fbpx
Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Secret Of Latin Mass (And Divine Liturgy)

Why ancient Christian forms of prayer speak so powerfully to the modern soul
The Secret Of Latin Mass (And Divine Liturgy)

Here's a clip making the rounds of Catholic Twitter. It's the actor Shia LeBoeuf, who recently converted, or reverted, to the practice of Catholicism. In this interview with Bishop Robert Barron, LeBoeuf talks about why he fell in love with the Latin mass. He says, "Latin mass affects me deeply. Deeply." Bishop Barron asks why. LeBoeuf says, "Because it feels like they're not selling me a car." Watch:

Advertisement

I was never a Latin massgoer in my thirteen years as a Catholic. Though I did attend a few of them, and though I was ideologically predisposed towards the Latin mass, it never made my heart sing. I have always supported the Latin mass's availability, because my gosh, why would you not? I cannot understand at all why Pope Francis is so bound and determined to crush this venerable rite of the Catholic Church. Anyway, as a Catholic, I understood in my mind why it affected people so strongly, and wanted them to have access to that. But for some reason, it left me cold.

For me, it was attending my first Orthodox Divine Liturgy that made such a difference. Like the actor says later in the interview, it doesn't feel like a performance designed to coax you into belief; it rather feels like you are being let into something special. I can easily recognize that some Catholics feel that way legitimately about the Latin mass (and not the contemporary Novus Ordo mass) because after sixteen years as an Orthodox Christian, I feel the same way about the Divine Liturgy. When I began attending the Divine Liturgy, I realized soon that this feeling of liturgical beauty and spiritual transcendence is what I thought I was going to get when, in my twenties, I converted to Catholicism.

It is something profoundly -- profoundly -- unlike common worship in the modern world. In most Orthodox churches, the Divine Liturgy is said in the local language. You can sometimes find it in Greek or a Slavic language in the US, because those congregations serve immigrant communities, but mostly the Liturgy is in English. But the translations, in my experience, are quite good, and not "flat," as the modern Catholic Novus Ordo mass is. At the first few Liturgies, I had scarcely any idea what was going on. It generally follows the traditional liturgical pattern of the ancient churches: liturgy of the Word, and then the Eucharist. But it's different enough from the Western model to confuse one.

That's fine. It's a strength, actually. The Divine Liturgy has been in its current form for many centuries. It is called "The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom" because it was refined and defined in Constantinople under Chrysostom's patriarchal leadership in the early fifth century. This is a thing of great antiquity. You don't mess with it. It doesn't try to conform itself to you, but calls you out of yourself, calls you to mold yourself around it -- and to therefore allow it to mold you. Why is this a strength? Because we live in a world in which everybody is trying to sell you something, everybody -- including far too many churches -- are trying to make it super-easy for you to sign the contract, so they can make the sale. The Liturgy says: This Christian life is hard, but it is beautiful, and it is a pearl of great price. If you give yourself over to Christ as this community has worshipped him for well over one thousand years, you will go to places you could scarcely have imagined. Join us -- leave yourself, and be raised up to heaven.

Seriously, it does. It's not easy to get used to the Divine Liturgy, but once you "get it," you wonder how anybody could worship in any other way, if this is what Christian worship is. The prayers, the chants, the prostrations, the incense, the candles -- they all work together to bring the soul closer to God's presence. The Liturgy is a thing out of this world. I want to invite everyone I know to come and see for themselves what it's like. Be careful, though: once seen, you can't unsee it, and for many people it will be difficult to go back to their modern worship elsewhere.

Advertisement

Here, in Romanian, an Orthodox bishop chants the epiclesis, the part of the liturgy in which the priest calls down the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and the wine. In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, these are the words the priest prays here:

Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and bloodless worship, and we ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee: Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered.

And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ. (Amen)

And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ. (Amen)

Making the change by the Holy Spirit. (Amen, Amen, Amen )

That these gifts may be to those who partake for the purification of soul, for remission of sins, for the communion of the Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven; for boldness towards Thee, and not for judgment or condemnation.

