Or, "How to Not Look Like a Dummy at Your First Latin Mass"....this post is intended to be just what the title (and subtitle) say,,, first impressions after attending our first Latin mass and things it would have been good to know going in. I looked for info like this online and everything I found was very lengthy commentary on the form of the mass...lovely and theological thoughts, but not what I was looking for at that moment. That is not what this post is about.
John and I attended our first Latin mass this past weekend. We went into it pretty raw...neither one of us really knew what to expect at all. I knew from my mother (who grew up with the Latin mass) that the priest faced the altar, with his back to the people, and I knew that, duh, it was in Latin. That was pretty much it. So, here's a collection of tips should you find yourself attending your first Latin mass! Also, a caveat...that's a Latin word, btw :)...this is just based on our own extremely limited experience. I don't know if there are differences from diocese to diocese. I imagine that differences are few...but I'm just saying. I wouldn't know.
So, tip number 1...leave your kids at home. Ha! Well, I realize this may not be possible, but if you can, or if you can leave some at least, it will help, especially if you have a lot of littles....we all know that mass is hard enough to get through when you have a mess of little kids. This is different for you and for them. It will be easier if you can at least get an idea of what to expect before you bring the whole gang. We planned our first visit carefully. Maria had Lifeteen mass that evening, so John and I took Jack and Mary Claire with us and left Tess and Henry at home with Maria. Taking Jack was less than ideal, seeing as how he dislikes different experiences so much, but he is old enough now to have the obligation of going to Sunday mass, and I wasn't going to two!
Tip number 2...dress for mass. People will be dressed conservatively. The women will be in long skirts. The men will be dressed in slacks and collared shirts. Clothing need not be fancy. It's not Easter Sunday type dress really. But modesty is key. It's not that pants aren't allowed...the skirt police aren't checking the door. But this article is to help you to know what you are doing, right? So there you are. Wear a skirt or dress, or be ok with being the only one in pants. I don't remember seeing any females in pants, though I can't swear that there were none. Overall I already dress the girls in skirts and the boys in slacks/nice shirts, so this wasn't a change for us. But Maria has taken to wearing a couple of dressy pants outfits from time to time that probably should stay at home for this mass. Mantillas (veils) are not necessary. Probably 2/3 of the women were wearing them, but not all. I didn't wear one. I don't own one, and I don't really "get" the mantilla thing...maybe that will change someday, but I just don't feel a personal conviction to wear one right now. I dress for mass out of respect for our Lord, and he is the same Lord in the Latin mass as in the Novus Ordo mass, so to cover my head for one and not the other feels inconsistent to me. If someone has an explanation for this that makes sense, I am totally open to hearing it though! :)
Tip number 3...enter through the front entrance of the church. Though we had never been to this mass, we were very familiar with this particular church. We came in through a side door and realized later that there were Latin missals to be had if we came in through the main entrance. We did ok...the mass responses from the people are minimal anyway. But it would have made it easier to keep up with what was going on.
Tip number 4...pay attention! It is easy to zone out when you don't understand what is going on. Some of the order of the mass, as well as when to kneel and such, are a lot different, so watch those around you. We sat in front and to the side, so no one was in front of us. Father processed in as a hymn was sung, and so I was following along in the hymnal and didn't even realize that everyone was kneeling before the hymn was even over. And they stayed kneeling. For a long time. Prepare your kids for that, lots more kneeling. Also, sometimes they genuflect in the pew and do not really kneel. Your husband may not get this and repeatedly throw down the kneeler and get on both knees only to realize (yet again) that it was only time to genuflect. ;)
Tip number 5...babies. Don't even sweat the fussy baby thing. The Latin mass attracts a lot of young families. Large ones. Children easily outnumbered adults at this mass. The children were very well-behaved, but fussy babies and toddlers being taken in and out was very common. No one will give you the evil eye for a fussy baby like they do at your regular mass,,,it's that expected.
