Ten Reasons To Attend The Traditional Latin Mass

Photo courtesy of Saint Ann’s Church and Shrine in Buffalo, New York.

By Peter Kwasniewski & Michael Foley

Given that it can often be less convenient for a person or a family to attend the traditional Latin Mass (and I am thinking not only of obvious issues like the place and the time, but also of the lack of a parish infrastructure and the hostile reactions one can get from friends, family, and even clergy), it is definitely worthwhile to remind ourselves of why we are doing this in the first place. If something is worth doing, then it’s worth persevering in—even at the cost of sacrifices.

This article will set forth a number of reasons why, in spite of all the inconveniences (and even minor persecutions) we have experienced over the years, we and our families love to attend the traditional Latin Mass. Sharing these reasons will, we hope, encourage readers everywhere either to begin attending the usus antiquior or to continue attending if they might be wavering. Indeed, it is our conviction that the sacred liturgy handed down to us by tradition has never been more important in the life of Catholics, as we behold the “pilgrim Church on earth” continue to forget her theology, dilute her message, lose her identity, and bleed her members. By preserving, knowing, following, and loving her ancient liturgy, we do our part to bolster authentic doctrine, proclaim heavenly salvation, regain a full stature, and attract new believers who are searching for unadulterated truth and manifest beauty. By handing down this immense gift in turn, and by inviting to the Mass as many of our friends and our families as we can, we are fulfilling our vocation as followers of the Apostles.

Without further ado, ten reasons:

1. You will be formed in the same way that most of the Saints were formed. If we take a conservative estimate and consider the Roman Mass to have been codified by the reign of Pope St. Gregory the Great (ca. 600) and to have lasted intact until 1970, we are talking about close to 1,400 years of the life of the Church—and that’s most of her history of saints. The prayers, readings, and chants that they heard and pondered will be the ones you hear and ponder. 

For this is the Mass that St. Gregory the Great inherited, developed, and solidified. This is the Mass that St. Thomas Aquinas celebrated, lovingly wrote about, and contributed to (he composed the Mass Propers and Office for the Feast of Corpus Christi). This is the Mass that St. Louis IX, the crusader king of France, attended three times a day. This is the Mass that St. Philip Neri had to distract himself from before he celebrated it because it so easily sent him into ecstasies that lasted for hours. This is the Mass that was first celebrated on the shores of America by Spanish and French missionaries, such as the North American Martyrs. This is the Mass that priests said secretly in England and Ireland during the dark days of persecution, and this is the Mass that Blessed Miguel Pro risked his life to celebrate before being captured and martyred by the Mexican government. This is the Mass that Blessed John Henry Newman said he would celebrate every waking moment of his life if he could. This is the Mass that the Fr. Frederick Faber called “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven.” This is the Mass that Fr. Damien of Molokai celebrated with leprous hands in the church he had built and painted himself. This is the Mass during which St. Edith Stein, who was later to die in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, became completely enraptured. This is the Mass that great artists such as Evelyn Waugh, David Jones, and Graham Greene loved so much that they lamented its loss with sorrow and alarm. This is the Mass so widely respected that even non-Catholics such as Agatha Christie and Iris Murdoch came to its defense in the 1970s. This is the Mass that St. Padre Pio insisted on celebrating until his death in 1968, after the liturgical apparatchiks had begun to mess with the missal (and this was a man who knew a thing or two about the secrets of sanctity). This is the Mass that St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, received permission to continue celebrating in private at the end of his life.

What a glorious cloud of witnesses surrounds the traditional Latin Mass! Their holiness was forged like gold and silver in the furnace of this Mass, and it is an undeserved blessing that we, too, can seek and obtain the same formation. Yes, I can go to the new Mass and know that I am in the presence of God and His saints (and for that I am profoundly grateful), but a concrete historical link to these saints has been severed, as well as a historical link to my own heritage as a Catholic in the Roman rite.

2. What is true for me is even more true for my children. This way of celebrating most deeply forms the minds and hearts of our children in reverence for Almighty God, in the virtues of humility, obedience, and adoring silence. It fills their senses and imaginations with sacred signs and symbols, “mystic ceremonies” (as the Council of Trent puts it). Maria Montessori herself frequently pointed out that small children are very receptive to the language of symbols, often more than adults are, and that they will learn more easily from watching people do a solemn liturgy than from hearing a lot of words with little action. All of this is extremely impressive and gripping for children who are learning their faith, and especially boys who become altar servers.[1]

3. Its universality. The traditional Latin Mass not only provides a visible and unbroken link from the present day to the distant past, it also constitutes an inspiring bond of unity across the globe. Older Catholics often recall how moving it was for them to assist at Mass in a foreign country for the first time and to discover that “the Mass was the same” wherever they went. The experience was, for them, a confirmation of the catholicity of their Catholicism. By contrast, today one is sometimes hard pressed to find “the same Mass” at the same parish on the same weekend. The universality of the traditional Latin Mass, with its umbrella of Latin as a sacred language and its insistence that the priest put aside his own idiosyncratic and cultural preferences and put on the person of Christ, acts as a true Pentecost in which many tongues and tribes come together as one in the Spirit—rather than a new Babel that privileges unshareable identities such as ethnicity or age group and threatens to occlude the “neither Greek nor Jew” principle of the Gospel.

