Description of some features of Mass in the extraordinary form


Father Dylan Schrader, pastor of St. Brendan parish in Mexico, will offer Mass in the extraordinary form at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14, in St. Peter Church, 216 Broadway St. in Jefferson City.

The Mass will be sung in Latin, using the ritual form of 1962.

All are welcome to take part in this celebration. Worship aids will be provided.

Fr. Schrader is Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s delegate for Mass in the extraordinary form.

To help the diocese prepare for this celebration, Fr. Schrader has written a series of three articles on the extraordinary liturgical form.

The first, published in the Aug. 10 print edition of The Catholic Missourian and in the online edition, explained the harmony of the ordinary and extraordinary expressions of the Roman Liturgy.

This installment highlights some key features of the extraordinary form in areas such as language, silence and posture.


As we noted in the previous article, the essence of our Catholic faith is unchanging, because our faith is a response to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, Who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

And yet, because Christ gave the Church a universal mission, extending to “all the nations” (Matthew 28:19), the single Catholic faith and sacramental life is expressed through a diversity of liturgical forms and ritual families.

One such ritual family is the “Roman Rite,” by far the most common within the Catholic Church.

The Roman Rite itself includes various forms, all of which express the essence of how the liturgy came to be celebrated in Rome.

The way the extraordinary form (the Mass celebrated as it was prior to the Second Vatican Council) expresses the Roman liturgy can be different from how we experience it in the ordinary form (the Mass celebrated in accord with the revisions following Vatican II).

In this article, we will explore four noteworthy features of the extraordinary form: Latin, silence, posture, and ritual interlacing.



There’s a reason why the extraordinary form is often called “the traditional Latin Mass” or even just “the Latin Mass.”

Although the ordinary form of the Mass can be celebrated in Latin, celebrations in English, Spanish, or other vernacular languages are far more common.

The extraordinary form, in contrast, must always be celebrated in Latin.

Pope St. John XXIII described the Latin language as a “vesture of gold” for the wisdom of the ancient world, including the Christian faith.

He did this in an apostolic constitution called “Veterum sapientia” (“The Wisdom of the Ancients”), which he issued in 1962, the year the Second Vatican Council began.

In this document, St. John XXIII identifies three features of the Latin language that make it especially suitable for Catholics of the Latin Church.

First, it is universal. Using Latin is a concrete sign that the Church is not just the Church of a certain country or a certain race but truly extends to the whole world.

Today, when international or inter-cultural celebrations are becoming more common, the Holy See has continued to encourage the use of Latin to unify mixed-language congregations.

Second, Latin is immutable. In other words, unlike a modern spoken language, it isn’t constantly changing.

This makes Latin suitable for expressing the timeless quality of Catholic faith and worship and allows us to pray in the very same words used by saints over the course of centuries.

Third, Latin is non-vernacular. This means that Latin has become set apart precisely because it is not our ordinary, daily language.

This can give it a noble, even transcendent character that makes Latin especially apt for divine worship.

The Popes after St. John XXIII have continued to uphold the importance of Latin.

For example, Pope St. John Paul II wrote that “the Roman Church has special obligations towards Latin, the splendid language of ancient Rome, and she must manifest them whenever the occasion presents itself” (“Dominicae cenae”).

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant” (Sacramentum caritatis).



Although a sung Mass is filled with sacred music, it is also permeated with sacred silence.

In the ordinary form, we are used to the priest’s praying most of the prayers out loud so that all can hear.

In the extraordinary form, some of the prayers — including the Eucharistic Prayer — are said quietly.

The atmosphere of silence that surrounds the Mass at its most sacred moments recalls the “gentle whisper” in which God spoke to the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:12).

Just as the angels veil their faces in the presence of the divine majesty, at certain moments of the Mass, silence becomes a veil, reminding us that we are in the presence of heavenly mysteries that cannot be described adequately in human speech (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:4).

At other moments, as in the “Gloria” or the Creed, we sing in praise of God.

This dynamic interplay of veiling and unveiling highlights two aspects of our relationship to God. On the one hand, God is totally transcendent, not a part of our world and not within our control.

On the other, He has humbled Himself and is intimately present to us in the details of our lives.



In the extraordinary form, we worship using the various sitting, standing, kneeling postures as in the ordinary form, although at somewhat different times. Much of this depends on local custom.

Another of the most commonly noted features of the extraordinary form is that when the priest is praying to God, he often faces in the same direction as the people instead of facing the people.

Actually, this posture (often called “ad orientem” or “to the east,” after the ancient practice of facing to the east when praying, cf. Ezekiel 43:1–2; Matthew 24:27) is possible in the ordinary form as well, even if it is not as commonly used.

While it may seem as if the priest is “turning his back on the people,” the meaning behind this posture is quite different.

It signifies that the priest is together with the people, on the same side of the altar as they are, and that he is leading them in a single action. The faithful are not spectators but are truly offering the Mass through and with the priest.

The priest’s facing together with the people emphasizes that the Church is not closed in on herself but is on mission.

Just as in a procession everyone faces the same direction because everyone is on a common journey, so too the priest faces the same direction as the people because he is leading them in their approach to God.


Ritual Interlacing

In the ordinary form, most of the ritual actions happen in a single sequence, one thing after another. There are a few exceptions, as when the deacon prepares the chalice while the priest is offering the bread.

In the extraordinary form, however, it is much more common for multiple ceremonial actions to take place simultaneously.

For example, the priest may begin the Eucharistic Prayer while the congregation is still singing the Sanctus.

This kind of “ritual interlacing” may seem confusing for those used to the ordinary form. One way to think about it symbolically is that the congregation, the servers, and the various sacred ministers all have their own parts to play, just as the different organs of a body have their own functions.

These functions are sometimes carried out simultaneously, but they are always for the benefit of the whole body.

We might also think of a musical harmony, where different notes are sounded at the same time to create a beautiful resonance.


These four features (Latin, silence, posture, and ritual interlacing) of the extraordinary form can be confusing or intimidating.

In our next and final article, we will look at some practical ways of participating in the extraordinary form of the Mass, especially for those who are coming for the first time.