On this blog we like to explore the interrelations between soul and body: how we must take care of our body’s health from our soul’s health, and how we can lift our souls to God through the physical things. A privileged expression of this is the liturgy, whose epitome is the Holy Mass.
Last week, I discovered a new way of living it, although I should rather say that I re-discovered an ancient way of living it, but that nowadays —unfortunately— has been lost to a large extent. I’m talking about the Tridentine Mass or Traditional Latin Mass (TLM).
I can single out 3 turning points in my life when it comes to the Mass. The first one would be when I started to be a practicing Catholic, and to go on Sundays, in my teen years. The second one, going to daily Mass too, what I began doing more and more since my first year of college. And I can affirm that going to Tridentine Mass would be the third one.
Below, I’m going to sum up the 8 (+1) things I liked more, touched me more or left a deeper mark on me. The things why I think that, if you’re trying to grow in spiritual health too, it’s a faster and safer way, through which in no time you’ll find greater graces than in months or years of arduous advances. Because it’s hard —although there are people who excel at it— to learn to put God in the center of a liturgy that’s made to put the “I” in the center. Because you won’t have to learn to separate wheat and tares to extract the Bread of Life.
1. Ad Orientem
The priest celebrates the Mass looking towards God, something I’ve always thought is better. There are people who interpret this as if he was turning his back on the people, but that’s absurd. It’s like saying that the person at the pew before you is turning your back on you and being offended. We’re all looking in the same direction, towards our common goal, towards Whom we’re walking together in the path of life. And towards Who must be the center, foundation and aim of the Mass.
Moreover, this position alludes to Christ as Sun of Justice, Radiant Dawn, as we invoke Him for example during Advent in the O Antiphons. The East is the cardinal point in which the Sun rises, and we look towards it expressing our hope in the coming of the true Sun.
There are many more times of silence and interior recollection, so you have the chance to live out the Mass way more, instead of going through the motions saying what you must but without thinking or letting it penetrate you. And it emphasizes the sense of walking all together towards God, but each of us in a personal way. I think it expresses wonderfully how salvation is at the same time very individual and very communal.
It also points out more the distinction between the roles of the priest and the people, who participates in a different way. But it’s not like it presents the priest as a being from above, since through the liturgy his condition as a sinner it’s also stressed. Both things set him apart from a Protestant pastor, who at the same time wants to be a mate and the cool person others should admire. He’s not “one more”, since he’s representing the Head of the Mystical Body of the Church; and neither can he boast and believe he’s the best (a way in which many priests do that is by changing the canon of the Mass, which is prideful because they think whatever they can come up with is better).
3. Reverence towards the Word of God
I notice a greater reverence not only towards God in the Eucharist, but also towards His Word. After all, that’s why we don’t have in the Bible the conversations between Jesus and His friends at casual meetings, the small talk; but what He said when He was preaching solemnly, speaking with an authority that amazed people.
4. Giving glory to God
I must confess that, despite the fact that we were all given a missal, sometimes I got quite lost. And I didn’t get even more lost because a friend by my side took care of me. I guess that with time I’ll get the rhythm. But what matters is that I wasn’t bothered or uncomfortable when I got lost. I knew that wasn’t the essence of the moment, but that we were giving glory to God, and that was enough.
5. No sign of peace
This part of the Novus Ordo Mass has always annoyed me… For me, greeting each other and giving hugs is a cool thing, but either before or after Mass. It makes no sense that the Consecration has just happened, we’re about to receive the Eucharist, and in the middle of all that suddenly we all get distracted. It’s like, the worst possible moment. And one that gives room to many abuses, because people want to greet everyone and miss the Lamb of God, sometimes even the priest gets down from the altar and goes through the pews, when people go in groups it’s such a mess…
6. The faithful
In general, I appreciate more reverence by the faithful. Obviously this is because if someone chooses to attend a Tridentine Mass it’s not by chance, but you can presuppose the kind of faith and attitude they have. But it created a very nice environment. And there’s more of a feeling of unity, for example because everyone follows the rubrics, so we kneel down and get up at the same time, not each one as they want. This achieves an atmosphere of more harmony and balance.
7. It’s practical
And how useful is it that the language —Latin— is the same throughout the world? If all the Masses were like that, it would be much more convenient while traveling… But, moreover, this aspect highlights the catholicity, that is, the universality of the Church. We’re no longer the fruit of the scattering from the Tower of Babel, but we conform one people. Not only those of us who are in this world. It also points towards the Communion of the Saints.
But by “practical” I also mean that it’s much more prepared to live the Mass in a certain way.
- You can receive Communion kneeling and on the tongue without worrying about if the person behind you is going to fall over you, what can you do if the priest stays on a step too high and therefore you’ll be too low for him if you kneel, or in general about how others are going to look at you.
- You don’t have to watch for if you need to change lines so you don’t get the extraordinary minister (worse if it’s a woman).
- You can relax knowing you don’t have to be alert in case the priest or someone else says —I loved the homily, by the way!— or commits a heresy throughout the Mass.
With all of this, you remove a lot of distractions and can focus more on what’s important.
8. A special beauty
Honestly, I expected this Mass to be more overloaded and with frills, like, even afraid that the form might distract from the content. But not at all, it’s been modest, sober and solemn. Of a great beauty. A beauty that goes from the interior to the exterior. That is, it doesn’t try to add a lot of exterior things so people feel something inside, but let the soul express itself towards the exterior in the ways that are more connatural to her, in adoration of the Divinity.
People say the Mass ought to be more like an informal meeting because that’s how Jesus ate with His disciples in the Last Supper. But that doesn’t match the historical reality at all. The Last Supper was solemn. The Jewish Passover wasn’t like going out to have dinner and chill. It involved a whole ritual, everything had its symbolism, its meaning and its reverence, remembering the History of Salvation. It was something serious and heartfelt.
Bonus: wearing a veil
It’s also been the first time I’ve worn a veil (or mantilla) at Mass, although I’d been wanting to do it for a while. I’m passionated about its symbolism, how, of the two sexes, men represents Christ and women the Church, His Wife.
It’s also what follows closer the words of St. Paul (1 Cor 11:4-16). Let’s take into account that the saint insisted that many other traditions of his time weren’t needed, even the most important ones, the ones marked by the Mosaic Law, such as circumcision. Neither does it seem like covering women’s heads was a super consolidated tradition, since he implies that, among those he’s writing to, there are people who don’t agree. And, despite everything, he still thinks it’s needed.
I want to clear something up before ending this post. I know that several of the points I’ve mentioned aren’t necessarily exclusive of a Tridentine Mass. The Novus Ordo liturgy can come very close when the priest has good formation and is moved by a deep love towards Christ and His Church, and I know several of them who’re like that and convey that in their Masses. It’s just not what you find at most normal parishes. Not a week passes without me seeing several things that don’t seem quite right, and at least one that can be called a liturgical abuse.
So yes, if the priest makes an effort, you make an effort and the rest of the faithful make an effort, a similar effect can be achieved. But everything seems to be designed to get just the opposite. So I don’t know why go round and round and put stumbling blocks.
Go and see for yourself!
Ok now, to conclude: we need to get closer to God, of course we do. But there’s a wrong way to do it, which is to try to take Him down to us, and a right way, which is to let Him elevate us towards Him (paraphrasing Dietrich von Hildebrand). I believe the Tridentine Mass preserves that better.
At least, that’s what I’ve lived. I invite you to try for yourself. Here you can search all the churches around the world in which this Mass is celebrated.