A reader’s first impressions on attending the Extraordinary Form

There’s a first time for everything. First times rarely encompass all that can be encompassed. But, they are a beginning. After that, brick by brick.

From a reader…

Father, I’ve been reading your blog for a few years, and thought you might appreciate my first impressions on attending the extraordinary form.

The last time I attended the extraordinary form, it was the ordinary form, and I was still in diapers. I have no memory of those liturgies.

I’ve been interested in attending the extraordinary form for awhile, and due to circumstances, I was able to do so today. My 9 year old son attended with me.

We live in a faithful diocese in the south, and my parish is a Novus Ordo parish. The parish school teaches Latin to all the students, and we often use Latin mass propers during Advent and Lent in the Novus Ordo.

The parish ‘next door’ has a small extraordinary form mass each Sunday. This neighboring parish recently completed the building of a new church, alot larger than the small chapel which once was the main church when there were a lot fewer Catholics in the area. The extraordinary form mass is hosted in this older church, starting 15 minutes before a Novus Ordo mass in the main church. This is the mass we went to today.

The small church was packed. I estimate about 100 people, mostly families with young children or teens. About a third of the people appeared to be my age or older. The priest was attended by two servers in their teens.

It wasn’t all that difficult to follow along, having looked things up ahead of time. My 9 year old said he knew when the ‘Holy Holy’ was and the ‘Lamb of God’ was too, in part due to his Latin class. He felt he was clued in in part by the movements and gestures of the servers (he is one at Novus Ordo). The homily was solid.

I did not recognize anyone, and no one greeted us before or after.

I spent a little over an hour later in the day googling phrases such as ‘Orate Fratres’ and ‘Te Igitur’, linking those prayers and others back to what I am familiar with.

Right now, this is an academic excercise for me. I’ll probably be back with the rest of the family, but may see if we have a high mass somewhere nearby as well.

First, good for you for going.

A some points:

It can be nice to be left alone.  If I stop at some parish and slide into the back, I find the ministrations of ushers highly annoying and, no, I don’t want a hug or to shake your hand.

Academic exercise: fair enough.   I remember the first time I went to a Catholic church for a Mass.  I was entirely lost.   It took a while to get my bearings.  Nevertheless I know that something really important was happening.

The use of Latin really helps.  This was AND IS the language of the educated since… since whenever!   It is amazing what Latin opens up.

Do go back.  Often.  Be patient.

Brick by brick.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. dbonneville says:


    “If I stop at some parish and slide into the back, I find the ministrations of ushers highly annoying…”

    Right. I can pick up my own missal and bulletin thank you! We are a TLM parish now, for which I’m so thankful, but some remnants of the former NO habits haven’t been purged :) It triggers PTSD-lite just a bit. Not everyone wants to be…”welcomed” or “love bombed”.

  2. RKR says:

    Being of a somewhat shy disposition, I continue to be thankful that no one tries to get chatty/friendly with me before or after Mass (my experience with both the NO and TLM). It probably would have scared me off the first time I went to Mass, as I was nervous enough. I wasn’t sure if the letter writer was stating this as a good or bad thing.

    I am always glad to hear of students learning Latin, an invaluable discipline in so many ways. I elected to take 2 years of Latin in high school, many years ago, never dreaming at the time it would assist me in following the Latin Mass!

  3. pbnelson says:

    Urgent advice to your correspondent! Get yourself a smartphone or tablet, and install the IMASS app.

    iMass gives you an EF Latin/English missal with the correct propers for the day embedded in a simple long page format. It’s far, far easier than trying to follow along with the Ecclesia Dei “red book” most parishes use in conjunction with photocopied handouts for the propers.

    The iMass app is available for iPhone and Android. The imass app is built by the FSSP (in full communion with Rome) who use only the extraordinary form. Price for iMass is only about three bucks.

    When you first open IMASS, click the “MISSALE” link (on the right side of the “LIVE” page, which is what they call their home page). You will get the english/latin page with correct propers for the current date. The app has much more, but that’s all you need for starters.

    When you’ve the iMass app working, the other great resource to acquire is a book, “Treasure and Tradition, The Ultimate Guide to the Latin Mass”, which is considerably more expensive than the app, but is as comprehensively explicative as it is indisputably beautiful. Buy it directly from the publisher for $22.50 (http://staugustineacademypress.com) because Amazon is asking over $70 for a used copy and over $115 for new (at the moment).

  4. HvonBlumenthal says:

    While there cannot be any objection to taking steps to follow the Mass, it is very much part of the Novus Ordo mentality to feel that it doesn’t count if you don’t understand it; whereas the Mass is the Mass regardless of your own level of appreciation.

