Rorate Caeli

“Given a Choice, Why Should I Consistently Attend the Traditional Latin Mass?” — Full Text of Dr. Kwasniewski’s Charlotte Lecture

The following lecture, sponsored by the Charlotte Latin Mass Community, responds to a question many Catholics have today: “Why should I go to the extra trouble of attending the Latin Mass consistently or exclusively, when it’s so much more convenient to go to a closer church that has a decently reverent Novus Ordo? And after July 16th’s motu proprio, Church leaders are making it more difficult than ever to make the Latin Mass our liturgical home. What reasons should motivate us to stay faithful to it, despite those challenges?” Along the way, I furnish arguments in favor of the content and form of the TLM and respond to some of the usual objections made by Bergoglianity against tradition. A video of the lecture has also been posted at YouTube.

Given a Choice, Why Should I Consistently Attend the Traditional Latin Mass?

Lecture by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, Charlotte, North Carolina
Saturday, November 6, 2021

It gives me great joy to be present here with you at a church dedicated to the Angelic Doctor. Discovering St. Thomas in senior year of high school thanks to a great philosophy teacher was a turning point in my life. It led me to go to Thomas Aquinas College; then to pursue graduate studies in Thomism at Catholic University of America; and finally to spend about twenty years teaching philosophy and theology ad mentem Sancti Thomae. The study of Aquinas disciplines the mind in such a way as to render it more receptive to and discriminating of the truth, wherever it may be found and whoever says it. So, those of you who are parishioners here: you have one of the greatest possible patron saints, and you should pray to him and ask him to send down heavenly wisdom on the Church suffering. And by this, I don’t mean the holy souls in purgatory (though of course we are praying for them in a special way in this month of November), but the Church suffering on earth from a tremendous eclipse of faith and reason, of fervor and religion, that can leave us feeling quite disoriented and demoralized. The Angelic Doctor is depicted in art with the sun as a shining disc emblazoned on his chest, over his heart, emitting beams in all directions. It reminds us not only that he was illuminated for a special and universal mission, but also that the divine light is in fact never absent from us when we are living in God’s grace, in His charity; we carry in us the light of reason, faith, and the Holy Spirit by which we can walk confidently even in the midst of dark nights and tempestuous times.

I had thought of giving this talk a different title: “The Value of Stable Adherence (or Stable Attachment) to the Latin Mass.” The goal in any case would have been the same: to explain to you, as well as I can in the limits of a lecture, the importance of stability, consistency, and good habits in the spiritual life, and how in a very special way the traditional Latin Mass is a superior “home” or environment in which to settle down spiritually; and how it can even be harmful to be “nomads” who do not have a settled liturgical home.

The inspiration for my talk comes from the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, which I have been reading for many years as a a Benedictine oblate. (The Rule is divided into about 122 little pieces, so the whole of it is read three times a year by monks, nuns, and oblates.) It has become a familiar companion but never ceases to challenge me and give me new things to ponder. Now, the Rule makes a big deal out of what came to be called later on the practice of (and I would also say, the gift of) “stabilitas cordis et loci,” “stability of heart and of place.”[1] It means putting down your roots in this particular monastery; not gadding about from one monastery to another, like the so-called “gyrovagues” Benedict discusses in the opening chapter, of whom he says: “These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province, staying as guests in different monasteries for three or four days at a time. Always on the move, with no stability, they indulge their own wills and succumb to the allurements of gluttony” (RB 1). In contrast, the cenobites, that is, monks who live in community as brothers, will help one another to achieve their ultimate destiny of heaven, which only the rarest can achieve as solitaries or hermits. Benedict says at the end of chapter 4, on the instruments of good works: “But the workshop in which we perform all these works with diligence is the enclosure of the monastery, and stability in the community.” In chapter 58, the novice “promises stability and perseverance,” and when the time comes for his full reception, he or she is asked to “promise in the oratory, in the presence of all, before God and His saints, stability, the reformation of his life, and obedience.” In chapter 60, Benedict says that a priest who wishes to join the community can do so “provided he promises to keep the Rule and personal stability.”