Here is the Romanian bishop praying these words in his own language:

This is what happens in every Orthodox Church every Sunday. Again, this Romanian bishop has an extraordinarily beautiful voice, and you don't hear that in all churches. But this gives you a real sense of the holiness present in Orthodox worship.

Here is a well-known performance, in Aramaic, of Psalm 53, offered as a gift to Pope Francis when he visited Georgia a few years back. This is not a liturgical moment, but this is the authentic sound of the Eastern Church. What a gift to the universal Church! Know that this choir is made of up Syrian and Iraqi Christians who are war refugees.

Liturgy matters! How we pray matters! God accepts all sincere prayer, but liturgy (meaning: work) is the offering we give to the All-Holy. It must be beautiful. Through it, the Most High not only transforms the bread and the wine, but transforms us.

Comments

Become a Member today for a growing stake in the conservative movement.
Join here!
Join here
Michael Cole
Michael Cole
This issue of liturgical languages is absurd. I say people should pray in whatever language makes the prayer most meaningful to them. I must assume the hypothetical Supreme Being is fully fluent in all languages modern and ancient. If a community of people want religious services in English or Latin or Urdu or whatever, they should have them. Why is this even controversial?

I grew up in the Episcopal Church back in the 70s before the church got modern and started ordaining women and gays. The big hullabaloo was about which dialect of English. Traditionalists, such as my parents, wanted to stay with the old 1928 book of common prayer written in fairly elegant King James English. The modernists pretended to consider 16th century English a foreign language they didn’t understand. I thought it was silly to make such a fuss about modernizing the grammar.
schedule 4 weeks ago
    ROBERT GRANO
    ROBERT GRANO
    This isn't about the language, necessarily, but about the content. Liberals and "reformers" have often used changes in language to mask changes in what is actually being said in the liturgy. Conservatives and traditionalists rightly see this as just one more way to get the liberal camel's nose in the tent.
    schedule 4 weeks ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    I don't think the issue is so much the Latin itself (well, maybe for some people it is) as the beauty of the rite. I don't want to come off as Catholic-bashing but the English used in the VII Mass is terribly pedestrian, and comes off sounding like a dumbed down newspaper article. I am very glad that the Divine Liturgy is usually done in English in this country (with some bits and pieces of Slavonic, Greek, Arabic...) but also very glad that it retains the reverence and beauty appropriate to worship.
    schedule 4 weeks ago
    Peter Kurilecz
    Peter Kurilecz
    I would suggest that you compare the liturgical language of the TLM to that of the Novus Ordo. the former is like a fine 7 course meal while the latter is like a Big Mac.
    schedule 4 weeks ago
Scuds Lonigan
Scuds Lonigan
It's my observation that traditional worship emphasizes our relationship to God and modern worship emphasizes our relationship to each other.
schedule 4 weeks ago
    Michael Cole
    Michael Cole
    Aren’t the two inextricably bound together?
    schedule 4 weeks ago
      ROBERT GRANO
      ROBERT GRANO
      Yes, but that should not take away from the fact that the prime emphasis should be vertical, not horizontal. The two elements may be inseparable, but they're not equal.
      schedule 4 weeks ago
    Martin Terrell
    Martin Terrell
    Spot on.
    schedule 4 weeks ago
John Phillips
John Phillips
The congregation needs to understand the language used. Period. All else is just religiosity.
schedule 4 weeks ago
    Michael Cole
    Michael Cole
    Sure. But those of us who know a few languages might have a preference. I perceive a certain beauty and elegance in the Latin language and I can well understand why old time Catholics feel nostalgic for the Latin mass.
    schedule 4 weeks ago
      JON FRAZIER
      JON FRAZIER
      I think the Latin Mass should be available for people like you who appreciate it. But I agree with other posters: as a general rule liturgy should be in language accessible to people. No, not "barstool" or "bleachers" English, but high and reverent variety of our tongue yes. English, even 21st century English, can be done beautifully.
      schedule 4 weeks ago
    Peter Kurilecz
    Peter Kurilecz
    what you dont realize is that with the TLM we have English/Latin missals so even if you dont know Latin you can follow along in English
    schedule 4 weeks ago
Dominique Watkins
Dominique Watkins
Very beautiful videos !
schedule 4 weeks ago
Theodore Iacobuzio
Theodore Iacobuzio
"Latin mass affects me deeply. Deeply." Bishop Barron asks why. LeBoeuf says, "Because it feels like they're not selling me a car."