4. You always know what you are getting. The Mass will be focused on the Holy Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. There will be respectful and prayerful silence before, during, and after Mass. There will be only males serving in the sanctuary and only priests and deacons handling the Body of Christ, in accord with nearly 2,000 years of tradition. People will usually be dressed modestly. Music may not always be present (and when present, may not always be perfectly executed), but you will never hear pseudo-pop songs with narcissistic or heretical lyrics.  {And you will never witness a man and a woman dancing a Tango while the Archbishop seated on his throne looks on approvingly, }

Put differently, the traditional form of the Roman rite can never be completely co-opted. Like almost every other good thing this side of the grave, the Latin Mass can be botched, but it can never be abused to the extent that it no longer points to the true God. Chesterton once said that “there is only one thing that can never go past a certain point in its alliance with oppression—and that is orthodoxy. I may, it is true, twist orthodoxy so as partly to justify a tyrant. But I can easily make up a German philosophy to justify him entirely.”[2] The same is true for the traditional Latin Mass. Father Jonathan Robinson, who at the time of writing his book was not a friend of the usus antiquior, nevertheless admitted that “the perennial attraction of the Old Rite is that it provided a transcendental reference, and it did this even when it was misused in various ways.”[3] By contrast, Robinson observes, while the new Mass can be celebrated in a reverent way that directs us to the transcendent, “there is nothing in the rule governing the way the Novus Ordo is to be said that ensures the centrality of the celebration of the Paschal mystery.”[4] In other words, the new Mass can be celebrated validly but in a way that puts such an emphasis on community or sharing a meal that it can amount to “the virtual denial of a Catholic understanding of the Mass.”[5] On the other hand, the indestructibility of the traditional Mass’s inherent meaning is what inspired one commentator to compare it to the old line about the U.S. Navy: “It’s a machine built by geniuses so it can be operated safely by idiots.”[6]

5. It’s the real McCoy. The classical Roman rite has an obvious theocentric and Christocentric orientation, found both in the ad orientem stance of the priest and in the rich texts of the classical Roman Missal itself, which give far greater emphasis to the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice of Our Lord upon the Cross.[7] As Dr. Lauren Pristas has shown, the prayers of the new Missal are often watered-down in their expression of dogma and ascetical doctrine, whereas the prayers of the old Missal are unambiguously and uncompromisingly Catholic.[8] It is the real McCoy, the pure font, not something cobbled together by “experts” for “modern man” and adjusted to his preferences. More and more Catholic pastors and scholars are acknowledging how badly rushed and botched were the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. This has left us with a confusingly messy situation for which the reformed liturgy itself is totally ill-equipped to provide a solution, with its plethora of options, its minimalist rubrics, its vulnerability to manipulative “presiders,” and its manifest discontinuity with at least fourteen centuries of Roman Catholic worship—a discontinuity powerfully displayed in the matter of language, since the old Mass whispers and sings in the Western Church’s holy mother tongue, Latin, while the new Mass has awkwardly mingled itself with the ever-changing vernaculars of the world.

6. A superior calendar for the saints. In liturgical discussions, most ammunition is spent on defending or attacking changes to the Ordinary of the Mass—and understandably so. But one of the most significant differences between the 1962 and 1970 Missals is the calendar. Let’s start with the Sanctoral Cycle, the feast days of the saints. The 1962 calendar is an amazing primer in Church history, especially the history of the early Church, which often gets overlooked today. It is providentially arranged in such a way that certain saints form different “clusters” that accent a particular facet of holiness. The creators of the 1969/1970 general calendar, on the other hand, eliminated or demoted 200 saints, including St. Valentine from St. Valentine’s Day and St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, claiming that he never existed. They also eliminated St. Catherine of Alexandria for the same reason, even though she was one of the saints that St. Joan of Arc saw when God commissioned her to fight the English.[9] The architects of the new calendar often made their decisions on the basis of modern historical scholarship rather than the oral traditions of the Church. Their scholarly criteria call to mind Chesterton’s rejoinder that he would rather trust old wives’ tales than old maids’ facts. “It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history,” G. K. writes. “The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad.”[10]

7. A superior calendar for the seasons. Similarly, the “Temporal Cycle”—Christmastide, Epiphanytide, Septuagesimatide, Eastertide, Time after Pentecost, etc.—is far richer in the 1962 calendar. Thanks to its annual cycle of propers, each Sunday has a distinct flavor to it, and this annual recurrence creates a marker or yardstick that allows the faithful to measure their spiritual progress or decline over the course of their lives. The traditional calendar has ancient observances like Ember Days and Rogation Days that heighten not only our gratitude to God but our appreciation of the goodness of the natural seasons and of the agricultural cycles of the land. The traditional calendar has no such thing as “Ordinary Time” (a most unfortunate phrase, seeing that there cannot be such a thing as “ordinary time” after the Incarnation[11]) but instead has a Time after Epiphany and a Time after Pentecost, thereby extending the meaning of these great feasts like a long afterglow or echo. In company with Christmas and Easter, Pentecost, a feast of no lesser status than they, is celebrated for a full eight days, so that the Church may bask in the warmth and light of the heavenly fire. And the traditional calendar has the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima or “Carnevale,” which begins three weeks before Ash Wednesday and deftly aids in the psychological transition from the joy of Christmastide to the sorrow of Lent. Like most other features of the usus antiquior, the aforementioned aspects of the calendar are extremely ancient and connect us vividly with the Church of the first millennium and even the earliest centuries.

