Sunday, April 30

My first Tridentine Mass

I got up early and went to the Tridentine mass held on 8a at St. Thomas Aquinas on Saturdays. I was really nervous about going.

The altar was dressed up beautifully. The priest was wearing a very cool "fiddleback" chasuble, which I had never seen one in real life. It was very cool. There were two very young altar boys, about ages 5 and 7 I'm guessing. They were so disciplined! All the altar "people" at the Cathedral (who are girls except for one boy who I thought was a girl for three months because his hair is so long) are only responsible for carrying up the cross and the gifts. And they sit there looking very bored throughout Mass. These two little young boys were kneeling and standing and praying in Latin and kneeling and moving things and other than the youngest scratching his nose once, were the two best behaved boys I've ever seen I think. They were so reverent. They were wearing the black cassock and white thing that goes over the cassock (sorry, I don't know the names of these things). The people who were attending the mass were reverent, and most has missals that they were using to follow along. At STA, we are allowed to receive communion by going to an altar rail, and I found that very respectful as well. The altar boy held up the paten under my mouth as I took communion from the rail.

Now the down sides. The WHOLE THING is in Latin except for a few Hail Mary's at the end. No homily, no scriptures, no prayers in English at all except for the few Hail Mary's I mentioned before. Also, the only participation that was going on during Mass with the parishoners was standing/sitting/kneeling and the Hail Mary's. The Kyrie and Pater Noster and other parts of the mass were recited by the altar boys (did I mention that they absolutely blew me away???). I didn't have a missal, so I kind of had to guess what was being said. The priest kind of mumbled the Latin, so it was hard for me to follow. I actually picked up a lot of Latin going to Fr. C's Novus Ordo masses in Latin, so I know the big phrases for that mass. But I couldn't even understand the Priest. He said most everything at a level that was impossible to hear. He faced away from the people the entire mass.

I honestly didn't feel very spiritual going there at all. I can definitely see why people would be boggled by the VII changes, but on the other hand, I can also see why they were made. I like participating by praying and responding to the priest. To me, the priest is supposed to be acting in Christ's place during the mass, so it makes total sense that he face us and speak to us as if Christ is speaking to us. It brings me into the mass much better and it helps me to feel spiritual to be able to participate.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved the reverence and solemnaty of the mass. It was so reverent, and was done with such precision. I really wish that I could find a way to bring that into normal attendance at churches.

To me, an ideal mass would be one done as the Novus Ordo mass was at St. Jude, with the Adoramus hymnal so that we could sing Gregorian chant. Much of the main part of the mass would be in Latin, but they would do the scriptures, homily and prayers after the Homily in English. I would also love to see the Mass treated with such respect as that priest and those altar boys. That was an amazing site. I'd love to hear the bells ringing during the Sacrament prayers to announce that Christ has risen as they do at STA.

I don't think I'll be going to the Tridentine mass on a regular basis. I get much more spirituality out of my little daily mass at Holy Family. And I really enjoy going to St. Jude, even though it's small and doesn't have nearly the bells and whistles that the Cathedral has. I enjoy the smallness, and seeing the familiar faces, and being able to walk half a block to church on both Saturday and Sunday.


At 6:50 AM, Blogger David said...

Just FYI, the white garment that goes over the cassock is a surplice.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Petra said...

Hi Cynthia! Great that you've been to a Tridentine Mass.

Your impressions seem to be similar to the ones I had when I first attended a Tridentine Mass in August 2004 (some months before my baptism), celebrated by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). I also didn't have much of a clue what was going on (even though I had a missal for it), I was surprised that I couldn't hear most of what the priest said, etc.

Since then, I've been to the Old Mass several times (about 10 times), and I think it is much more enjoyable and much more of a spiritual experience if one just participates prayerfully, instead of trying to understand every word and gesture. The structure is the same as at the Novus Ordo Mass, after all.

Because you have never been to such a Mass before, you seem to have misunderstood some elements. First of all, the priest does not face away from the people. He faces towards God (in the tabernacle; in the East where the true Sunrise comes from), with the people. (Read more about this in The Spirit of the Liturgy by our Pope, who strongly advocates facing ad orientem, even in a Novus Ordo context.)

Second, the Mass is, in its entirety, an act of worship of God. That is why it makes sense that the priest face to God, not to the people. But of course, there are parts also in the Old Mass where the priest faces the people, calls them to pray, etc.

