My family belongs to a parish that has one of the most beautiful novus ordo (ordinary form) Masses in the entire state. They offer a Solemn semi-High Mass every Sunday and many of the hymns and prayers are in Latin. However, I have never actually been to a true Latin (extraordinary form/Tridentine) Mass until yesterday.
When we rolled up to our parish we read on the bulletin that scheduling would be different this Sunday with our normal Mass time cancelled. Thinking quickly, I knew that there were two other churches within mere blocks that offered Mass at our usual time. One was in a beautiful basilica with a lovely ordinary-form liturgy and one was in another gorgeous church that offered the city’s only extraordinary-form liturgy, a Solemn High Mass to be precise. For a year now, I knew I needed to check out the Latin Mass one of these days and yesterday’s circumstances helped settle the matter: my wife, my son, and myself would go to or first real Latin Mass.
The St. Stanislaus Oratory is beautiful. The outside is a well-maintained fortress and the inside is cavernous and intricate, yet welcoming. They have just restored the original marble high altar inside and it’s beautiful, they also did work on the side altars, floors and more, as documented here. We sat in the back because we were not sure if we would stick out like sore thumbs or not. We were by the rear confessionals where confessions were being heard up until the beginning of Mass (something that also takes place at our normal parish, but is an uncommon sight to most Catholics).
I was in awe with the beauty and reverence of the entire Mass. The procession in was spectacular. The 15-or-so altar boys were serious, clean cut, and purposeful, aged from elementary school through high school. The two priests and deacon, wearing birettas, approached the altar with an unwavering seriousness and reverence that commanded the same out of the laity present. I tried to follow along the best I could with a small booklet, the English on the right mirroring the Latin on the left. It contained images of what the priest was doing and what the responses would be. Most people I have talked to have said it will be very difficult to follow along at first…and it was. But that’s not the point of a Tridentine Mass because our “participation” isn’t meant to take on the form that we have been accustomed to since Vatican II. Our “participation” was to be more prayerful, solemn, and to receive Christ through Communion. There were surprisingly few responses requested from us and the only extended instance of us speaking was during the Nicene Creed–in Latin of course.
We were there to witness, to “hear”, the Sacrifice of Mass take place before us. The priests were going to give Mass whether there were 1,000 in the pews or no one, it didn’t matter. But the pews were indeed packed and what I found more surprising than anything was the average age of the adults there. The normal range was probably between 25 and 45. I’m well aware that more traditional Masses now draw younger-generation Catholics (like at our parish) but this was really impressive. It seems like a paradox, that the most ancient form of the Liturgy would draw those born most recently and the most progressive and “modernized” form of the Liturgy would often draw the oldest people (or it just repulses all the young people). It shows how the answer for growing the Church does not lie with watering down the Liturgy and by making telling jokes during homilies. Also like my parish, the place was swarming with children–a trait that should be normal for all parishes but sadly is not. Large, beautiful, and young families stretched across pews were the norm, especially in the back where we were sitting. Babies were squirming and toys were flying. It’s funny to think how most people not familiar with the more traditional parishes would assume everyone would have their nose up in the air and that any audible disturbances would be shushed quickly. This is not the case. It is precisely these parishes where you are not embarrassed when your toddler erupts in a fit of giggling, coughing, or crying. The entire Mass is punctuated with the sounds of children. There is no sneering at the parents with children who won’t sit still. It is these parishes that are in fact the most welcoming and understanding–especially of situations that come with the territory of raising a family.
There is a lot more genuflection, not only among those serving Mass but also among those of us in the pews. Most novus ordo parishes hardly even encourage bowing during the incarnation in the Creed, here, everyone kneels for that part. Speaking of posture, the choreography (for a lack of a better term), among the two priests and deacon is exquisite. Every single movement from large to miniscule has been put in place through centuries–it’s almost like watching art. The unfettered reverence shown on the altar and towards the tabernacle inspires everyone witnessing to hold the same awe and reverence in their hearts. It makes one terrified to even consider passing the communion rail and going onto the altar lest they inadvertently show any disrespect. And this is how it was for over a thousand years–parishioners knew that the altar was a sacred place. Now, with the dumbing down of not only the architecture in churches but also of the Liturgy, people have no problem running across carpeted altars, approaching the pulpit without bowing before the tabernacle, or plucking the consecrated Host like a potato chip.
After attending this Mass, it will be hard to reconcile the fast and loose ways of many liturgically progressive priests in the future. I’ll always be wondering “how did we arrive at this from the perfection that lasted for centuries?” But this is not something to fret over because these priests are naturally falling away as good and faithful young men replace them.
There is much hope knowing that the interest in the Traditional Latin Mass is booming worldwide, with more and more dioceses now offering it. Seeing all the young faces yesterday was a beautiful thing. Seeing priests that were purposeful, faithful, and respected was refreshing.
The Renaissance has begun. Out with the old, and in with the … eternal.
All uncaptioned photos are from the St. Stanislaus Facebook page