The Rise of Latin Mass Youth

Liberal bishops dismissed Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic constitution authorizing wider use of the traditional Latin mass, as a bone thrown to over-the-hill conservatives. But Pope Benedict XVI probably wrote it more for the young than the old.

One of the points he stressed in his letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum was that “what earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred for us too.” He had previously written that the widespread contempt for the old mass—the treatment of it as something “forbidden”—constituted an act of self-mutilation for a religion predicated on tradition.

Among the groups interested in the traditional Latin mass were youth, he noted: “young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction, and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Sacrifice particularly suited to them.”

Left-wing Catholic publications, normally so attentive to the enthusiasms of youth, have taken no interest in this phenomenon. To the extent that they acknowledge it all, they adopt a tone of mocking. A few years back, after thousands of young people flocked to a Pontifical Solemn High Mass held in D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, US Catholic gasped, “Really? Seriously?” It treated the event as a joke.

The secular press covers youth interest in the traditional Latin mass far more respectfully. The Economist recently reported on the “traditionalist avant-garde.” The old mass, it found, isn’t petering out but picking up some speed: “The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, started in 1965, now has over 5,000 members. The weekly number of Latin masses is up from 26 in 2007 to 157 now. In America it is up from 60 in 1991 to 420. At Brompton Oratory, a hotspot of London traditionalism, 440 flock to the main Sunday Latin mass. That is twice the figure for the main English one.”

The influx of conservative Anglicans has bolstered these numbers a bit: “Dozens of Anglican priests have ‘crossed the Tiber’ from the heavily ritualistic ‘smells and bells’ high-church wing; they find a ready welcome among traditionalist Roman Catholics.”

But the principal source of growth comes from youth interest. “Like evangelical Christianity, traditional Catholicism is attracting people who were not even born when the Second Vatican Council tried to rejuvenate the church,” says The Economist. “Traditionalist groups have members in 34 countries, including Hong Kong, South Africa and Belarus. Juventutem, a movement for young Catholics who like the old ways, boasts scores of activists in a dozen countries.”

Self-consciously “relevant” Catholicism is increasingly seen by the young as irrelevant. Youth masses that try to imitate the trends of the world, often lamely, generate only sporadic attendance. Substanceless liturgies leave them bored, and they apparently deduce from the relativistic theology on display at them that the logical terminus of liberal Catholicism is to lapse.

In John Zmirak’s engaging new book, The Bad Catholic’s Guide To the Catechism, he explains the paradoxical appeal of the old mass to the young. At first, he says “he hated it,” but something about it kept him interested: “some sense that you’re peering through a window out of time, seeing through a glass not quite so darkly into another world far realer than our own.”

“You’ll feel a little alienated, maybe even offended,” he writes to the skeptical. “Who is this guy in the shiny robe to turn his back on me and talk to the crucifix instead? You’ll resent the calisthenics, the hopping up and down then falling back on your knees, and you’ll likely find the prayers archaic and strange, like a quote from the Magna Carta….Any traditional rite will be thoroughly off-putting, just like cardio, mathematics, or parenthood. But if you stick with it, you’ll learn to ‘see’ something profound and true: a sacrificial ritual enacting a solemn marriage between the fallen muck of earth and fire falling from heaven.”

The liberal architects of the post-Vatican II period find the traditionalist revival baffling. The Economist quotes liberal Dominican Timothy Radcliffe to the effect that new interest in the old mass is just a form of empty nostalgia. But the explanation is no more complicated than what Jesus Christ told his disciples: the young desire bread, not stones.

This column first appeared January 3, 2013 in and is reprinted with permission.

George Neumayr


George Neumayr is a contributing editor to The American Spectator, and a weekly columnist for Crisis Magazine. He is also co-author (with Phyllis Schlafly) of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.

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  • Just out of curiosity, why hasn’t Mr. Zmirak been posting articles here? It’s been awhile, and I enjoy his work.

  • csb

    My 13 year old son experienced his first Latin Mass on Christmas Day. Although he doesn’t speak/read/understand Latin, it must have touched him. After it was over, he said he preferred it to the “usual Mass” (Novus Ordo).