8. A Better Way to the Bible. Many think that the Novus Ordo has a natural advantage over the old Mass because it has a three-year cycle of Sunday readings and a two-year cycle of weekday readings, and longer and more numerous readings at Mass, instead of the ancient one-year cycle, usually consisting of two readings per Mass (Epistle and Gospel). What they overlook is the fact that the architects of the Novus Ordo simultaneously took out most of the biblical allusions that formed the warp and woof of the Ordinary of the Mass, and then parachuted in a plethora of readings with little regard to their congruency with each other. When it comes to biblical readings, the old rite operates on two admirable principles: first, that passages are chosen not for their own sake (to “get through” as much of Scripture as possible) but to illuminate the meaning of the occasion of worship; second, that the emphasis is not on a mere increase of biblical literacy or didactic instruction but on “mystagogy.” In other words, the readings at Mass are not meant to be a glorified Sunday school but an ongoing initiation into the mysteries of the Faith. Their more limited number, brevity, liturgical suitability, and repetition over the course of every year makes them a powerful agent of spiritual formation and preparation for the Eucharistic sacrifice.

9. Reverence for the Most Holy Eucharist. The Ordinary Form of the Mass can, of course, be celebrated with reverence and with only ordained ministers distributing Holy Communion. But let’s be honest: the vast majority of Catholic parishes deploy “extraordinary” lay ministers of Holy Communion, and the vast majority of the faithful will receive Holy Communion in the hand. These two arrangements alone constitute a significant breach in reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. Unlike the priest, lay ministers do not purify their hands or fingers after handling God, thus accumulating and scattering particles of the Real Presence. The same is true of the faithful who receive Communion in the hand; even brief contact with the Host on the palm of one’s hand can leave tiny particles of the consecrated Victim.[12] Think about it: every day, thousands upon thousands of these unintentional acts of desecration of the Blessed Sacrament occur around the world. How patient is the Eucharistic Heart of our Lord! But do we really want to contribute to this desecration? And even if we ourselves receive communion on the tongue at a Novus Ordo Mass, chances are we will still be surrounded by these careless habits—an environment that will either fill us with outrage and sorrow or lead to a settled indifference. These reactions are not helpful in experiencing the peace of Christ’s Real Presence, nor are they an optimal way to raise one’s children in the Faith!



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To genuflect [Latin genu flectere, geniculare (post-classic), to bend the knee; Greek gonu klinein or kamptein] expresses:

  • an attitude
  • a gesture: involving, like prostration, a profession of dependence or helplessness, and therefore very naturally adopted for praying and for worship in general.

“The knee is made flexible by which the offence of the Lord is mitigated, wrath appeased, grace called forth” (St. Ambrose, Hexaem., VI, ix). “By such posture of the body we show forth our humbleness of heart” (Alcuin, De Parasceve). “The bending of the knee is an expression of penitence and sorrow for sins committed” (Rabanus Maurus, De Instit. Cler., II, xli).

An attitude or posture at prayer

To kneel while praying is now usual among Christians. Under the Old Law the practice was otherwise. In the Jewish Church it was the rule to pray standing, except in time of mourning (Scudamore, Notit. Eucharist., 182). Of Anna, the mother of Samuel we read that she said to Heli: “I am that woman who stood before thee here praying to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:26; see also Nehemiah 9:3-5). Of both the Pharisee and the publican it is stated in the parable that they stood to pray, the attitude being emphasized in the case of the former (Luke 18:11, 13). Christ assumes that standing would be the ordinary posture in prayer of those whom He addressed:” And when you shall stand to pray“, etc. (Mark 11:25). “And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues”, etc. (Matthew 6:5). But when the occasion was one of special solemnity, or the petition very urgent, or the prayer made with exceptional fervour, the Jewish suppliant knelt. Besides the many pictorial representations of kneeling prisoners, and the like, left us by ancient art, Genesis 41:43 and Esth., iii, 2 may be quoted to show how universally in the East kneeling was accepted as the proper attitude of suppliants and dependents. Thus Solomon dedicating his temple “kneeling down in the presence of all the multitude of Israel, and lifting up his hands towards Heaven”, etc. (2 Chronicles 6:13; cf. 1 Kings 8:54). Esdras too: “I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands to the Lord my God” (Ezra 9:5); and Daniel: “opening the windows in his upper chamber towards Jerusalem, he knelt down three times a day, and adored, and gave thanks before his God, as he had been accustomed to do before” (Daniel 6:10), illustrate this practice. Of Christ’s great prayer for His disciples and for His Church we are only told that “lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said”, etc. (John 17:1); but of His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani: “kneeling down, he prayed” (Luke 22:41). The lepers, beseeching the Saviour to have mercy on them, kneel (Mark 1:40; cf. 10:17).

Coming to the first Christians, of St. Stephen we read: “And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying”, etc. (Acts 7:59); of the Prince of the Apostles: “Peter kneeling down prayed” (Acts 9:40); of St. Paul: “kneeling down, he prayed with them all” (Acts 20:36; cf. 21:5). It would seem that the kneeling posture for prayer speedily became habitual among the faithful. Of St. James, the brother of the Lord, tradition relates that from his continual kneeling his knees had become callous as those of a camel (Eusebius, Church History II.23; Brev. Rom., 1 May). For St. Paul the expressions “to pray” and “to bow the knee” to God are complementary (cf. Philippians 2:10; Ephesians 3:14, etc.). Tertullian (To Scapula 4) treats kneeling and praying as practically synonymous. And when forgiveness of offences has to be besought, Origen (De Orat., 31) goes so far as to maintain that a kneeling posture is necessary.

