I first went to traditional Latin Mass when I was a teenager. I remember it feeling cold— both in temperature and in mood. I did not want to go back.
Now, whether it was actually cold or simply unfamiliar I do not know. I do know that, at that time, most of the devout Catholics around me (and including me) believed that lively, focused participation in the Mass was very important. The best kind of participation was to be a lector, an usher, an altar server, or a choir member. But if you could not be any of those things, at least you could sing and say the prayers and feel useful. And why would you not want to feel useful? It seemed odd– the idea that the priest used to stand up there and say the prayers all by himself, back turned away. And those old ladies saying their rosaries during the Mass! What was the point of going if you weren’t going to participate?
I still believed this, to a certain extent, when I had my first child. We had the privilege of taking him to Mass multiple times a week and so he learned the responses very quickly. I was proud of him for participating (and still am!) And I was glad that he didn’t really find Mass boring because he could sing songs he knew and understand a lot of what was going on.
But then we had more kids. And a whirlwind of various events led us to attend more traditional liturgies— both the Latin Mass and the Byzantine and Maronite rites. During that time, I developed a new sense of something I never would have appreciated before. Two weeks in a row, my almost-four-year-old fell asleep at these traditional Masses. In earlier times, I would have thought the idea of my children-over-two falling asleep at Mass as a kind of negative. But it was actually really wonderful. What better place for him to sleep, I realized. On the church pew beside me, with the choirs of angels behind him.
And then I had a greater realization. I could rest too. For the first time, by attending a Mass that seemed to go on endlessly in a language I did not fully speak, but one in which I was not required to fully participate, I felt the freedom to relax.
Now, I do not want to make a theological argument for the traditional rites or a theological argument against the Novus Ordo Mass. We happily attend both! I merely want to point out a phenomenon that completely caught me off guard. I would have thought that traditional rites with their seriousness and length would be the worst place for a bunch of little children. But I had now spent years getting up and out of pews to walk toddlers and calm babies. I had been shushing and rocking and unable to fully concentrate or participate. So I felt like I was not “getting much” out of the Mass. Of course, I knew I was receiving the Eucharist. But I could not pay attention to the homily or to much of anything other than keeping my kids under control. And then I went to the traditional rites where I was told that I did not need to pay attention in that way. I did not need to understand or even hear every single word. I just needed to be in the presence of God and offer Him my heart. And that was a huge relief. And I think it would be for other people too– not just for those with young children, but for anyone who finds it difficult to fully concentrate or participate.
Of course, Latin Mass does take some getting used to. It is longer. And at least one or more of my children always loudly whisper WHY IS THIS MASS SO LONG or I’M SOOOOO HUNGRY!! But after a while they start to settle down. We bring lots of books. And the beautiful music enchants and calms them.
Now, on a practical note, if you are considering trying out a traditional rite, I would recommend going to a “High Mass” and not a “Low Mass.” Low Masses do not have singing. So it’s just lots and lots of silence. I still have not fully gotten used to that and it is a more intimidating endeavor with noisy little kids. But High Masses are full of continuous music. And while there is still sitting and standing and kneeling and some responses, the focus is on the altar, not on the congregation. And that can also be a relief– to not feel like everyone is watching you. Or if they are then they are doing something wrong!
Also, I do not want to give the impression that all traditional rite parishes will always be welcoming to rowdy children. I have been to many churches (traditional rite and Novus Ordo) that enforce cry rooms and I have received stares and glares at various times.
But I think that the trend in most parishes in general is towards embracing the innocent sounds of little children (within reason, of course). And I have been to traditional rite parishes with vibrant, warm communities full of young and old alike. Some of these young and old are more participatory than others. But it doesn’t really matter because, as I now see, it was never so much about us. Being in God’s house is a gift. It does not depend on us as much as it depends on Him. We can be more passive than we think. We can take our time. We can settle down. And we can rest with God, calmed by the sounds of His lullaby.