It seems, for the Holy Patriarch, that there is something especially important about this vow of stability, of staying put, committing oneself to a place, a house, a community, a definite way of life. It is at the opposite end of the spectrum from what we often see nowadays: a consumerist approach to religion, where people take samples of this or that “spirituality” from a smorgasbord of options. St. Benedict was drawing upon an already developed tradition of monastic wisdom. For example, St. Antony of the Desert claimed that monastic perfection requires three things: study of the Scriptures, prayer, and stability.[2] And not just monks or nuns, but all of us stand to benefit from these three things, diligently pursued. Dom Hubert van Zeller describes stability as “interior constancy, the willingness to counter both in the mind and in outward conduct the restlessness which urges change.” Dom Paul Delatte, a successor of Dom Prosper Guéranger at Solesmes, writes: “Stability . . . has the precise meaning of permanence in the supernatural family… stability consists in a deep and lasting belonging to a family…”[3] Although we may truly “serve one and the same Lord and fight under the same King” in any place or in many places, when we “fix” ourselves in suitable surroundings, we can serve Him better.[4]

I will make the case that the Latin Mass gives us precisely those suitable surroundings where we are wise to fix ourselves consistently, steadily, stably, so that we may serve our Lord and King better, building the right habits of prayer and penance, sanctifying our souls more surely. In what follows, I will base my remarks on the structure of Mass, but with some digressions too.

Before Mass

We step into the church and we find it quiet. The people who gather at the Latin Mass do so to pray to Almighty God and to pray for themselves and for one another. They are there, as the Gloria says, to praise, bless, adore, and glorify Him, to give Him thanks, to beg His mercy, to ask for our needs. The spirit of recollection and meditation—even if occasionally interrupted by crying babies who don’t know any better and remind us of our littleness before God, and of His love of human life—the spirit of recollection and meditation exists here, and can thrive. The ancient liturgy itself—with its alternations of chant and silence, its sacred choreography, and its rich symbols—fosters our prayer, calms the mind, speaks to the heart, responds to us at a deeper level than words, and gives us a peace that the world does not know and cannot give.

At the foot of the altar

The prayers at the foot of the altar begin, introducing a period of focused preparation before the priest climbs the steps to begin the Mass, properly speaking, with the Introit or entrance antiphon. Without these prayers, we are less prepared than we should be for the word of God and for the renewal of the Holy Sacrifice. We can never be completely prepared, of course, but we must make an effort to be somewhat prepared. The traditional liturgy thoughtfully gives us the opportunity to recollect ourselves in repentance and fear of the Lord and humble dependence on His grace. Mass absolutely should not suddenly start at the chair in the sanctuary, as if we’ve been dropped in by parachute; we have to climb up the hills and steps to Mount Sion, as we read in the gradual psalms beloved to the Jews on pilgrimage.

The priest at the altar

The priest has now climbed the steps and walked to the Epistle side to say the Introit. From this point onwards, he will be practically “tethered” to the altar, as if by an invisible chain of love. The entire liturgy of the Mass, from start to finish, is the sacrifice of praise we offer to God, at the heart of which is found the sacrifice of Calvary. The priest’s constant circulation around the altar and his decisive stance of prayer toward the East remind us that we are come here to worship God, not to transact any human business, however noble or necessary it might be. He is the origin of our being and the meaning of our life and the end of our journey. All is oriented to Him. There is no more fundamental lesson that the liturgy could ever teach us, and the Latin Mass teaches it powerfully, carrying us out of ourselves toward God, without the serious distraction of the priest and lectors facing the people. By watching the priest perform his special office from a certain distance, the “gap” between God’s holiness and ours is emphasized, which, paradoxically, intensifies the fascination of His mystery. Never do we feel more in the presence of God than when we are, in a way, excluded physically from nearness or familiarity, while being liberated to surrender to prayer, which is actually what unites us to the invisible and the eternal.[5]

The prayers of the Mass

The priest recites the ninefold Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison, in honor of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and the nine choirs of angels, in a dialogue with the servers who represent us. Most days he will recite the Gloria, beginning with a rising motion of the hands, and bowing his head five times in humble acknowledgment of God. Then he comes to the mighty Collect, the prayer that sums up the petitions of Holy Mother Church for that day: he bows toward the tabernacle, then says the prayer with hands raised. The age-old Roman rite exhibits an obviously God-centered and Christ-centered orientation, found both in the common stance of priest and people ad orientem (toward the east) and in the rich texts of the classical Roman Missal itself—in the Order of Mass as well as in its Propers that change from day to day.

As compared with the modern Mass, these texts give far greater emphasis to the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice of Our Lord upon the Cross. The prayers of the new missal are often watered-down in their expression of dogma and ascetical doctrine, whereas the prayers of the old missal are unambiguously and uncompromisingly Catholic. This missal is a pure font of Christian wisdom, not a committee product cobbled together by “experts,” adjusted to the (real or imaginary) preferences of “modern man.” Michael Fiedrowicz, in his masterful book The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite, makes just this point:

The celebration of the liturgy in its traditional form thus constitutes an effective counter-weight for all levelings, reductions, dilutions, and banalizations of the Faith. Many who are unfamiliar with the classical liturgy and are acquainted only with the re-created form believe that what they see and hear there is the entirety of the Faith. Scarcely anyone senses that central passages have perhaps been removed from biblical pericopes. Scarcely anyone notices if the Church’s orations no longer expressly attack error, no longer pray for the return of those who have strayed, no longer give the heavenly clear priority over the earthly, make the saints into mere examples of morality, conceal the gravity of sin, and identify the Eucharist as only a meal. Scarcely anyone even knows what prayers the Church said over the course of centuries in place of the current “preparation of the gifts,” and how these prayers demonstrated the Church’s understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice, offered through the hands of the priest for the living and the dead.

