This past Sunday, I attended (participated in? assisted at?) a Traditional Latin Mass. For those not in the know, this used to be the standard form of the Mass (are we supposed to capitalize it?) all over the Western world, until the Catholic Church came out with a new version about fifty years ago. Despite the near universal adoption of the Novus Ordo/Ordinary Form/The One With the Felt Banners, the Old Mass has held on in a few places. Since Pope Benedict XVI issued his apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum back in 2007, the Latin Mass has become a bit more prevalent.
Several minutes before 5:00pm, I walked into Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Tacoma, Washington. The parish has a predominately Polish membership on Sunday mornings, a fact confirmed by the Polish missals in the pews, the Polish text on a painting of the Divine Mercy, and a prominent picture of Pope John Paul II. The Latin Mass group are guests, so to speak, as part of a mission from the main North American Martyrs Parish (FSSP) in Seattle.
There was none of the chatter that fills my usual parish on a Sunday morning. A small group were praying a rosary together, while others knelt or sat in silence. Mantillas were plentiful. The kneelers were already in the down position, which later proved to be convenient. On my initial entry, I forgot the Latin-English missal, so I exited my pew and retrieved one. My Latin skills are unfortunately lacking.
As the Mass progressed, one thing that struck me was how little speaking I needed to do. In the New Mass, the congregation and priest have quite the conversation, but in the Latin Mass, most of the responses are said by the (male only) altar servers. For the most part, I stuck with "amen" and "et cum spiritu tuo." I was able to read along in the missal, so I could follow all the prayers and responses. There was amazing theological depth to it all, and I could not help but wish the Church had just translated the existing Mass back in the Vatican II days.
We did kneel quite a bit more than I was used to, but it seemed right. It is a posture that lends itself well to reverence. When it was time for Communion, everyone who wished to receive went up on their own, without row by row dismissal. There were two small altar rails with kneelers at the front. Two people at a time knelt at each one, and they received the host on the tongue. This was the first time I had received in this way, and it was quite a moving experience. It certainly felt more sacred than having a Eucharistic minister hand the host to me.
I am very glad I attended, and I hope to do so in the future. It is too early to tell if I will "go trad" or not and become a regular, but I am glad that Mass still exists. We shall see what the future holds. I may want to lock in my Al Smith dinner speaker role first.