It is remarkable that the “orantes” (praying figures) of early Christian art are in the catacomb frescoes invariably depicted as standing with arms extended. Some remarks of Leclercq(Manuel d’Archéologie chrétienne, I, 153 sqq.) suggest that a probable explanation may be found in the view that these “orantes” are merely conventional representations of prayer and of suppliants in the abstract. They are symbols, not pictures of the actual. Now, conventional representations are inspired as a rule in respect of detail, not so much by manners and customs prevalent at the date of their execution, as by an ideal conserved by tradition and at the place and time accepted as fitting. Ancient art has left us examples of pagan as well as of Christian“orantes”. The attitude (standing with arms extended or upraised) is substantially the same in all. This, then, is the attitude symbolical, among the ancients, of prayer.

In reality, however, suppliants have, as a matter of course, very generally knelt. Hence such classical phrases as: “Genu ponere alicui” (Curtius); “Inflexo genu adorare” (Seneca); “Nixi genibus” (Livy); “Genibus minor” (Horace). On the other hand, examples are not wanting of Christians who pray standing. The “Stans in medio carceris, expansis manibus orabat”, which the Church has adopted as her memory of the holy martyr, St. Agatha, is an illustration. And as late as the end of the sixth century, St. Gregory the Great describes St. Benedict as uttering his dying prayer “stans, erectis in coelum manibus” (Dial., II, c. xxxvii). Nor is it unlikely that since standing has always been a posture recognized, and even enjoined, in public and liturgicalprayer, it may have survived well into the Middle Ages as one suitable, at least in some circumstances, for even private devotion. Yet, from the fourth century onwards, to kneel has certainlybeen the rule for private prayer. Eusebius (Vita Constant., IV, xxii) declares kneeling to have been the customary posture of the Emperor Constantine when at his devotions in his oratory. At the end of the century, St. Augustine tells us: “They who pray do with the members of their body that which befits suppliants; they fix their knees, stretch forth their hands, or even prostrate themselves on the ground” (De curâ pro mortuis, v). Even for the ante-Nicene period, the conclusion arrived at by Warren is probably substantially correct: —”The recognized attitude for prayer, liturgically speaking, was standing, but kneeling was early introduced for penitential and perhaps ordinary ferial seasons, and was frequently, though not necessarily, adopted in private prayer” (Liturgy of the ante-Nicene Church, 145)

It is noteworthy that, early in the sixth century, St. Benedict (Reg., c. l) enjoins upon his monks that when absent from choir, and therefore compelled to recite the Divine Office as a private prayer, they should not stand as when in choir, but kneel throughout. That, in our time, the Church accepts kneeling as the more fitting attitude for private prayer is evinced by such rules as the Missal rubric directing that, save for a momentary rising while the Gospel is being read, all present kneel from the beginning to the end of a low Mass; and by the recent decreesrequiring that the celebrant recite kneeling the prayers (though they include collects which, liturgically, postulate a standing posture) prescribed by Leo XIII to be said after Mass it is well, however, to bear in mind that there is no real obligation to kneel during private prayer. Thus, unless conditioned on that particular posture being taken, the indulgence attached to a prayer is gained, whether, while reciting it, one kneel or not (S. Cong. of the Index, 18 Sept., 1862, n. 398). The “Sacrosanctæ”, recited by the clergy after saying the Divine Office, is one of the exceptions. It must be said kneeling, except when illness makes the doing so physically impossible. Turning now to the liturgical prayer of the Christian Church, it is very evident that standing, not kneeling, is the correct posture for those taking part in it. A glance at the attitude of a priest officiating at Mass or Vespers, or using the Roman Ritual, will be sufficient proof. The clergy in attendance also, and even the laity assisting, are, by the rubrics, assumed to be standing. The Canon of the Mass designates them as “circumstantes”. The practice of kneeling during the Consecration was introduced during the Middle Ages, and is in relation with the Elevation which originated in the same period. The rubric directing that while the celebrant and his ministers recite the Psalm “Judica”, and make the Confession, those present who are not prelates should kneel, is a mere reminiscence of the fact that these introductory devotions were originally private prayers of preparation, and therefore outside the liturgy properly so called. It must not, in this connexion escape attention that, in proportion as the faithful have ceased to follow the liturgy, replacing its formulæ by private devotions, the standing attitude has fallen more and more into disuse among them. In our own time it is quite usual for the congregation at a high Mass to stand for the Gospel and Creed; and, at all other times either to remain seated (when this is permitted) or to kneel. There are, nevertheless, certain liturgical prayers to kneel during which is obligatory, the reason being that kneeling is the posture especially appropriate to the supplications of penitents, and is a characteristic attitude of humble entreaty in general. Hence, litanies are chanted, kneeling, unless (which in ancient times was deemed even more fitting) they can be gone through by a procession of mourners. So, too, public penitents knelt during such portions of the liturgy as they were allowed to assist at. The modern practice of Solemn Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for public adoration has naturally led to more frequent and more continuous kneeling in church than formerly. Thus, at a Benediction service it is obligatory to kneel from beginning to end of the function, except during the chant of the Te Deum and like hymns of Praise.