    • John200

      Good for your son — he discovered, early in life, that Jesus, the Apostles, the Fathers, millions of priests, and billions of other faithful Catholics knew what they were doing.

  • Please check out my new venue: Thanks for asking!

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    This emphasis on the Latin language’s incomprehensibility is sheer nonsense. I was a boy of about 8, attending Latin Mass armed with my St. Joseph missal. I followed along in English and knew exactly where the priest was. The Gospel was always read in English so that was not a problem and other scriptural readings were printed in the missal.

    The Mass was not at all difficult to follow because there were no distractions of kids (and adults) leaving Mass during the consecration to use the toilet (there were no bathrooms to use in Church); no hand holding ‘luv ins’ during the ‘Our Father’; no “Kiss of Peace” pandemonium of waving to your neighbor clear on the other side of the Church; no clapping for the choir, altar servers, and any other special groups; no awards given out; no EMs rushing the altar to play junior priest, etc etc. No, you could actually follow the latin translation, offer your prayers of worship and adoration to the Father for the sacrifice of His Son and know that something very profound had happened.
    And as far as Fr. Radcliffe is concerend, how can these young people be nostalgic about something that was extinguished before they were even born? Please. Father, enjoy your retirement while the Church moves past the nonsense of the last 50 years.

    • John200

      Splendid point, Deacon. Pray to the Father for the sacrifice of His Son; that’s what I came for. I resonate to the liturgical and theological idiocy of these various poorly timed celebrations of the human self.

      I, too, learned enough Latin to have conversations, from the missal and the faith. By this mechanism I came to see that Latin is a key to English, French, Spanish, and Italian. It helps in the hard sciences as well.

      I never took a formal course in Latin. All of it came from a desire to understand and share the faith.

    • Tout

      Thanks.We had the Latin Mass till 1963. In 2011 drove 40 km to a Tridentine(Latin) Mass a few times.Have no car now. I so hope we get Lat.Mass in Guelph,ON. Please, receive the H.Host on tongue. God wants to come in us,not in our unblessed hand. The Pope prefers it. I never received in hand. I give only 25 c on Sundays till we get communion-rail to kneel on to receive. Every church should have crucifix or statue outside; every parishioner says a prayer there at least once a year. Or crucifix against church-wall 2 m above ground; pray there to evangelize. The Mother-house of ‘Fraternity Sacerdotale St.Peter’ (FSSP) in Germany just added 40 rooms for all the new students to priesthood.They do only the Latin Mass, all over the world. Opened their first seminary in America(1985)for the many requests.They always give on tongue and provide a communion-rail to kneel.

    • maurice444

      I am just 14 years old and I am very nostalgic of the old masses with the gregorian and ambrosian chants… I studied Latin in high school for 2.5 years and gotta say that this was a very rich and enourmous experience for me ….. Latin is one of our sacred languages and a must for all intelectuals… besides the mass in Latin brings a sense of higher holiness to the altar…. and that is why I really love it !

  • Odd that you downplay the awesome draw of the Holy Father Benedict XVI Masses in Rome, WYD’s, and anywhere & everywhere he says the Ordinary Forum of Liturgy. He draws people by the millions & particularly youth. As a person who was born in 1935 I can assure just as w/the Extraordinary Liturgies of Eastern Churches ( I was a Eastern Nun for 8 yrs; having both Western and Eastern Catholicism background) the Extraordinary Forum of Latin Liturgy any of these Extraordinary Forums of Liturgy are not ‘better’ than the Ordinary Forum; there are different but the sacramental sacrificial Presence is exactly the same. If you or anyone doesn’t believe that then they really don’t know what the Liturgy is all about.

  • At this month’s March for Life, Latin Mass Youth are invited to meet Juventutem. Two public TLMs will be celebrated at Old St. Mary on Friday, January 25th: Juventutem Michigan has organized the evening Mass, which will be celebrated by Bishop Joseph Perry at 6:00 p.m. After Mass, there will be a nearby dinner for young adults (18-35), clerics, and musicians. Facebook RSVP 165 are going, so far.