You see, the differences between the old Mass and the new Mass are far-reaching, indeed, radical, as in going down to the root—and this, at two different, complementary levels: on the one hand, what we see and hear, the artistic or aesthetic dimension (what some refer to as “smells and bells”), and on the other hand, what the texts themselves say or do not say (this is more a question of content). If we look at the content, we find the kind of differences Fiedrowicz just described. The fullness of the Catholic Faith, in all of its doctrine, morality, and spirituality, is found only in the traditional Latin Mass. This has been demonstrated in a plethora of studies, including my own articles and books over the years. If we look at the “form” or the externals, we see, too, the perfection of the Tridentine ceremonies and rites, with nothing casual, haphazard, sloppy, or unserious; we see the way the rubrics promote and protect Eucharistic reverence, how they encourage adoration, humility, devotion, and contrition, how they provide so many helps to us for raising our minds to God and our hearts to heaven. As I like to say, the old Mass gives us so many “pegs” on which to hang our thoughts and prayers.


This helps us to see, incidentally, that it is quite mistaken to say the Latin Mass “excludes the participation of the people.” (Nothing more stupid can be imagined, and yet it was just repeated by a certain man dressed in white back in July, and then, like the refrain of a monotonous pop song, got parroted again and again in all the coverage on Traditionis Custodes: “there’s no active participation of the people at the old Latin Mass and Vatican II changed all that for the better.” Good grief! There is no ignorance as profound as the ignorance of the ecclesiastical establishment talking about the liturgical tradition and the so-called reform.) On the contrary, the Latin Mass greatly fosters the meaningful involvement of the faithful by giving us more to enter into, and more numerous ways to relate to it.

As we continue through the Mass, we are given opportunities to worship with our bodies by kneeling for long stretches, making many signs of the cross, bowing our heads or genuflecting at certain moments—it is altogether more physically demanding, which is very good for us. Our senses are engaged by silence, music, incense, and regimented ceremonies. If we follow along in a missal, our intellects are given dense and nourishing prayers that we can meditate on for the rest of our lives without exhausting their meaning. Refreshingly, the old liturgy accords a certain freedom and dignity to the layman, whose baptism has equipped him to be a member of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pet 2:9). The liturgy spreads out a lavish banquet of prayer from which everyone can take all that they please, in the way that suits them best.

The old Mass has a wonderful mysterious way of adapting itself to the varied needs of all who attend it. Some prefer to kneel and watch, or count their beads. Others let the music of High Mass guide their thoughts and feelings. Still others like to follow every antiphon, prayer, and reading in their well-thumbed daily missal. The Mass could say, with St. Paul the Apostle: “I am become all things to all men, that at least some might be saved.” To the quiet, it is quiet; to the intellectual, it is inexhaustibly intelligible; to the sentimental, it is stirring and reassuring. But it also makes demands. To the impatient or overly busy, it is a salutary summons to rest and receptivity; to the slothful or passive, it is a provocation to work harder, kneel longer, and pay attention.

The readings

We come now to the Epistle and the Gospel. Many people think that the Novus Ordo has a great advantage over the old Mass because it has “so much more Scripture”—a three-year cycle of Sunday readings and a two-year cycle of weekday readings, and longer and more numerous readings at Mass, instead of the ancient one-year cycle, usually with two readings per Mass, the Epistle and the Gospel.

What advocates of the new lectionary do not realize is that the architects of the Novus Ordo took out most of the psalm verses and biblical allusions that formed the warp and woof of the traditional Order of the Mass, and then, like a concrete mixer, dumped in a giant array of readings with little regard to their congruency with each other or with the fixed parts of Mass. On top of this, they slyly excised “difficult” passages that might offend or frighten modern people, even if these passages had been included in the liturgy for over a thousand years—and we moderns especially need to hear them, to shake us out of our complacency. The Word of God is a two-edged sword, but the edges had to be blunted to comply with safety regulations. In saner times, the sword was allowed to be sharp, so that it could cut into our hard hearts and make room for the liberating truth.

