Thursday, 24 July 2014

Attending an Old Rite Latin Mass

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.

The Altar
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.


  1. To someone brought up on the traditional Mass your viewpoint is fascinating. You should persevere, but above all get one of the bilingual books so that you can follow better until you are familiar with the rite. It doesn't have to be an expensive missal (yet!): there are many pamphlets available that will help.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I will certainly persevere and take your advice on the bilingual missal.

  2. Can I make a suggestion? Rather than splash out on a Missal just yet, before you go next time look up the readings for the day and the structure of the Mass here so you know what the priest will say, and then go without taking too much notice of exactly where he is up to. Only the priest and the altar boy need actually do anything: you just have to associate yourself with the priest's re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. This is perhaps the biggest difference for the person attending the EF who is used to the OF.

    If you do want a Missal, you can normally get one in the 1962 version (the one Pope Benedict repermitted) for around £25-30 second hand, for example here.