Latin Mass F.A.Q.
I’m working on a hymnal for our little TLM community, and in the front of the hymnal will be an F.A.Q. for newcomers. The F.A.Q. should be short and concise while covering the basic questions people are likely to have. Would you mind proofing this for me? Tell me if you think I’ve made any errors, missed something, or as I’m prone to do, included too much.
What is the Traditional Latin Mass?
The Traditional Latin Mass is the most ancient form of the Roman Rite approved for general use today. Although formally codified by the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the canon dates back to the time of St. Gregory the Great. Due to the great solemnity, reverence, and otherworldliness of this liturgy, it has often been called “the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven”.
How is the Latin Mass Different?
The Traditional Latin Mass is not a Latin version of the Novus Ordo Missae. The prayers themselves are different. They tend to be theologically precise and spiritually effusive. The rubrics are also quite different. There are fewer options, and there is little room for innovation. The priest faces the altar, or “liturgical east”, in the direction of the risen Christ. There are long periods of silence in which to contemplate the mystery of divine love as revealed in the liturgy. There is more kneeling, genuflecting, bowing, and crossing, all of which are symbolically important and give the rite a pronounced God-ward orientation.
Do I Need to Know Latin?
No. The Traditional Latin Mass is for everyone. This is the same rite that formed countless numbers of holy men and women over the centuries, few of whom knew Latin, and many of whom were illiterate. The content, structure and form of the Mass may be learned and richly appreciated without any knowledge of Latin – although one can’t help picking up some Latin along the way.
Why is the Mass Celebrated in Latin?
Here’s what Blessed John XXIII – the Pope who convened the Second Vatican Council -wrote in his great Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia:
“Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.
Nor must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin’s formal structure. Its ‘concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity’ makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression …
Furthermore, the Church’s language must be not only universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings.
But Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. It has long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular use …
Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.”
How Should I Worship at the Latin Mass?
If you are new to the Latin Mass, you should use a missal with an English translation alongside the Latin. These missals are available at the entrance of the church. Larger missals, with the propers for each day and rubrics for other celebrations, are available for purchase in various places. Ask a fellow worshiper after Mass where you might obtain one of these.
As you follow along with the priest, don’t be too concerned about falling behind or losing your place. The contents of these ancient prayers are rich with meaning: one does well to linger on the words for a time. In this way your soul will be drawn toward communion with Jesus Christ and, if you are well prepared, the reception of His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity at the altar rail. At certain times – such as the Sanctus, the Credo, the elevations, the Agnus Dei – you will be reminded to “catch up” with the liturgy in order to participate fully.
In some churches, the altar servers normally say the responses alone. In other places the congregation joins with the altar servers in responding to the priest – sometimes very quietly, and sometimes more audibly. It is best to follow the custom of your parish. If unsure, ask the celebrating priest what he prefers.
How Should I Dress?
Assisting at the Holy Sacrifice on Sunday is the most important thing you will do the entire week.
Acceptable attire varies from place to place, but in the United States the following norms apply:
For men, long pants and a collared shirt is the acceptable minimum, preferably with a coat and tie.
For women, any kind of modest feminine clothing is acceptable, while a long skirt or dress is to be preferred.
All should avoid loud, ostentatious, and immodest clothing. Skirts and dresses should cover the knees while sitting. Sleeves should cover the shoulders. Shorts, t-shirts, tank-tops, bare midriffs, low necklines, and revealing or tight-fitting clothes are always inappropriate.
What Are Chapel Veils?
Until very recently it was the universal custom of Catholic women to cover their heads whenever they found themselves in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. This requirement was even written into Canon Law, and is based upon the instructions of Saint Paul in Sacred Scripture. Veiling is an outward sign of submission to the Divine Order:
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered, disgraceth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven. For if a woman be not covered, let her be shorn. But if it be a shame to a woman to be shorn or made bald, let her cover her head. The man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. For the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man. Therefore ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels.” (1 Cor 11:3-10)
Although the veiling requirement has been relaxed in recent years, the practice is still encouraged at the Latin Mass. Chapel veils may be borrowed at the entrance of the church for ladies who wish to recover this beautiful tradition.
Is Talking Allowed Before or After Mass?
At the Latin Mass, it is customary for worshipers to make their preparation and thanksgiving prayers in church where Christ is reserved in the Blessed Sacrament. Very often the rosary is said just before Mass commences. Talking in church before or after Mass makes it difficult for people to concentrate on their prayers. Even if no one else is in the church at the moment, silence should be observed so as not to discourage others who may enter at any time.
Are Children Welcome?
Absolutely! The traditional liturgy is a wonderful school of reverence and devotion for young children. A quiet, worshipful atmosphere is not inconsistent with a certain tolerance for childish noisemaking. Nevertheless, out of respect for others, parents should remove children who are crying or making excessive noise. At the same time we ask everyone to be kind and understanding towards those who are struggling with young ones.
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