Isn’t this Mass just for older Catholics?
No. The traditional Latin Mass (aka the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite) continues to grow in popularity around the world: if the Mass were tied only to an elderly generation, it would be dying out instead. The overwhelming majority of Catholics who attend this form of the Mass have no personal memory of it before Vatican II. They come to the traditional Latin Mass as a choice and not out of nostalgia.
Isn’t the traditional Latin Mass going backwards?
No, it’s going upwards. People love the Latin Mass not because it is old but because it helps them draw closer to God. And it has an important role to play in the New Evangelization (see here).
I thought Latin went away with Vatican II.
It did and it didn’t. The Second Vatican Council permitted some parts of the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular, but it also stated that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites,” and it assumed that the rest of the Mass would be celebrated in Latin (see Sacrosanctum Concilium 36). The new Mass that was promulgated in 1969 (aka the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite) can still be celebrated exclusively in Latin.
Why is Latin still used?
Latin remains the official language of the Roman Catholic Church, but more than that, every historic, apostolic liturgy both East and West uses a sacred language, a language that has been removed from profane use and has been adapted specifically for divine worship. Sacred languages arrest the attention of worshippers and remind them that the liturgy in which they are participating is an extraordinary event, a meeting of Heaven and earth. The advantage of Latin as a sacred language is that besides its elegance and precision, it is no longer a “living language”: its meaning does not change over time, giving it a timeless quality, and it no longer belongs to this or that nation or ethnic group, making it the common possession of all.
Do I have to know Latin?
No! Special booklets are provided that include every part of the Mass in both English and Latin. With a little practice, they are easy to follow and very useful for actively participating in the Mass. That said, the important thing is not to follow every word of the liturgy (in whatever form) but to be with God, to offer praise and thanksgiving and to listen to His voice in the quiet of one’s heart.
Is the homily in Latin?
Only in ancient Rome!
Why is the priest’s back facing me?
In the traditional Latin Mass the priest faces with the people, and the people are facing East, the direction of the rising sun (a symbol of our Risen Lord) and the direction from which He will come again in glory to judge the living and dead (see Matthew 24:27). When Christians face East, therefore, they are affirming their belief in the Resurrection and the Second Coming. And the priest stands in front of them, preparing them and leading the pilgrimage to Christ. In many churches, the priest is also facing the tabernacle, offering the sacrifice of the Mass before God present in the Blessed Sacrament.
High Mass? Low Mass? What’s the difference?
Low Mass is the simpler form. The priest says rather than chants the parts of the Mass and is usually assisted by one or two servers. Two candles on the altar are lit. High Mass, on the other hand, has more solemn ceremonies and usually six lit candles on the altar. Parts of the Mass are sung in Gregorian chant by the priest or a special choir called a schola, incense is used, and usually there are at least four servers.
Of the two, High Mass is the more ancient and arguably the more beautiful. But as Dr. Peter Kwasniewski notes in his essay “The Peace of Low Mass and the Glory of High Mass,” each has its charms because each imitates in its own way the heavenly worshippers who are described in the Book of Revelation as either silent in awe or singing in exultation before the Lamb.
How do I receive Holy Communion in the Extraordinary Form?
Kneeling and on the tongue, with the tongue extended enough for the priest to place the Host on it. For practical reasons, the communicant does not say, “Amen.” At a traditional Latin Mass, communicants only receive from the priest, whose hands were specially consecrated at his ordination for touching the Body of Jesus Christ. And communicants only receive Holy Communion under the species of bread lest a single drop of the Precious Blood be spilled. In receiving “only” the Host, however, communicants still receive the entire Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, for according to Catholic theology even the smallest particle of the Host contains the entirety of the Risen Lord.
What are the veils for?
Chapel veils, or mantillas, are available for women and girls to use near the front entrance of the chapel. The custom of women covering their heads in church and men uncovering theirs goes to St. Paul the Apostle. There are a number of reasons for this, but they can all be traced to a respect for the sacred. Women who wear veils are reminded that they are in a sacred place experiencing a sacred moment, and others who see them are reminded of the sacred and unique dignity of womanhood. For as we see with the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle that contains the Blessed Sacrament, only the sacred is veiled.
I’m a woman. Am I required to wear a veil?
No, it is voluntary. We have a basket of veils near the entrance of the chapel if you’d like to veil.
I’m a man. How should I dress?
Both sexes should use their best judgment as they ponder the immortal advice of a no-nonsense grandma: “If you can dress up for a date, you can dress up for Jesus. If you can dress up for a friend’s wedding, you can dress up for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. And if you can dress up for an audience with the Queen or the President in which you get to shake their hand, you can dress up for the passion, death, and resurrection of the King of Kings and Lord of lords in which you get to eat His flesh and drink His blood.”
How can I learn more about the Extraordinary Form of the Mass?
There is a wealth of information on the Latin Mass. Catholicgentleman.net has good advice in “10 Tips for Newcomers to the Latin Mass.” Short introductions to the parts of the Mass can be found online here and here. For a more detailed exploration, your best option is a book (see below for a partial list). Finally, if you have a specific question, you can simply email Dr. Michael Foley (see form on the bottom of page), who will try his best to answer it.
- Lisa Bergman, Treasure and Tradition: The Ultimate Guide to the Latin Mass
- Fr. James W. Jackson, FSSP, Nothing Superfluous: An Explanation of the Symbolism of the Rite of St. Gregory the Great
- George J. Moorman, The Latin Mass Explained
- Derya Little, A Beginner’s Guide to the Latin Mass
- Fr. Demetrius Manousos, OFM, The Illustrated Mass: A Graphic Novel Explanation of the Traditional Latin Mass
- Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Calvary and the Mass
- For the Visitor at Mass (pamphlet)