When it comes to biblical readings, the traditional Mass operates on two admirable principles. First, passages should be chosen not for their own sake, to “get through” as much of Scripture as possible, but rather to illuminate the meaning of the occasion of worship, or to highlight the sanctity of the saints. Far from being merely instructional or didactic, the readings are an integral part of the seamless act of worship offered to God in the Holy Sacrifice. The clergy utter the divine words in the presence of their Author as part of the “rational worship” we owe to our Creator and Redeemer. These words are a making-present of the covenant with God, a grateful recitation in the sight of God of the truths He has spoken and the good things He has both promised and delivered, and a form of verbal incense by which we raise our hands to His commandments. The Mass of the Catechumens makes the Word present in the words of the prophets, apostles, and evangelists, as the Mass of the Faithful makes the Word present in His Body and Blood. In both cases, we are standing on holy ground, before the burning bush—and the ceremonies with which the Word of God is surrounded tell us that without the need for tedious explanations.

Second, the emphasis at Mass should not be on biblical literacy or instruction, but on what could be called a lifelong “mystagogy”: in other words, the readings at Mass are not meant to be a glorified Sunday school but an ongoing initiation into the mysteries of the Faith.[6] Their more limited number, brevity, liturgical suitability, and welcome annual repetition makes them a powerful agent of spiritual formation and preparation for the Eucharistic sacrifice. The focus much more naturally rests on the offering of the spotless Victim and on His heavenly court of saints, to whom the readings point us, as they should. We are not a “religion of the book” but a religion of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

By drawing us into a deeper union with Christ and pulling us deeper into the mysteries of God, the traditional Mass builds in our souls a greater inclination to read and pray with Scripture in our personal prayer time outside of Mass. It might prompt us to start praying the Divine Office, with which the meditative and biblically resonant ancient Mass so perfectly harmonizes. As a result, we will no longer be tempted to view the Bible as a chore to be gotten through, but rather, as an extension of the union we experience when we assist at Holy Mass. If Mass brings us into the Real Presence of the Beloved, then reading Scripture at home is perusing His love letters. First we need to fall in love, and then we’ll want to start up a correspondence.

The Offertory

After the readings, homily, and Creed, we come to the Offertory.

The magnificent old Offertory prayers all by themselves have been enough to convince people to quit attending the Novus Ordo, which suppressed those prayers utterly, and to attend the Latin Mass, which has preserved them in their central place for a thousand years of Christendom. As with all developments in the liturgy, the Offertory developed because a need was felt for a fuller, more deliberate expression of what the priest is doing at Mass, and why, and for whom. Consider the prayer said by the priest when holding the paten with the bread—Suscipe, Sancte Pater—which strongly brings out his role as mediator, in and through Christ, as well as his personal sinfulness in the face of such a lofty role:

Accept, O holy Father, almighty and eternal God, this unspotted host, which I, Thy unworthy servant, offer unto Thee, my living and true God, for my innumerable sins, offenses, and negligences, and for all here present: as also for all faithful Christians, both living and dead, that it may avail both me and them for salvation unto life everlasting. Amen.

The old Offertory prayers ensure that the priest forms a correct, distinct intention of what he is about to do in the consecration, and, more generally, a profound consciousness of the meaning and value of what he is doing in the Canon of the Mass as a whole. When we follow the priest’s motions, and even more when we internalize his prayers, we too form a correct, distinct intention for the sacrifice we are offering of ourselves, and on behalf of those we love, in union with Christ to the Eternal Father. In the Offertory, we offer the host and chalice at the hands of the priest; in the Roman Canon, we offer the supreme sacrifice, and ourselves along with it; in Communion, we are joined with Our Lord in the fullest way possible short of the beatific vision.

If you have never looked carefully at the Offertory prayers of the traditional Mass, I strongly urge you to do so, and then to compare them with what is found in the Novus Ordo. The comparison is nothing less than shocking—and I do not use that word lightly.

The Canon

Now we come to the Canon of the Mass.

When the priest, instead of “reading out” the Eucharistic Prayer “at” us, is facing East to offer the Canon silently to God for us, it becomes much easier to pray the words of the Canon in union with him, or to give ourselves up to a wordless union with the sacrifice. This makes the Canon of the Mass a time of intensely full, conscious, and actual participation, a pregnant pause in the hustle and bustle of life, an opening through which God enters in a way past all understanding. As the prophet Habakuk proclaims: “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Hab 2:20). It may seem that the priest is doing everything and the faithful are doing nothing, but the reality is far different: the disciplined holding of oneself, body and soul, attentive in silence to the heart of the mystery is an eminent way of bringing the whole man into subjection to Christ (cf. 2 Cor 1:5). Silence is a sort of spiritual prostration of the senses and human faculties in the most climactic moments of the Holy Sacrifice. Without denigrating the actions, chants, and beautiful things we can and should do in the liturgy, we must acknowledge that there are points when we are simply struck dumb. By accepting these moments of “dumbness,” we enhance our realization of the unspeakable miracle taking place in the sanctuary.

