What To Expect At A Latin Mass

sacrifice-4360533Getting Ready for Mass

If you’ve never been to a Latin Mass before, you’ll be surprised at how different – and beautiful – it is. While those who remember this rite refer to the “bells and smells” – you’ll find the Sacrifice of the Mass to be filled with a grandeur and reverence not found in most modern parishes today. Father Faber, a prolific Catholic writer, called it the most beautiful thing this side of heaven.

Before you read further, we invite you to contemplate the image above.  Although we cannot see it, this is truly what occurs during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the same Sacrifice as that which occurred on Calvary, but in an unbloody manner.  If you could see it, would you attend this Event wearing blue jeans? Would you feed your children snacks while it happened? Would you joke and chat with your neighbors right after they received the Body and Blood of the Victim? Do you understand why the Priest is facing the Altar of Sacrifice rather than the people?

Here are a few tips on the culture of the Latin Mass community to make your visit easier and more pleasant and prayerful for you and everyone else who is gathered to worship.

How to Dress.  Long ago, in the pre-conciliar era, there was a phrase: Put on your Sunday best.  That meant, saving your best clothing to wear to Mass. Look around the typical Catholic parish today, and you will see clothing that is quite scandalous by any standard, but more so in consideration of the nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  In a traditional chapel, you will find that there is a dress code: wear your Sunday best.

women20at20latin20mass-5150812For Women and Girls – Keep one phrase in mind: Mary-Like Modesty.  What would Mary, the Mother of Christ wear?

All females – even babies – wear dresses. No slacks. Men’s attire is not appropriate for women. See note Women’s dresses should come down to the bottom of the knee even when seated – and longer is better.  Sleeves should come to the elbow, although some communities are not as strict. Best to err on the side of caution. Dresses and blouses should offer full coverage of the bodice with openings to the front, back and sides only extending two inches. No low cut fronts or deep slits up the back, please. Dresses should not be made of transparent, lacey fabrics or of flesh colored materials.

In short, your dress should conceal, rather than reveal. If you have short sleeves, bring a shawl.

If you’re wearing sandals, pair them with stockings.

Why?  The main focus of Mass is the Holy Sacrifice. Provocative dress can be a distraction for others at Mass, and worse yet, for the Priests.

See Catholic Modesty

olympus-digital-camera-10Cover Your Head.  You’ll have to wear a chapel veil or mantilla. All girls, even at the age of two or three, should wear a head covering.  Some chapels have them available at the back by the door, but we think you’ll be better off with one of your own.  A simple circle of lace will do as a start. Don’t forget a bobby pin to keep it in place. One woman we know, who made an attempt at traditionalism came to Mass wearing a mantilla paired with skin tight jeans and a tee shirt. Don’t make that mistake. Please. Further reading: Wear Your Mantilla With Pride and Mantilla – Sell Out or Sacramental?

Men and Boys should wear shoes – no sneakers or sandals – and a jacket and tie. This applies to boys as well.

How to Act – The Basics:

Shhhh!  You’ll find that loud talking and camaraderie are out of place in the chapel or church. People are there to pray. Save the chit chat for after Mass. The old timers will be happy to welcome you and answer questions you might have – outside before the Mass or afterwards. Latin Mass communities are relatively small and they notice new faces and try to make them feel at home.

No food, drinks or gum, please. Not even for the children. No one is going to die of thirst or starvation during the course of a Mass. It has never happened.

No toys for the little ones either. Bring a nice Catholic children’s book or some laminated holy cards on a key ring for babies.

Missals – If you don’t have one, there is probably a missal leaflet in the back of the Church so you can follow the Mass.

Find Your Place – Do everyone a favor – including yourself – and find a seat toward the back of the chapel. This will allow you to watch what everyone else is doing your first time out. There’s a lot more kneeling at the traditional Mass. By watching others, you’ll be able to participate more fully and appropriately.  Here is a guide to the standing, sitting and kneeling you can expect.

Who comes to the Latin Mass? Just old people?

tongue-6824151You’ll certainly see some older folks at the Latin Mass. But you’ll probably be surprised at how many young families you see. In fact, it’s often the growing families in a parish who crave the Latin Mass most, because they want to raise their children with the beauty and clarity of the traditional Catholic faith. They’re planning to bring many souls into the world and want the best possible environment in which to catechize them!

Keep in mind that when Pope John Paul II encouraged bishops to allow more widespread celebration of the Latin Mass, he did not stipulate that only people born before Vatican II could attend. Rather, he intended to make the Latin Mass available to any Catholic who wanted to enjoy its spiritual fruits.

What happens at Mass?  One of the first things you’ll notice, of course, is that the priest speaks Latin for most of the Mass. But he will repeat the Epistle and Gospel in English so that the congregation can understand them, and he will deliver the sermon in English.  You can easily follow along in a Latin-English missal. The Mass is presented in each language on facing pages with cues for standing, sitting, and kneeling (there’s LOTS of kneeling) and notations of the ringing of the bells in case you lose your place.

priest20faces20altar-5492129You’ll also notice that the priest faces the altar, rather than the people, for most of the Mass. This practice symbolizes the fact that the priest and congregation together are focusing on God rather than on each other as we pointed out with the illustration at the left. This theme will follow throughout the Mass.

If the schola is chanting, you’ll notice that the music is much more serene and prayerful than anything you’ll find in a modern Glory and Praise hymnal. There will be no drums, no guitars, no hand clapping. No one will be dancing. The music is intended as prayer, not entertainment.

high20mass-6172435A low Mass may run a few minutes longer than a Novus Ordo Mass, but you will probably discover that time flies by as you become engrossed in the Divine Mystery. The Mass is a cohesive entity, with no room for innovation, ad-libbing or telling jokes. It’s probably the best chance you’ll have all week to pray deeply to God without distractions.

Isn’t it just the English Mass said in Latin? 

No. The difference between the two is more than just a matter of translation. The new Mass, commonly said in English, uses an entirely re-written missal. To compare, come to a Latin Mass and follow along in one of the red booklet missals you’ll find in the pew. You’ll see that the traditional Latin prayers are richer, fuller, and more beautiful than the prayers most parishes use today. The rubrics (special directions on what to do) of the Latin Mass are also different, calling for much more bowing and genuflecting to show our reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament.


In many modern parishes you’re likely to see men and women (mostly women) bustling in and out of the tabernacle as if they’re getting snacks out of the refrigerator for guests.  At the Latin Mass parish, only the Priest, Deacon or Seminarian will approach the tabernacle. There are no women on the altar.

How will I know what to do?

Few people are fluent in Latin these days, so for some parts of the Mass, you’ll probably have little idea what the priest is saying. If you want to follow along, use a Latin-English booklet missal in the pew. Keep in mind, however, that you don’t need to follow every single word. As the priest prays, you can pray too by meditating on the passion of our Lord. Just be aware of what is happening on the altar and avoid drifting off or praying the rosary.

The congregation at a Latin Mass kneels and genuflects more than you may be accustomed to. If you get confused, just follow along with those around you.

You will also not see any arm flapping – the “orans” position – something that has become popular in many modern parishes, making the laity appear to be concelebrants. There’s no hand-shaking or hugging when the priest says “Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum,” and there’s certainly no hand-holding during the Pater Noster (Our Father).



At times, the priest prays very, very quietly. Because he is facing the altar, you may not be able to hear his words at all. Even if you can’t hear, you can keep track of the parts of the Mass using a booklet missals. But if you attend the Latin Mass often enough, you will learn the parts of the Mass just by watching what the priest is doing. As he prays, you can pray for the Church or for your own intentions, or meditate on the passion of our Lord.


kneeling-2089002At the Latin Mass, we follow the tradition of kneeling and receiving the Eucharist on the tongue, not in the hand. Of course, those who are physically unable to kneel are not required to do so. In general, it is not the custom chew the host. The Precious Blood is not distributed and there are no “extraordinary ministers.”

We hope you enjoy your journey to the Latin Mass.

Be patient with yourself as you learn this ancient way of worship.

And be patient with those who have celebrated the Holy Mass in this way for years.

As much as they will be welcoming an influx of new faces, it will certainly be an adjustment for them, too.

A note:  We recently received an email from a “Sister Kathleen” who was apparently offended by our suggestion that women wear dresses to Mass. She wrote:

Jesus word (sic) a dress as did all the men of his time.  So when did dresses become women’s attire and slacks men’s attire?”

While we don’t think a man in a dress would be welcome at any Mass, the larger point is that the generation who embraced the radical changes resulting from a misinterpretation of Vatican II is very threatened by the Holy Father’s initiative.

Please. Be gentle with them.

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Christine Hirschfeld

I never intended to run a Catholic antiquities and book business. Not in a million years. As a cradle Catholic, I grew up in a house that was filled with Catholic images and sacramentals not to mention an abundance of excellent books provided by family members who worked in publishing houses famous for their Catholic catalogues. The beautiful images and concepts presented in those books certainly had their effect in enhancing my identity as a Catholic. As the years passed, even in the midst of very un-Catholic settings, I became a repository for my friends’ Catholic “found objects.” Eventually, I had a family of my own. We’re a small family. There are just three of us. And two of us were born with the “junk collecting gene.” Garage sales attracted us like a magnet.
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