The noon Mass at St. Martha's in Sarasota is said in Latin,
according to the rite once so familiar to me - qui
laetificat iuventutem meam - but which is now strange to
many. And attractive. Few of those at the Mass could come out
of nostalgia; they are not old enough to know how things were
before the doubtless unintended banalization of the liturgy. A
few could be drawn by the novelty of it, but if that were all
you would not see them there day after day. The great
distinctive note of the Latin Mass is reverence.
One hears very little Latin at a Latin Mass and this is true
even for those who, unlike me, can hear well. The prayers at
the foot of the altar, that rapid exchange between priest and
server, hardly rise above a murmur. The epistle, the gospel -
soon to be repeated in English before the brief sermon - are
not declaimed. And the canon, ah that wonderful Roman canon,
is inaudible because the priest does not speak it aloud. Out
of the silence comes, nobis quoque peccatoribus, the
only audible words of the canon.
But it is the consecrations which make one most aware of the
difference between the Latin Mass and what we have had during
these past decades. The awesome moment has arrived. The priest
bends over the altar, we do not hear him say the sacred
formula, he genuflects, raises the host to the ringing of a
bell. The adoration of the sacred species.
No need to describe the contrast to all this with which we
have become, alas, all too familiar. On the keys off Sarasota,
the Mass is something else. The pews are full of chattering
people. When the priest appears, he is accompanied by a
retinue of men and women, readers and other supernumeraries,
all of them grinning as they come up the aisle. I attended a
Christmas vigil Mass in which the celebrant sang the canon,
right through the consecration, and then for seemingly no
reason stopped singing. He was performing, not well, I might
add, but it was a huge distraction. It seemed arbitrary,
something he chose to do and then got tired of and stopped. No
need to describe the way the host was held out to the
congregation while the celebrant's head boxed the compass, and
the words of consecration were addressed to the four corners
of the church. There was little of the awesome in it, little
At communion time, women ushers moved from pew to pew
releasing their occupants. There is much hugging and kissing
between the usherettes and people during this process, manic
smiles, little dance steps as they moved backward down the
The sermon had Dickens' Tiny Tim as its theme.
Later that night I saw on television Benedict XVI say the
midnight Mass at St. Pater's. In Latin, the novus ordo.
It wasn't just the Latin that made such a contrast between the
two instances of the novus ordo, that in Sarasota, that
in St. Peter's. Latin helps to establish that in worshiping we
are using language differently than in our daily doings, but
it is not necessary. Who has not seen the novus ordo
said reverently in the vernacular?
Before his election, the Pope remarked that the single
greatest mistake in the new liturgy was for the priest to face
the people. Actually, if the rubrics are consulted, he should
have been facing ad orientem all along. It seems that
what has turned so many priests into emcees, stand-up comics,
cruise directors, crooners, should not have happened at all.
When the celebrant seeks eye contact with the congregation
while reciting prayers addressed to God Almighty it is pretty
clear that something is awry.
Will it all come back? Perhaps. Benedict XVI is a forceful
leader whose recent motu proprio would have seemed a
heavenly impossibility only years ago.
It may not be true that God speaks Latin, but when we pray in
that deathless tongue our words fly up and our thoughts do not