I’ve had the privilege of being able to attend the traditional Latin Mass for going on nine months now. I can say without hesitation that this transition has been the single best change of my life. I’ll forever have an ongoing love story with Catholic tradition, and I’ve been blessed to discover that nowhere is Catholic tradition manifested with more breathtaking beauty than in the traditional Latin Mass. Here, largely forgotten rites, prayers, and symbols still exist in all their spiritual strength and efficacy, as they have for the past 1,500 years.
As a woman, the traditional Latin Mass resonates with me in a unique way. “There is something extraordinarily great and mysterious about femininity,” Dr. Alice von Hildebrand proclaimed. The woman has been one of the most beautiful mysteries of God’s creation since the dawn of time, ever since Adam first beheld his spouse in Eden and exclaimed words of praise with wonder and love.
This is something that’s dawned on me slowly, week after week, as I’ve knelt in my pew (holding my desert-island 1962 Missal) and prepared to attend the traditional Latin Mass. I spent the first twenty years of my life attending the Novus Ordo, and while I certainly had a deepening relationship of love and adoration with Our Lord all throughout those years, I’ve realized that it was only here, at the Latin Mass, that I felt truly cognizant of my beauty and mystery as a woman – as I knelt before the beauty and mystery of God.
This may sound odd, especially to those who view as negative the face-value appearance of a traditional Latin Mass, where women are veiled, in which they never serve at the altar, lector, cantor, administer Holy Communion, or do anything apart from adoring the Lord from their pews, (other than sing in choir, which I happily do!). Many might call a woman’s role in the Latin Mass odiously stifled and suppressed.
Yet here are several points where the traditional Latin Mass honors womanhood even more than the Novus Ordo. This discussion seems all too timely: over the past century, our culture has become overrun by so many false ideologies, not the least of which is feminism, and sadly, our post-conciliar Church has not been immune to its pervasive influence. Yet now, as many Catholics are beginning to re-embrace what the Church calls the Extraordinary Form after Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, more than one Catholic woman will be transitioning, just as I have done, into an entirely new and beautiful experience of the Mass, where her former roles no longer exist and she instead has the opportunity to rediscover the beauty of womanhood, as the traditional Latin Mass uniquely witnesses to it in four special ways.
1) The veil
Over the past sixty years, the tradition of women veiling in the Sanctuary has largely either been forgotten or been made into an issue of contention and resentment. But rather than the veil offending my womanhood, I conversely discovered that the veil actually honors and uplifts my womanhood to a new level of dignity, one that I didn’t experience at the Novus Ordo. At the Novus Ordo, I blend in; I dress as I would to a nice evening out, but nothing liturgically speaks of my femininity, and I am little different from the worshiper next to me. At the traditional Latin Mass, however, the woman is singled out with respect. I am asked to veil my head and announce to God and to others that I am truly a woman, that I am His beautiful and mysterious creation, and that the Mass is about the Beauty from which my beauty came.
This is such a simple but necessary point to grasp. Before a woman can become authentically aware of the beauty of her femininity, she has to be made aware, as deeply as possible, of Who God is and who she is before Him – not just as a woman, but a human being. The Mass was fashioned especially to do just this, through its reverence, its silence, and its beauty of liturgy. The traditional Latin Mass guides both men and women to orient themselves entirely toward God and consequently to efface themselves before His re-presented Sacrifice. From there, the Mass proceeds to speak to a woman of her own dignity, because she has humbled herself before God.
The veil was the starting point in my journey to realizing how the traditional Latin Mass honors womanhood. I first had to discover the beauty and necessity of self-effacement, of realizing I am nothing before God and that the Mass is entirely about Him. The veil wonderfully aided me in doing this. The veil reminded me I was in the courts of my King – and that I was beautiful and sacred enough to require a veil, so as to not distract from, but rather to point others to His beauty.
2) The repeated mention of the Blessed Virgin
One of the most striking differences I’ve found between the traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo is how often the Blessed Virgin is honored in the Old Rite. The Blessed Virgin is the model for all Catholic women; as St. Louis de Montfort described her, “God the Father gathered all the waters together and called them the seas (maria). He gathered all his graces together and called them Mary (Maria).” And the traditional Latin Mass seems to truly grasp Our Lady’s sacred and unrepeatable role in salvation history, as well as in our journey through this vale of tears – and it accordingly honors her time after time throughout.
