Friday, January 16, 2009

The Latin Mass

Last Sunday, I experienced my first Latin Mass.

Surprisingly, I would not have thought to go unless my roommate was not such a huge fan of the Tridentine mass. She gets sparkles in her eyes when she talks about it. I was curious to see what the sparkles were all about. As it is, I feel spoiled at my current parish in Alexandria, Virginia Our Lady Queen of Apostles.

First, it's right across the street from where I live.
Second, the choir is great. (I sing in it, too.)
Third, the priests are orthodox.
Fourth, the homilies are *never* fluffy.
Five, we have Latin parts in the mass such as the Sanctus, Sanctus (The Holy, Holy...) and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God...).

That's already a huge difference from (ahem) going to mass in Southern California. But I figure I should go, check it out, be in the know.

I've come to realize out here that choosing a mass can almost be just as complicated as ordering a drink from Starbucks: I'll have a tall soy one-pump sugar-free vanilla latte no whip extra hot.

There is Latin mass. There is high Latin mass and low Latin mass. There is solemn high Latin mass, too. Of course, there's the regular-old English mass. There is the English mass with traditional hymns and the mass with other "this should get me time out of purgatory"-type music. (Architecture, music, all of it--the 70s must go people!) I have gone to a charismatic (Praise and Worship-type) mass and it was a most amazing experience because it was still solemn (not banging on the guitar or drums) and done with respect and reverence. I have never seen a congregation so respectful and engaged in the mass until then. There is also the Norvus Ordo which is English mass with Latin parts. Interestingly enough, an Assemblies of God friend of mine preferred the Latin version.

The alter was beautiful. It had the Latin words Et Verbum Caro Factum Est engraved on it in large letters. It translates to "The Word was made flesh." I only knew that because one of my dearest friends just told me that in Bethlehem there is, I am assuming in the Church of the Nativity, engraved Et Verbum Caro Factum Est Hic, the added word "Hic" meaning "here, in this place." It is a powerful reminder to me that on the alter, during the liturgy of the Eucharist, the word does become flesh, that Jesus is really present. Further, the reminder that the Christian event is a fact and that it really did happen.

The Latin mass is an indisputably beautiful spectacle and this one had the best choir I have ever heard in my life. But while it was beautiful, it was hard for me. First, I don't know Latin (I'm enrolled in a class right now though, required for my degree) and following the mass was tough. Plus, as an American, I am used to things being quick, dumbed-down and the attention on me. This mass was two hours, the homily was long (but very good), and the priest had his back toward the congregation during the liturgy of the Eucharist, the second half of the mass. A lot of the women wore head veils, the concelebrating priests (one of them was Fr. Scalia--our Supreme Court Justice's son) wore their funny old-school hats (which I like because I like old-fashioned things and theatrical things as well, anything with character really...), we had to kneel at the communion rail and wait for communion, etc. etc. etc.

I left very appreciative of the beauty but assured that while I support Latin mass, it's not for me. It would be too hard to learn the Latin, it's too much work. The Latin mass is very eloquent and demands too much intellectual attention. I go to mass to worship God. Plus, people will judge me if I don't veil up.

And then...

I couldn't stop thinking about the mass. Seriously. I felt as though I received more graces from the mass than regular ones. I can't tell you if that's theologically-correct but that is my feeling on it. Even though it was paradoxically frustrating, it was light, too, in a sense. I had really gone to mass. I hadn't rushed. The mass was conducted at a proper pace. Nobody was rushing to leave the church afterward. Mass was a priority and...a pleasure.

I was reflecting on this paradoxical feeling and that is what inspired me to share the experience. I really feel drawn to return to Latin mass. Is mass supposed to conform to me? Or am I supposed to conform to it? Of course, the latter is true. Simone is not the center of the universe and neither are you. And since when do I cower from intellectual engagement? We are told to love God with our whole "heart, mind, and soul," if not at mass, then where?

I noticed the Latin mass more closely reflects the reality of our relationship with God. Not mine. Our. Even those people who do not worship or even acknowledge His existence. In the Latin mass, the priests are doing most of the work. At English mass, I get to do a lot. I get to do a lot of work in my life, too. I was a tad uneasy at the Latin mass because I was not doing much. But later, upon further reflection, I realized I kind of liked that. Sunday is not about doing, but being. Being still. Resting. In my life, I may think I do a lot and am in control. But that's not true. God is blessing me and in control and giving me more gifts than I can even imagine or thank Him for. I didn't even ask to be born, to be given life. It is a pure gift. Every second, every moment of the day. The things I "expect" out of life shouldn't be. Everything I am given, is a gift. I can't control it, take it, or possess it. I didn't plan to meet my friends, but God gave me such amazing people in my life. I am simply following and receiving. The priest does not have "his back to me," but is leading me to God. It is not about me, but about all of us facing our Lord together. We are not turned inward but outward toward the Infinite, the Mystery, who is proposing and calling out to us. This is especially evident during communion. I don't go up there and take communion. I have to kneel, be patient, and wait to receive the Eucharist. It is a gift and the form of the Latin mass, the structure, the beauty is so intentional as to make that relationship of God to Man, Giver to Receiver, very evident.

I'm not here to convert anyone to the Latin mass. I'm just happy when people go to mass. And I'm trying not to get too attached myself as who knows where I'll find a Tridentine mass in Southern California closer than a two-hour drive. But we'll see what happens. Beauty has spoken and it's hard not to follow what one finds attractive.


Joy said...

dude -- what about the latin mass we went to at st. andrew's or whatever it was called? it was extra hard for me as a protestant non-latin speaker, but still very cool.

joy (:

Simone said...

Joy! Thanks for your comment. That wasn't a high Latin mass. That was the Norvus Ordo which is the English mass with Latin parts as I understand it.


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