Rorate Caeli

An Ex-Muslim on the Traditional Mass: “From the microcosm of the Mass, the entire world is reordered”

The following piece by Derya Little appears in the special English-language issue of the journal Sedes Sapientiae, edited by Société Saint-Thomas d’Aquin and published in association with the Fraternité Saint Vincent Ferrier. This new issue is available for $8 at and related outlets. It contains several very important articles, as the front cover indicates, particularly the major study on the magisterial authority of Vatican II by Bernard Lucien. (See end of article for the full Table of Contents.)--PAK

An Ex-Muslim’s Impressions of the Traditional Mass
Derya Little

When Adam and Eve decided to take a bite from the forbidden fruit, they put themselves above God, causing the created order to become disordered. The sin of pride that was the result of this inordinateness became the center of the human struggle from then on. Without a proper view and understanding of who God is and who we and our neighbor are in relation to Him, chaos will remain not only in the society but in our own souls.

In the Old Covenant, over and over again the Lord gives instructions and he attempts to guide His rebellious people back to the order that would lead them to fulfillment. One of the most crucial aspects of proper realignment is the way that the Israelites worshipped God. The Lord gives detailed instructions about the Temple, the vestments and how the sacrifice that would atone for sin should be conducted. The details are exhaustive and one feels the temptation to skip to the more exciting parts of the Scripture. Because the New Covenant in Christ’s sacrifice is hidden in the Old Testament, we must pay heed to what the Lord communicated to His children through these instructions. As tedious and obsolete these details may seem to our modern sensibilities, liturgy, as an activity of worship, is designed by God to re-order the fallen world, thus aiding us in our sinfulness. My first encounter with Traditional Latin Mass reminded me of the proper order of creation where we all turn to the Creator of the Universe in unison.

To this day, I remember the solemnity with which we prepared to enter the mosque or the pray the salat, the five daily prayers of Islam. One needs to perform physical ablution that requires washing of hands, feet, face and arms while uttering specific prayers. As a girl, I had to cover my whole body with clothing except my face. Everyone took off their shoes as they entered the mosque, because the house of Allah was holy. One good point about Muslims is that they appreciate reverence. However, as a child, every reverent action of mine was accompanied by a crippling servile fear that was instilled in me, and in every Muslim, from an early age. Allah is the capricious, unpredictable deity who was not bound by the rules of consistency and goodness. Our reason is useless and our love is meaningless. All we owe Him is our absolute, unquestioning and undoubting obedience where a relationship of master and slave is paramount.

From such a view of God, I plunged into the cynical, sarcastic world of atheism. The sin of pride that had poisoned almost every human heart was alive and strong within mine. We mocked every religion and deity indiscriminately, but with a special attention to insulting Allah who was supposed to instill such fear in our hearts that we would tremble and do everything he commanded. Even our cynical hearts were aware that a creator without love was not worthy of obedience. It was no surprise that my head remained perfectly erect above my shoulders even after my conversion when my Protestant friends bowed their heads in prayer. My body refused to yield.

Protestant worship services were no help either. I am eternally grateful to the missionaries who shared the gospel with me, prayed for me and stayed faithful. yet, when we gathered together on Sunday mornings, worship did not seem any different from Bible study time or the time we sat around the fire to sing songs. While I appreciated the notion that one can always reach out to the Lord wherever one may be, the stark contrast to the worship that God desired in the Old Testament was noticeable. Try as I might, given my proud heart and cynical nature, these times of worship failed to rouse my emotion and reorient my stance towards the Word that created the cosmos.

My experience with Mass brought me closer to true worship, as I noted in my conversion story, From Islam to Christ:

The Mass was reverent and beautiful. One of the things I could not get used to in the Evangelical churches I attended was the style of worship. Neither in non-denominational nor charismatic congregations did I feel as though we were standing in the presence of God or kneeling in adoration before Him. I felt rather as though we were hanging out with our pal Jesus. If we actually believed that we were the sons and daughters of the Almighty God, who created the endless cosmos and the tiniest cell in our bodies, I thought we should fall on our knees often or at least once a week on Sundays. I loved that during the Eucharistic prayer, every man and woman knelt down in silent reverence. It was clear that there was something significant and awe-inspiring taking place. This was a Lord I would not hesitate to follow, because he had humbled himself to be my friend, even though He had created the heavens and the earth.

When I attended my first traditional Latin Mass years later in an old English church with dark walnut pews, that reverence I had experienced during my very first Mass reached a new height where the reason for those tedious [Old Testament] details about worship became clear. This was a God before whom I could kneel; a God who held our existence in his hands, yet chose to humble Himself to become one of us and suffer humiliation and death in love to save us from our own sinfulness.