  5. Dean says:

    I’m pretty sure, based on the description, that this is the EF mass I go to; depending on exactly when you went it might have been two of my sons serving that day.

    Let me just encourage you to keep coming. I’ve been taking my kids down there for 5 years (we live about 30 minutes north) and it takes a while to get to know people. We’re Catholics, after all, and not practiced in the art of “outreach”. Plus, nobody really talks before Mass at all – everybody that’s there is praying/preparing. If you hang around outside a bit after mass someone will eventually figure out you’re there and say hello.

    It’s a great little parish within a parish (so to speak), we have three fine priests who rotate through saying mass for us and I couldn’t be more grateful for it. Stick with it, even if it’s only once a month or something, and I think you’ll be glad you did.

    Pro Tip – sign your son up to serve and go to the training. That will teach you way more about how the EF mass works, in a short time span, than any other resource.

    May God and his Mother bless you!

  6. LeeGilbert says:

    FWIW, there is now a 6 AM Low Mass in the Dominican Rite in Latin at Holy Rosary Parish in Portland Monday through Saturday. The doors open at about 5:30AM. As of now this is a private mass, not on the schedule and dependent on priestly availability, but we are free to publicize it and if interest is significant it will likely become part of the regular schedule. I have been serving this Mass for a month, and to date there has only been one day when a priest was not available.

    This is the earliest Mass available in the city so far as I know and a real boon to those whose work schedules make a later Mass impossible. This has been undertaken by the parish priests- who are not “morning people”- as penance for the scandals. It is a quiet, prayerful, contemplative Mass that typically takes about thirty minutes.

  7. LeeGilbert says:

    dbonneville writes, “Not everyone wants to be…’welcomed’ or ‘love bombed.'”

    True enough, but, “Look at the Christians. See how they love one another” was a major factor in the conversion of the Roman empire. I’ll admit the whole idea of greeters and super-happy-glad-to-see-you ushers is off-putting, but are we not capable of basic good Catholic manners, of welcoming those who seem a bit lost or befuddled, of introducing ourselves to fellow parishioners? I read of one young man who left the Church a year after his conversion and baptism precisely because of the coldness and indifference of his fellow Catholics. Nobody knew him or wanted to know him. This is Catholicism at its best?

    About fifteen years ago I allowed myself to be roped into being the coordinator for the Disciples in Mission program in our parish. In the interests of promoting it I would make it a point to be in the foyer after every Mass introducing myself to my fellow parishioners. What an eye-opening experience that was. Very many people were genuinely happy to be acknowledged, and several had serious questions about the Church that I was able to address. On the whole it was a very warm, worthwhile, humanly satisfying experience. This is bad? If grace builds on nature, then what is wrong with doing the humanly natural thing, and establishing contacts and friendships through which the Lord can accomplish great things?

    Come to think of it, it was one such introduction and discussion in the foyer of our parish church in 1988 that eventually led to my getting a masters in Scripture in 2015.

    “The cold shoulder is a terrible weapon” said Newman, but we effectively deploy it in our rush to the parking lot after Mass. There are very many people who need a friendly ear, yes even after going to Mass, and it is not particularly Catholic to brush by them or to deny them our friendship. Yet, I am afraid that very many of those people have given up on discovering any friendship from their fellow Catholics and make their way to the parking lot along with everyone else.

    And since this is the way of it, so do I.

  8. Thorfinn says:

    It can be hard to catch people after any Mass, but particularly Latin Mass. Some families stay after to pray like it’s going out of style. (Or maybe you do and by the time you’re done everyone’s left!)
    Some have server practice. Some have places to go and book it. But:

    “If you hang around outside a bit after mass someone will eventually figure out you’re there and say hello.”

    Indeed. Also keep an eye out for post-Mass gatherings – many Latin Mass groups have a coffee & doughnut type event on a regular basis which gives new folks an opportunity to meet & talk & ask questions. It’s harder for those who live 30+ minutes away, but if you go to daily Mass (Ordinary Form) or special devotions or church cleaning or pro-life activities — there’s a good chance you’ll run into the Latin Mass crowd there, too.

  9. Semper Gumby says:

    Thank you to the reader for his first impressions.

    A helpful book is “Nothing Superfluous” by Fr. James Jackson. It is a guide to the Extraordinary Form, and also includes a glossary and an essay on Latin in the Liturgy.

    “The Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated with many solemn rites and ceremonies, none of which should be deemed useless or superfluous. On the contrary, all of them tend to display the majesty of this august Sacrifice…” Council of Trent

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