Even before the Epistle is read, the Blessed Virgin has already been invoked four times: twice in the Priest’s confiteor, and then twice again in the servers’. She is honored once in the offertory, once in the canon, and once after the Pater Noster. Immediately following the Low Mass, the prescribed Leonine prayers include three Aves and the Salve Regina. In total, Our Lady is honored and invoked up to twelve times at every Mass, and even more so when it is one of her feast days.
The homage the Old Rite pays to the Blessed Virgin witnesses to the fact that it also honors the dignity inherent to all women. In a special way, the traditional Latin Mass continually places the Blessed Virgin before the heart of every woman present, urging all women to grow in her virtues and example for the sake of the Church.
3) The invocation of female saints
During each traditional Latin Mass Mass, seven female saints are invoked and honored directly after the Consecration: Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, both mothers to infants and heroic martyrs under Diocletian, and Ss. Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, and Anastasia, early Christian women who suffered horrible tortures for the sake of Christ (and, for the former three, for their virginity as well).
This is such a powerful moment following the profundity of the Consecration! The 1962 Daily Missal proclaims alongside their names: “One of the joys of eternal salvation will be the ravishing society of all the other citizens of heaven, who are now praying for us to join them.” This gives my heart a thrill of joy and anticipation, and respect for these heroic women, and how they used their gifts of femininity – the same gifts I possess as a woman – to serve God until the end.
At every Mass, those who attend the Old Rite are called to remember the example of these seven Catholic women who suffered martyrdom, and to be mindful of the strength and beauty of their femininity, which, in cooperation with God’s grace, enabled them to give all for Christ. What an incredible tribute, paid by the traditional Latin Mass, to the noble design Our Lord has for all women.
4) The symbolic integrity of the woman’s liturgical role
This topic has already been argued eloquently here by Benedict Constable, so I would like only to stress how I’ve personally come to appreciate the distinction of roles between masculinity and femininity as manifested in the traditional Latin Mass. The more I’ve come to understand and embrace this liturgy, the more I appreciate that I am authentically integrated into it as a woman, where I serve as a profound symbol simply through my own femininity – and not through any external, and imperfect, actions of mine in my attempts to “contribute” to the liturgy of the Mass.
I’m able to say this from years of experience as a cantor and a lector at the Novus Ordo. I was blessed and honored to have been able to serve God in that way and to have used whatever talents I have for His glory – but at the traditional Latin Mass, I feel doubly complete and at peace fulfilling the liturgical role meant for me and for all women since the beginning of the Church, which is simply to be present in my womanhood and to represent the receptivity of the entire Church to the Word of God. How amazing and beautiful it is that my identity as a woman is enough – that I need not do anything more of my own efforts to serve as a sacred symbol in the liturgy!
I’m sure there are many more ways that the traditional Latin Mass helped me to embrace the beautiful gift of my femininity, and to rejoice in my traditional role in the liturgy. However many I might have forgotten, I’m deeply grateful for all of them. It’s my heartfelt prayer that more and more Catholic women will discover these beautiful tributes to their womanhood lying hidden in the Old Rite – and that they will all realize that while, on the surface, women appear to do far less in the Traditional Latin Mass than in the Novus Ordo, it is because the Traditional Latin Mass, along with Catholic tradition for the past two thousand years, has gently told her: You are woman: you are beautiful: you are enough as you are.
Mary Jimenez is a freelance writer from the Deep South, and is deeply passionate for traditional Catholic living and for sanctifying the domestic Church. She blogs at marydonellan.wordpress.com.
I never think of male/female when I am at church whether it is NO or TLM. I am there like everyone else, worshiping along with everyone. I am a post V2 adult who has only recently gone to the TLM. I prefer the TLM because there are better(?) or different prayers in the missal, especially the prayer to St Michael. I never learned Latin, and being able to try and keep up/understand what is going on keeps me engaged. The music which is more along the lines of a Gregorian chant/ Sacred music I enjoy the beauty of it. What I also enjoy is that I do not need to sing to be a part of the Mass, I especially do not like the Sign of Peace and not having it at a TLM suits me just fine. I also enjoy the interior/quiet meditative atmosphere of not needing to recite or sing the prayers like in the NO. Also rather interesting, I go to Mass by myself, and I feel more out of place being single/alone with the NO that with the TLM. I feel more included in the group with the priest facing towards the alter, as we all face towards God/Jesus together. Any way that is my two cents as a female Catholic.
