by Wilson Gavin
Photos by Constance Cdej and Beverly Stevens
My first taste of the Traditional Latin Mass occurred on the 14th of September, 2014, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The Mass was said by a very famous priest, who has now entered into his eternal rest. The place? St Joseph’s parish, Kangaroo Point, Australia.
To sum up a rather overwhelming experience, I wept. The glory of the chant, the quiet figure in magnificent vestments leaning over the altar, the smell of incense wafting gently up to Heaven — all of it touched my soul like nothing else I had ever experienced.
I did not know the responses, and I stumbled badly with the movements, but when Father whispered “Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternum, amen”, and placed the Lord of Hosts on my tongue, I felt something which could only be described as the veil being rent.
From that moment on, I was in love.
Young Catholics & the Latin Mass
The first thing I noticed at St Joseph’s was the profusion of young adults and families, a very different demographic to my usual parish.
In truth, the young Catholics I know are not churchgoers, nor devotees of the Latin Mass. It goes against the traditional (if you’ll forgive the pun) grain of thought; why would a young person not only attend Mass in an incomprehensible language, said according to medieval rites, but love it fiercely?
For me, it was a tremendous surprise to discover that it is the young who are the foremost partisans and defenders of the Latin Mass. They are also the people who keep it alive, through their offerings, service in ministries like the choir and altar service, vocations, and mere presence.
This truly comes as a shock to some people; they cannot comprehend the appeal. Some of the teachers at my Catholic school, particularly the older ones, were aghast at my attendance there. They quoted every misconception about it known to man; it is uninclusive, it fosters clericalism, it is discouraged by the Church, it doesn't allow the active participation of the laity. I find that last point particularly laughable; I have never attended a religious service, of any sect, that inspires more fervour and spiritual engagement among the faithful than the Latin Mass.
In every generation, there is a search for the divine, but in a world which purges it from life completely that search becomes an imperative for anyone who wishes to preserve their sanity.
The banality of the modern world saps the soul of all vigour. Decades of the chatterati assaulting the senses with evil has left people numb. We live in a world saturated with colour and sound. But this is not the delicate tincture of a lapis lazuli, or the sound of a Mozart. The tone of this world is screeching, and the colour is florid.
The Latin Mass, with its otherworldly beauty, is an escape. In a world that is deliberately trying to destroy the past and any memory of it, the Mass of the Ages anchors us to history.
I have always loved history personally, and I find it disheartening when people display their basic historical illiteracy; I compare with sadness the modern world to the so-called “dark ages”. But so long as the Mass is there, it is possible to live in the midst of history itself. The trappings themselves are medieval; the candles, the vestments, saints, the language.
When hearing the Mass, it's easy to forget the light bulbs buzzing overhead, or the cars speeding past outside. When you sit in the silence to contemplate Christ's sacrifice, you realise why it is called the Mass of the Saints; almost every saint who lived before 1960 was baptised, ordained, and buried according to these ancient rites.
But so long as the Mass is there, it is possible to live in the midst of history itself. The trappings themselves are medieval; the candles, the vestments, saints, the language. When hearing the Mass, it's easy to forget the lightbulbs buzzing overhead, or the cars speeding past outside. When you sit in the silence to contemplate Christ's sacrifice, you realise why it is called the Mass of the Saints; almost every saint who lived before 1960 was baptised, ordained, and buried according to these ancient rites.
But its timelessness isn't found in the exteriors, or in the mere accidents of history; it comes in the knowledge that the men who say this Mass descend in an unbroken line from the Apostles, back to Christ Himself. And whilst in Heaven the Eternal Sacrifice is offered in a language we cannot comprehend, it is impossible to doubt that the Sacred reveals itself to us on earth when the priest says the words of consecration. Every Mass said is a miracle, but to me the Latin Mass is the only thing that allows us to have some small glimpse at the truly terrible wonder hidden by the accidents of bread and wine.
Another beauty of the Mass is the chance to encounter those who share your values. Surrounded by clicking rosaries, novenas, and mantillas, it is very hard to feel bashful about your faith.
For the young in particular, it is a gift to be able to go to a place where you can meet those of your own age who share your values, where loyalty to the Church and the Magisterium are taken as a given. For a faithful Catholic doubting their faith — as I was when I first attended the Latin Mass — this Mass and those who attend can show you that you are not alone, that you are not insane.
Stop pandering to young people
And while it is an escape from the modern world and all its terrors, the Latin Mass in no way allows us to be free of our responsibilities. It is a direct challenge to a generation accustomed to a prize for every child, creating a standard for those who have never had to match anything like it.
Young people are sick and tired of being pandered to, of having their every whim offered up to them, and of institutions changing their core character to accommodate them.
I enjoy being given a firm moral code to abide by, and being reprimanded when I fall short of it. I enjoy having a place of sanity to retreat to when the world goes mad. I enjoy the comfortable knowledge of going to Mass in the same pew, every morning, and knowing that while the world shifts and changes, the Cross stands still.
Most importantly, the Latin Mass shows the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in all His glory. He is present on every altar in the world, and worshipped as such. But for Him to be surrounded by gold and incense and crystal, the trappings of Imperial glory, makes His Presence overwhelming.
In a world that has abandoned the divine, the Latin Mass restores flavour to the salt, and lifts the basket from the lamp. That is something to treasure.
WILSON GAVIN is an eighteen year old Australian currently living in Mongolia, where he works as a teacher. After falling away from the Faith at an early age, he returned through the Traditional Latin Mass and the ministry of the Carmelites. He is presently discerning a vocation to the priesthood.