Can someone send this to Cupich?
schedule 4 weeks ago
    Peter Kurilecz
    Peter Kurilecz
    better yet send it to F1
    schedule 4 weeks ago
Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
You’d think the Orthodox and Latin (pre Vll) liturgies would have the same resonance for you. I wonder if the difference is that for Catholics the traditional liturgy is not mainstream, it’s extra-ordinary, rediscovered, a bit contrived. Like buying an old car or telephone. The Orthodox liturgy is just the same as it was, ever ancient, ever new - the worship of God down the ages.
schedule 4 weeks ago
Harry Hutchison
Harry Hutchison
In a world of universal deceit led by globalists who are intent on rejecting the lesson of history, the value of tradition, and virtue as they pursue endless revolution, it is breathtaking to hear Iraqi and Syrian refugees bring us back to the sound of eternity.
schedule 4 weeks ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    Once upon a time Latin was the language of globalism-- or at least of Western Christendom. Christianity is inherently a universalizing religion, not something linked to tribe and parentage, unlike its Judaic parent.
    schedule 4 weeks ago
    ROBERT GRANO
    ROBERT GRANO
    Well said. Given the liberal/modern antipathy to tradition as a source of authority, anything anti-traditional should be viewed with suspicion. The questions that should spring immediately to mind are "Who are the ones opposing (Tradition-X), and why?"
    schedule 4 weeks ago
Theresa E Carpinelli
Theresa E Carpinelli
“ This is what happens in every Orthodox Church every Sunday. ”

It also happens in every Eastern Rite Catholic Church every Sunday. For those who aren’t aware, the Catholic Church is made up of both Eastern and Western Rites. There are 23 Eastern Rites (the Byzantine Rite being the largest in the USA, also employs the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrystostom), and the Western (AKA the Latin, or Roman Rite).

So Catholics don’t have to go to an Orthodox Church to experience the transcendent beauty of the ancient Divine Liturgy. They just need to find the nearest Eastern Rite Catholic Church. Sadly, so few Latin Rite Catholics even know that our Catholic Church is much bigger than they think.
schedule 4 weeks ago
    Theodore Iacobuzio
    Theodore Iacobuzio
    We now attend a Byzantine Rite Church.
    schedule 4 weeks ago
      Theresa E Carpinelli
      Theresa E Carpinelli
      Years ago, (maybe 20-25) there was a young, very enthusiastic priest at the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church in my area, who used to give talks, and tours to interested groups. He even explained the Divine Liturgy, and invited people to attend. He just wanted to make more people aware of their existence.

      The Eastern Liturgies, praxis, traditions and spirituality, can seem very foreign (even “off-putting”) to Westerners. But it can also be very attractive and appealing to others. It’s one reason I love the Catholic Church - it literally has something for everyone!

      I’m glad you found your “home” in the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church. God Bless!
      schedule 4 weeks ago
    ROBERT GRANO
    ROBERT GRANO
    I once heard someone say...I can't remember who...that Eastern Catholicism was the worst of both worlds: you're stuck with the Eastern Liturgy AND the Pope. Of course, the person who said this said it in jest, and the funny thing was that he was himself either Orthodox or Eastern Catholic.
    schedule 4 weeks ago