Last Sunday, my wife and I were invited to come to a Tridentine “Low” Mass. My wife asked me what it was and, shamefully I was embarrassed to admit that the only thing I knew about a Tridentine Mass was that it was in Latin.
After experiencing it, boy was I right. I had NO idea.
I had no idea there would be no music.
I had no idea the Church would be packed… with young people.
I had no idea we’d receive the Eucharist in a line and on our knees.
In the end, I had no idea how beautiful it would be.
I left the Church with a strange sense of awe and a lot of questions. As soon as I got home, I called my parents and peppered them with my curiosity. Having only been to vernacular, post-Vatican II masses, I could only imagine a world where Christ came to us under the secrecy of a Priest’s whisper.
After contemplating the experience, I’ve come to a few conclusions regarding the Tridentine Mass.
While I haven’t experienced a “High” Mass and all of its chanting beauty, the “Low” Mass enamored me with its simplicity. I’ve never been one for Church music. I’m the guy who gets frustrated when we need to sing one more verse not because I want to get out of Church quicker, but because I’m too anxious to get to the good parts of the Liturgy. The “Low” Mass eliminated all music and for that reason, I was very much considering making the Tridentine Mass the only service my family and I would attend.
The Tridentine Mass puts the Priest on a pedestal. I, for one, think this is a good thing because it makes the average Mass-goer focus on the importance of the man’s priestly role in the community. He brings us Christ. He declares the Good News. Without him, we would have nothing but silence. Through him we can channel our souls more perfectly toward what his hands bring to us, namely Christ.
I’ve seen pictures of pre-Vatican II Communion lines. As you can see, the rail separates the Priest from his flock but, at the same time, the flock comes to him in unison. The Church where we went didn’t have a rail, but we did receive Christ at the foot of the altar in one, uniform line. I simply loved this part because we, the laity, do play a different role than the priest in the Body of Christ. Receiving the Eucharist all at once in a horizontal line is much more symbolic of the togetherness we must create as a Catholic community as opposed to the vertical line where each person receives individually.
Pope Francis recently forbade a group of Franciscans to celebrate the “High” Mass. According to some sources, the reason because Pope Francis reacted so is because the Friars were only offering Mass in the Extraordinary, Tridentine form. Even where Churches offer both vernacular and Latin masses there is a certain stigma that each group receives because of their Mass they choose to attend. This stigma creates division and as a result, a depreciation of Catholic unity and holiness occurs.
It was prohibited for 37 years
The Bishops of Vatican II along with the leadership of Pope Paul VI formulated the Mass that the Church has celebrated in the vernacular since 1970. In 2007, Pope Benedict allowed for the expansion for the Catholic Church to celebrate the Tridentine Mass (which was celebrated for 600 years prior to 1970). However, from 1970-2007, celebration of the Tridentine Mass was strictly prohibited.
The Vernacular Mass is actually more accurate
It is easy to forget that education, communication and transportation prior to the 20th century were not as advanced as they are today. In fact, after the Council of Trent (which formulated the Tridentine Mass), priests and Bishops used only the limited resources they had to provide Liturgy. Because of lack of knowledge, they really didn’t know how the early Church had celebrated Mass.
All of that changed at Vatican II. For the first time, the entire congregation of Catholic Bishops around the world were able to bring all of their resources to the table and educate themselves on the proper way to celebrate the Mass. Using Church Father documents, they discovered that the Tridentine Mass was an inadequate representation of the faith. According to St. Justin Martyr, our current Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI is actually more accurate.
While there are more Pros than Cons regarding the Tridentine Mass, the Con of separation that I mentioned trumps all of the Pros because of its evangelical power. My neighbor, who is a Calvinist, attested to this fact when he told me that “the danger in ‘High’ or ‘Low’ Latin liturgy is when you put too much stock into it. After all, Jesus always talked with all of the ordinary schmucks. Latin doesn’t always help the normal folks come closer to Him.”
He’s right. In fact, the majority of the people I saw in the Latin Mass were those who were mature enough in their Catholic faith to understand it and love it. I’d be willing to bet that the average Joe would either a) fall asleep or b) go into his own world during the Latin Mass if he were to travel back to the pre-Vatican II days.
In the end, as much as I love the Tridentine Mass, I could never attend it exclusively. I believe it is a wonderful experience for anyone who is interested in it and I would encourage everyone to do so.
However, if Vatican II has taught us anything, it that we must not let the prayers our parents taught us in our native language go for naught.
Nor should we let the Mass deter in its ability to communicate Christ’s love in that same language.
Have you ever been to a Tridentine Mass? What do you like/ dislike about it?
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