The Tridentine Mass: Why I Couldn't Go Back
An ordinary Sunday morning. No parish assignment, no preaching. So I decide to go to a church that celebrates the Latin Mass every Sunday at 11 AM. I knew it would be in Latin, but I wasn’t sure if it would be the old Tridentine or new post-Vatican II Latin Mass. Clearly it was Tridentine! One reason to attend was to see if I could feel comfortable being the main celebration of the Latin Mass.
The church was half-filled, older men and women, some families with children, and a number of people in their 30’s who followed with their missals. The music, all in Latin, was in abundance with 90 percent sung by the choir and little by the congregation. The opening procession included 8 servers in surplices (all male), an assistant to the priest and the main celebrant.
In most churches this Sunday would be the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, but following the old liturgical calendar, it was Sexagesima Sunday. The priest wore purple vestments, and a purple cope since it began with the Asperges. On the altar were six large candlesticks, 3 altar cards, the missal stand with Missal and the covered chalice. Incense abounded at the beginning, at the gospel and the preparation of the gifts.
The Kyrie was sung. After the opening prayer the readings were chanted by the priest in Latin from the pre-Vatican II, 1962 Missale Romanum for Sexagesima. The celebrant ascended the pulpit and read the two readings in English using an old translation, probably the Douay version, with “thy” and “thee." He preached for about 10 minutes.
The Creed followed, in Gregorian chant with choir and congregation alternating. The priest said the creed privately. He finishes and sits and listens with the congregation while choir continues. There is no prayer of the faithful. The offertory prayers are not heard at all by the people. Then incense over the gifts, the celebrant, servers and congregation. At the Orate Fratres, only the servers respond, even if the congregation knows the response in Latin. Then the lengthy preface of the Trinity, traditionally used for Sunday Masses.
The Sanctus is sung by the choir, while the priest continues with the Roman Canon which the people could barely hear. Before the words of institution, the priest stops and waits so the Sanctus can be completed. After the institution (with incense and bell ringing) the choir sings the Benedictus while the priest continues the canon up to the great Amen. Again he waits until the choir has finished singing.
Although the altar servers remain kneeling, the people stand for the Pater Noster. (I suspect that the congregation should have remained kneeling too, but maybe that is one effect of the new liturgy that has strangely carried over to the old.) No greeting of peace. The Agnus Dei is sung. The servers recite the Confiteor, and the priest turns and says the prayer over them asking for forgiveness of sins. The priest holds up the host, “Ecce Agnus Dei”, followed by the triple fold response by the people: “Domine, non sum dignus.”
Communion is distributed at the altar rail, kneeling, and only on the tongue.
After the postcommunion prayer, the priest turns, blesses, and sings Ite Missa est. He moves to the left and recites the last Gospel, the prologue of the gospel of John. The priest and servers exit. Somewhat to my surprise since the liturgy had been so faithful to the pre-Vatican II Mass, there were no Leonine prayers.
REACTIONS. During the celebration I felt very uncomfortable. It was strange and foreign. Even though I was very familiar with the Tridentine Mass from my childhood, it seemed remote and distant. The Mass seemed to focus on the priest whose words for the most part could not be heard (they were in Latin anyway!) and who rarely faced the people. The choir performed well and their singing overrode the priest, who had to wait several times until they finished singing.In my mind I could not but think back to the Second Vatican Council, and all that the Council and subsequent documents tried to bring about – active participation, emphasis on the important things, vernacular, elimination of accretions and repetitions, etc. It was sad and disheartening. What happened? Why would the Catholic faithful seek out and attend this older form of the Mass? Is the Tridentine Mass an aberration? What does it say about the reforms of Vatican II?
After the Mass, I was tempted to talk with some of those present. But I decided not to as I feared I would have been negative and perhaps controversial. My feelings were still very raw. One thing I know: I myself will never freely choose to celebrate the Tridentine Mass.