In this series of articles, we explore the ways in which you can start a Traditional Latin Mass in your city, how you can overcome obstacles, and provide resources you can use to further your cause.
N ORDER to successfully establish a regularly scheduled Traditional Latin Mass, there are a number of important obstacles which you must overcome. Acknowledging that this is not an exhaustive list, these are, nonetheless, critical sticking points. De-mystifying those sticking points can help you make a plan for getting past them. Fortunately, when I asked an expert of my acquaintance about a matter related to this one, they additionally volunteered a lot of very useful information! Pulling together one or two Latin Masses is not the same as having a Latin Mass every Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation. There is a lot about a newly started Mass that puts it on shaky ground, but perhaps by addressing the points below you will be able to attain some security in the matter. 1
Here are some questions to ask yourself about your nascent Latin Mass. If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, then you will know where you need to focus your attention, resources and energy.
(1) Do we have a well-trained priest?
You already know that the lack of trained clergy would be a serious obstacle. But let me make this point anyway: a priest should be well-trained, not just “giving it a go”. If they are just trying their best after watching some YouTube videos (and yes, that happens—I’ve seen it with my own eyes), you run the risk that the Mass will not be validly celebrated and the Eucharist will not be validly consecrated. No matter how willing a priest is, they do require legitimate training in how to celebrate the EF Mass.
If you know a priest who is willing, but has not been trained, there are a variety of options you can look into. Some groups opt to send their priests to training seminars to learn. The FSSP runs a 5-day training workshop, but there are other various training camps around the country as well (which the Google machine will reveal to you if you ask it). You can also opt for the more affordable and convenient option, which is to contact Alex Begin from EWTN’s Extraordinary Faith. He will fly out to your city and spend a couple of days training your priest(s), free of charge. That includes all training materials!
(2) Do we have trained support personnel?
In order to start you will need at least enough people at the onset who are willing to put time and effort into being trained before the Mass goes public. Ideally, these volunteers will be reliable and show up regularly. You will need to have someone who can help set up and take down the altar properly. You will also need a core group of altar boys and choristers if you plan on having a Missa Cantata rather than a Low Mass. Some groups opt to start with a Low Mass, which requires a lot less, and then work your way up to a Missa Cantata. This will buy you time to train your volunteers. The down side of this option is that if you are trying to draw in more people, a Low Mass can be difficult to follow for someone coming from the Novus Ordo for the first time. The outward signs of what is going on are a lot more subtle, and there is a far more silence than is typically found in a Novus Ordo Mass. A Missa Cantata, on the other hand, has the added benefit of Gregorian chant and more movement from the altar boys to focus a newcomer’s attention. Sometimes, these externals are actually quite beneficial in drawing in people from the Novus Ordo so they come to be interested in understanding what is happening on the altar. This is just my personal opinion, others may disagree about whether a Missa Cantata is more engaging than a Low Mass.
(3) Do we have enough people to justify having a regularly scheduled TLM?
The pastor needs to know that there are enough people to start a Latin Mass up and keep it going. There isn’t really a set number I can give you, but the more people, the better off you will be. Ultimately, it will be up to the pastor to decide if there are enough interested people to warrant it. So invite and promote as much as you possibly can. Word of mouth and personally issued invitations to your various circles of friends will be the most effective. You can also ask some young adults in your local parish youth group to talk up the TLM to the youth and invite them. All you really need is one really good Latin Mass “mole” to come into a Novus Ordo youth group and plant the seed. The youth are naturally inquisitive about tradition and will run with it. Start up a social media page, and start posting information about upcoming Masses. In other words, do everything you can to get the word out and to get people to attend. Here is an idea—perhaps one way of encouraging people to attend at first would be to make it on First Fridays.
(4) Do we have a stable amount of people attending our TLM?
If people are not showing up consistently, dropping in only occasionally (or don’t show up at all when they said they would), then the numbers will diminish beyond the point of viability. The initial enthusiasm can be followed by a slow decline until it dwindles down to just a few regular attendees. It’s important to keep the momentum going. If, when you begin, you form a coalition of core people who are deeply committed to getting this going, you can delegate the work of calling people up and reminding them about upcoming Masses. Be creative and do what you can to keep people coming. Although we are currently dealing with the constraints of Covid, if we were in non-Covid times, I would say that fellowship and community would be key to keeping people coming. Adding a social element like donuts and coffee or a potluck can be a draw especially with homeschooling families who are always looking for opportunities to see their friends. Why not have a special Mass to coincide with Valentine’s Day and then have cupcakes and a Valentine exchange? Or perhaps for the Feast of All Saints you can sponsor an All Saints’ Day party and the kids can dress up as their favorite saint. These kinds of opportunities for learning our faith, and truly living it, are a big draw to Catholic families, and not just the homeschooling ones.
(5) Are we flexible with Mass times?
