again, he might have had to throw those assertions in there just to get published by Commonweal.

  12. taylorhall95 says:

    Yes! Fr Laforet is a wonderful priest! Let us pray that the semi-regular TLMs he offers in College Station will soon become regular, every Sunday TLMs!

  13. The Astronomer says:

    The commonly-experienced venacular Novus Ordo is ‘easy’ in the sense that it can be compared to a popular movie you’ve seen a hundred times, like Star Wars or Rocky. It’s easy to go get up, make a sandwich, grab a drink and when you sit back down, you already know what’s going on.

    The EF Latin Mass can be compared to a great foreign film with subtitles where ‘active participation’ via your attentiveness is critical. Get up for a few minutes, come back and you ‘could’ end up pretty bewildered. ‘Easy???’ No, but far more enriching.

  14. M. K. says:

    I’m ambivalent about the article – I suppose it’s nice to see Commonweal say anything remotely positive about traditional liturgy, but the author’s comments about how the TLM does not represent the “future of the Church” and about the “community within a community” stuff (which, in the author’s view, extends also to practices like homeschooling) seemed like an unnecessary concession to the apparent prejudices of Commonweal‘s editors and readership.

    I’m glad that the author found a home at the TLM, but I wish he hadn’t felt the need to add the potshots at the end. Nevertheless, I suppose we should be grateful for small favors.

  15. chantgirl says:

    Another ADD female here, and the most incredibly distracting thing for me about the Novus Ordo is all of the songs in English which are sung during Communion. It is incredibly difficult to focus on praying after Communion when someone is singing in your native language. For some reason I can pray when something is being sung in Latin, but when the Communion music is in English, the words are impossible to filter out while trying to pray in the same language.

    It is nearly impossible for me to pray after Communion at a Novus Ordo Mass.

  16. JonPatrick says:

    If the Traditional Mass isn’t the future, then what is? Go to any Novus Ordo Mass and see the proportion of young people to old people. I am 68 and the majority of people that attend our regular daily Mass are older than me, only about 3 or 4 that are younger. Not counting the family with 10 children that also attends the TLM on Sundays. In another 10 years, sad to say, most of these people will be dead or going to Mass at an assisted living community. That is the reality at least here in the Northeast US.

    Another option would be the Eastern Rite which has held on to its ~1500 year old tradition and yet has many things that might appeal to a NO Mass goer such as liturgy in the vernacular and active participation by the congregation. Sadly it seems to be under the radar for most people and has that association with particular ethnic communities that may make outsiders reluctant to try it.

  17. James in Perth says:

    Great comments and I heartily agree that the Church will be much better off moving back towards a more traditional liturgy. That said, most parishes that I have attended are quite intentional in doing the best they can with the Novus Ordo — except with the music which still is an unmitigated unsingable disaster.
    I have been attending Eastern Catholic liturgies since I returned from overseas a few years ago. One uses a non-English vernacular while the other uses English. The services in both are traditional in accord with their rites but the English-speaking parish is growing steadily. So much so that the parish has opened a school and is seeking a new place for a larger church to hold the expanding congregation.
    The lesson, I think, is that the Latin (or Old Slavonic) language is not necessary to attract more lovers of Christ, but the reverence and solemnity MUST be present. Indeed, in the first Eastern Catholic parish I attended which uses the ethnic language sadly is shrinking because the desire to pass on the language discourages both outsiders and insiders who have married outside their ethnic group.
    My question, therefore, is whether anyone has tried the TLM but without the Latin or with a limited amount of Latin? I wonder if that would succeed in drawing more back to the pews on Sundays.

  18. JamesA says:

    Very proud to say that St. Mary Cathedral is my home parish. Neither of the two priests (fine men, both) are traditionalists, and neither is our bishop, but God bless them for offering the Mass for those of us who love it.

  19. Grant M says:

    “Go to any Novus Ordo Mass and see the proportion of young people to old people”.

    Well, location, location, location. One Sunday morning last year I attended the NO Mass at a parish in Sydney that I had never visited before. I was 60 at the time, and thought for a few minutes minutes that I was going to be one of the younger members of the sparse congregation, until a few people a bit younger than me turned up.

    No long ago I was at a Sunday morning NO Mass at my parish Church in Jakarta, sitting with the overflow in the courtyard, and following the Mass on the TV screens. I lost count of the number of children under ten, and the number of babes in arms.

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