One doesn’t necessarily think about being female at Mass. I think the rubrics & language & mystery of TLM define and demonstrate clearly who we are as priest, laity, men, and women. Roles are ordered. There are no blurred lines & chaos as in the Novus. The Mass exemplifies the natural order of life as designed by our Creator, and, if we are open to it, it permeates our being, bears fruit, and carries over into our identities, decorum, and relationships.
Blah blah blah.
You are just rude and apparently angst ridden. I admit I was prideful and vain in all my reasons to NOT veil. I have found it to be something much different than I had imagined, and so has my husband. Hats & scarves work equally well as did my mother’s grade school beanie. If your experience is different, so be it, but spew not such hostility, please. It isn’t the least bit ladylike or virtuous. Such anger is a problem of the heart moreso than the head, so perhaps veiling isn’t the real issue. Prayers ascending.
This resonates with my own experience. I was raised nominally Catholic with burlap & butterflies in the sanctuary, a guitar with a BAD choir out in front, and blue cafeteria chairs in lieu of pews.
The TLM upholds the dignity of motherhood in that the Church needs me in the pew, teaching my children so that Her traditions continue into the next generation. It has freed me from feeling as though I wasn’t serving when attending the NO. Oh. and the grace poured out upon my daughter over the past 7 years. At 17 she is becoming such an incredibly beautiful young woman who desires holiness and marriage & children without the distraction of a career. TLM has taught us to reclaim authentic Catholic femininity! As a recovering feminist, I am so humbled and so very grateful.
Beautiful Mary, just beautiful!!
Oh lowly little chapel veil
You are my dearest friend
For when my hair’s all mops and brooms
You cover end to end.
And when my hair’s not curling right
Or when it sticks out straight
You gently hold it all in place
And make it look first rate!
But feminists they hate you so
You lowly simple thing
To them you are so vile not veil
To praise Our Lord and King.
And passing by the Church of Seven,
“Autonomy’s”, their phrase
They never know the joys of Heaven
Such as no bad-hair-days!
For lowly lacey chapel veil
You tame my hair so wild
But truth-be-told though I look nice
It’s really for The Child.
Perfect! Thank you Long-Skirts! –from long skirt homeschool mom
I appreciate your story about finding and coming to the Traditional Latin Mass. I was introduced to the TLM by a former girlfriend who took me to St. Mary’s in Washington, DC. Over time, my hunger for the tradition of the Church grew. I decided I had had enough of eucharistic ministers, bad music and preaching and uninspiring Masses. I go to the TLM at Pittsburgh’s North Side. I have NEVER been dissatisfied with a Mass since I started going there each week.
When possible, I attend Daily Mass, a NO Low Mass near my office. God is pleased whenever we attend Mass. The best way to start the week is to go to the TLM.
Thanks for this. It’s difficult to swim against the pervasiveness of feminism in the wider culture, and even more difficult to be that sign of contradiction within the Church, with our friends, and even sometimes with our husbands and children.
I am the only one in my family with interest in and devotion to the TLM. There may be a tension between a husband’s leadership and the conscience of a ‘traditionalist’ wife. I’m glad that there are Catholic women writing about our role in assisting at Mass. Just as men, we are there to adore, thank, petition and make reparation. But as women, we have some particular tools to use toward these ends- head coverings among them.
I do hope that 1P5 might offer articles on the dilemmas faced by women trying to gently lead a husband/children toward the TLM and the full treasures of the church. We are ‘in a different place’ than this article’s writer, it seems. We know the usually prescribed remedies are prayer and fasting for our families.
Yes. Can you write something for us too?
Having a piece of pretty lace on your head does not make it a tool for anything. It’s just vanity. It doesn’t help anyone. It’s not a devotional. You don’t pray on it, like a rosary. It’s just a way to show off supposed piety.
Not true. We wear the veil because it’s a time-honored custom and a great way to keep ourselves from distractions (St. Bernadette called her religious veil her “little chapel” and it’s a very lovely name for our lacy version of the nuns’ shield from the world, too!) It’s a very useful tool, albeit a pretty one; with a veil around our faces it’s very easy to focus forward on the altar, without having all the people and things on our periphery to distract us. If you don’t care to veil, more power to you, but stop ranting about us girls who do it by choice – and who love it.
