Veiled women, incense, Gregorian chants, kneeling, standing, kneeling again, long periods of silence — think all of this is a scene from a Catholic Mass in 1950?
It was then, to be sure — but it is now also happening every Sunday, and in some places every day, in churches all over the United States. The Latin Mass of years gone by is becoming more popular again.
As a convert to the Catholic faith, I was drawn to the Catholic Church by the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the fullness of the faith, and the path of truth with a capital “T” through the ages. I thirsted for the Eucharist during every Mass I attended even before my First Communion and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil in 2012.
Each and every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a reenactment of Calvary, of Christ as priest, Christ as victim. The mystery of the Catholic faith occurs on altars the world over during this unspeakably holy event.
For some, the pinnacle of participation in this mystery is attending the Tridentine Latin Mass (or Traditional Latin Mass, both abbreviated TLM). That is the Mass as it was celebrated for centuries before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), commonly referred to as Vatican II.
Significant changes were instituted in the worldwide Catholic Church as a result of Vatican II, including, most noticeably, celebrating the Mass in the local language. The priest now faces the congregation rather than all present facing in the same direction — toward the crucifix above the altar.
While the Traditional Latin Mass that had been celebrated for nearly 400 years was never abrogated, it seemed to disappear overnight — and Catholic churches around the world were obliged to adopt the new format.
With the Mass so changed, many other changes occurred that were not specifically enumerated or encouraged by Vatican II. This resulted over the years in what some describe as a loss of solemn reverence and unity during worship.
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificam, an apostolic letter that permits individual parishes and priests to offer the TLM to the faithful. Thus the Mass as described by Vatican II is known as the Ordinary Form — and the TLM is known as the Extraordinary Form. While both forms are licit and approved by the Holy See in Rome, it can be difficult to find a local parish that offers the TLM.
Alfonso DiGirolamo, a lifelong Catholic, started a website, GetTLM.org, to help parishioners bring the Traditional Latin Mass to their own parish. The website includes videos that explain what to expect when attending the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and it shares resources to help formally introduce parishes to the TLM.
DiGirolamo has been attending the TLM in Philadelphia for more than four years. He learned how to serve as a master of ceremonies for it, which means he's the adult male altar server who responds in Latin on behalf of the congregation during the Mass and helps direct the altar boys. He explained, "Between the reverence, the prayers, and the adoring respect for the Holy Eucharist, it has become an essential part of my and our prayer life, which is just not available, even in the most reverent, in the Ordinary Form."
His wife, Brenda, also a lifelong practicing Catholic, started attending the TLM with her husband just two years ago. "To be honest, I wasn't a fan at first, but now I love it," she told LifeZette. "There is a reverence shown toward the Mass, but most especially toward the Holy Eucharist. Also, it helps me to remain focused and pay attention to the prayers so I don’t get lost."
A dear friend of mine, Catherine Adair, and her family attend Mass at St. Benedict Center in Still River, Massachusetts. "The first time we attended the Tridentine Liturgy [the TLM], we felt like we were as close to heaven as we could get on Earth," she shared. "We felt, as a family, so connected to our faith and to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that we just felt this is where God truly wanted us to be."
She continued, "This is the Mass that so many of the great saints attended, and I feel so close to them and to the continuity of the faith to those that came before us."
I also feel "the continuity of the faith" that Adair describes. My family and I have been attending the TLM for a little over a year now and were immediately struck by the gravity and holiness of the rite. I was especially drawn to the periods of sacred silence before, after, and at several times during the Mass.
While it was a little confusing at first, I have learned how to follow along in the missal (which has Latin on one side and the English translation on the other). I have grown to love the beauty and reverence that I personally have only found during the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. As both the Ordinary Form (in the local language) and the Extraordinary Form are valid, this choice comes down to personal preference and, in some cases, availability of the Mass one prefers.
Whichever Mass one chooses to attend, we are all truly blessed as faithful Catholics to be witnessing a resurgence of the faith in America.
Jewels Green is a mother, writer, public speaker and advocate for the right to life from conception to natural death. She lives in the Philadelphia area.