Why the Traditional Latin Mass is important to me and it should be for you

The Traditional Latin Mass is often characterized as radical, orthodox, judgemental, old, or unengaging. My first encounter with the Tridentine Mass was in high school, as my freshman social studies teacher often talked about being a member of the local Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) parish. My ignorant old self often shrugged off his witness of this Ancient Liturgy as being “behind on the times.” It only took me five years to realize how wrong I was.

When we went into lockdown last spring, bishops and archdioceses across the country made the decision of shutting church doors across the country. This left many faithful Catholics, including myself, feeling like our shepherds abandoned us. Spiritual health is just as important as physical health, and the sudden inability to participate in the source and summit of our Christian faith left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

With the sudden influx of free time, I began to look into the liturgy that I once thought was “behind on the times” — the Traditional Latin Mass. What I found drew me right in. Some of the only parishes that stayed open during the entire pandemic were Traditional Latin parishes. I was suddenly hooked; I found priests that recognized the importance of the Mass and were willing to challenge health orders for their flock. 

These heroic actions do not go unnoticed. According to the FSSP’s website, fraternity parishes across the country reported large increases in Sunday Mass attendance between 2018 and 2019. This does not even take into account 2020’s growth due to the pandemic. This is happening alongside general Catholic church attendance, which is at an all time low of 39% between 2014 and 2017, down from 75% in 1955. These discrepancies made me more interested in what attracts more people to the Extraordinary Form.

In 1570, Pope St. Pius V declared the Roman Missal to be followed “absolutely,” mandating the use of the Latin liturgy across the world. Even before 1570, the Tridentine Mass descends from the Roman’s use of Latin around the third century, with Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman noting the liturgy was unchanged since the third century. This tradition shifted at the Second Vatican Council in 1962, when the liturgy was changed into what is widely celebrated today.

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council’s document on the sacred liturgy, emphasizes that the faithful should attune their voices and minds and actively engage in the rite to be “enriched by its effects.” Additionally, the document tells priests that there are important aspects of the liturgy other than laws governing a valid celebration of the sacrament. For example, priests today seem to give their own “flair” to the liturgy — through homilies or music selection — in an attempt to keep the congregation’s interest. This is something not found in the Tridentine Mass, as prayer and response by the priest and altar servers are precise and coordinated. Additionally, Sacrosanctum Concilium does not mention the removal of intricate and beautiful high altars, Communion rails, and other traditional aspects of the Mass and worship space. Yet many modern Catholic churches built after Vatican II are almost indistinguishable from other Christian denominations.

After cries from the faithful, as well as a complicated history with Vatican II defectors, Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum in 2007, allowing Latin Rite Catholic priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, according to the 1962 Missal, around the world. This “freeing” of the Latin Mass is what allows any priest to celebrate the Liturgy licitly and validly today.

On the first Sunday returning to campus last fall, I attended St. Stanislaus, an FSSP parish in South Bend, with a friend of mine that has been attending the Tridentine Mass since high school. What I experienced deepened my understanding of the Faith and my life.

Upon entering, I decided to not follow along the Liturgy in a Missal; I wanted to fully embrace and admire the sacrament in which I was about to partake. The intricacy and particularity of every movement the Priest and altar servers performed struck me; the reverence of the parishioners was something I had never seen before. Once the Roman Canon began, the realization I had of Christ’s presence is something I will never forget. Each parishioner prayed along with the priest — true participation — as he led us in The Sacrifice. Receiving the Eucharist on the tongue is required, and it changed my stance of receiving on the hand. I left in awe of what I just experienced. Filled with emotion, I was excited for my next Tridentine Mass. I was hooked.

I was finally able to realize after my first visit the connection between my experience at St. Stanislaus and the reported increase of parishoners across the country at FSSP parishes: a sense of a true sacrifice. It was a place where you can leave behind the corrupt world and experience heaven on earth. It is something uniquely Catholic, oriented toward exulting Our Lord. Young Catholics are looking for priests and parishes that are true to the Catholic faith and speak the Truth, even if it hurts. 

The Tridentine Mass was the Mass of the great saints. It was the Mass of my grandparents and ancestors. And I am calling all faithful Catholics to set aside pre-conceived notions of the Traditional Latin Mass and come to cherish it. It will challenge you at first, but you will undoubtedly be changed by it.

Nicholas Orr is a junior from Fremont, Nebraska, studying Accounting and Theology. If he is not listening to the Foo Fighters or another rock band, you can reach him at norr2@nd.edu