As far as the reading and Gospel are concerned, practice there seems to differ from what the FSSP are doing here in Vienna. Here, most responses are made by the people, so the congregation participates very actively (including the recitation of the whole Credo). The priest here also first reads the reading and Gospel in Latin, towards the altar, as a proclamation/prayer to God. But then, he turns around and reads the same things in German so that the people may understand. The homily is of course also facing the people. (Regrettably, there is no pulpit in the Vienna church where the FSSP celebrate their Masses.)

Actually, I had the same experiences described above (strong participation of the people at responses and singing, readings in both languages) also at an Old Mass celebrated in Brussels, so that seems to be quite normal nowadays.

You seem to have participated at a Low Mass, because there was no singing. As you went on Saturday, there was of course no homily. (Sunday Masses on Saturday evenings were only introduced after the II. Vatican Council.) In most countries, the sung parts of the sung Mass are done by a Gregorian schola, sometimes with participation of the people. Here in Austria, Gregorian chant is not very widespread, but there's a lot of singing of German language worship songs both at the Old and at the Novus Ordo Mass (that's a typical Germanic thing and goes back to the influence of Protestant worship).

So, don't let you be discouraged. The Old Mass cannot be grasped that easily, it needs a certain time and deep appreciation. But it's worth discovering it, because it is a vital part of our heritage as Catholics. (N.B.: As far as I'm concerned, I mostly attend Novus Ordo Masses. But I also like and appreciate the Old Mass.)

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous "omis" said...

Cynthia, Fr. Jim has something in his archives that's sort of a primer for attending an Old Rite Mass.

Your experiences are also similiar to mine. But this Sunday I had an interesting peak at what a "reform of the reform" may look like--i.e. a return to some of the aspects of the Old Rite, while keeping certain reforms.

It was a traditional Anglo-Catholic Mass, much like the Old Roman Rite, but in English, and with the readings proclaimed towards the congregation. Check out my post for more on that.

At 8:49 PM, Blogger Vajra said...

Wherever the priest faces he faces toward God. The Tridentine is an historical anachronism. Most people do not speak, read, or understand Latin; the reason for the Mass in the vernacular is that the Body of Christ be more fully one in understanding, participation, and adoration.

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Petra said...


Wherever the priest faces he faces toward God.
Ever heard about God in the tabernacle? But of course, if there is no tabernacle around, he may just face everywhere - to the ground or up to the ceiling...

I'm not against Mass in the vernacular, but I must also say that your understanding of the Mass and of participation is extremely narrow. What about international Masses? I'm always very grateful when the Holy Father celebrates Mass on St Peter's Square in Latin: because that's really the language of the Church. Would you prefer a Papal Mass in Italian - just because it's in Italy???

And I think it should be a requirement for every Catholic committed to the faith to learn at least some basic prayers in Latin (Pater Noster, Ave Maria, Salve Regina, Angelus Dei, etc.) - as it is recommended by the Holy Father (see the Compendium of the Catechism!). This is part of our heritage, it is part of who we are. The Church did not start today or yesterday, it is 2000 years old.

And, by the way: in the old days, most people understood the basic Latin expressions of the Mass (even if they never had Latin in school). It's not that they had no idea what was going on. And ever seen a bilingual missal?

At 12:03 AM, Blogger Aristotle said...

It is wonderful that you went to your first Tridentine Mass. I am sorry that you had the reaction that you did. My first Tridentine Mass brought me to tears. I didn't know everything that was being said either but I knew that what I saw was how the Church worships. The priest faces with the people of God, offering sacrifice on their behalf (recall Moses in the dwelling tent with God.. when they people saw him, they saw his back, not his face).

The facing of the priest ad orientum (toward the East) is a beautiful representation (which is in all traditional liturgies) of the expectation of Christ's return and of the constant fixing of the Church's gaze upon her savior. The Tridentine Mass is also rich in symbol, things which I urge you to read up on and ponder. The spirituality of the old Mass is very deep and at first strikes one (as it should in this modern and confused age) as something utterly different. It is easy to dismiss it and misunderstand it, but much more spiritually profitable to learn what's going on, to read the prayers and follow along with a good missal.

The Church lost a GREAT deal with the throwing out of Latin from the liturgy (something Rome never authorized to be the norm. Vatican II specifically called for Latin to be retained in the liturgy). First of all, no matter where one went before the modern changes, anywhere in the world from the jungles of South America to Saint Peter's in Rome, he or she heard the universal tongue of the Church and followed along. Now we have a reconfounding of the tongues. Within any given city communities are divided based upon language, something not appropriate to the Church as developed in the Roman Rite.

