I had a very unexpected and happy experience with the sacred liturgy today.
When I’m away from my home parish I have many different experiences with the Mass, some good but more negative. They run the gamut from minor things to full on liturgical abuses.
Today I was looking for an afternoon Mass because circumstances prevented me from going before noon. I was upset to see the parish closest to me had eliminated its 4pm Mass that I was counting on going to (glad I checked early enough to make alternate plans), so in a mad dash to find a Mass I ended up driving 30 miles to one at 3pm.
It was at a parish I had recently went to confession at. While standing in line I noticed they had an altar rail all the way around the sanctuary, and it looked fairly new, even though the rest of the church appeared to be a few decades old. It took a little longer to get there today than I had anticipated, so I walking into the 3pm Mass at 3:05.
The first thing I noticed was the priest had very old fashioned looking vestments on, the kind you’d see in photos from the 1920s. Then I noticed he was facing the altar, but I chalked this up to Mass having just begun, but as he remained facing the altar I noticed he was speaking Latin.
Then it all clicked together in my mind; the Ad Orientem position, the old fashioned vestments, the newly installed altar rail, I had stumbled upon an Extraordinary Form of The Mass.
I’ve only attended the Extraordinary Form (sometimes called the Tridentine Mass or TLM) a few times, and often lament that I’m more familiar with the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Catholic Churches than the Mass that had been celebrated in the Latin Rite for centuries, and here I was on a Sunday in July at a Latin Mass without even planning it.
The liturgy itself was quiet and reverent, with an amazing homily on the call of all Catholics to evangelize and spread the love of Christ to all that we meet.
Not that I prefer the Extraordinary Form over the Ordinary Form, but when visiting a parish you’re unfamiliar with it can be a roll of the dice on what kind of liturgy you’re about to walk into. I know plenty of priests who celebrate the Ordinary Form of the Mass with love and reverence for the liturgy, especially the priests at my parish who have a great devotion to the Eucharist and the Mass.
But unfortunately for the Church, and for us laity, that devotion and reverence is not universal among the clergy, and some priests celebrate the Mass like it’s a high school play. The thing I love most about the Extraordinary Form is it’s consistency in reverence. There’s a great comfort when you’re away from your home parish and you can know the Mass you’re about to walk into is not going to have liturgical abuses sprinkled throughout. Sadly I can’t say that about all the parishes I’ve visited, either on work trips or vacations.