If we’re enough the way we are, why do we need to add a veil that frankly makes me feel like a muslim. Only muslim women cover their heads on a routine basis now. The scripture that speaks to women covering their heads is speaking to Jewish women who were presenting themselves to the temple unveiled in a time when NO WOMEN would do that ANYWHERE, must less the temple. Unless they were women of ill repute. The wearing of veils is a huge stumbling block to many women who would otherwise like to try the TLM. Women like me. If wearing a veil makes you feel more like a woman and closer to being the woman God wants you to be, then by all means do it, but please quit making an issue of it. There are plenty of perfectly respectable women who don’t feel the need. Other than that, I quite liked the article.
There is no obligation for women to wear a chapel veil. There is freedom either way. In this culture (in the US) where only muslim women consistently wear head coverings, I choose to not wear the veil at the TLM.
I’m old enough to remember that prior to the Second Vatican Council, American women wore hats or scarves to Mass – not veils. Look at any photograph of a pre-Vatican II Mass. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a mantilla. Girls often wore what we used to call doilies on their heads (or a kleenex fastened to their hair with a bobby pin). So it wasn’t about “veiling” – it was about wearing something – anything – on the head. There’s an iconic photo of Jacqueline Kennedy at the funeral for JFK (1963) which shows her wearing a black pill-box style hat (she covered the hat with a black mourning veil before and after the Mass). Next to her is the late president’s mother, Rose Kennedy, wearing a white fur hat. Rose Kennedy is also praying the Rosary, which many women, including my grandmother, did all throughout the pre-Vatican II Mass.
Here’s the relevant section on head wear from the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which also indicates the church’s preference for men and women to be segregated in church:
1. It is desirable that, consistent with ancient discipline, women be separated from men in church.
2. Men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord. (1262)
The author says she sings in the choir. The practice of women singing in choirs is actually quite recent, as indicated by this quote from Pope St. Pius X’s 1903 moto proprio, Tra le Sollecitudini:
13. On the same principle it follows that singers in church have a real liturgical office, and that therefore women, being incapable of exercising such office, cannot be admitted to form part of the choir. Whenever, then, it is desired to employ the acute voices of sopranos and contraltos, these parts must be taken by boys, according to the most ancient usage of the Church. (Tra le Sollecitudini, 1903)
So isn’t what the author calls the “symbolic integrity of the woman’s liturgical role” compromised by allowing women to have “a real liturgical office” as a choir member?
YES. ALL OF THIS.
Except the Mass is NOT about women or men or honoring them. It’s about Jesus and His sacrifice. But sure, go ahead and make it about you. Wearing a HEADCOVERING was a cultural custom all over the world, when women were considered less than men. There’s nothing doctrinal or dogmatic or moral admit it. It sure is pretty though!! But not modest. And you don’t blend in. You stand out because it’s not the cultural custom anymore to wear things. God doesn’t look at what’s on your head. It’s just about vanity and pride.
I am not sure what your problem with vail is. There are, undoubtedly, many people who see, “sense” and experience the great meaning and beauty of vailing, and there are undoubtedly many people who don’t. Similarly to many people hearing the beauty and meaning in classical music, and many who don’t. But, of course the fact that many don’t see, “sense” or experience the beauty, meaning and symbolism in something doesn’t mean that it is absent– not to many people see beauty in mathematics, actually most are mathematically impaired. With the matters of grace it is quite similar: those who know it, no explanation is needed and those who don’t know it, no explanation is possible.” It is just very sad, however, that those who don’t know it, usually out of bitter envy, try to undermine its truth, its beauty, its goodness. Please don’t be one of them…for your own sake.
There is nothing more Beautiful to Man than Woman. Nowhere is this more prevalent than at Traditional Latin Mass where the Adoration of Our Blessed Lady is at its most complete. God made Woman for Man just as God made Man For God all are intertwined in our magnificent Humanity.
Thank you very much for this amazing article. I always intuitively thought of womanhood as described in the article–may God bless you for this confirmation.
Not only did all the women mentioned in the Canon suffer rather violent torture and death but they came from all walks of (lay) life: Agnes, Agatha, Lucy and Anastasia were virgins. Cecilia was married but living in a state of continence and both Perpetua and Felicitas were wives and mothers.