This miracle, the very heart of the Mass, is necessarily invisible: we do not see the bread changed into flesh, but accept it on faith in the word of Jesus Christ. Nor can we hear with bodily ears the innermost truth of the Word-made-flesh. What is needed above all, then, is not more “visibility” but rather help in building and expressing our faith in the mystery. This help comes through the only thing that is perceptible in the liturgy: the signs of adoration we offer, the reverence with which we surround the miracle. In its unmistakable focus on the moment of sacramental sacrifice, visually accentuated with the elevations, the raised chasuble, the bells, and the enveloping silence, the Roman Canon as prayed in the traditional Latin Mass gives the mysterium fidei its due prominence. This, truly, is the font and apex of the Christian life.

The Holy Eucharist

The silent Canon is now over; the Lord’s Prayer has been said or chanted by the priest; the Agnus Dei pleads for mercy and peace; the poignant words Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea are spoken six times—thrice by the priest, thrice by the servers: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, but say only the word and my soul shall be healed.” The priest receives the holy mysteries, while the ministers begin the third Confiteor of the Mass: this time, as proximate preparation for daring to approach the holiest of holy things. We kneel at the altar rail, our hands beneath the houseling cloth, our heads tilted, ready to be fed by the Father with the Manna come down from heaven, the Son of God, our King, our Judge, our hope of salvation.

Here it is appropriate to speak a few words about the reverence we see at the traditional Latin Mass for the Holy Eucharist, which is, hands down, the greatest gift that God gives us in this mortal life. We will see only the priest handling Our Lord’s Eucharistic Body; we will never see lay people walking right up into the sanctuary and handling hosts or chalices. Communion is given to the faithful kneeling in adoration, like the Magi before the Christ child; it is given on the tongue, as infants are fed by their parents, as God feeds the world with His Providence. A paten is held beneath the chin; often a Communion cloth is draped over the altar rail. After Communion, the priest washes his fingers and the vessels with utmost care. The liturgy spares no effort to proclaim loudly the Church’s faith in the miracle of transubstantiation; it therefore spares no effort to avoid the loss of the tiniest particle of the Body of Christ or the smallest drop of His Blood. Receiving Communion like this, and watching others do so, educates the faithful more directly and memorably than endless hours of catechesis. Better still, it induces in us the right habits and pulls us far away from the danger of intentional or unintentional sacrilege.

For children

Consider the effects, in particular, on children. The traditional way of celebrating Mass most deeply forms the minds and hearts of our children in reverence for Almighty God, especially in the virtues of faith, humility, obedience, and adoring silence. It fills their senses and imaginations with sacred signs and symbols, “mystic benedictions” (as the Council of Trent puts it). The pioneering Catholic educator Maria Montessori frequently pointed out that small children are very receptive to the language of symbols, often more so than adults are, and that they learn more easily from watching people do a solemn liturgy than from hearing a lot of words with little action. All of this is extremely impressive and gripping for children who are learning their faith, and especially for boys who become altar servers.

That is the positive side. On the negative side, it is especially harmful for children to witness at the Novus Ordo the appalling lack of reverence with which Our Lord and God is treated in the awesome Sacrament of His Love, as pew after pew of Catholics automatically go up to receive, in the hand and standing, a gift they all too often treat casually and even with a bored indifference. The Church teaches that the Eucharist is really, truly, and substantially our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—but then the majority of clergy and laity act in a way that says we are handling ordinary (though symbolic) food and drink. And bishops pretend to be astonished that so many Catholics have an essentially liberal Protestant view of what is going on at Mass, or eventually drift away into unbelief? For us and for our children, the safe refuge is, once again and always, the traditional Latin Mass.

“Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them,” says Our Lord (Mt 19:14). Let them come into His Real Presence with utmost reverence. Let them behold Him in the ministers He has chosen as “other Christs” to continue His work at their hands. Let the little children come to know the sight, the sound, the smell of holiness as they watch, listen, and linger in the house of the Father, while the words uttered and sung by countless saints are repeated to Heaven’s delight and Hell’s dismay. Let them come before the Lord in solemn joy to experience the peace that surpasseth all understanding. Let them receive abundant gifts from the hands of Jesus and, above all, the gift of Himself. Let them know they are entering into the presence of hosts of angels, adoring the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Do not hinder the children by bad liturgy, and all of the falsehoods it tells—for example, that there is no great distinction between the nave and the sanctuary, or between the priest and the extraordinary minister when it comes to distributing the divine mysteries. Do not hinder children by masking or blurring the unique dignity of the hands of the priest, anointed to handle the most holy Body and Blood of Christ. Do not hinder them from coming to the Lord by any of the deviations of the Novus Ordo, which is driven by a false theology that undermines the faith of children.

