Monday, October 16, 2017

Your First Latin Mass: a super quick peek

The first traditional Latin Mass I ever attended was years ago at Old Saint Mary's in DC. It was an incredible experience. What follows is a quick introduction to the Mass of the Ages for new folks. I'm an ordinary laywoman so this is not exhaustive or scholarly. 

People who are hesitant about going to the traditional Mass frequently express anxiety about not  knowing what to do and are afraid of making some terrific faux pas. That's a problem which can be easily dealt with. Just sit in the back and do what everybody else does. The church or chapel you visit will probably have the little red  missal from Ecclesia Dei for everyone to use. We have it at my parish and an office assistant prints copies of the readings of the day.  Interestingly enough, most of the younger people bring their own daily missals, and others bring Mass reflection pamphlets which give meditations for each point of  the Mass like the St. Francis De Sales method. I prefer to use an online missal  on my phone but sometimes when I'm overly tired or sick I don't use a missal at all. Some people at my parish never use the missal but listen. A few people silently pray the rosary, pausing only for when the priest directly speaks to the people and Communion. Rocky usually goes with the red missal but he also uses a reflections pamphlet. All these methods are perfectly okay. Eventually you will find one that will work for you. 

English is faster to read than Latin unless you are fluent so don't be surprised if you can't keep up with the priest or if you lose your place on the page because you read faster than he did. Another thing to remember is that unlike in the Novus Ordo a priest saying a Low Mass is in constant motion and prayer and since he's talking to God not us, 90% of the time he can move along at a nice clip. Don't get flustered. You are not required to follow along with the priest word for word. 

If it's a Low Mass things will begin with a bell being rung and the priest and altar boy(s) come out of the sacristy. The priest will bow and make the Sign of the Cross. Some priests are louder than others so you may or may not hear him say the prayers.  Some priests are almost inaudible except for when the Church says they must use a raised voice. At this point some people in the pews will kneel, others will remain seated. The Church never actually gave a rubric for the laity so you can follow what most of the people are doing or sit.  Rocky has severe arthritis in his knee so we sit.

The priest and altar boys say these words which never fail to thrill me:

P. I will go in unto the altar of God.
S. To God who giveth joy to my youth.
Ps. 42, 1-5. 
P. Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation which is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.
S. For Thou, O God, art my strength: why hast Thou cast me off? and why go I sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicteth me?
P. Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: they have conducted me and brought me unto Thy holy mount, and into Thy tabernacles. 
S. And I will go into the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth. 

Right after the Judica Me the priest will say his Confiteor. You may or may not hear him speak and the marvelous thumping sound when he strikes his breast. The altar boys say a Confiteor for themselves and the people. Some people will  whisper along with the altar boys, others will say it mentally.  The next thing you will really notice is when the priest says the Introit and the Kýrie. In a dialogue Mass the people respond out loud. If that's not the custom people will be silent.  There may be a Gloria and then the Collect prayer and you will hear the priest say the Lesson from St. Paul. After a short prayer the missal is carried to the Gospel side and the priest will read the Gospel of the day from the ambo. You stand up for the Gospel. If the Lesson and Gospel were read in Latin Father may read them in English now and if it is not Sunday or an important feast day he may or may not give a homily.  If it is Sunday or an important feast day the priest say say the Creed. When you hear "Et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex María Vírgine," kneel or if you can't, bow.

After the Creed, if there was one, we now leave the Mass of the Catechumens, the first part of Mass and entering the second part, the Mass of the Faithful the sacrifice part. The priest turns around to address the people. Some do this slowly, some are much quicker depending on age and physical condition and says "Dóminus vobíscum". 

Again, depending on local custom people may respond with the altar boy or they may respond mentally. Whatever you do, don't bellow out the "Et cum spíritu tuo." Some people's church Latin pronunciation isn't as good as they think it is  or even if it's good blasting away really disturbs people around you. I once sat in front of a young man with a a deep baritone who spoke the responses so loudly that it felt like I couldn't even hear myself think. God bless him but when he sat somewhere else the next week both Rocky and I were glad. 

Next comes the Offertory. Sometimes I'm reading the missal at this point or sometimes I'm looking at the altar and trying to meditate on the preparations on the Last Supper.  After the priest finishes washing his hands he will turn to the people and say "Oráte, fratres". The Preface comes next and then you'll hear the bell for the Sanctus. If there are a lot of people at Mass the sound of people landing on the pews is so loud that it almost drowns out the priest and is rather impressive.  If you lost your place in the missal by this time the bells  and the Sanctus are a great  cue.  Now comes the Cannon which does not change according to the day.At the Hanc Igitur the altar boy will ring the bells. Get ready. The greatest thing on earth is about to happen. The priest raises the Host and in a few minutes the Chalice, the bells ring. God the Son is really truly physically present. You adore. 

The next major points are the Our Father, the Angus Dei and the priest will say his Dómine, non sum dignus. Father's Communion comes now.  In some places the altar boys may say a second Confiteor.  The priest will turn to the people, hold up the Host and say "Ecce Angus Dei..."

The altar boys and in some places the people say their  Dómine, non sum dignus. After Communion the Mass will quickly move to the end. The last Gospel will be read and we have the Pope Leo prayers. Keep coming back and then one day everything will fall into place. If you want to read more this 1954, child's missal is a favorite of mine and an excellent place to start.