Last night, on All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation, I attended my first Latin mass — well, since 1962, that is. What I experienced was wrapped in incense, Gregorian chanting, drops of water and mystery. I felt waves of nostalgia.
As a child in the early 1960s, when I would attend the Catholic Church with friends, I could feel the Presence of God, without knowing a single word of Latin. This was how I felt last night.
The New Catholic Church
When I decided to convert to Catholicism, after 25 years as a Protestant, I was dismayed at the lack of reverence in the large Catholic Church that I had been attending. Of course, there were many deep pockets of faith at that parish, but people clapped and sang a modern, upbeat rendition of the Gloria and other liturgical prayers. I felt like I was in more of a Protestant church, than a Catholic one.
The one thing that always struck me as particularly authentic, though, was after the consecration when the priest in a deep, low, microphoned voice would say, “The – Body – of – Christ.” This led me to entertain the idea that there must be something to transubstantiation, after all. I had my first inkling of understanding of the mass as a sacrifice.
After attending my first Catholic mass, I thought, This isn’t the Catholic Church that I had loved so much as a child. Where is my Catholic Church?
Later, though, after I was officially brought into the church, I found an old, traditional Catholic Church with uncomfortable confessionals, unpadded pews, the confessional screen, and the tabernacle in the church for everyone to see. This parish came with a bona fide old-school Catholic priest. Many of the women wore headcoverings and the Latin mass is performed once a week. At this parish, reverence is the operative word.
I thought, Now this is better. I had arrived.
Latin was used for hundreds and hundreds of years in the Catholic Church for a very good reason: Latin is a dead language. Its vernacular hasn’t — and will never — change because Latin means the same thing now as it did in the Third Century.
Language changes over time. Fifty years ago, if I said, “I feel so gay,” it would mean that I was happy and carefree. Now if I said that, people would think that I was a homosexual.
Ample reason for the mass in Latin.
Latin to English
The missal for the Latin mass in the early 1960s had the Latin on the left and the English translation on the right. So, on the off-chance you had no idea what the priest was saying, you could learn really quick.
At our Latin mass last night, there were 12 altar servers — 10 teenaged boys and two men in at least their fifties. It occurred to me that the two older men may have been there because not very many altar servers know the Latin mass. I wonder if that is the case.
Did you know that the encyclicals and the Vatican II documents are written in Latin? The reason is the same — to preserve the original meaning of what was written.
Even without an English translation of the Latin liturgy, you can feel the beauty, mystery and magnificence of God in the Latin words spoken and chanted.
I challenge Catholics to attend a Latin mass now and then. Don’t worry, they’ll hand you a Latin/English Missal as you walk in. I’m going to attend our Latin Mass once a month and every time I am in need of an extra dose of old-fashioned Catholic spirituality.