The Latin Mass After a Year’s Attendance

December 2016By Richard Upsher Smith Jr.

Richard Upsher Smith Jr. teaches classics and honors at Franciscan University of Steubenville. After serving for nineteen years in the Anglican ministry, he converted to Catholicism in 2001. He recently published Ecclesiastical, Medieval, and Neo-Latin Sentences: Designed to Accompany Wheelock’s Latin (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2013). A Teacher’s Guide to this book is in press.

After my conversion to Catholicism from Anglicanism in 2001, I regularly attended the Novus Ordo Missae, the Mass of Paul VI, known these days as the “ordinary form of the Mass.” When the new English translation (formally, the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal) came into use in 2011, I was deeply thankful. A little over a year ago, however, I began to attend the Traditional Latin Mass (the “extraordinary form”) because I wanted to understand it. My own liturgical sensibilities were formed by the 1928 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church and the 1962 Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada, though I had some experience with the 1979 Prayer Book in America and the Book of Alternative Services (with its variegated drafts) in Canada, as well as with the Anglican Missal and the English Missal.

The first thing I learned about the extraordinary form is that the use of Latin should not be a stumbling block for the worshiper. To be sure, someone might object, “You know Latin, so obviously you would not find it a problem.” While this is so, Latin missals with facing-page English translations are readily available, so one need not pray without understanding; most of those who attend the Latin Mass at my parish use such translations. At any rate, the Epistle and Gospel are read aloud from the ambo in English after their recitation in Latin.

In fact, one of the joys of attending the extraordinary form has been experiencing the beauty of the language. The Latinity is exquisite. Let me give just one example out of many. The Commemoration of the Dead in the prayers after the Consecration is: Ipsis, Dómine, et ómnibus in Christo quiescéntibus, locum refrigérii, lucis et pacis, ut indúlgeas, deprecámur (“To these very ones, Lord, and to all who are resting/at peace in Christ, a place of cooling/refreshment, light and peace, that you give indulgently, we entreat/supplicate” — my somewhat literal but ugly translation).

A few points:

(1) The phrase that indicates the indirect objects (ipsis…quiescéntibus) is simple but thoroughly classical in syntax and rhetorical structure, and thus pleasing to the ear.

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