And since we are all supposed to convert and become like little children, what is appropriate for their faith is, in fact, appropriate for ours. We shouldn’t have to “filter out” the little doses of poison, we shouldn’t have to “offer up” the distractions, abuses, bad examples, crummy music, and lack of prayerfulness. Mass makes present the Sacrifice of Calvary for our salvation, so that we can honor Our Lord with the best we can give Him; it is not supposed to crucify Our Lord with irreverence, mediocrity, banality, or heresy. Mass is given to us as a privileged time of communion with God—not as a time of entertainment, or a nuisance to be gotten through, or a battlefield of trials and temptations.

The Mystery of Faith

Many of the reasons for persevering in and supporting the traditional Latin Mass can be summarized in one word: MYSTERY. The liturgical celebrations that bring us into contact with our very God should bear the stamp of His eternal and infinite mysteriousness, His indescribable transcendence, His overwhelming holiness, His disarming intimacy, His gentle yet penetrating silence. The traditional form of the Roman rite surely bears this stamp. Its ceremonies, its Latin language, its ad orientem posture, and its ethereal music are perfectly understandable given what it is, while instilling a sense of the unknown and unknowable, even the fearful and thrilling. By deeply fostering a sense of the sacred in an age of profanity, the old Mass preserves intact the mystery of Faith, and with it, the entirety of the Catholic Faith. In an era of “cancel culture,” the traditional Latin Mass—the single greatest monument and embodiment of Western Catholic civilization—stands as a defiant affirmation of culture, which is rooted in the cultus or worship of the divine.

At the end of Mass

After Communion has been distributed, the priest returns to the altar to cleanse the vessels. There might be music, or there might be silence. The Mass ends with the priest singing or saying the Postcommunion prayer, giving thanks to God; imparting a final blessing on the kneeling faithful; and reading the sublime Prologue of John’s Gospel, a perfect summation of the meaning of what we have done: the Word that enlightens all men who come into the world—the Word that enlightened us in the antiphons, prayers, and readings of the Mass—this Word has become flesh and has indeed dwelt among us, in our midst, full of grace and truth, and we have brushed up against His glory, touched the hem of his garment to be healed, even if we have not yet beheld Him face to face.

After the Mass is finished, and the Leonine prayers have been said by all, or some music has been sung or played at a High Mass, an atmosphere of silence descends once more upon the church—but this time, a silence that is filled with content, like a sponge saturated with water, or like the rest after a time of concentrated activity. It complements and completes the expectant and respectful silence that preceded Mass. The end is joined to the beginning: “While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thine almighty Word, O Lord, leapt down from heaven from Thy royal throne,” says the Book of Wisdom (the text of the Introit for the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas).[7] The first coming of Christ was in humility; the second coming will be in glory and judgment; but in between, He comes to us in mystery, hidden under the forms of bread and wine, hidden in our hearts, where faith is his entrance and love his welcome. Should we not fight hard and do whatever it takes to preserve this faith intact, and to increase this love, more and more?

The Liturgical Year

Having spoken about the Mass itself, I would like to say a few words about the shape of the Catholic liturgical year. One of the most significant differences between the traditional and modern missals is their respective calendars, which have all kinds of trickle-down effects.

In 1969, the Novus Ordo was rolled off the assembly line with a calendar very different from the Tridentine one, with the justification that this new calendar better accentuates the so-called “temporal cycle,” namely, the annual run-through of the mysteries of Christ, beginning with Advent, moving into Christmas, then Lent, and finally Easter culminating in Pentecost. Ironically, however, the traditional Roman calendar is far richer in its temporal cycle, giving more weight to certain key seasons (such as Christmas and the Time after Pentecost) and featuring a number of special times that bring out more fully the meaning of each part of the grand cycle (such as the season of Epiphany, the period of Septuagesima, and the short Ascensiontide—all absent from the Novus Ordo calendar).

Instead of juggling a lectionary with multiple years, the old rite follows a strict annual cycle: in other words, each year you get the full array of that year’s Sundays and feastdays, with unchanging texts and chants. Thanks to this stable cycle, each Sunday has a distinct and memorable character, the annual recurrence of which makes it more and more familiar, so that (as I was saying earlier about the readings) it really becomes part of you—as long as you are consistent in attending, so that you can reap these long-term benefits. The traditional calendar has the poetry and the power to structure our secular lives, to become the framework of our lives—something I have never observed happening with the Novus Ordo calendar. (And if I could make a little pitch here for a fantastic new product from Sophia Institute Press: you will definitely want to check out The Illustrated Liturgical Year Calendar, a set of 18"x24" full-color wall posters that are sent out every quarter in sets of four, with exquisitely detailed and beautiful artwork illustrating every day and season of the traditional Catholic calendar. There’s never been anything like it before: it will really help you to enter more fully into “the Church’s Year of Grace.”)