As the priest and the faithful faced the Lord together, Mass was no longer oriented towards the priest, but to God. It did not matter who the priest was as long as he said the black and did the red. His personality was inconsequential. The prescribed rubrics and prayers made sure that the priest would not be the center of the worship, but stood in persona Christi with and for the people as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered, surpassing the limits of time and space.

Yes, the priest was not the focus, but neither was the laity. With whispered prayers, the faithful stood, knelt and uttered their own prayers. The silence and solemnity directed our attention to the cross away from ourselves and each other, uniting us in a unique way as we all directed our gaze towards heaven. Of course, these impressions were all before I studied liturgy and the meaning of the rubrics and prayers. Even for a newcomer, the traditional Mass presented a kind of worship that reoriented our bodies, minds and souls to the perfect order where the Lord received the worship He was due as the loving Father. Finally, not only could I bow my head, but I could also kneel in worship and unite my prayers with the entire church. The limelight did not fall on the priest, the server or on the congregation, but to where it belonged: the crucified Word of God who loved the world unto death.

Even years later, every time I step into the church to attend the usus antiquior, the sensation that I am stepping out of time to join countless saints who have gone before in a world where so much is temporary, and disposable makes the temporary worries of this life fade away. I can drop all my burdens and cares at the foot of the altar for the priest to carry to the Lord and know that St. Thomas and St. Theresa of Avila raised their souls up to the Lord during the same liturgy. An invisible golden thread runs through time and space and ties the faithful from heaven to earth and to purgatory as the priest utters the eucharistic prayers in utmost reverence and silence. The reverence, the silence, the beauty and the precision all come together to reorder the universe towards its Creator, whether the Mass is offered in a millennium-old cathedral or in the ghastliness of a battlefield. While the best must be offered to the Lord for the liturgy, the beauty of the Mass transcends what we can bring to the table, for liturgy is the work of God.

When my husband and I focused on bringing our children in the faith, we realized the importance of the liturgy where the person is elevated by becoming part of something bigger, rather than being patronized because it is made to be about men. Making the drive to the nearest traditional Mass with four kids in tow seemed excessive at first, but our children thrived in a community where liturgy provided the correct orientation and the community provided the support to remain faithful in an ever-changing world.

Our entire family was transformed. Our oldest expressed a desire for the priesthood despite his young age after witnessing what an undeserved privilege it is to serve the Lord at the altar. The younger ones learned about the faith in a simple way that fed their little minds as they memorized prayers and shared that invisible thread with their peers. My husband experienced a greater inner conversion, one he did not think was possible, one that made him a better son, husband and father. As a mother, I made peace with the gift of womanhood God gave me, a gift that is trampled on at every turn in the secular world. The reorientation that starts at the liturgy trickled down into every aspect our lives and reclaimed even the most mundane activities for the Lord. Even though we cannot attend the traditional Mass regularly now, the faith of our family is properly ordered towards the Lord because of those precious years.

Looking back, I can see how the Lord gently guided my unyielding soul to Him, not with force and fear, but with love and grace. Nowhere is that love more apparent and available to us than at the holy sacrifice of the Mass where the Lover offers Himself up for the beloved. That is where we, as proud and as sinful as we are, can experience true love. That is where heaven touches earth to bring us closer to our Creator. From the microcosm of the Mass, the entire world is reordered so that we can once again claim our inheritance.

Through the centuries, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Mass of the Ages developed so that we can find our place not only in the universe, but also in the salvation history where each one of us is a thread in a tapestry. During the Traditional Latin Mass, each one of us is nothing but a thread. Yet, each thread is an irreplaceable part of something beyond comprehension. The Mass is where we get a glimpse of that tapestry and the Father’s intention for His children where we are perfectly free, perfectly content and perfectly happy.

Dr. Derya Little was born and raised in Muslim Turkey. She rejected her Islamic faith to become an atheist but then encountered Christ as an adolescent. It was during her doctoral studies in England that she entered the Catholic Church and now lives in the American Midwest with her husband and children. Little has an M.A. in history and a Ph.D. in politics. Her books include her conversion story, From Islam to Christ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), as well as A Beginner’s Guide to the Traditional Latin Mass, and At His Feet: Drawing Closer to Christ with the Women of the New Testament (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).

The above was a sample from this special issue of Sedes Sapientiae, the contents of which are as follows:

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