AJ: Holy smokes! That’s a lot of differences!
CB: But wait, there’s more! The priest prays the Our Father alone, except for the last line, which is said by the congregation. The readings will be different, and there are generally two rather than three: a gospel, preceded typically by an epistle from St. Paul. The sacrifice is always offered using the Roman canon. The canon is said silently, and there is more silence in general. The proper chants (introit, offertory, communion) are always sung or recited. There is no responsorial psalm; in its place is (usually) a gradual. After the Confiteor and saying “May almightyGod be merciful to you…”, the priest says an additional prayer, “May the almighty and merciful Lord grant us pardon…”, and gives a blessing. During the creed, one always kneels at the “And became incarnate…” There are certainly more differences, but I’m afraid I’m not allowed to bore you.
AJ: Ha! Do I respond to any of the things the priest says? How will I know what to say or what to do and when to do it?
CB: You’ll likely be lost the first time, and that’s okay. As Venerable Pius XII wrote in Mediator Dei, “the chief element of divine worship must be interior.” Just try to follow the gestures of those around you. Many churches that offer the traditional Mass will provide some sort of aid to those new to this form; the most ubiquitous is the “red booklet”, which contains the ordinary prayers in Latin and English on facing pages. Proper prayers will usually be on an inserted paper. Or, you can bring your own missal to follow along with. Many parishes will have introductory classes from time to time, so check the parish bulletin. It is praiseworthy to follow along with the texts, and that should be your long-term goal, but don’t sweat it your first few times.
At sung Masses the choir makes the responses to the priest’s prayers; in some places the congregation makes the responses as well, and this is to be commended. At low Masses, however, only the servers respond to the priest.
AJ: Wait. What’s a low Mass? Is there a high Mass?
CB: Well, the fullest form of the Mass (excepting those said by bishops) is a Solemn Mass. In this form, the priest is assisted by a deacon and a subdeacon, and both the ordinary and propers are chanted. Incense is used, and there are typically a number of servers. The ministers exchange the kiss of peace, and the Asperges, a sprinkling rite, are sung on Sundays.
Next in solemnity to the Solemn Mass is the Missa Cantata, or sung Mass. There is neither deacon nor subdeacon, but both the ordinary and propers are chanted. Incense is typically used, and there are still a decent number of servers. The Asperges are sung on Sundays. The experience is much like being at a Solemn Mass; both are sometimes referred to as high Mass.
A low Mass is much quieter than Solemn or sung Masses. The ordinary and propers are not chanted, but only recited. There is neither deacon nor subdeacon. Incense is not typically used, and there are fewer servers. There are no Asperges.
AJ: Which Mass—low or high—should I try first?
CB: You should go to a sung Mass. Just immerse yourself in the music, and follow along as best you can, but focus more on what the choir is doing than on what the priest is. If the choir is singing Gregorian chant, you can sit and meditate on the words of the psalm and really pray the Mass. It takes work to participate actively in the Tridentine Mass, but if you put the time and effort in, it will be worth it.
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AJ: Will I stick out like a sore thumb if I’ve never been before?
CB: I would expect that people will pay more attention to the Mass than to you. But, if you don’t want to stick out, dress nicely, and do your best to follow those around you.
AJ: Do I have to wear a veil (for women)? Where can I find one?
CB: It is not required by ecclesiastical law. Many women choose to cover their heads, but some do not. If you wish to, without getting a veil of your own, there are often veils at the back for those who haven’t one with them. Veils by Lily is a good place to buy a veil. Hats are an option, too, of course. And nothing’s stopping you from veiling at the Novus Ordo, while we’re at it.
AJ: What should I bring with me to Mass?
CB: A contrite and humbled heart, and an open mind. If you have a 1962 hand Missal, bring it, but don’t feel you need to at first.