It has been remarked that penitents knelt during public prayer, the rest of the faithful standing. A corollary easily drawn from this was that in Lent and other penitential seasons, when all Christians without distinction professed themselves to be “penitents”, the whole congregation should kneel during the celebration of the Divine Mysteries and during other liturgical prayers. This has given occasion to the Missal rubric, requiring the clergy and by implication the laity, to kneel in Lent, on vigils, ember-days, etc., while the celebrant recites the collects and post-communions of the Mass, and during the whole of the Canon, that is, from the Sanctus to the Agnus Dei. In early times an attempt was made to insist yet more emphatically on the character of penitents as that most befitting ordinary Christians. A practice crept in of posing in church as penitents, that is, of kneeling, on all days alike. It was a principle akin to that which deemed it a great virtue to fast even on Sundays and feast days. In both cases the exaggeration was condemned and severely repressed. In the twentieth canon of the Council of Nicæa (A.D.325) the fathers lay down (the canon, though passed over by Rufinus, is undoubtedly genuine): —

Because there are some who kneel on the Lord’s Day and in the days of Pentecost [the fifty days between Easter and Whit-Sunday]: that all things may be uniformly performed in every parish or diocese, it seems good to the Holy Synod that the prayers [tas euchas] be by all made to God, standing.

The canon thus forbids kneeling on Sundays; but (and this is carefully to be noted) does not enjoin kneeling on other days. The distinction indicated of days and seasons is very probably of Apostolic origin. Tertullian, long before Nicæa, had declared kneeling on the Lord’s Day to be nefas (De Cor. Mil., c. iii). See also pseudo-Justin (Quæst. et Resp. ad Orthodox., Q. 115); Clement of Alexandria (Stromata VII); Peter of Alexandria (can. xv); with others. For post-Nicene times, see St. Hilary (Prolog. in Psalm.); St. Jerome (Dial. contra Lucif., c. iv); St. Epiphanius (Expos. Fidei, 22 and 24); St. Basil (On the Holy Spirit 27); St. Maximus (Hom. iii, De Pentec.); etc. Note, however, with Hefele (Councils, II, ii, sect. 42) that St. Paul is expressly stated to have prayed kneeling, during paschal time (Acts 20:36; 21:5). Moreover St. Augustine, more than fifty years after the Council of Nicæa, writes: “Ut autem stantes in illis diebus et omnibus dominicis oremus utrum ubique servetur nescio” (i.e. but I do not know whether there is still observed everywhere the custom of standing, whilst praying, on those days and on all Sundays). Ep. cxix ad Januar. By canon law (II Decretal., bk., IX, ch. ii) the prohibition to kneel is extended to all principal festivals, but it is limited to public prayer, “nisi aliquis ex devotione illud facere velit in secreto”, i.e. (unless anyone, from devotion, should wish to do that in private). In any case, to have the right to stand during public prayer was looked upon as a sort of privilege — an “immunitas” (Tertullian, loc. cit.).

On the other hand, to be degraded into the class of the “genuflectentes”, or “prostrati”, who (Fourth Council of Carthage, can. lxxxii) were obliged to kneel during public services even on Sundays and in paschal time, was deemed a severe punishment. St. Basil calls kneeling the lesser penance (metanoia mikra) as opposed to prostration, the greater penance (metanoia megale). Standing, on the contrary, was the attitude of praise and thanksgiving. St. Augustine (loc. cit.) considers it to signify joy, and therefore to be the fitting posture for the weekly commemoration by Christians of the Lord’s Resurrection, on the first day of the week (See also Cassian, Cobb., XXI). Hence, on all days alike, the faithful stood during the chant of psalms, hymns, and canticles, and more particularly during the solemn Eucharistic or Thanksgiving prayer (our Preface) preliminary to the Consecration in the Divine Mysteries. The diaconalinvitation (Stomen kalos, k.t.l.; orthoi; Arab. Urthi; Armen. Orthi) is frequent at this point of the liturgy. Nor have we any grounds for believing, against the tradition of the Roman Church, that during the Canon of the Mass the faithful knelt on weekdays, and stood only on Sundays and in paschal time. It is far more likely that the kneeling was limited to Lent and other seasons of penance. What precisely were the prayers which the Fathers of Nicæa had in view when insisting on the distinction of days is not at once evident. In our time the decree is observed to the letter in regard to the Salve Regina or other antiphon to Our Lady with which the Divine Office is concluded, and also in the recitation of the Angelus. But both these devotions are of comparatively recent origin. The term prayer (euche) used at Nicæa, has in this connection always been taken in its strict signification as meaning supplication (Probst, Drei ersten Jahrhund., I, art. 2, ch. xlix). The diaconal litany, general in the East, in which all conditions of men are prayed for, preparatory to the offering of the Holy Sacrifice, comes under this head. And in fact in the Clementine Liturgy (Brightman, 9; Funk, Didascalia, 489) there is a rubric enjoining that the deacon, before beginning the litany, invite all to kneel down, and terminate by bidding all to rise up again. It remains however unexplained why the exception for Sundays and paschal time is not expressly recalled. In the Western or Roman Rite, traces of a distinction of days still exist. For instance at the end of the Complin of Holy Saturday there is the rubric: “Et non flectuntur genua toto tempore Paschali”, which is the Nicene rule to the letter. The decree has likewise (though lightly varied in wording) been incorporated into the canon law of the Church (Dist. iii, De consecrat., c. x). It may be added that, both in the East and in the West, certainextensions of the exemption from the penitential practice of kneeling appear to have been gradually insisted upon. “The 29th Arabic Canon of Nicæa extends the rule of not kneeling, but only bending forward, to all great festivals of Our Lord” (Bright, Canons of Nicæa, 86). Consult Mansi, xiv, 89, for a similar modification made by the Third Council of Tours, A.D. 813. See also the c. Quoniam (II Decretal., bk. 9, c. 2) cited above.

To fix with some precision the import of the Nicene canon, as it was understood and reduced to practice by the ancients, the supplications, to which the name “bidding prayers” has sometimes been given, merit careful notice. They are the Western analogues of the Eastern diaconal litanies, and recur with great frequency in the old Gallican and Mozarabic uses. In their full form they seem peculiar to the Roman Rite. The officiating bishop or priest invites the faithful present, who are supposed to be standing, to pray for some intention which he specifies. Thereupon, the deacon in attendance subjoins: “Flectamus genua” (Let us kneel down). He is obeyed. Anciently a pause more or less long, spent by each one in private and silent prayer, ensued. This ended at a sign given by the celebrant, or for him by some inferior minister, who, turning to the people with the word “levate”, bade them stand up again. They having done so, the celebrant summed up, as it were, or collected their silent petitions in a short prayer, hence called a collect. “Cum is gui orationem collecturus est e terra surrexerit, omnes pariter surgunt” (Cassian, Instit., II, vii). The stress put in the early Church upon the due performance of this ceremonial explains why, before receiving baptism, a catechumen was required to rehearse it publicly. He is standing before the bishop who addresses him: “Ora, electe, fiecte genua, et dic Pater noster”. This is the “Oremus, flectamus genua” of the liturgy. The direction to say the Lord’s Prayer in preference to any other, or at least previously to any other, is very natural. A glance at the Roman liturgical books will show what other preces were usually added — Kyrie eleison (repeated several times) and certain Psalm verses concluding, as a rule, with “Domine exaudi orationem meam. Et clamor meus ad te veniat” (Psalm 101:1). Then the catechumen is told: “Leva, comple orationem tuam, et dic Amen“. The words of the prayer in which the officiating priest will collect his supplications and those of the rest of the faithful are omitted, as it is only the catechumen’s part in the common prayer which is being dealt with. The catechumen rises and says “Amen”. This is gone through three times and the catechumenhaving shown that he has learned how to comport himself during the “oratio fidelium” of the liturgy in which he will henceforth take part, the baptismal ceremony is proceeded with (See Roman Ritual, De Baptismo Adultorum; and Van der Stappen, IV, Q. cxvii).

Of silent kneeling prayer the characteristic example is the group of prayers for all conditions of men in our Good Friday liturgy. They have retained the name “Orationes solemnes” (usual prayers) because, in primitive ages, gone through in every public Mass. They are the Latin “Oratio Fidelium”, and their place in the daily liturgy is still marked by the “Oremus” invitation at the Offertory (Duchesne, Origines du culte chrétien, ch. vi, art. 5). The same form of prayer obtains at ordinations and in some few other rites. But it has long since been shorn of its most striking feature. The faithful are indeed bidden to kneel down; but straightway follows the order to stand up again, the impressive pause being suppressed. Again, nowadays, the object of the prayer is mostly no longer announced. The single word “Oremus’ uttered by the celebrant is followed immediately by “Flectamus genua”, with its momentary genuflexion, “Levate”, and the collect (see, in the Roman Missal, the ember-day Masses, etc.). The learned Bishop Van der Stappen (Sacra Liturg., II, Q. lxv) is of opinion that anciently on all days alike, there was a pause for silent prayer after every “Oremus” introducing a collect; and that on Sundays and other non-penitential days this same silent prayer was made by all standing and with hands raised to Heaven. The invitation Flectamus genua merely reminded the faithful that the day was one of those on which, by the custom of the Church, they had to pray kneeling. The rubricsfor the Pentecost ember-days which occur in paschal time, and that prefixed to the last collect in the blessing of candles on the feast of the Purification, strengthen this view. Another instance of kneeling prayer (probably replaced by one said standing, on Sundays and in paschal time) is that of the benedictions or short collects which, in early ages, it was usual to add after the recitation of each psalm, in public, and often in private, worship. The short prayers called “absolutions” in the Office of Matins are a survival of this discipline. (For a complete set of these prayers see Mozarabic Breviary in P.L., LXXXV. These collects were said kneeling, or at least were preceded by a brief prayer gone through in that attitude. They are probably the “genuflectiones”, the multiplicity of which in the daily life of some of the earlier saints astonishes us (see for instance the Life of St. Patrick in the Roman Breviary, 17 March). The kneeling posture is that at present enjoined for the receiving of the sacraments, or at least confirmation, Holy Eucharist, penance and Holy orders. Certain exceptions, however, seem to show that this was not always the case. Thus, the supreme pontiff, when solemnly celebrating, receives Holy Communion in both kinds, seated; and, remaining seated, administers it to his deacons who are standing. In like manner, should a cardinal who is only a priest or deacon be elected pope; he is ordained priest (if he has not yet taken the step) and consecrated bishop, while sitting on his faldstool before the altar. It seems reasonable to suppose that at the Last Supper the Apostles were seated round the table when Christ gave them His sacred Body and Blood. That, in the early Church, the faithful stood when receiving into their hands the consecrated particle can hardly be questioned. Cardinal Bona indeed (Rer. Liturg., H, xvii, 8) hesitates somewhat as to Roman usage; but declares that in regard to the East there can be no doubt whatever. He inclines moreover to the view that at the outset the same practice obtained in the West (cf. Bingham, XVI, v). St. Dionysius of Alexandria, writing to one of the popes of his time, speaks emphatically of “one who has stood by the table and has extended his hand to receive the HolyFood” (Eusebius, Church History VII.9). The custom of placing the Sacred Particle in the mouth, rather than in the hand of the communicant, dates in Rome from the sixth, and in Gaul from the ninth century (Van der Stappen, IV, 227; cf. St. Gregory, Dial., I, III, c. iii). The change of attitude in the communicant may perhaps have come about nearly simultaneously with this. Greater reverence was being insisted upon; and if it be true that in some places each communicant mounted the altar-steps, and took for himself a portion of the consecrated Eucharist(Clem. Alex., Stromata I.1) some reform was sorely needed.

A gesture of reverence

This is peculiar to the Roman Rite, and consists in the momentary bending of one or both knees so as to touch the earth. Genuflecting, understood in this sense, has now almost everywhere in the Western Church been substituted for the profound bowing down of head and body that formerly obtained, and that is still maintained in the East as the supreme act of liturgicalreverence. It is laid down by modern authorities that a genuflexion includes every sort of inclination, so that any bowing while kneeling is, as a rule, superfluous (Martinucci, Man. Sacr. Cærem., I, i, nn. 5 and 6). There are certain exceptions, however, to this rule, in the liturgical cultus of the Blessed Sacrament. The practice of genuflecting has no claim to antiquity of origin. It appears to have been introduced and gradually to have spread in the West during the later Middle Ages, and scarcely to have been generally looked upon as obligatory before the end of the fifteenth century. The older Roman Missals make no mention of it. Father Thurston gives A.D. 1502 as the date of the formal and semi-official recognition of these genuflexions. Even after it became usual to raise the consecrated Host and Chalice for the adoration of the Faithful after the Consecration, it was long before the priest’s preceding and following genuflexions were insisted upon (see Thurston in “The Month”, Oct., 1897). The genuflexions now indicated at such words as “Et incarnatus est”, “Et Verbum caro factum est”, and the like, are likewise of comparatively recent introduction, though in some cases they replace a prostration that was usual, in ancient times, when the same sacred words were solemnly uttered (see, for instance, in regard to the “Et incarnatus”, the curious passage in the work of Radulphus Tongrensis (De can. observ.). The Carthusian custom of bending the knee, yet so as not to touch the ground, is curious; and has interest from the historical point of view as testifying to the reluctance formerly felt by many to the modern practice of genuflecting. See also the Decree of the S. Cong. of Rites (n. 3402) of 7 July, 1876, insisting that women as well as men must genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament. The simple bending of the knee, unlike prostration, cannot be traced to sources outside Christian worship. Thus, the pagan and classical gesture of adoration consisted in the standing before the being or thing to be worshipped, in putting the right hand to the mouth (ad ora), and in turning the body to the right. The act of falling down, or prostration, was introduced in Rome when the Cæsars brought from the East the Oriental customof worshipping the emperors in this manner as gods. “Caium Cæsarem adorari ut deum constituit cum reversus ex Syria non aliter adire ausus esset quam capite velato circumvertensque se, deinde procumbens” (Suet., Vit., ii). The liturgical rules for genuflecting are now very definite.

  1. All genuflect (bending both knees) when adoring the Blessed Sacrament unveiled, as at Expositions.
  2. All genuflect (bending the right knee only) when doing reverence to the Blessed Sacrament, enclosed in the Tabernacle, or lying upon the corporal during the Mass. Mass-servers are not to genuflect, save when the Blessed Sacrament is at the altar where Mass is being said (cf. Wapelhorst, infra). The same honour is paid to a relic of the True Cross when exposed for public veneration.
  3. The clergy in liturgical functions genuflect on one knee to the cross over the high altar, and likewise in passing before the bishop of the diocese when he presides at a ceremony. From these genuflexions, however, an officiating priest, as also all prelates, canons, etc., are dispensed, bowing of the head and shoulders being substituted for the genuflexion.
  4. On Good Friday, after the ceremony of the Adoration of the Cross, and until Holy Saturday, all, clergy and laity alike, genuflect in passing before the unveiled cross upon the high altar.



Similar points could be made about the distracting “Sign of Peace[13]; or female lectors and EMHCs, who, apart from constituting an utter break with tradition, can be clad in clothing of questionable modesty; or the almost universal custom of loud chitchat before and after Mass; or the ad-libbing and optionizing of the priest. These and so many other characteristics of the Novus Ordo as it is all too often celebrated are all, singly and collectively, signs of a lack of faith in the Real Presence, signs of an anthropocentric, horizontal self-celebration of the community.

This point should be emphasized: it is especially harmfulfor children to witness, again and again, the shocking lack of reverence with which Our Lord and God is treated in the awesome Sacrament of His Love, as pew after pew of Catholics automatically go up to receive a gift they generally treat with casual and even bored indifference. We believe the Eucharist is really our Savior, our King, our Judge—but then promptly act in a way that says we are handling regular (though symbolic) food and drink, which explains why so many Catholics seem to have a Protestant view of what is going on at Mass. This unfortunate situation will not end until the pre-Vatican II norms regarding the sacred Host are made mandatory for all liturgical ministers, which is not likely anytime soon. The safe haven of refuge is, once again, the traditional Latin Mass, where sanity and sanctity prevail.

10. When all is said and done, it’s the Mystery of Faith. Many of the reasons for persevering in and supporting the traditional Latin Mass, in spite of all the trouble the devil manages to stir up for us, can be summarized in one word: MYSTERY. What St. Paul calls musterion and what the Latin liturgical tradition designates by the names mysterium and sacramentum are far from being marginal concepts in Christianity. God’s dramatic self-disclosure to us, throughout history and most of all in the Person of Jesus Christ, is a mystery in the highest sense of the term: it is the revelation of a Reality that is utterly intelligible yet always ineluctable, ever luminous yet blinding in its luminosity. It is fitting that the liturgical celebrations that bring us into contact with our very God should bear the stamp of His eternal and infinite mysteriousness, His marvelous transcendence, His overwhelming holiness, His disarming intimacy, His gentle yet penetrating silence. The traditional form of the Roman rite surely bears this stamp. Its ceremonies, its language, its ad orientem posture, and its ethereal music are not obscurantist but perfectly intelligible while at the same time instilling a sense of the unknown, even the fearful and thrilling. By fostering a sense of the sacred, the old Mass preserves intact the mystery of Faith.[14]

In sum, the classical Roman Rite is an ambassador of tradition, a midwife for the interior man, a lifelong tutor in the faith, a school of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication, an absolutely reliable rock of stability on which we can confidently build our spiritual lives.

As the movement for the restoration of the Church’s sacred liturgy is growing and gaining momentum, now is not a time for discouragement or second thoughts; it is a time for a joyful and serene embrace of all the treasures our Church has in store for us, in spite of the shortsightedness of some of her current pastors and the ignorance (usually not their own fault) of many of the faithful. This is a renewal that must happen if the Church is to survive the coming perils. Would that the Lord could count on us to be ready to lead the way, to hold up the “catholic and orthodox faith”! Would that we might respond to His graces as He leads us back to the immense riches of the Tradition that He, in His loving-kindness, gave to the Church, His Bride!

It is no time to flag or grow weary, but to put our shoulders to the wheel, our hand to the plough. Why should we deprive ourselves of the light and peace and joy of what is more beautiful, more transcendent, more sacred, more sanctifying, and more obviously Catholic? Innumerable blessings await us when, in the midst of an unprecedented crisis of identity in the Church today, we live out our Catholic faith in total fidelity and with the ardent dedication of the Elizabethan martyrs who were willing to do and to suffer anything rather than be parted from the Mass they had grown to cherish more than life itself. Yes, we will be called upon to make sacrifices—accepting an inconvenient time or a less-than-satisfactory venue, humbly bearing with misunderstanding and even rejection from our loved ones—but we know that sacrifices for the sake of a greater good are the very pith and marrow of charity.

We have given ten reasons for attending the traditional Latin Mass. There are many more that could be given, and each person will have his or her own. What we know for sure is that the Church needs her Mass, we need this Mass, and, in a strange sort of way that bestows on us an unmerited privilege, the Mass needs us. Let us hold fast to it, that we may cleave all the more to Christ our King, our Savior, our All.



[1] See “Helping Children Enter into the Traditional Latin Mass” (Part 1, Part 2); “Ex ore infantium: Children and the Traditional Latin Mass” (here).

[2] Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 132.

[3] Jonathan Robinson, The Mass and Modernity (Ignatius Press, 2005), 307.

[4] Ibid., 311, italics added.

[5] Ibid., 311.

[6] The same author, John Zmirak (who is sound on this issue), continues: “The old liturgy was crafted by saints, and can be said by schlubs without risk of sacrilege. The new rite was patched together by bureaucrats, and should only be safely celebrated by the saintly.” John Zmirak, “All Your Church Are Belong to Us.

[7] As documented in Peter Kwasniewski, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2014), ch. 6, “Offspring of Arius in the Holy of Holies.”

[8] See, among Lauren Pristas’s many fine studies, her book Collects of the Roman Missal: A Comparative Study of the Sundays in Proper Seasons Before and After the Second Vatican Council (London: T&T Clark, 2013).

[9] Fortunately, acknowledging that this was a mistake, Pope John Paul II restored St. Catherine to the Novus Ordo calendar twenty years later, but what about all the other saints who got axed?

[10] Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 53.

[11] See, among the many who argue for this point, Fr. Richard Cipolla, “Epiphany and the Unordinariness of Liturgical Time.”

[12] See Father X, “Losing Fragments with Communion in the Hand,” The Latin Mass Magazine (Fall 2009), 27-29.

[13] The Novus Ordo “Sign of Peace” has almost nothing to do with the dignified manner in which the “Pax” is given at a Solemn High Mass, where it is abundantly clear that the peace in question is a spiritual endowment emanating from the Lamb of God slain upon the altar and gently spreading out through the sacred ministers until it rests on the lowliest ministers who represent the people

[14] For centuries, going all the way back to the early Church (and even, says St. Thomas Aquinas, to the Apostles), the priest has always said “Mysterium Fidei” in the midst of the consecration of the chalice. He was referring specifically to the irruption or inbreaking of God into our midst in this unfathomable Sacrament.


Originally published on July 9, 2015.

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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. jeanforsini says:

    It is in the Dominican order’s habit to bow rather than genuflex. A pope didn’t that and ordered them to genuflex. In response, they genuflexed… then bowed.

    On Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 5:15 PM, ABYSSUS ABYSSUM INVOCAT / DEEP CALLS TO DEEP wrote:

    > abyssum posted: “K CATHOLIC LIFE FEATURED LITURGY Ten Reasons To Attend > The Traditional Latin Mass Peter Kwasniewski September 14, 2017 > OnePeterFive [ Emphasis and {Commentary} in red type by Abyssum ] Photo > courtesy of Saint Ann’s Church and Shrine in ” >

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