In the weeks since Pope Francis issued his motu proprio, Traditionis Custodes, I’ve had a lot of people ask me to share my thoughts and what other people in Catholic media are saying. Most are regular Mass-goers who attend the Novus Ordo like myself, but some are friends whose hearts are broken a bit by what this could mean for their church that celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass.
For full context, I’ve attended Latin Mass parishes only two or three times in my life. While there were elements of the liturgy that I saw as deeply attractive, other parts felt very foreign. Both reactions are completely natural and fairly common for those who do not regularly attend Latin Mass.
One of the elements I most admired from these experiences was the music. At each liturgy, the chanting and songs — either from a choir or a few vocalists — were stunning. As someone who has taken voice lessons and been a part of my own church choir for a period of time, I love — truly love — well-prayed music during Mass. Part of the reason I chose my parish when I moved to Fort Wayne was because the music drew me in. It was reverent and not distracting. The choir was good, and the pianist/organist was very good — both in a way that led me to prayer.
I was recently reminded of how deeply good liturgical music assists my prayer during Mass. On any particular Sunday, our music director usually chooses two songs during the reception of the Eucharist, both played and sung from her place at the piano. During the summer months, she is often the sole vocalist. So I was pleasantly surprised when she transitioned to the organ room after the first song and began playing a rendition of the Salve Regina that I had never heard. In addition, the male cantor who accompanied her had a voice that fit perfectly with the somber song, and the combination of vocals and organ could only be described as heavenly. I was able to rest in the music, pondering both Jesus in the Eucharist, whom I had just received, and the feast we celebrated that day.
As someone who appreciates much of the Novus Ordo, I do pine for some of the elements that the Latin Mass offers. And in my conversations with friends and family, that’s what I’ve focussed on. I don’t know what is best for Latin Mass parishes in my city, diocese, country, let alone the world. I have little experience to pull from. But I do see things in the Novus Ordo that could be better. While I’ve been fortunate in my life to attend many reverent liturgies in the “ordinary” form — including wonderful charismatic experiences at both big conferences and smaller parishes — I’ve also witnessed a few abuses of the liturgy. Whether or not the people involved knew about it is beside the point. What does matter is that there are places where we can improve how we approach and worship in the Mass that most Catholics already know.
So here’s my proposal. As Msgr. Owen Campion suggested in a recent column, we need to ask friends and family what drew them to the Traditional Latin Mass. And then maybe we need to do a little research for ourselves — either by attending a Traditional Latin Mass if it is available in your area, or even just using the internet to get a taste of the liturgy. Or maybe parishes need to turn to the missal for the Novus Ordo and see exactly what it says to learn how we can reincorporate things that were accidentally lost in the transition since the Second Vatican Council.
This isn’t about which Mass is “right.” Both are perfectly valid. Rather, this is about rediscovering what worship can be. What best lifts our hearts to God? How can we better come to understand the sacrifice that is taking place on the altar? In what way can our worship at Mass help us live as better Catholics throughout the week? I don’t have direct answers, but we need to start asking these questions.
Ava Lalor is assistant editor for Our Sunday Visitor and editor for Radiant magazine.