The other day I invited my wife and two grade school sons to sit down and watch a new documentary on the Traditional Latin Mass.
They all ignored me.
But I put “The Mass of the Ages” on anyway and within five minutes we were together in the living room paying attention.
Our family has been to the Latin Mass dozens of times and we recognize its profound beauty. The boys know, with the unspoiled instinct of children, they are participating in a solemn and divine mystery reaching into their souls from eternity. The documentary captured that and we couldn’t help but be drawn to it.
The Latin Mass is the form of Catholic worship that extends back at least to the time of Gregory the Great in the 6th century. St. John Henry Newman suggests that it is “virtually unchanged since the third century.” It was suppressed with the 1970s “Spirit of Vatican II” madness and the priests formed during that time embraced what is called the Novus Ordo, the Mass most are familiar with today.
But the Latin Mass is available within a couple hours from Big Flats, offered every Sunday at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Rochester and the first Sunday each month in Binghamton.
11:15 a.m. with confession from about 10:45 a.m. and after Mass
About one hour away
First Sunday of every month at St. Mary of the Assumption
37 Fayette Street
These nearby masses are not artifacts from long ago maintained for the elderly who cannot let go. They are fairly recent recovery efforts brought to fruition by faithful of all ages attracted to a timeless and mature rite that nurtured most of the saints. The Traditional Latin Mass has developed and taken on small accretions humbly accepted by worshippers over centuries. Unlike the current Mass, it was not fabricated by ideologues on a committee and imposed by force from the top down.
If you go to Latin Mass, do not be bothered by two of the most obvious differences:
The priest faces the alter, the liturgical east, at the head of the faithful as they pray facing God.
Everything except the homily and readings are in Latin, and the Latin parts are barely audible anyway.
Instead, put the quiet to use. During Low Mass, the priest prays intimately and solemnly to The Lord. Worshippers can use hand missals with translations to follow along, but that may sometimes defeat the purpose, which is adoration and prayer. A worshipper following along may pause on a phrase or two of prayer and mediate on that for the entire Mass. Others may bring their own prayers to the populated silence in which many hearts reach out to one God. During the occasional High Mass, a schola (sacred choir) sings parts of the mass with polyphony or chant that overlap the priest’s prayers. This layer of worship that adds to the silence without displacing it is all very natural. The quiet doesn’t have to be shoehorned in as part of a program. The Latin Mass calls believers to a maturity through which they join in prayer with the priest instead of being part of a program in an atmosphere where somebody is always saying something. “The chief element of divine worship must be interior,” wrote Venerable Pius XII in Mediator Dei. What’s more, you’re more likely to hear homilies that tap into the fullness and richness of the faith instead of admonitions to be nice drawn from the latest pop-culture pablum. During a brief summer excursion, our family had the chance to visit several times over three days the oratory chapel of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem in Charles Town, West Virginia. Among the seven-day-a-week worship activities open to the public, this small community of priests offers the Latin Mass four times each Sunday. We attended the 8:30 a.m. Mass, which was completely full, with many young people and families with children. I suspect all four Masses are full. We’ve seen similar demographics nearby Latin Masses as well. That’s what Cameron O’Hearn, director and producer of “Mass of the Ages”, found when visiting some ten states in making his documentary. “The one consistent thing is a bunch of young people,” O’Hearn said in an interview with Fr. Robert McTeigue on The Catholic Current podcast. “You have all ages there, but we’re shocked to find pews filled with young people.” Unfortunately, church leaders at the very top who usually call for diversity and tolerance are now imposing conformity in worship. So, the current occupier of the Chair of St. Peter has recently issued a diktat restricting the Latin Mass. But with contrasting pastoral concern, area bishops are allowing existing Latin Mass efforts to continue. Perhaps a future pope will show similar humility and mercy as well as reverence for the heritage of his faith. In case that doesn’t happen, get to know the Latin Mass in person while you can.