In addition to its rich sanctoral cycle, which features over 300 more saints at Mass, the Tridentine calendar has ancient observances like Ember Days and Rogation Days that heighten our gratitude to God and our appreciation of the goodness of creation. There is no such thing as “Ordinary Time” (a most unfortunate phrase); instead, we have “Time after Epiphany” and “Time after Pentecost,” extending the meaning of these great feasts like a long afterglow. The traditional calendar has the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima, which, beginning three weeks before Ash Wednesday, deftly aids in the psychological transition from the joy of Christmastide to the sorrow and penance of Lent. Lent itself yields to Passiontide, when all images are covered in violet veils and the liturgy loses a number of its customary prayers, reminiscent of the stripping away of Christ’s garments to humiliate Him. Passiontide leads into Holy Week and finally the Triduum, where, in addition to the main liturgies, the haunting services of Tenebrae take place. After Easter and its octave, Paschaltide culminates in Ascensiontide, followed by Pentecost. In company with Christmas and Easter, Pentecost—a feast of no lesser status or antiquity than they—is celebrated for a full eight days, so that the Church may bask in the warmth and light of the heavenly fire. Like most other features of the usus antiquior, the aforementioned aspects of the calendar are extremely ancient and connect us vividly with the Church of the first millennium and even the earliest centuries.

All this may sound complicated, and in a way it is; but we have to bear in mind that the historic liturgies of Christian peoples have always had features like these. What is unusual is not to have a rich calendar of saints and seasons, feasts and fasts.[8] The fact that so many books are now appearing on how to recapture the calendars of Catholics from the stranglehold of secularism and infuse positive Christian meaning into the rhythm of the year is a sign that we have lost our religious and liturgical bearings and feel the need to recover them. The Catholic Church had already figured all of this out a long time ago! Our job is to unearth the treasure buried through several decades of incompetent management.

However complicated the old liturgy may be, it’s a good complicated. We don’t have to try to master it. We just plug ourselves into it, like countless Christians before us. Once we do that, we actually do begin to understand it more, while at the same time realizing that all eternity is not enough to plumb the depths of the mysteries we hope someday to enjoy face to face.

Finding a rock to build on

Returning to stabilitas cordis et loci: stability of heart and place. How good it is for us to find an immovable rock, and to build our house, our spiritual life, on this firm foundation, and to not be moved! Of all the natural materials we know in the world, rock is the most firm, the most solid. It can serve as the foundation for everything else because it is stable and unchangeable. Rocks are ancient. When all else is changing, they abide. This is why Scripture speaks of the “everlasting hills” (Gen 49:26, Deut 33:15, etc.) and “mount Sion,” which, like the Lord Himself, “shall not be moved for ever” (Ps 124:1).

Jesus Christ is the rock of the Church. He is the rock on which the wise man builds his house, so that the rain, floods, and winds cannot sweep it away (cf. Mt 7:24–27). He is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen and made honorable by God, a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; and the one who believes in Him shall not be confounded (cf. 1 Pet 2:4–8). He is the stone rejected by the builders, who has become the cornerstone (cf. Mt 21:42; Eph 2:19–20). He is a stumbling stone and a rock of scandal (cf. Rom 9:33). He is the spiritual rock from which the children of Israel drink their fill (cf. 1 Cor 10:4). The Epistle to the Hebrews throws down the gauntlet to the cult of change: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8).

As I hope my remarks have at least partially shown, the traditional Latin Mass partakes of the very same qualities. Obviously the Mass has undergone organic change over the centuries, but the rate of change has always been slow, and as the Mass reached its perfection in the High Middle Ages, the changes slowed to nearly a halt. For a period of 500 years, the Mass—and, for that matter, the entire liturgical life of the Church—was so massive, stable, firm, and secure, that we could say of it that it looked and felt and functioned as if it was “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” In spite of our fifty years of wild liturgical change that brought us innumerable novelties and countless casualties, the old Mass has, by God’s special Providence, remained among us, and year by year it has recovered lost ground. We have learned, to our shame but not to our surprise, that it is impossible to build well on shifting sand or mud or water.

