Frequently Asked Questions about the extraordinary form of the Mass
- What is the Latin Mass?
- What is the status of the Latin Mass in the Church? Wasn't the old Mass abrogated after Vatican II?
- What is Summorum Pontificum?
- Why is Latin Mass so important to some Catholics? Isn't liturgy a matter of personal preference?
- How will I know when to sit, stand, and kneel?
- What are the differences between a Low Mass, a Missa Cantata, and a Solemn High Mass?
- Why the silence in the Mass?
- Why Latin?
- Do I have to know Latin to attend the traditional Latin Mass?
- Why does the priest turn away from the people?
- How and why is the Communion Rite different?
- How should people dress for a traditional Latin Mass? Must men wear suits? Must women wear chapel veils (i.e. mantillas)?
- How long is a Latin Mass?
- Do young people attend the Latin Mass?
What is the Latin Mass?
The Latin Mass has many names - the traditional Latin Mass, the Tridentine Mass, the Mass of Saint Gregory the Great, and since 2007 has been officially called the extraordinary form of the Mass. These names all refer to the Roman Catholic Mass celebrated according to the Roman Missal which was promulgated by St. Pius V in 1570 and was reissued by Blessed John XXIII in 1962. This particular Mass is distinctly different from the Mass that most Roman Catholics have celebrated according to the Roman Missal issued by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
Some Catholics refer to this Mass as the Tridentine Mass, as this Mass was officially codified by the the Council of Trent in the 16th century. However, this particular form of the Mass has been handed down over the centuries with only small and gradual changes since the pontificate of St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century.
What is the status of the Latin Mass in the Church? Wasn't the old Mass abrogated after Vatican II?
Despite popular beliefs to the contrary, the 1962 Roman Missal was never abrogated. As Pope Benedict XVI observed, "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us, too."
Even after the introduction of the new rite of Mass in 1969, many priests were accorded permission to continue celebrating the traditional Latin Mass. In 1984, Pope John Paul II extended that permission, and in 1988, he requested that bishops be generous in application of that permission.
According to Summorum Pontificum, use of the 1962 Roman missal and traditional forms of the sacraments are permissible and encouraged. Any qualified priest may offer the extraordinary form of the Mass privately, and the faithful may attend such private Masses (SP, Art. 2, 4, 5.4) The decision to have public Mass in the extraordinary form is up to the pastor of the parish; permission from the bishop is not necessary (SP, Art. 5) Requests from the faithful for special Masses in the extraordinary form, such as weddings and funerals, should be granted (SP, Art. 5)
What is Summorum Pontificum?
On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI Summorum Pontificum, an apostolic letter clarifying the status of the 1962 Missal and other traditional sacramental rites. In brief, the letter stated that the 1962 Missal was never negated, and that the traditional Latin Mass should be considered the "extraordinary" form of the Roman liturgy.
More information about Summorum Pontificum is available from the EWTN website here.
The full text of Summorum Pontificum is available on the Sancta Missa website here
Why is Latin Mass so important to some Catholics? Isn't liturgy a matter of personal preference?
The liturgy is intimately bound with the truths of the Catholic faith. The relationship between our worship and belief is encapsulated by the Latin phrase "lex orandi, lex credendi" which translates loosely as the "how we pray is how we believe." Pope Pius XII taught that the liturgy must conform and reflect the truths of the Faith - so much that the liturgy even safeguards those truths (Mediator Dei).
For these reasons, many Catholics who favor the traditional Latin Mass view this liturgy as a particular means for communicating and safeguarding their faith. In a secularized world, the traditional Latin Mass helps us be rooted in the tradition and heritage of the Church. The sacred liturgy that nourished countless saints over the centuries can continue to evangelize, instruct, and sanctify Catholics into the future as well.
How will I know when to sit, stand, and kneel?
Contrary to common assumptions, there are no officially written norms or rubrics that specify the posture of the people at traditional Latin Masses. Most postures are the result of local cultures and customs. In general, follow the postures of the altar servers.
The Catholic diocese of Austin offers a great short list of typical postures on their website here.
What are the differences between a Low Mass, a Missa Cantata, and a Solemn High Mass?
- Low Mass:
- -no music for the ordinary or propers of the Mass
- -no deacon or subdeacon
- -two candles are lit upon the altar
- -one or two altar servers
- Missa Cantata ("sung Mass"):
- -the ordinary and propers are chanted
- -no deacon or subdeacon
- -four or six candles are lit
- -more servers permitted: e.g. thurifer, torchbearers
- -incense may be used
- Solemn High Mass:
- -musicall the same as the missa cantata
- -deacon and subdeacon are present
- -subdeacon chants epistle; deacon chants gospel
- -acolytes, thurifer, torchbearers used
- -incense is used
Why the silence in the Mass?
In the traditional Latin Mass, the priest is instructed to use three separate tones of voice: low, medium, and high. At times, the priest prays so quietly that the congregation cannot hear, nor are they intended to hear.
Silence within the Mass represents a hushed awe in which the faithful contemplate the sublime mystery of Christ's redemptive sacrifice made present upon the altar. Contemplation and a sense of timelessness pervade this silence.
