If you are new to the traditional Latin Mass, perhaps you have some questions about what to expect. To put it very simply, get ready to experience the most beautiful thing this side of heaven! Below are a few things that you might notice right away about the traditional liturgy of the Church:
The first thing you may notice is that, except for the homily and various short moments during the Mass, the priest is facing away from the people. More properly speaking, instead of facing each other (as they do in the New Mass), the priest and people are facing in the same direction: towards the Altar, where God dwells in our midst! We are engaged in a common act of worship and adoration, so we face in the same direction. From ancient times and in many churches, the Altar also faces East (Ad Orientem), which is a sign of our joyful waiting for the return of our Risen Saviour.
The Latin language has been the common language of worship for Roman Catholics for over a millennium. It is the language of Rome—the See of St. Peter—and a language which unites Catholics all over the world and throughout the ages.
You’ll notice that many parts of the Mass are recited by the priest in a whispered voice, especially the Canon (Eucharistic Prayer). In all ancient liturgies of the Church, both in the East and in the West, there is some kind of “barrier” signifying that what happens at the Altar is a Mystery beyond our human comprehension. In the East, this barrier took a visual form: the iconostasis, or icon-wall, between the Altar and the nave. In the West, it took an auditory form: silence. Either way, we are reminded that our lowly human nature, even at its best, can never fully comprehend the infinite perfections of God and His work of our Redemption.
Whether you come to the quiet Low Mass or to the sung High Mass, you will notice that only sacred music is used. Sacred means holy, set apart for the use of God alone. Sacred music, therefore, does not try to imitate the passing trends of the world. Every culture and generation has its own various styles of folk and popular music. But sacred music is necessarily different; it reminds us that we’ve stepped out of the world and into the presence of God. Here at Sacred Heart, we use only traditional hymnody and Gregorian Chant (the official music of the Church). Please feel free to join in the hymns and chants, as we encourage congregational singing.
Many modern parishes try to encourage a casual atmosphere to make visitors and worshippers feel more comfortable. But the centuries-old rituals of the Church, carried out with attention and devotion, remind us that we have entered the House of the Lord. And what could be more comforting than knowing that we have stepped out of out daily world of chaos, hatred, and distraction, and that we have entered into the House of the One who loves us more than anyone on the face of the earth and who wishes to share with us the stillness of His Peace?
If you’re concerned about practical preparations, please make note of the following:
Dress Code – All are encouraged to wear their Sunday best, to remind us that the worship of God is special to us.
Ladies are asked, while in church, to cover their heads with a hat or veil. Veils are available to borrow from the vestibule.
Gentlemen are asked to remove their hats while in church.
All are asked to dress with cleanliness and modesty. Please, no shorts, sleeveless shirts or dresses, or revealing/tight-fitting clothes.
Silence – Out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament and for those who wish to pray, please observe silence in the church before, during, and after Mass. Please take a moment to silence your cell phones and mobile devices. Save conversations and greetings for the Social Hall or the front lawn.
Holy Communion – In Holy Communion we receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. At Sacred Heart, Holy Communion is received only on the tongue, never in the hand. This great Sacrament is a sign of union, not just with Christ, but with the Church: the Mystical Body of Christ. Therefore, Holy Communion is given only to baptized Catholics who
- are in the state of grace (having previously confessed all mortal sins in the Sacrament of Penance) and
- have been fasting (3 hours from food and alcohol, 1 hour from liquids other than water, which may be taken at any time).
Non-Catholics (this includes those who adhere to the condemned doctrines of the excommunicated Fr. Leonard Feeney, who denied the Baptism of Blood and Baptism of Desire) are asked to refrain from receiving the Sacraments.
Missalettes (in Latin/English or Latin/Spanish) are provided so that you may follow the prayers of the Mass. However, do not feel overwhelmed if you can’t keep up! You’ll see many people participating in different ways. Some say or sing the responses, others don’t. Some follow along with missals or prayer books, others pray the rosary in union with the Mass, and yet others simply contemplate the majesty of God in prayerful silence. The most important participation is the participation of your heart!