The Traditional English Mass at Our Lady of the Atonement
in San Antonio, Texas
You've probably heard of the Traditional Latin Mass. That's the unofficial designation for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Unofficially it's also known as the Tridentine Mass or the Vetus Ordo (meaning "Old Order"). Since Pope Benedict XVI 2007 motu proprio entitled Summorum Pontificum, the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) has seen a profound resurgence. With the potential regularisation of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) in the near future, we may even see exponential growth in the years ahead.
Many Catholics are drawn to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) for very good reasons. The language may have appeal to some. After all, Latin is still the official language of the Roman Catholic Church, and besides its beauty, Latin does offer a mystical "separation" between the language of everyday life, and the worship of God. There are many Christians, not just Catholics, who believe that the language we speak in worship should have a higher quality than what is commonly spoken on the street, or in the market. Besides, who can deny the beauty of Gregorian chant in Latin? It's gorgeous! Language, however, is not the primary draw for devotees of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). If you ask the average TLM devotee what draws them to the TLM, very few will say it's Latin. Most will tell you it has more to do with solemnity and reverence. Most will tell you that the form of the liturgy itself directs them to God in a more substantive way. This isn't to say that such people couldn't find these things in a regular vernacular mass, but where in the world will they find such a vernacular mass celebrated with the same liturgical solemnity and reverence? Besides that, there is something to be said about ad orientem worship and receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling, both of which are virtually unheard of in vernacular masses these days.
So you may have heard of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), but have you ever heard of the Traditional English Mass (TEM)? I've included a video of one such mass above. It's a Roman Catholic mass, operating under the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and is extremely traditional in liturgy and practice. The Traditional English Mass (TEM) is an unofficial designation for what is officially called "Divine Worship." Now the Traditional English Mass (or "Divine Worship") is just as the unofficial designation sounds. It's a traditional liturgy, similar to the TLM in form and style, but it's entirely in English. It's not just regular Common English mind you, but Traditional English, like the kind we read in the older translations of the Bible, consisting of second-person singular pronouns like: thee, thou, thy, and thine. Verbs end with "est" and "eth" and so on. Any Catholic who attends a TLM is probably already familiar with the language, since the average TLM missal usually translates the liturgy into Traditional English in the right-hand column. Of course, any English-speaking Catholic has at least a minimal familiarity with it, because it's used for the "Our Father" in the vernacular translation of the regular mass. Most Catholics recite the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, using Traditional English.
Imagine, if you will, a whole mass like that. What would it be like? Well, you need look no further than the video above for a sample. This is the Traditional English Mass (TEM), which is officially called "Divine Worship," and it may be coming to a city near you.
In North America, the Traditional English Mass (TEM) or "Divine Worship" is the official liturgy of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. In the United Kingdom, it's the official liturgy of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. In Australia and Oceania, it's the official liturgy of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. These ordinariates were created by Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus in 2009. They are diocesan-like structures, that apply to specific persons as opposed to territories, hence the name "personal ordinariate." These persons are the members of the ordinariate. It's sort of like a personal prelature, religious order, or military archdiocese.
While only ordinariate parishes can celebrate the Traditional English Mass, unless a regular diocesan parish has special permission to do so, that does not mean the Traditional English Mass is limited to those who are members of these ordinariates. In fact, this liturgy is meant to be a gift to all Catholics. Any Catholic can attend an ordinariate parish to participate in the liturgy, and mass attended in an ordinariate parish meets the Sunday obligation for any Catholic.
So what exactly is the Traditional English Mass (TEM)? True, it does come from the Anglican Patrimony, which Rome has adopted as part of its own, but what exactly is the Anglican Patrimony? There are three aspects of it really; pastoral, customary and liturgical. The pastoral and customary aspects of it are somewhat subjective, and really cannot be explained except by experience. The liturgical aspect of it is easier to define. This is what we're talking about anyway, when it comes to the Traditional English Mass. The liturgy of "Divine Worship" comes to us from two main sources. The first is the Anglican liturgical heritage found in both the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican Missal. The second is the Sarum Use, which is a traditional Catholic (not Anglican but Catholic) liturgy that comes from England, and actually pre-dates the Tridentine liturgy. Yes, elements of the TEM are actually older than the TLM. All of this is translated into Traditional English, which is a systematic method of the English language that better captures second-person singular pronouns, as well as actions (verbs) related to second and third person. Basically, Traditional English is superior to Common English when it comes to translating ancient texts such as the Bible. It's also very useful in liturgy as well. I've written more about Traditional English HERE.
Traditional English serves as a marvellous substitute for Latin when it comes to worship for three reasons. First of all, it is razor-sharp accurate. When it comes to translating Latin texts into English, nothing can be more precise than Traditional English. Secondly, it's prettier and brings out the fullness of our English heritage. Third and finally, it's different. It's not the same as Common English, spoken on the streets and in the market. It offers a mystical "separation" like Latin does between everyday life and the worship of God. It's a step-up, and it's offering God the best our language has to offer.
The Anglican Patrimony is more than just language when it comes to liturgy. It's also about doing things right and proper. This is why the rubrics of the Traditional English Mass (TEM) so closely mirror the rubrics of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). Granted, it's not an exact duplication, and anyone can easily see that upon attending the two liturgies. The Anglican Patrimony has its own unique characteristics that are particular just to itself. That's the way one would expect it. For if it were only an exact duplication of the TLM, except in Traditional English, it really wouldn't be much to talk about.
Culturally speaking, there is much in common between the TEM and the TLM. It is quite typical to see devotees well dressed, with women wearing veils or hats. Communion is often received on the tongue while kneeling, sometimes through method of intinction, and at an altar rail when one is available. The typical demeanour of a TEM devotee is one who takes Catholicism seriously, and attempts to live by the highest Catholic standards. A growing number of young families are finding themselves attracted to the TEM, just like the TLM, and these families are often large. In parishes were brick and mortar schools have not yet been built, homeschooling is commonplace.
The Traditional English Mass (TEM), or "Divine Worship," can make a reasonable alternative to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), or "Extraordinary Form," for any Catholic seeking a more traditional style of Catholic liturgy. Some Catholics might find Traditional English preferable to Latin. Others might be looking for ways to rebuild our Anglo-Celtic culture in a practical and religious way. No matter how you look at it, the Traditional English Mass is here to stay, it's growing, and it's got something to offer for everyone.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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