On Sunday July 20th, I attended my first Latin Mass with The Confraternity of the Holy Cross at The Sacred Heart in Morriston, presided over by Father Jason Jones, with a congregation of ten or so.
I deliberately did no preparation for the Mass so that I might be better able to gauge the differences and relative accessibility of the different rites. What I have to say here is based solely on my perceptions; I'm sure I'll have Old Rite devotees tearing their hair out so I ask them to forgive me!
In general, I found the experience very interesting though I have to admit that I was surprised that even for someone who has attended the New Rite Mass their whole lives (and very much enjoys that rite in Latin), I was often unsure what the priest was doing and how I was supposed to respond. I was totally reliant on recognisable "anchor points" like the Agnus Dei or elevation of Blessed Sacrament. Alas, my GCSE Latin is even rustier than I thought.
I was also surprised to find out that the old rite uses a different set of readings - I knew the liturgical calendar was different but had assumed the Sunday readings would at least be the same. Come to think of it, I don't think the same first reading, psalm, second reading, Gospel format was used either.
The Role of the Priest
One of the most striking differences I perceived between the two rites is that of the role of priest. Though I know that in essence, the role exactly the same, the difference in how I perceived that role was quite striking. For most of the Mass, I felt that the priest was performing his duties quite separate from the congregation, as if I was looking from without through a window. Only when he turned to address us did I seemed to be pulled into the Mass. It is not something I have ever experienced with the new rite even though I am fully aware of the necessarily differing roles of the priest and the laity. I was also quite surprised that many of the prayers which are said by the whole congregation in the new rite are reserved exclusively for the priest in the old.
The priest also uses a different set of gestures and performs certain prayers from different positions on the sanctuary, the purpose of which I was ignorant.
The old rite Mass has numerous silent periods which far exceed the duration of those in the new. I find the silent periods in the new rite Mass of critical importance and get exceedingly irritated for example when a hymn is sung immediately after Communion. With the old rite however, I was unsure how to use the periods of silence. Was I supposed to be praying the prayers I thought the priest was praying or was I free to pray as I wished?
It's Mass Jim, but not as I know it
My overriding impression from attending Mass with the Confraternity of the Holy Cross is that unless one is fluent in Latin, it is imperative to do some research before attending an old rite Mass in order to better understand and pray it. As such, it may be a greater barrier to an "average non-Catholic Joe" who walked off the street compared to the new rite.
I came away from The Sacred Heart more intrigued and curious than spirituality uplifted but I hope that curiosity will eventually lead to spiritual reward as I learn more about what many people insist is a gem of Church tradition.