Going to the “new Mass” offered at parishes near me will always be a spiritual struggle, as the norms usually include female altar servers; “extraordinary” Eucharistic ministers; horrible, Protestantized music; and (nearly forced) Communion in the hand. Although this cannot be said about every Mass celebrated in the “ordinary form,” it happens to be the case in my diocese, where the only “extraordinary form” in the area –– which is celebrated only once a month –– was recently established earlier in March. Approximately four hundred people (especially young families) gathered from across the valley and packed themselves into the parish church to await the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy — the same liturgy that had been celebrated for nearly fifteen hundred years prior to the inception of the usus recentior by Pope Paul VI and the liturgical “reformers.” We currently pray that His Excellency will allow us to invite the FSSP into the area and establish the use of antiquity (usus antiquior) as our “Ordinary Form.” We are blessed with the support of Una Voce America in recognizing our Latin Mass Society as one of its chapters. As of now, we average at around three hundred people who attend the Latin Mass every month, and we pray that the number increases with each celebration.
For some fourteen centuries, that very same ancient liturgy sustained the souls of many great saints –– since the pontificate of Saint Gregory the Great –– like Sts. John Henry Newman, Ignatius of Loyola, Jeanne d’Arc, Thérèse of Lisieux, Francis of Assisi, and Philip Neri. The ancient liturgy of our Roman tradition has been extremely efficacious in the formation of saints, and it always will be. The traditional liturgy of Rome isn’t something to be replaced with a cheap knockoff, and neither should the divine liturgies of the Eastern Churches suffer the same fate as the Holy Roman Church. Yet so many of our fellow parishioners are completely unaware of their heritage as (Latin) Catholics. Many have grown up in the Novus Ordo, sadly seeing it as the spiritual life-giving force of Western Christianity. They are orphans, unaware of the use of Latin in the liturgy, Gregorian chant, or the deepness of contemplative prayer during the most sacred of rites in the Church. When they read about the ancient Roman liturgy, hear about it from friends and acquaintances, they desire to know about their heritage, in the same way many people buy ancestry kits to find out “who” they are. However, there are a few roadblocks they face in how to post-conciliar Church — especially the hierarchy — views “Tridentine” Catholicism, and for that reason, they tend to view the Eucharistic liturgy in a way they were taught to adopt.
For varying reasons, many Catholics who have never heard of the traditional Latin Mass have a great number of questions regarding it. Such questions about the ancient liturgy of the Roman Rite generally are similar to the following: “How are we supposed to follow along with the priest if he is praying in Latin? Why does it matter if I receive the Eucharist on the tongue? Why doesn’t the priest face us during the liturgy?” Often, those who grew up during the liturgical “reforms” look upon the Latin Mass with disdain, warning the younger generations about how “awful” it was in “the old days,” especially when they stumble upon our neglected liturgical heritage. Such attacks usually surround this specific one: “If the usus antiquior was so great, why did Pope Paul VI and the liturgists scrap it in favor of the usus recentior?” (Attacks such as this are answered in Peter Kwasniewski’s article “How the Best Attacks against the Traditional Latin Mass Fail,” which you can read here.) To answer the first question I mentioned, let us read from Msgr. George J. Moorman’s book The Latin Mass Explained:
Why should the mass be said in English? You will perhaps say: So that the people may understand what the priest is saying. But the Mass is not a prayer, it is an action. The priest is not only praying at the altar, he is doing a work which is greater than prayer. … What does it matter that you cannot follow the words that the priest is saying? You know what he is doing.
In ancient Judaic Law, the people were required to be present for the sacrifice, yet they could not step foot into the sacred sanctuary, as only the priests were capable of doing so. Despite the fact that they could not see or hear what they were doing, they knew what the priests were doing: offering sacrifices for them. In the New Covenant, the priest celebrates the Eucharistic liturgy by offering up the precious body and blood of our Lord in an unbloody fashion, and again the people know what he is doing despite them not witnessing — let alone hearing — it for themselves. The priest performs an act only he can do, and he offers it up not just for us, but to God. The traditional Latin Mass is not a form of entertainment, like what so many Lifeteen Masses have become in order to “invigorate” the banal. The “old Mass” is truly “extraordinary,” as it is meant to reflect not the ordinary world, but the one to come. It takes us to the foot of the Holy Cross; it does not nor should it make Christian liturgical worship into the meet-and-greet of everyday life, nor a source of theatrical enjoyment.
Unlike the usus antiquior, the usus recentior fails to provide Catholics with an appreciation of their own rich cultural, liturgical, and artistic history. The “ordinary form” of the Mass dilutes the Eucharistic liturgy by steeping us in the world, rather than taking us to Heaven on Earth.
My greatest fear is that when I invite my Protestant friends and family to Mass, they will see all the modernization within the liturgy and turn to me, saying, “You’re like us now.” The Catholic Church is marked by an irreplaceable reverence of the Eucharistic liturgy, of the precious body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t have to change what we are at the heart of the liturgical life to satisfy the complaints of Protestants. The best way to convert the world rests in our heritage as Catholics. We cannot successfully proselytize and baptize nations in God’s name if we aren’t living as witnesses to the Truth, nourished by the eternal font of divine love: the Mass. That is why it is necessary that we restore what has been lost and rejoice in God’s eternal love for us.
I will end this piece with some wisdom I received while speaking with a good friend, Padraig Fournier, about the issue: “The Beautiful has the potential to speak to souls, so what right-minded person would be attracted to a banal celebration of communal self-actualization? Evangelization is, at its root, the sharing of the Divine Person of Jesus Christ with the world, and where is that better done than a reverent liturgical life?” Our spiritual life is entirely contingent upon the liturgical life in which we lead. One’s minimum spiritual desires can be fulfilled at the Mass of Paul VI, but it will never fully nourish one’s soul enough to be formed into a saint when the liturgy has been stripped bare of the things that have made it sacred.