But when we, like wise men, build on the rock of the Mass—the integral, authentic Mass, the unfailing garden of saints, handed down to us through the ages in Catholic tradition—our house will be stably founded forever, and the rains of adversity, the floods of disaster, the winds of crisis—even the vengeful attacks of aged progressives nostalgically stuck in the sixties and seventies—cannot sweep it, or us, away. The liturgy, like its Lord, is a living stone, because it comes from the living God and brings His life to us; it can never be considered “dead”; it is a spiritual rock from which the true Israelites drink their fill. The Tridentine Mass was the cornerstone, elect and precious, of the entire liturgical life of the Roman Catholic Church, and—again, like Christ the High Priest—it was rejected by the arrogant builders of a Novus Ordo Missae, but in God’s eyes it will always be chosen and honorable, and those who embrace it shall not be confounded. For liberals, progressives, and modernists, its continued existence, nay, its rather obvious flourishing, is a stumbling stone and a rock of scandal, which should tell us something crucial about it and about them.

As Bishop Athanasius Schneider likes to say, we should be glad, in spite of any misunderstanding or persecution we may face, to be numbered among “the little ones” who stay faithful to Jesus Christ, to His Blessed Mother, to Holy Mother Church, and to the Sacred Tradition that makes the Church Catholic. These little ones stay firmly planted on the Rock that is—simultaneously and inseparably—Christ, the Truth, the Faith, the papacy, and the Mass of Ages. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock” (Mt 7:25).

A wholehearted immersion in the Mass of the Saints, making it our constant point of reference, will help us shake off the dismay, agitation, and feeling of schizophrenia that so often result from bouncing back and forth between different forms of Mass, with the different worldviews, priorities, expectations, and habits they embody or encourage. In the spirit of St. Benedict, we need to make the best effort we can to achieve stabilitas loci by binding ourselves to one rite, one calendar, one community, one coherent Catholic way of life. There’s a peacefulness and naturalness that come from knowing what you’re supposed to do and what you’re going to get. As a layman, there is nothing more consoling and conducive to prayer than showing up at a traditional Mass and simply being able to rely on the sameness of everything that will happen, from start to finish—everything for the glory of God and the sanctification of the people, even in the humblest conditions. One can surrender to the Mass, to prayer, to the Lord.

Wherever you find yourself in the world, the Latin Mass will be the same. What a blessing, to step into a church and find a prayerful atmosphere, with the comfort of flickering candles and the lingering scent of incense. A bell rings, the priest comes to the altar and commences his prayers. Perhaps there is chanting, too, or just the pervasive silence of many Catholics praying side by side, focused on the one thing necessary. Suddenly it does not matter where one is on the face of the earth; deep down and all around, the Mass is the same, descending like a balm on all who are present.

In contrast to the infamous “optionitis” of the Novus Ordo—its plethora of options whereby each celebration, in the manner of a chameleon, takes on the color of celebrant or the community—the traditional Mass is ever the same. It forms us, instead of us forming it. The Mass should never be at the mercy of a priest or held captive by a parish. It is a mystery far older, far younger, and far greater than we are, and we ought to subordinate ourselves to its pattern and power. Ours should be the attitude of St. John the Baptist, who said: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” He—the Eucharistic Lord—must increase, and I—the ego of the priest or the collective ego of the people—must decrease. We should follow the excellent policy of St. John the Baptist and choose the Mass that will intensify our union with the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.

If we can do it, if the conditions of our life allow for it, we ought to make a decisive break with pluralism, excessive variety, options galore, and give ourselves simply, completely, and bravely to the traditional worship of the Catholic Church. We know that we are touching the seamless garment of Christ, handed down to us over the course of so many centuries, lovingly embellished by each passing generation. The traditional Mass is, in truth, a gift from Heaven—one that we could never deserve; one that will never, ever pass away as long as the world endures. It is time now for us to yield ourselves up to it and to know a peace that surpasseth understanding.


[1] The particular formulation is from Smaragdus; see Dom Hubert van Zeller, OSB, The Holy Rule, 371.

[2] Ibid., 370.

[3] Dom Paul Delatte, OSB, Commentary on the Holy Rule, 389.

[4] Cf. ibid., 421.

[5] See Sr. Jean Visel’s article at PrayTell (!), “Proximity to the Holy in Time and Space.”

[6] Mystagogy is “the introduction of the uninitiate to the knowledge and the effective celebration of the mysteries.” Louis Bouyer, Dictionary of Theology, trans. Charles Underhill Quinn (Tournai: Desclée, 1965), 313.

[7] Dum médium siléntium tenérent ómnia, et nox in suo cursu médium iter habéret, omnípotens sermo tuus, Dómine, de caelis a regálibus sédibus venit. Introit, Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, MR 1962.

[8] See Gregory DiPippo, “The Faithful Are Not Morons,” New Liturgical Movement, February 21, 2020.

Video of lecture: