Q: Why would someone want to attend the Latin Mass?
A: Many people are drawn to the Latin Mass by a sense of the sacred. There is in this form of the Mass a high degree of reverence and a meticulous care for the Eucharist, which we as Catholics believe is truly the Body of Christ. There is also great beauty to be found in the Latin Mass. Much of the majestic architecture and music from centuries past was created for this Mass.
Q: What’s the point of having Mass in Latin?
A: The use of a separate, designated language for the liturgy helps to set it apart as something sacred. To this day, Latin is the official universal language of the Catholic Church. As the Catholic Church is, by definition, a universal church, it is fitting that it have a universal language. It’s significant that Catholics from anywhere in the world can come together and assist at the same Latin Mass, even if they don’t speak the same native language. Likewise, a Catholic priest can travel to anywhere in the world—the United States, Germany, India, China, etc.— and offer this exact same Mass without any changes whatsoever.
Q: Will the sermon be in Latin?
A: No. At Latin Mass, the sermon is given in the vernacular or local language.
Q: The Latin Mass may be beautiful, but it also seems highly impractical. Isn’t it more efficient to have the Ordinary Form in the vernacular?
A: It should first be noted that practicality and efficiency are not the highest goods. We are not machines, after all. That having been said, it is also worth mentioning that the Latin Mass is in fact very practical. For centuries, it has been a universal liturgy for a universal Church. This is the Mass attended by most of the saints throughout the history of the Church. It is striking to think that St. Padre Pio or St. Dominic or St. Ignatius Loyola, if they were to somehow be transported in time, could walk into our church today and celebrate this form of the Mass with familiarity. Likewise, one of our own priests, if somehow transported back to any of those past times, could do the same. The universality of the Latin Mass reaches not only across place but across time as well.
Q: What are we, the laity, supposed to be doing at the Latin Mass? Are we just meant to be passive observers?
A: When attending the Latin Mass, your first duty is to pray. You can follow along with all of the prayers and readings in a prayer booklet, but you don’t need to do so. Especially if it is your first time attending a Latin Mass, it is recommended that you simply watch, listen, and take it all in. It is not your responsibility to stay caught up with the priest and the altar servers. You should rather allow your thoughts to turn to God and to lift up your heart in prayer to Him.
Q: I see some women wearing veils at Latin Mass. Are women required to cover their heads?
A: No. Many women at Latin Mass do choose to veil their heads out of reverence for the Eucharist, but it is not required. It should also be noted that men are expected to uncover their heads at Mass, regardless of their personal preferences.
Q: Do the people who attend Latin Mass tend to be uncharitable or judgmental toward others?
A: Anywhere you go, you are going to find a few people who are uncharitable, and unfortunately, the Latin Mass is no exception. It is part of our fallen human nature. Here at Ss. Peter and Paul, we in the Latin Mass community are making a conscious effort to ensure that we do not fit this stereotype. It is our goal to always be welcoming, friendly, and charitable. This parish is our home, and its members are members of our spiritual family. We are striving to work for the good of our family.
Q: Is it acceptable to bring young children to Latin Mass? I’m afraid they might be a distraction.
A: Yes, it is absolutely acceptable to bring young children, and you will see many of them at Latin Masses with their families. Children cry sometimes. It’s part of their nature. If they get to be a distraction, it’s perfectly fine to take them out of the church just as you would do in any other Mass. Latin Mass is good for children because it has built-in catechesis and will likely prompt questions such as “why is the priest putting the host on everyone’s tongue?”
Q: At Latin Mass, am I required to receive communion on the tongue?
A: Yes. The Church teaches that the host is truly the sacred Body of Christ, and that every single particle of it contains His body, blood, soul, and divinity. At the Latin Mass, meticulous care is taken to avoid desecrating these particles by accidentally scattering them on the ground where they may be trampled underfoot. An altar server will hold a paten under the chin of the communicant to catch these particles, as well as to catch any hosts that may happen to be dropped.
Q: Is this level of care for the host too extreme?
A: No. This has been the tradition of the Church for centuries. Pope Paul VI, under whose pontificate the New Mass or Ordinary Form of the Mass began, emphasized that communion on the tongue was preferable to receiving it in the hand. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for giving the Eucharist this level of care is the ancient Christian principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, that is, the law of prayer is the law of belief. Or, in other words, we will believe the way that we pray. Treating the Eucharist as if it truly is the body of Christ will strengthen our belief in it. It is also worth noting that receiving on the tongue is an option in the Ordinary Form as well. Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa of Calcutta, both recently canonized, always received communion on the tongue while kneeling.
Q: Why is it so quiet sometimes?
A: As the Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross, tells us, “Silence is God’s first language.” We are so accustomed to constant noise in our everyday lives that it can at first be unnerving for us to experience silence, but if we embrace these moments and use them to focus our thoughts on God, we will come to understand what St. John meant. In our own time, Cardinal Sarah of Guinea wrote in his book, The Power of Silence, that “Prayer consists of listening to God speak silently within us.” The periodic silence in the Latin Mass, those moments when the priest is quietly reading from the altar missal, are ideal opportunities for us to close our eyes and raise our hearts to God in prayer.
Q: Is the Latin Mass something elitist? It seems like it’s for intellectuals and snobs.
A: No. While this is the form of the Mass that was assisted at by aristocrats, kings, and emperors over the past centuries, it’s also the Mass of the common people, the farmers and the workingmen. Here in southern Minnesota, we have many beautiful churches. These churches weren’t built primarily by wealthy elites, but rather by regular people, many of them farmers, and they were built for this form of the Mass. There are in nature universal principles of beauty, and beauty raises our hearts to God regardless of our material means or the station we have in life.
Q: Is the Latin Mass mostly for older Catholics who are nostalgic for the liturgy of their youth?
A: Not at all. The dramatic growth of the Latin Mass over the past decade has been driven especially by young people who are thirsty for the beauty, reverence, and sense of mystery that are intrinsic to the Latin Mass. While some older Catholics do attend, almost anywhere that you go to the Latin Mass, you will find that the pews are mostly filled with young people and young families.
Q: Why is the priest facing away from the people?
A: The priest is not so much facing away from the people as he is leading them in the worship of God. In the Latin Mass especially, there is an emphasis on the sacrificial nature of the Mass. The priest is leading us in the adoration of our God. The Mass is also a spiritual weapon against evil forces. As St. Paul reminds us, our struggle is with principalities and powers. That is, we are waging spiritual warfare against the devil and his fallen angels who seek the destruction of our souls. The priest is our captain in this fight, and at the Mass, he is leading the charge into spiritual combat.
Q: Is the Latin Mass the same as the English one but in a different language?
A: While any validly celebrated Mass has the same substance—that is, it is the same sacrifice as Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and is our participation in that perfect sacrifice—there are some notable differences between the ancient form and the modern one. One of the most visible differences is that the Latin Mass begins with the prayers at the foot of the altar, a series of penitential prayers taken from Psalm 42. These prayers, which are said aloud by the priest and by the altar servers in alternation—are meant to remind us of our own unworthiness and to prepare us to enter into the sacred mystery of the Mass. There are several other differences as well, especially in the offertory prayers.
Q: What if I don’t feel as though I’ve gotten much out of the Latin Mass?
A: The Latin Mass has sometimes been compared to good beer or gourmet food. There are people who fall in love with it immediately, while others have to try it several times before they come to appreciate it. It may be that you fall into the second group. If you don’t feel as though you’ve gotten much out of it the first time, don’t give up. It may take several times attending, but through prayer and reflection, you will likely come to deeply appreciate the great spiritual treasures found in the Latin Mass.