If you are looking for ways to increase attendance at the Traditional Latin Masses offered in your parish, you might consider, as part of your strategy, furnishing Propers at the door each Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.
The Propers on this site began to be produced in November 2009 as part of a larger effort to increase attendance at the Traditional Latin Masses being offered at a particular parish church.
A Latin Mass community grows one person at a time. Each week, at least one person unfamiliar with the Latin Mass may attend because of curiosity, or at the invitation of a friend, or by accident. After that experience, the newcomer may or may not come back again. If she does, the community may grow by one, and if she doesn’t, an opportunity for growth may have been missed. The Propers are intended to remove some potential obstacles to the newcomer’s willingness to return the following week.
A newcomer who does not return may have any number of reasons for not returning. The Propers are intended to address two of them. The first reason is that the Latin Mass is bewildering. Much of the liturgical action takes place in silence. To the extent it does not, it is carried out in a foreign language. There are often two liturgical actions taking place at the same time, particularly at High Masses. Liturgical time itself is reckoned differently, so the Mass is probably observing a different Sunday, perhaps even a different season, than the Masses elsewhere. (“Septuawhatima?”) Newcomers generally do not have hand Missals. For all these reasons, every newcomer can feel hopelessly lost. However, having Propers in hand, prepared in a language which the newcomer knows, can give her a sense of location within the Order of Mass, the beginnings of a mental framework. She will still feel lost, but not hopelessly so, and will realize that it is possible to follow the vetus ordo with a little effort.*
The second reason is that the other people at Mass are more or less intensely focused on what is going on in the Sanctuary. Their demeanor would indicate that they understand what is going on and what is expected of them, but it could also be misinterpreted as a sign that they do not care that the newcomer in their midst is drowning in confusion. This can give rise to feelings of resentment. “I am feeling uncomfortable,” the newcomer may think, “and nobody here seems to notice or care. This is not what I am used to at Mass.” Finding Propers at the door, however, sends a signal to this person that, yes, someone here did think of me, someone here does care enough about me to throw me this lifeline, and maybe all these people are not as indifferent as they seem. Maybe they are focused on something bigger than us; maybe I should figure out what it is and focus on it too.
It is primarily to help this individual that the Propers and this site were created.
In addition to being bewildering, the Latin Mass can also seem somewhat intimidating, especially in comparison with the various ways in which the vernacular Mass is offered in most places. This is because the Latin Mass was patiently crafted under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit over many centuries for the primary purpose of placing us for a brief time at both Calvary and in Heaven simultaneously. No doubt, we would have felt bewildered and intimidated at Calvary, and we will feel bewildered and intimidated as we approach Heaven’s gate and (please God) for at least a while after we are admitted. Considering Who crafted the Latin Mass and why, these feelings are to be expected. As long as one doesn’t let them take over, there is nothing inappropriate about acknowledging them. For those who keep attending the Latin Mass anyway, these feelings soon become manageable. Before long, they give way to affection, because in addition to being bewildering and intimidating, the Latin Mass is also objectively beautiful. Its beauty is latent, discoverable through humble patience.
We praise the divine genius for a liturgy that enlists such an appropriate combination of natural feelings in drawing Calvary forward to our day, and us forward toward the day of our judgment and beyond. If the Latin Mass does end up leading us to feel good, as any liturgy should, then it will be for the only reason for which a pleasant feeling is ultimately worth having, i.e., because even though we deserved Hell, Jesus gave us the hope of Heaven. Would that every Mass reminded us of this.
* Here it is worth remembering that the Mass is not primarily a mental exercise. Certainly no one at Calvary was consulting a book, perhaps realizing subconsciously that the Sacrifice taking place before their eyes did not depend for its effectiveness on their own real-time intellectual comprehension of it. To be sure, it is necessary to read and reflect on Sacred Scripture, but none other than Padre Pio himself is said to have counseled that, at Holy Mass at least, the laity do not need a Missal but would best unite themselves with the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary around the foot of the Cross. That, friends, is what “active participation” of the laity at Mass means, and it can be done on one’s knees, and in spiritual terms it is the only active participation that counts for anything. There may be a thousand lay people at a Mass, but the Priest is the only one there in persona Christi. That is why “No Priest = No Mass.” To believe otherwise would be to believe that the Sacrifice on Calvary does not propitiate God the Father because Mary, the other holy women, and St. John the Beloved were not also physically hanging from crosses. Since we know this is not the case, we know that there never was anything wrong with that little old lady whom we looked down on for praying the Rosary during Mass. She knew why she was there, if we didn’t. She was praying for the Priest, and that God would be pleased with the Offering that he is physically placing, and the offerings that we spiritually ought to be placing, on the Altar.
With gratitude to an anonymous Poor Clare nun.
Does the Devil hate Latin?
Because Latin is inherently divine? No, it’s a human tongue. Because it is intrinsically superior as a language? Maybe not. It is certainly beautiful in its unique way, and there are prayers, hymns and sequences that are only as effective as they are because of the succinct Latin drumbeat in which they are composed (e.g., Lauda Sion Salvatorem, Dies iræ, Victimæ paschali laudes, Corde natus ex parentis), to say nothing of the mind-opening secular works of Cicero, Ovid et al. But modern languages, too, are replete with resources for expressing the breadth of what is in the heart and the mind. On that score, English, with its huge vocabulary and supple grammar, has to be among the most resourceful of all, as the Catholic poet and playwright William Shakespeare would attest. Because of the discipline of mind and temperament that the study of Latin imparts? Perhaps, but some sports can do that, too.
So then, why?
Satan hates Latin because Latin promotes unity, especially the unity of the Church, Christ’s mystical Body. Unity among the members of His Body on earth, yes, but unity also among the past, the present and the future — in fact the whole Communion of Saints. Disunity is what the Devil is all about: he divides, scatters and confuses. His very title means just that (devil, diabolo, from the Greek dia ballein, “to throw apart”), like the old game of “52 pick-up” that children play. As Screwtape might have taught, anything that serves the principle of unity, especially unity of faith (unless it is faith in him and his empty promises), should be resisted, opposed, undermined. Latin does that, or at any rate it did. It promoted the unity of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Faith. And it could again. So therefore… Denigrate it as “dead,” convince people that it is unworthy of attention on that account, paint ugly caricatures of anyone with a fondness for it; do whatever it takes.
As members of secular society, we are willing to put tremendous effort into learning second languages, or requiring our children to learn them, and for the sake of mere commerce and recreation. But we are members of Christ’s Body first, and the unity for which He prayed does not exist where His members do not — because they cannot — worship together. How much more willing we should be, then, to learn, or at least get familiar with, another language for the sake of worshipping as One in “the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the greatest, the most solemn and the most sublime of all those actions which can glorify God” (St. John Vianney).