The reality of trying to start up a new Mass is that you are not going to get the premium time slots. If you insist upon certain time slots or refuse to bend on scheduling changes, you will very quickly bring your fledgling TLM to a grinding halt. Don’t do it! The truth is that you might get several Masses in at the same time each week (or each month), but then there will suddenly be changes to that time due to parish issues or priest availability. It happens. The question is, how will your group handle it? You must be extremely flexible with the scheduling of your TLM, and roll with the punches. If you don’t bend, you will break.
(6) Do we have the money to support ourselves?
No one likes to talk about money, but financial stability is going to be important. Does your group have money to contribute to their host parish? You have to be able to at least “turn the lights on”, and I don’t mean just paying for the electricity. Parishes often require staff to be present to unlock the doors, turn on the lights, and help you find things. If you’re in a place that is very hot in the summers, you have to help cover the cost of the air conditioning. If you cannot or will not support the parish, there will be no reason to justify opening the doors, much less making a commitment to having the TLM on a regular basis. At first, it will come down to individual families to make whatever contributions they can. But as your group becomes more and more stable, you might want to consider creating a nonprofit organization Latin Mass Society to allow you to accept tax-deductible donations so that you can directly support your Latin Mass. I will address this idea further in another post in this series of articles.
(7) Ready to Tackle Infighting?
ET ME REMIND YOU that the promise of beauty, reverence and the focus on God that is often found in the Traditional Latin Mass will draw in the hateful attention of the devil. He will do whatever he can to sow division and conflict among your group. I do not say this so that you will be afraid to start a Latin Mass—you shouldn’t avoid starting something worthy because you fear Old Scratch. Christ is triumphant, the battle has already been won for us. But, there can be a lot of trouble caused along the way if you let it. And if Satan can turn you against each other, he will handily have his way in preventing the Traditional Latin Mass from forming in your community by provoking infighting among the organizers.
In the very, very early days of our Latin Mass here in Las Vegas, before the first Latin Mass was even off the ground, an internal conflict among the group nearly threatened to destroy the entire thing. We were gearing up for our very first Low Mass while the training of servers and singers was underway to move towards a Missa Cantata.
A gentleman (let’s call him Alex) who was very knowledgeable about Gregorian chant was forming the choir to serve the Missa Cantata. Among the various Mass organizers there were two especially key people (let’s call them George and William), who had generously opened up their wallets for vestments, altar cards and the 1962 missal, and gave freely of their time to organize. They exerted every effort to get it off the ground. George had even started a local chapter of Una Voce, and he was the one who wrote the letter to formally request the Latin Mass from a pastor of his acquaintance. But trouble soon began to brew. In one of their organizing e-mails either George or William (I don’t recall now which one of them), referred to the Novus Ordo as the “so-called Mass”. Alex, our choir director, took great issue with that, and replied with an passionate defense of the Novus Ordo. In whatever way the exchange progressed from there, it must not have been pretty, because Alex quit. No more choir director for a Missa Cantata. George and William also suddenly disappeared without so much as a whisper. No more key organizers. George returned the missal he ordered. No one knew where the vestments they had ordered were. Everything was in chaos. Two weeks had gone by before the rest of us realized that something was gravely amiss because neither of them said a word, they just simply disappeared. So we lost valuable time that we needed in order to prepare. We were just a couple of weeks away from the first ever TLM, and our all key people were gone. Good one, Satan, good one.
Alex could not be persuaded to return. George and William, whom we contacted when we realized they had stopped communicating entirely, were extremely angry, and could not be persuaded to return either. They didn’t want to talk about what had occurred and said that they were “made to leave”. I don’t entirely know the full details of what transpired between them to make them all scatter like that, but I do know about the disagreement that started it, and it was enough to put our TLM in serious jeopardy.
Somehow, by the grace of God, the first ever Low Mass in Las Vegas still went on as planned, on February 6, 2009. By Divine Providence, the rest of the organizers were able to finish preparing everything needed in time to make it happen. I still marvel about that. Today, we are a still-growing Latin Mass community with a regular Sunday Missa Cantata, Holy Days of Obligation, and even weekday Low Masses thanks to a truly wonderful priest who does everything he can for us. It has been 12 years in the making, and God was with us every step of the way, making up for our shortcomings and weaknesses.
The takeaway should be this: If you are not on your guard against the possibility of infighting among your organizers, it can be your undoing. Some people are so desperate to get things going that they can be pushy or aggressive. They want it so badly that they act rashly when something doesn’t go the way they had hoped. Some people are set in their ways and think that there is only one way of doing things. Check your pride and ego at the door. Pray the Litany of Humility. Pray the rosary. Fast. Use everything in your spiritual arsenal that you possibly can. And let God do the rest.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 It is interesting to note that, according to my informed source, these sticking points actually apply not just to the Latin Mass but to any new Masses in another language (Vietnamese, Polish, Spanish, etc.). Although you may fear that discrimination against the Latin Mass, in and of itself, is the problem, in truth it has more to do with the factors listed above.