November 1, 2013

The Traditonal Mass: Ancient Beauty, Eternal Truth

My life’s most intimate experience happened with God in 2005. I had the privilege at that time to serve the extraordinary form of the Mass in a monastery in France. It was just the priest and me. Darkness and silence surrounded us. The only light came from the candles and a dimmed spotlight over the altar. It was in this prayer-filled setting that I felt God’s presence not just inside me but around me too. Nothing since then has ever equalled the awe that I experienced that morning. Since then I have fallen in love with the many intricacies and beauty the Extraordinary Form of the Mass imparts to us.

On July 7th 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued an Apostolic Letter which decreed that the extraordinary form of the Mass is to be “given due honour for its venerable and ancient usage.” Benedict teaches that we, in this modern world, cannot afford to dismiss or lose the beauty and grace of the older Mass and that we can be confident that having this Mass celebrated alongside the ordinary form of the Mass will only better our understanding and worship of God.

The Mass is an act of worship. It is the most powerful and important prayer of the Catholic Church. It is the unbloody sacrifice of Christ given to us by God Himself 2000 years ago. The extraordinary form of the Mass (or Latin Mass) is the liturgy which originated from the various forms of celebrating this sacrifice over the centuries and eventually codified by the Council of Trent between the years 1545-1563. It is a liturgy filled with traditions and details that intimately bring out the fullness of the Catholic Church’s teachings.

The main noticeable differences between the extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Mass are the orientation of the priest and the language used during the liturgy. The fact that the priest faces the crucifix and not the faithful does not mean he is hiding from them. In fact it is the opposite: he is facing God with them. This is because traditionally churches were built facing east, the direction from which Jesus says He will come again. Thus the priest leads the prayers of the faithful as they await His second coming. The Latin language used at Mass is the other notable difference. Latin is the official language of the Church but many people often ask why the Church would continue to worship God in a dead language nobody understands anymore. The answer lies partly in the emphasis on Tradition that the Church teaches. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.” The history and tradition of having Latin as the language of the liturgy goes back all the way to the time when Latin was the vernacular: the language of the people. Today Latin gives The Church the exactness and universality she needs to teach all nations of the world its unchanging dogmas. Latin as the language of the liturgy also takes into account the fact that human understanding goes beyond verbal communication. The Mass in itself makes use of our five senses in such a way that we often do not need a translation because the grace found at each Mass can transcend all human language increasing our fervor and devotion. Active participation at Mass for the laity does not only mean understanding the words. We can unite our hearts to the sacrifice of the Mass by immersing ourselves in the silence, solemn gestures and prayerful atmosphere.

In order to truly experience the manner in which the Extraordinary Form inspires our senses one must partake in its liturgy. Instead of having the canon, the unchanging prayers of the Mass, said aloud the Extraordinary Form has these prayers said in silence. Although this silence is conspicuous, it is in this stillness that we can truly hear the voice of God speaking to our hearts. Silence affords us the opportunity to detoxify ourselves from the noise of our fast-paced culture and learn to ponder the words of worship like Our Lady who pondered the words of Christ. The Latin Mass gives us many ways to see the reverence due to the Holy Eucharist. One such way is that the servers use patens (gold or silver gilded plates) in order to catch any particle of Eucharist that may fall during the reception of Communion. The Eucharist is received kneeling and on the tongue in the Extraordinary Form which allows the faithful to truly surrender and become vulnerable to Christ so that He may work His changes upon them. The smell of beeswax candles, flowers and incense are all signs which are used to show that all of nature is contributing to the worship of God. The fifth sense (touch) is experienced in all the various tangible items used to celebrate the Mass. Missals, and cruets and liturgical vestments make up the richness and intricateness of Latin Mass, but there are also the various actions like sitting and kneeling that allow us to understand that we are performing a set ritual designed for the glory and supplication of God.

For the past forty-three years Father Brian Price, who was ordained a priest in 1969, has been celebrating the Latin Mass here in Kingston. Growing up in Trenton Ontario, Father Price attended the Latin Mass as a youth and so was very familiar with how to celebrate it when he became the assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Cathedral in 1970. When a group of the Kingston faithful asked the late Archbishop Wilhelm for a priest who would be willing to celebrate the Extraordinary Form, it was Father Price who volunteered his services. Drawn to the reverence and prayerful silence that the extraordinary form of the Mass imparts upon the faithful, Father Price continues to celebrate this magnificent sacrifice every month because as he says, “it links us to past generations and preserves the mystery of the Mass.”

The word Catholic means universal and the extraordinary form of the Mass truly allows us to experience the universality and historical tradition of the Church. It was at a Mass like the one found right here in Kingston that St. Therese of Lisieux or St Isaac Jogues recited the same “Credo” or responded with the same “et cum spiritu tuo.” It is an incredible experience partaking in the same gestures and prayers that countless number of saints have repeated in their lifetimes. It also brings home the fact that we are all connected in the Communion of Saints and that God is just as present today as He was back then.

During World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis said, “We are impatient; anxious to see the whole picture, but God lets us see things slowly, quietly.” Starting in January, 2014, the Kingston archdiocese will be having Latin Mass twice a month at St. James’ Chapel at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Maybe now is the time to give ourselves to Christ in the unhurried silence of the Latin Mass. Maybe now is the time to acquaint ourselves with the older Traditions of the Church.

- Grant Fitzpatrick

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