The Power of the Old Mass
By Fr. “Fidelis”
I have been celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite for over 30 years now… Ordained in the mid-1970s in the reformed ceremonies of the Roman Rite following Vatican Council II, out of frustration with the New Form I began to celebrate the old liturgy privately sometime in 1981. It was a moving experience, one that brought me back to my childhood. It was an awkward experience at first, since I had been trained in a liturgical style completely opposite to the Old Rite.
But it was compelling. It involved me in praying the Mass in an intense and concentrated way. I celebrated this Mass mostly over a period of 15 years or so from that point, without a congregation since my Bishop had forbidden that, and it was only in the mid-1990s that I was asked to pastorally care for a congregation of Catholics who had achieved permission to celebrate this liturgy in our diocese.
At this point, a whole new world opened up for me. I was able to learn how this Mass, the Mass of the Ages, affected other people, and not simply people who had some special liturgical awareness, but all sorts of people whose religious inclinations were very different.
Still, I have been, over and over again, reminded of the spiritual power of the Traditional Mass. My Bishop assigned me to hospital ministry in a non-Catholic hospital, and it is there that I have spent countless hours over the last 17 years. Hospital ministry is demanding; it is spiritually rewarding in the most profound way, but it is often physically and emotionally exhausting in the extreme. Nights get mixed with days, moments of joy get mixed with the most heart-rending tragedies, many times one feel s completely helpless and is tempted to be angry with God, who seems to place horrible demands upon people’s sense of trust and faith.
Because for so many years I was the only chaplain in my hospital and the only one who offered Mass in our small chapel, I chose to celebrate in the Old Rite, which was for me most satisfying. Interestingly, this met with the approval of our Protestant department head, who regarded this as something “special” and a sort of attraction to the spiritual opportunities afforded by our hospital’s pastoral care department. Wonder of wonders! A Protestant defending the Old Mass! A sort of following developed for this liturgy---people who started coming to the hospital Mass simply because it was there.
But most memorable for me, though, were the times when someone would sort of stumble into our little chapel by accident, when Mass was going on, and I would hear weeping behind me. Oft-times, I would have no server, and sometimes no congregation when I started the Mass, so I would simply be unaware that anyone had come in to the chapel. Until I turned around for the “Ecce Agnus Dei” at the people’s Communion, I did not know whose sobs I had been hearing. After Mass, the explanation of these impromptu visitors was almost always the same: “Father, I haven’t seen this Mass in thirty (or forty) years. I have forgotten how beautiful it is.” This was a Low Mass, without any of the grandeur of the Sung Mass or the Solemn High Mass. But people remembered how intensely God-centered it was, how awesome it presented the Mercy of God and the call to holiness---how it invited one to such humility before the omnipotence of God.
I heard the same thing from visitors to our Sunday liturgies, but over the years something dramatic has begun to happen.
One now hears these things from people who have no experience of the old liturgy at all from their earlier years.
The same thing is at work: The beauty of the chant, the lingering odor of incense, which permeates one’s clothing and reminds one that they’ve been to Mass, the dignity and beauty and the color of vestments and altar furnishings, the “littleness” of kneeling to receive the Lord on one’s knees at Communion time---all these things tell of something great.
The Old Mass changes hearts.
Years ago, the Traditional Latin Mass was disparaged as being something yearned for by people out of a sense of “nostalgia.”
But there can be no nostalgia for something which one cannot remember. The real answer is that God calls us to something greater---an intimate surrender of our hearts and minds to His lasting truth. The old Mass does that.
It demands more, it takes more energy and self-discipline, it requires more preparation and attention in every way, but it brings us closer to God. It challenges us to love one another more closely and be more attentive to their needs.
It is the real call to holiness and to evangelization, so that people everywhere can come to know God’s love.
St. Rose of Lima
This is the first installment in the "Faith and Tradition" series on the NLM. Please be mindful of comment-posting guidelines outlined in the series announcement.