Tip number 6...communion. Ok, now this totally caught me off guard. *Way* different. We did pretty well since we had a line of people in front of us to watch. You've probably seen old churches with a communion rail around the altar, right? The church I grew up in had one. Anyway, if your church doesn't have one, they will have something rigged up. This church doesn't have one, so they used two of the very front pews. As they got to the front of the line, people filed into those pews and knelt down. Father went up and down the line giving communion. After your little pew of people receives, you file out and back to your seat, and the next few people in line move in. Also, receive on the tongue. Everyone else will be. If it feels weird, you will get used to it. I have been receiving this way for quite some time now. I didn't grow up doing it and thought I would never get used to it, but you do. The nice thing about this mass is that Father is expecting it, unlike the Eucharistic ministers at other masses that sometimes look a little alarmed when you come up in line and stick your tongue out at them. :) I really liked receiving communion this way though. This was easily my favorite difference.
Tip number 7...language. Most of the mass is in Latin of course. All the mass prayers, and think that Father did the readings and gospel in Latin too? I'm not sure, but it seemed that way. Then he went up to the ambo and did the readings/gospel/homily in English. Most of the responses are done by the altar boys. Being an altar boy in the Latin mass is much more complicated! This was beautiful though. I was kind of fascinated by it all. Being so close to the front, I could hear a little and spent a lot of time trying to pick out what was being said as best I could with no missal. ) I do know some Latin...not tons, but I took three years in high school and have been re-learning as I've taught my kids. I'm assuming having a missal would have helped me follow along, though I haven't seen one yet!
Tip number 8...the closing. After Father finished mass, at least looked as finished as I could tell, everyone kneels and says more prayers. I'm trying to remember...I think there was an Our Father, a couple of Hail Marys, and a Hail Holy Queen...this was all in English. Then after he processes out, everyone kneels again for a moment before exiting. You might prepare your kids for this...especially if you have any autistic ones that insist that mass is over once the blessing is done.
Tip number 9...do go to a Latin mass! Even if you have no desire to make it a permanent thing, this is part of our Catholic heritage and history. The mass we attended was a low mass. I am looking forward to trying a high mass, which I guess is for special holy days? Maria is taking lessons in Gregorian chant, and hopefully they will be chanting for some masses soon, so that will be really neat.
Will we make this permanent? Our inclination right now is to say yes though I am leaving the final call to John. We love our current parish and priest and we have been there a long time. Maria received her first communion there! There are some wonderful people there! But we have a lot of friends at the Latin mass, a lot of homeschooling friends, and we would like our kids to see these kids more often. We are pretty lonely at our current parish. I don't feel like every friend my kids have needs to homeschool, but one or two homeschooling friends is nice, especially for teenagers. There are some homeschoolers at our current parish. But we are lacking a community feeling there and really feel like we know very few people. I think this is because our parish is very large, and maybe also because I don't have the time to volunteer as I used to...it's hard to get to know people. I think most people are content with this. They just want to come to mass and go home. But when we went to Catholic Familyland, we got a taste of what it would be like to have a real Catholic community experience, and we are trying to find that at home. This group of people has that feel. Many are homeschoolers,,,maybe all are, I don't know...and they stay afterwards to socialize and let the kids play. We find this attractive. A long time ago, churches were the social center of whole neighborhoods and towns. Now, school and work seem to have taken that place for people. They spend all day socializing with other people and maybe they just don't need that at church. Well, we homeschool, and I don't work. :) So we appreciate the interaction. We will always be at our current parish in some way, unless we move some day...it can't be beat for daily mass 2 miles away! But we will very likely attend Latin mass more and more. Right now Jack's sacramental prep classes are at the same time as the Latin mass, so for now we will probably just be attending when he doesn't have class. And Maria loves Lifeteen and wants to do those masses. So until she graduates, we will likely have feet in both worlds.
I don't feel, for me, that this is a Novus Ordo vs. Latin thing. The Latin mass was beautiful. I'm sure the high mass is even more so. The Novus Ordo can be beautiful and reverent too. But I think it has lost too much of that reverence. We tend to think of the priest as influencing that angle, and he does....so do teenagers that text during mass, and women dressed immodestly, and the people that sit behind me chatting about where to go have lunch when mass is over. I guarantee you that *does not* happen during the Latin mass. :) The general feeling of reverence and awe is very attractive to me. That is the most obvious difference to me between the two forms...not what the priest is doing, but what the people are doing.