It is well known that in every century of the Christian era the Church’s Latin liturgy in its various forms has inspired countless saints in their spiritual life, confirmed many peoples in the virtue of religion and enriched their devotion.
Upcoming Latin Masses
The Extraordinary Form of the Mass is now a regular establishment at St. Columbkille Cathedral. With the encouragement of the Bishop, Masses were celebrated the first three Saturdays of December, January, February, March, and April, including a Solemn High Mass on March 19th, the Feast of St. Joseph, Patron of Canada. The Latin Masses will continue to be offered most Saturday mornings at the Cathedral.
Our intention is in no way to replace or undermine the normal celebration of English Masses. Both forms of the Mass should enrich and sustain the faithful in their desire for deeper union with Christ.
As Roman Catholics, the Latin language is integral to our history and tradition. It remains the official language of the Church, and the Second Vatican Council stated in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (SC, 36).
Following Vatican II there were many changes to the Sacred Liturgy, which over the past 50 years, have produced the form of the Mass with which most of us are familiar. Reform of the liturgy was an important decision of the Council; however, the Mass as it was celebrated prior to the Council, according to the 1962 Missal of Pope St. John XXIII, was “never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principal, was always permitted” (Summorum Pontificum). Pope Benedict XVI goes on to say in that same Apostolic Letter, “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” Pope Benedict’s desire was not to turn back the clock and return the Church to the way it was prior to the Council. He is clear that the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is not to become the Ordinary Form. For a complete explanation of Pope Benedict’s reasons for promoting the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, please read his Apostolic letter, Summorum Pontificum.
When Summorum Pontificum was published in 2007, I was studying at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, Barry’s Bay. Some of my friends at the Academy grew up in parishes where Mass was celebrated according to the 1962 Missal, and they were very excited about the document. It provoked many discussions, and I’ll admit that I was usually on the side that argued for keeping things the way they were. This wasn’t because I was opposed to Latin – I had been studying Latin for two years at that point. And it obviously wasn’t because I had a negative experience of the Church prior to the Council – I was born in the 80s. I just didn’t understand the purpose of it.
Clearly my mind has changed over the past nine years. Pope Benedict wanted priests to be familiar with the Extraordinary Form, taking into account pastoral need, and I wanted to be a priest, so I decided to make an effort. While I was at the Academy, I attended a few Latin Masses at St. Clement’s, Ottawa and at St. Hedwig’s, Barry’s Bay. When I entered seminary for the Diocese of Pembroke, I was sent to St. Philip’s Oratory, Toronto. Many of the priests at the Oratory celebrate Mass using the 1962 Missal, and I was the only seminarian with prior experience of the Latin Mass, so I quickly learned how to serve the Mass. It became an important part of my life and greatly shaped my experience and understanding of the liturgy. I loved being a server at those Masses! Note, however, that even in those circumstances the norm was still to attend Mass in English. I only served at Latin Masses once or twice a week.
My love for the Extraordinary Form continued into my theological studies in Rome. There were opportunities to attend EF Masses and to serve, and as I approached ordination I was encouraged to learn how to celebrate Mass according to both forms of the Roman Rite, i.e., the Ordinary and the Extraordinary. This was much more difficult than I had anticipated. The structure of both forms is basically the same, but there are many small variations and a few big variations, which account for a celebration that, for most people, appears to be an entirely different Mass. Despite my practice in seminary, I didn’t become proficient in celebrating the Extraordinary Form, because I wasn’t sure if there was really a desire for it in the Diocese.
It wasn’t until I returned to Pembroke and a parishioner approached me about offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form that I really buckled down, did the proper research, and made the appropriate preparations. With the support of Bishop Mulhall and Fr. Jim Beanish, the Cathedral was chosen as the parish for the Masses because of its centrality. Faithful from many different parishes in the Diocese have been attending the Saturday Masses, so it only seems fitting that it continue to be offered at our head parish.
Before I close, I should address the three big questions that are almost always asked about the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
1) Why have Mass in Latin if almost nobody understands Latin? Good question. As I mentioned above, Latin is the official language of the Roman Catholic Church, it is the language that has been used by the Roman Church for almost two thousand years, and the Second Vatican Council stated that Latin should be preserved in the liturgy. The fact that most people don’t understand Latin is a problem, and this problem should not be ignored. For many reasons, which I won’t address here, familiarity with the universal language of the Church would be good for all of the faithful, and so we should make an effort to become familiar with it. To help with this goal, there are booklets (Latin/English) available for those who attend these Masses.
2) Why does the priest face away from the people for most of the Mass? Mass is celebrated “ad orientem” (i.e. toward the east) for three key reasons. The first is that facing east, the rising sun, is a sign of our hopeful anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming, the “rising” of the Son. The second reason for facing east, which technically is not always geographical East but is always liturgical East, i.e. the Cross, is that the majority of the words spoken by the priest in the Mass are prayers directed to God. At many points in the Mass the priest does turn to the faithful because at those points his words are directed to them (e.g. The Lord be with you, Pray Brothers and Sisters…, the Mass is ended, the homily, etc.). The rest of the prayers are directed to God, so he faces God. The third reason is a practical consideration. God is, of course, present in all directions, but in order to help ourselves direct our minds to Him in the liturgy and to avoid certain distractions (e.g. becoming focused on the personality of the priest) we face the same direction. For a reflection on the spiritual connection between ad orientem worship and Easter, read this article from The New Theological Movement: http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.ca/2016/04/easter-and-ad-orientem.html.
3) Why is there so much silence in the Latin Mass? Much of the Mass is to be pronounced audibly by the priest. From the entrance to the Offertory prayer, with a couple exceptions, it’s ideal for the priest to enunciate and to speak loud enough that everyone can hear him. This may not always happen, but it is preferred. Following the Offertory up to the Our Father, the priest prays quietly. This section is known as the Canon or the Eucharistic Prayer, and it is said quietly to show the great sanctity of the prayers. This silence also provides the faithful with the opportunity to bring their own spiritual offerings to the altar. This is the active participation advocated by Vatican II. The faithful are not meant to be spectators of the Holy Sacrifice, but rather they are meant to unite their offerings (e.g. their prayer intentions, joys, sorrows, needs, etc.) to Christ’s offering on the Cross, which is being made present by the priest. The silence allows us to enter profoundly into the mystery of what is taking place in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
I hope and pray that this article has been helpful. The Mass, whether it is in English or Latin, should not be a source of division in the Church. The Mass is supposed to be where we enter into Communion with Christ and through communion with Him we are in communion with one another. The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is a sacred and beautiful part of our Catholic heritage, and, thankfully, it continues to be part of our Catholic present.
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