Recently I attended a Latin mass; I was awe struck by the reverence, transcendence, and nostalgic affects it had on me. It reminded me of the days I served private mass for the Oratorians of Toronto. I hold many great memories from that experience: the intricacy on each roman vestment, the quiet voice of the priest facing towards liturgical east, the formalities and the mystery of each word. (I was learning ecclesiastical Latin during those years, so there was a lot of mystery!) Yes, such great memories I have of the Latin mass.
I was with a friend at that mass, and, while we were leaving, he began to tell me of how happy he was with this experience. It was all new to him. Indeed, every Roman Catholic mass is new to him as his journey towards full communion into the Catholic Church has just begun.
I asked him what he liked about it, and how it compares to the Sunday liturgy we are all familiar with (novus ordo).
His responses began just as most responses do from those who had just experienced what he had: he began questioning why the Catholic Church decided to change the liturgy. He thought it was a mistake!
“The mass we have today is plain, boring, and ugly,” he said. Then he added: “There is so much more about the Latin mass, did you see how the priest and servers moved? They had so much command and precision, unlike some of the sloppy priests and servers I’ve seen! It is all beautiful, just as mass should be!”
I left him in his thoughts, knowing how important it is for him to have this moment, but I also knew how dangerous these thoughts could be. I’ve said the exact same thoughts, many times before. His questions and concerns regarding the present state of the mass were once my own. Slowly, all of it led me to hate and anger over the present state of the mass, and I was not alone in this respect. I know many others with the same distaste for the novus ordo.
How I see it now is quite different. The mass is beautiful in every respect in both the old and the new rites. Both are opportunities to transcend from this world. Both are a time to adore and love the Lord, for they are both the encounter of Christ who is in love with his bride! The Church has only changed her dress; she has changed how she presents herself to the Lord, but she is the same bride. Her love for God is the same, but in her wisdom, she has discerned that a new dress would better fit the circumstances of the time and of the new demands of the modern heart.
Over the centuries, and in various places, the liturgy has taken on different forms and has evolved according to the needs of the community and what they hope to express in their liturgy. This is similar to the way a young lady would dress differently for different occasions and for different circumstances. If she is going to a formal occasion, she would wear a dress that would emphasize the appropriate qualities about her personality and her physique. What would be appropriate is what is being expected at a formal occasion: her grace, respect, elegance, beauty. Yet, if she is attending a coffee date, she would think twice about wearing a gown or anything that seems semi-formal. Her clothing and demeanor would be different to emphasize her other qualities; her clothing can be said to be more approachable, more welcoming, and her conduct could show that she is there to listen and to have conversations over a cup of coffee or tea, that she is ready to laugh or to be witty or to reflect over the deepest thoughts two hearts could share with one another. In both scenarios, she is beautiful and captures the heart of her suitor. To say that she can be completely understood just by taking her to formal dinners would be false, and the opposite is also a mistake, to take her only to less formal occasions for then it would seem that she lacks grace, respect, and elegance though in reality, she only lacked in the occasion to make these qualities more visible.
This is the mass. The old Latin mass emphasized different qualities than the new mass, but in both, the church is beautiful and has only changed her dress according to our present circumstances. Yet, the Lord continues to see in her, all the qualities of his beloved bride, and no matter how she changes, He still loves her.