Rorate Caeli

A University Student Reflects on His Discovery of and Love for the TLM

Submitted to Rorate by a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville who has just completed his Masters degree.

Over the past week there has been abundant speculation and commentary on the possibility of yet another Vatican ban on the Traditional Latin Mass, or the Mass of the Ages. This should come as no surprise. The fides qua of these faithful devotees to the TLM are primarily at odds with what has come from the Vatican in recent years.[1] Rumors of another act against the TLM, while not surprising, are incredibly soul-piercing (Lk 2:35) and absolutely confound one’s intellect.

Due to God’s loving Providence, I stumbled upon an Institute of Christ the King parish in my town and discovered the TLM. I would like to recount some initial experiences of my encounter with the Mass of the Ages.

Attending a Novus Ordo Mass—even a reverent one—and a TLM on the same day, the contrast between the two is undoubtedly clear. Ad orientem or versus populum; a fixed High Altar or a floating altar; Sacred Latin or today’s vernacular; Gregorian chant or English hymn, to name only a few. The common-sense conclusion would be that these two Masses are radically different, in more ways than expressed above.

That was my conclusion after several encounters with Low Mass and then with the Solemn High Mass. I remember in my Vatican II course, we did a very brief overview on Sacrosanctum Concilium and touched upon the major talking points; full, conscious, and active participation (SC 14), Latin/vernacular (SC 36), etc. My assumption was that only a few changes occurred in the “reform” of the Mass from the TLM to the Mass of Paul VI: they changed the language, they changed the people’s postures, etc.

After encountering the TLM, these assumptions were shattered, since I could see how different it actually was. I began to attend more and immersed myself in literature on the TLM and the “reform.” To summarize my findings, what I found to be the case with the “reform” that led to the Novus Ordo is that a small group of papally commissioned and charged “experts” came together and chopped up and dissected and rewrote the TLM, effectively creating a new liturgy in which there is rupture on many levels from the liturgical tradition. They superimposed their ideologies, desires, and wishes[2] onto the Mass, creating a de-regulated liturgy open to abuses. They created a Mass that does not induce an atmosphere of awe and sacredness, because it emphasizes the community (anthropocentric) more than the worship and adoration of the Holy Trinity (theocentric).[3]

At my first TLM, I was instantly drawn to the work of the priest and the servers in the sanctuary. Why? I saw careful movements, profoundly reverent bows and gestures, and numerous genuflections. What stood out most initially was the way in which the altar boys moved in a synchronous harmony. My immediate thought was, “how militaristic.” This thought then evoked an insight beyond those simple movements: the worship of the Church Militant. The reality of the Church here on earth as the militant fighting pilgrim Church was expressed to me through a few simple movements from altar boys. Brilliant.

Beyond this insight, we can see the genius of the rubrics and the regulation of the old liturgy that make attending it a steady and peaceful experience. In the Novus Ordo, it has been said that a single Mass could be celebrated in over a trillion different ways due to the de-regulation of the rubrics and the options provided to the “presider.” “Rigid” adherence to the rubrics in the TLM is a positive thing, no matter how many times it is railed against. “Rigid rubricism” is a good because it fosters an atmosphere of reverence and piety, as well as guards against abuses. There are no ad libs or spontaneous comments or laughs that take away the atmosphere of reverence; nothing to hinder the faithful to be absorbed in prayer.

Another insight I had in my first TLM was the connectedness to the Saints, and now, in hindsight after study, to our Catholic history. At that first Solemn High Mass, hearing the Mass chanted in Latin, I was immediately drawn up into meditation, imagining St. Thomas Aquinas chanting this same Mass. In my experience with the Novus Ordo, there is no such connection to all the past. It feels kind of forced to think of connecting the great Saints of the past to the Novus Ordo, but not so the TLM. This connection was rendered easier through hearing the sacral liturgical language of Latin. St. Ambrose and Augustine, St. Bernard and St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Dominic and St. Robert Bellarmine, all came to mind, simply through hearing this sacred language.

The history of the Church was also made present to me. Epochs and events of Church history are more easily brought to mind through attendance of the TLM, as the Mass that the Western Church celebrated for the majority of her sojourn on earth—for roughly seventeen centuries! This mass wasn’t the creation of a committee but the lived organic experience of the faithful.

Finally, from attending my first TLM I gained an insight into the exercise of the priesthood in the liturgy and how different it is in the Novus Ordo. This is not to say Novus Ordo priests can’t be holy or good or celebrate the Mass reverently; I know many priests that are wonderful and have deep reverence for the Lord. What I am saying is that something is manifestly different between the two Masses. There is a manifest seriousness conveyed in the TLM about the priest and how the priest operates, as compared to the Novus Ordo. In the TLM I bow when the priest in persona Christi processes by, while in the Novus Ordo I might be singing out of the hymnal. There are preparatory prayers for acceptable, holy worship and personal sanctity while, on the other hand, I usually receive a “warm” and “welcoming” greeting at a new Mass. There are many gestures, bows, prayers, and genuflections, compared to a significantly reduced number of these movements in the reformed rite. The chanting of the inspired Word of God back to the Heavenly Father as compared to a passively listening priest; the utter loss of the priest’s personality through ad orientem worship and “rigid rubricism” as compared to versus populum and the de-regulation of the rubrics that enable if not invite the “personality priest” complex; and finally, the priest’s almost obsessive care over the Holy Eucharist gently given hand to mouth as opposed to ranks of Extraordinary Ministers and Communion in the hand.

Through all of this, we see the genius and splendor of the sacramental priesthood, how the priest carries himself in worship of the Trinity, and what all this conveys to the faithful. It conveys that the Faith is serious and true, something to be treasured, revered and not to be trifled with or treated irreverently. Lord, send more holy priests like this—and give us back the liturgy that encourages them to live their vocation to the fullest!

We who love the TLM know these realities deep within our soul. We know that the TLM is objectively superior in conveying the Faith and catechizing the faithful, especially children. These are only some of the reasons we love it. With the rumors about the potential suppression of the TLM, we must not give way to sadness. We must turn all the more to prayer and fasting and offer up sacrifices for the preservation of this magnificent treasure. In time, by our faithful adherence to the Mass of the Ages and to prayer and fasting, come what may, we will preserve this glorious treasure so that it may someday be offered in every parish, edifying the faithful in the modern age and drawing hearts to the Lord like never before.

[1] Such as the controversial documents Amoris Laetita, Traditionis Custodes and Fiducia Supplicans.

[2] Ecumenical and modernistic tendencies as documented brilliantly in Work of Human Hands by Fr. Cekada.

[3] Of course, there is more. But for the sake of this essay, this shall suffice.