Even after the use of vernacular Latin died (around the 8th century), the use of Latin in the Church continued for over 1200 years. Some reasons for this decision include:
- Universality. The Catholic Church is not a national church, but rather is universal; thus, a universal language, such as Latin, is appropriate for the Church's worship.
- Stability. Since Latin is a dead language, use of Latin prevents us from perpetually altering liturgical texts. Constant alteration of texts may negatively affect communication and teaching of doctrine. Pope Pius XII commented on this very topic: "The use of the Latin language prevailing in a great part of the Church affords at once an imposing sign of unity and an effective safeguard against the corruption of true doctrine." (Mediator Dei)
- Tradition. We acknowledge that on top of the cross where Christ died, the phrase "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Along with some expressions of Hebrew and Greek (e.g. the Kyrie), use of Latin offers historical continuity from the days of Christ, old Rome, and the see of St. Peter.
Do I have to know Latin to attend the traditional Latin Mass?
No background in Latin is necessary for attending and appreciating the traditional Latin Mass. You may consider obtaining a bilingual 1962 Missal for reading and meditating upon the prayers of the Mass. Even if you don't have a missal handy, you can immerse yourself in the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic experiences of the liturgy that bring you to unity with God.
Why does the priest turn away from the people?
In the traditional Latin Mass, the priest does not "turn away" from the people; rather, he is facing with them toward the altar. Together, the priest and the people are offering worship and sacrifice to God. Please remember that the faithful are not having a conversation with the priest, and the priest's personality is not intended to be a central aspect of the Mass. Rather, we are all turned toward the Lord. Furthermore, the priest is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ; he is offering Christ's sacrifice to God the Father in a real and substantial way. The sacrificial and mystical natures of the Mass are somewhat more emphasized by the priest's orientation toward the high altar.
Please also note that when the priest specifically addresses the congregation during Mass, he does face the people. For instance, consider the phrases Dominus vobiscum ("The Lord be with you") and Orate, fratres ("Pray, brethren"). When the priest says these words, he turns to face the people.
When the priest offers the Mass facing the high altar, we say that he is offering the Mass ad orientem, which means "to the east." Facing east, either literally or merely liturgically, means facing the rising sun and the New Jerusalem.
How and why is the Communion Rite different?
Communion in the traditional Latin Mass is received on the tongue while kneeling. Communicants will only receive the sacred Host; the Precious Blood is consumed by the priest. Also, only the priest or deacon distributes Communion. When he does so, he says a different, beautiful blessing in Latin over each communicant: Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen. ("May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep your soul unto life everlasting. Amen") You do not respond "Amen." In the Mass of Paul VI, the communicants say "Amen" as a statement of belief. In the traditional Latin Mass, however, the belief is assumed when the faithful present for communion, so the priest essentially blesses you as he gives you communion.
Communion on the tongue while kneeling developed as an adoring, reverential practice that serves two purposes: first, to avoid abuses of the Eucharist, and second, to bolster the faithful devotion of the people to the Real Pressence of Christ in the Eucharist. A complete Vatican document regarding this practice is available here
How should people dress for a traditional Latin Mass? Must men wear suits? Must women wear chapel veils (i.e. mantillas)?
You may notice that people tend to dress more formally at traditional Latin Masses than at ordinary form Masses in the United States. Most frequently, women wear dresses or skirts and blouses; men typically wear either suit and tie or shirt and tie. Please dress modestly and appropriate to the occasion. Whenever Catholics attend Mass, they should avoid clothes that are physically revealing, vain or especially casual.
At most traditional Latin Masses, you may notice that many women wear hats or veils. These head coverings are an ancient custom from the time of Paul to today (see 1 Cor 11:1-17). Women's head coverings were required under the 1917 Code of Canon Law. There are several devotional reasons for this tradition. For example, wearing a head covering is an expression of modesty and chastity in imitation of our Lady, who is rarely depicted without her veil. Furthermore, wearing a head covering also can indicate humility and submission before the Blessed Sacrament. Finally, head coverings promote respect for women and their distinct gifts. Like the chalice and the ciboria that are veiled, women are veiled because they are all vessels of life, supernatural and natural.
Mantillas, which are lace veils originally from Spain, are a popular expression of this piety in traditional communities in the U.S. today. Historically, however, most women in the United States wore hats. Please be assured that regardless of particular style, head covering is a dignified and laudable practice.
Cardinal Raymond Burke has explained that ladies' head coverings for the extraordinary form are still expected, yet it is also not a sin to refrain from this devotion. The full text of his commentary is available here.
How long is a Latin Mass?
The length will last approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour for a Low Mass and 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes for a sung High Mass. The length will depend on the duration of the homily, the musical setting used, and the number of communicants who approach the altar rail.
Do young people attend the Latin Mass?
Absolutely! In fact, the revival of the Latin Mass is driven strongly by young adults and families. The spiritual nourishment of the traditional Latin Mass should be available to Catholics of any age who desire it. A recent article in Crisis Magazine commented on this phenomenon. Read the full article here.