Seven Common Questions About the Traditional Latin Mass

Extraordinary Form/Tridentine/Gregorian Mass – whichever you may have heard it referred to – in other words, the classic form of the Roman Rite

  1. What does the term “assisting at Mass” mean? This term has been used for
    many years, but has fallen by the wayside since the 1970s. You will hear
    people attending the Extraordinary Form use it to describe what they do when
    attending Mass
    . The term could equally be used to describe attending the
    Novus Ordo.
    The theological meaning of the sacred priesthood is manifold, but a central
    point is that a man is ordained a priest specifically to offer sacrifice. In the
    the Catholic religion that means the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where the priest
    immolates the Sacred Victim (Christ) in an unbloody manner at the altar during
    the Consecration. The laity “assist” at Mass not in that they “help” the priest
    because the priest needs no “help” – that is not the meaning of “assist.” Rather
    it means to participate mentally, spiritually, and physically in the sacred
    mysteries in the role proper to the non-ordained
    Another way to say it is that the laity, through the sacrament of Baptism, are
    consecrated to a common, holy priesthood.
    By virtue of this sacrament we
    share in the priesthood of Christ and along with the ordained priest at Mass we
    offer the Divine Victim to the Father. We offer ourselves as members of
    Christ’s mystical body as well. All the Faithful, both the immolating priest
    and the laity assisting, join ranks in completing the Holy Sacrifice by the
    priestly action of consuming the Victim through reception of Holy Communion
  1. Why do women cover their heads in church? At most Traditional Masses you
    will see many women wearing hats or veils. Under the 1917 code of canon
    law, women were required to have their heads covered. Custom has the force
    of law in the Church. Because women covered their heads in church since the
    time of the early Church
    , its inclusion in the 1917 code was only formalizing
    what had been a venerable practice and which appeared in law in various places
    long before. This topic is not mentioned in the 1983 code at all. After Vatican
    II with the strong feminist movement which entered the church, covering of
    one’s head fell out of use, but technically speaking, it is part of our tradition
    and ought to be respectfully observed
    . It is also appropriate for women to
    cover their heads when attending the Novus Ordo.

3. How should people dress when attending the Extraordinary Form? As a rule, people tend to dress more formally at the Traditional Latin Mass than at the Novus Ordo in the United States. Women wear suits, dresses, or skirts and blouses and men wear either suit and tie or shirt with tie. The thinking behind this is simple: we are going to God’s house, the courts of the Lord, to worship Him. Angels are present even though we can’t see them. If you were going to see the President of the United States or the Queen of England, what would you wear? God is worthy of our best mode of dress.

4. Why does the priest appear to have his back to the people? Appearances can be very deceiving. In reality, the priest is facing the altar, which represents liturgical east regardless of its actual physical orientation. (This is literally the case at our parish, Holy Family) The meaning of liturgical east in the New Testament begins with the story of the Magi, who came to worship the Child as they followed a star in the east. The Magi represent the gentiles called to Christ. The priest, as alter Christus (another Christ), leads the people, all facing the same direction, in the supreme act of worship: the representation to the Father of the Sacrifice of the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. Because the Church teaches that Christ will come again out of the heavens from the east to judge the living and the dead, the priest leads the people in joyful expectation of this Second Coming as all face liturgical east. Moreover, priests, who are called by God, offer sacrifice; Presidents preside over an assembly of democratically chosen citizens. Face to face; not with all present united in a common orientation, i.e facing the same direction, together – as in the TLM.

  1. What is so important about the Traditional Mass being prayed only in Latin?
    First of all, Latin is the official language of the Church and its sacred language as well. (Still is; Vatican II asked that this remain so, that Latin and Greorian chant be maintained in pride of place) Theological meanings are very precise when expressed in Latin, which is also an unchanging language. The past 40 years have been a powerful lesson in how the secular invades the sanctuary, and how political agendas can control sacred rites and rob them of their true meaning through the vernacular. Praying in Latin allows for none of that. There is no need for Spanish Masses, Vietnamese Masses, English Masses, French, Mandarin, Swahili, Russian or other Masses when the sacred liturgy is celebrated in Latin. People of all races and languages can worship side by side at the Extraordinary Form. The vernacular divides; Latin unites. Anyone from anywhere in the world can walk into the Extraordinary Form and immediately know and understand what is going on. People of various ethnicities in parishes can all be in the same place at the same time at Mass and respond to the priest in the same language. Anyone who has attended Mass while on vacation in a foreign country which langauge he does not know can relate to this advantage of the TLM over the Novus Ordo.

6. What is meant by the terms “propers” and “ordinary” or “common” of the Mass? The propers of the Mass are the prayers and readings proper to the Sunday or feast: the Introit, Collect (prayer), Gradual, Tract, Offertory, Communion and Postcommunion. The ordinary of the Mass is what is prayed at every Mass. These prayers are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Offertory, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and the Canon of the Mass. There is also a proper Offertory prayer along with the common or ordinary Offertory prayers. At most Traditional Mass locations a red book from the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei is available with the ordinary of the Mass in it, and a supplemental set of propers for the specific Sunday or Feast celebrated. Available for purchase in the vestibule of Holy Family is an inexpensive missal containing Sunday ordinary prayers in English and Latin and the prayers and readings proper to all of the Sundays and Major Holy Days throughout the year.

7. How old is the Traditional Latin Mass? The majority of the Mass was in use for well over 1500 years. Some people call it the Mass of Pius V, but that is not really correct. St. Pius the V did not make up his own Mass in the 1500s. He codified the Roman Rite as it came from Apostolic times and removed abuses. He also said that any rite over 200 years old could continue to be celebrated (Dominican, Sarum, Braga, Carthusian, and Carmelite rites for example).

The Novus Ordo (Ordinary Form) is rightfully called the Mass of Paul VI because it was assembled from many different origins by a committee and given approval by Pope Paul VI. It did not grow organically from the existing Roman rite as the Second Vatican Council called for. That statement does not call into question its validity. The Church teaches us that the Holy Spirit guarantees the infallibility of the Pope in matters of Faith and morals so regardless of the break with the tradition of organic growth, the Ordinary form remains valid and a source of grace.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, regardless of which form or rite in which it is
celebrated, always is and will be the perfect offering to the Father by the Son
through the power of the Holy Spirit
. Therefore it is not appropriate to play the “My
Mass is better than your Mass” game, which trivializes this gift of God to the human

You can find many resources explaining the meaning of the Traditional Latin Mass on
the internet, which allows you to delve more deeply into some of the points mentioned
here and explore new ones. The most important thing to do when attending the
Traditional Latin Mass is to open your heart to God, fully trusting that He will
show you what you need to be closer to Him through this venerable liturgy.

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