Second, and even more importantly, Latin is a "dead language" meaning simply that no country uses it as their official language. The meanings of the words are fixed. They do not change in time. Thus it is perfect for expressing the Faith which does not change. Otherwise, ambiguities and heresies will inevitably arise as words change their meanings and one generation looks back and sees something appearing to be said that was not meant.

Latin must retain its place which it has occupied for nearly 2000 years by God's providence. Also, as our Holy Father has written about and taught, the traditional Roman Rite of Mass must be restored to its proper place in the Church as the PRIMARY rite of the West. It is our heritage as Catholics and thus incumbent upon us to learn it and pray it to be at the heart of the Church.

ps At first I didn't understand everything that was going on either, but within a year I was serving the altar and knew all the Latin responses and was able to follow many parts without a missal. With the use of a missal, you are able to more fully participate in the richness of the traditional liturgy of the Church.

At 12:09 AM, Blogger Aristotle said...

Oh, I forgot to mention. It sounds as though you may have went to a low Mass, that is without incense or much chant/polyphany. In a high Mass, the Credo, Gloria, etc are performed by the choir in unison with the priest, the Gospel is chanted, etc. In either a high or low Mass, however, there is usually a sermon if the Mass is on Sunday. Otherwise, it is optional depending upon the feast. Many people, for example, go to Mass early in the morning before work during the week and may not have time for a sermon. By omitting it during the week, more people are able to start their day by being present at the Sacrifice of the Cross. This is the essential part of hearing Mass, not the sermon which is primarily for instruction and encouragement in the Faith (as important as that is).

Also, do not mistake your participation as being necessarily through answering aloud the responses. You are a participant by uniting yourself to the august and mystical Sacrifice taking place before you as you are made present at Calvary itself.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Vajra said...

Studied Latin? check
Followed the Mass in Latin? check
Attended Mass in other non-English speaking countries? check
Speak languages other than English? check
The earliest masses were probably in Aramaic or Greek.The use of Latin for the Mass in the West comes from a time when Latin was the vernacular and also the lingua franca. It wasn't choses because it did not change. It wasn't "chosen." It's part of the development of the liturgy. The Tridentine was used in most parts of the West for @ 500 years. It's simply one of the rites among many valid rites used by the Church.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Diane said...

HI Cynthia,

You may be interested to know that the Novus Ordo Mass can be beautiful in the way that the Tridentine is, but the parts would be more familiar.

My parish celebrates a very reverent Novus Ordo - in Latin and in English. The pastor began celebrating it using the ad orientem posture (facing liturgical east) many years ago, as it was never abroggated.

When I first discovered the parish I didn't know what to think about the Latin, the posture, the high level of reverence I was so accustomed to and so much more.

It took only matter of days to fall madly in love with the place. Now, I dedicate my blog to events there through photos. Have a look some time starting here, then hit the "home" button and view what else I have.

God Bless!


At 5:58 PM, Blogger Laura H. said...

STA - that's my parish! I love it.

At 6:22 PM, Anonymous Aloysius said...

prior to Vatican II there had already been put in place 3 levels of participation of the people in the Mass, the highest level of participation being the Dialogue Mass in which the people say all the responses, and the confiteor gloria credo paternoster and domine non sum dignus. The novus ordo missae is not required for this level of participation, it was already in place prior to 1962. Those are the levels of participation for a low mass (which you attended), the practice at your parish is likely to use level 1 participation. Level 2 would be where the people all say the responses (but not the gloria, confiteor, credo).

Of course at high mass this does not occur because the choir sings/chants the major parts while the servers say the responses at the altar... sort of like at the novus ordo during the prayers over the gifts when there is music they generally sing something over top of it.

There is a lot to be said for the symbolism of the transcendence of the sacred language and even for the dichotemy between the choir portion and the server portions on the altar (kind of like Row Row Row your boat... what's that called?)

At 6:46 PM, Blogger Vajra said...

a round

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Ma Beck said...

I haven't studied Latin, other than minor self-study.
Speak other languages? Nope, unless you count the Ave in French, a leftover from Catholic school.
But with the littlest bit of internet/book study at home, and frequent reading of the Missal, I got it!
It took about 3 months of Tridentine Masses for me before something just 'clicked'.
Now, I love Latin, and mostly attend a Latin 'Novus Ordo' Mass, not a Tridentine Mass.
One of the things I get a kick out of is that every Latin word I learn makes so many English words
come full-circle.
Anime = Soul
Ahhhhh! Animation!
Caeli = Heaven
Ahhhhh! Chalice! , etc.


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