    To learn more about the activities of Juventutem Michigan and to donate toward the expenses of its inaugural MfL gathering, please visit Juventutem Michigan – March to November 2012

  • Matt

    I think that there is also another aspect to this that has been left out of the dialogue. Even the liturgy of the Ordinary Form is originally written and can be said and sung in Latin. What the average catholic hears and participates in on Sunday is a translation of the actual liturgy.

    I appreciate and enjoy the Extraordinary form, I love the smells and bells, but I REALLY enjoy the Ordinary Form done in Latin! It gives me a chance to not only learn the Latin, but sing and pray the Latin along with the choir which is really enjoyable!

    At Christendom College (my wife’s alma mater) they celebrate the Ordinary Form in Latin and it is wonderful! I wish more parishes offered that. I think many diocese are hesitant to do it more because they’re unsure of what to expect from their parishioners. But, I have a feeling that most people would enjoy it. Most people already know the Agnus Dei in Latin and learning the Sanctus, Gloria, and Pater Noster to start would not be too much of a learning curve.

    It seems to me to be the best of both worlds… the participatory nature of the Ordinary Form coupled with the tradition, history, and loftiness of the Extraordinary…. I like it!

    • Matt

      ooh and i just remembered…. the priest can even celebrate the Ordinary Form ad orientum, the rubrics never said he had to turn around… I visited an Anglican Ordinariate parish and it was very similar to the Ordinary Form we all know, but they faced ad orientum in their liturgy. Pretty cool.

      • NovusTrad

        In fact, the Latin mass that outdraws the English mass at the Brompton Oratory is the Novus Ordo, in Latin and ad orientam. And not the TLM as the article implies.

  • John O’Neill

    The assault on the Latin liturgy that was the hallmark of Vatican II was an unprecedented attack on the Roman Catholic Church by those who purported to be its members. As a young boy I learned Latin in order to be an altar boy and have loved the Latin mass ever since, however it is not always convenient to find a Latin Tridentine mass. The number of Latin masses has increased quite a bit. I recall in the sixties when the Latin mass was outlawed by the American bishops I joined a group that had to rent motel rooms etc in order to attend a Latin mass said by an orthodox priest. As the sixties progressed the number of people who were attending the brand new Vatican II all English mass plummeted, still the leaders of the American church stepped up their vicious attacks on those faithful who only desired to worship at a traditional mass. Along with the attacks on the Latin mass came the practical abolition of the confessional, the end of the benendiction, the practices of receiving communion at an altar rail etc etc. The American bishops with their cocksure Vatican II credentials still slapped themselves on the back as the American Church continued to collapse. Catholic academics in the socalled Catholic universities added to the pummeling; they turned the once proud and orthodox centers of learning into Americanized Liberal institutions which ushered in the age of unlimited promiscuity, abortion, and sacred homosexuality. Now the American Church is facing complete collapse and a movement that attracts the young to traditional Catholicism is being denigrated by the architects of decline. The Latin Liturgy is more than a preference for a more sacred and meaningful prayer life it is essential. Lex orand, lex credendi.

    • musicacre

      I’m so glad to see the rejuvenation of the Latin Mass in my lifetime, since it was “eradicated” around the time I was a toddler. Interestingly, the American (and others) Bishops NEVER had permission to outlaw the Tridentine Mass. When Pope Paul VI said the “…smoke of Satan has entered the sanctuary..” he knew what he talking about. Not every ordained man has been for Christ, and they will find out the penalty in the next life…

      Just a little interesting thing to think about, if you read some of the deliberations of Vatican II, the not -so-inactive Protestant observers were given huge roles in deciding specifics of Liturgy. ( Read Michael Davies, Liturgical Timebombs) Very shocking.. And apparently some of them insisted on completely dropping the use of “sacrifice”, a concept that drives Christ-haters crazy. They don’t want us to see the Mass as the sacrifice, but just a prayer service!

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  • Cidalia Martins

    It’s definitely not just the older generation that is clamoring for the Traditional Mass. I was born after the introduction of the NO mass, so I’ve never attended a Latin Traditional Mass, but I will be going soon, now that it’s available. I wouldn’t even object to having the Traditional Mass in the vernacular, but keeping everything else the same. It wasn’t simply the introduction of vernacular in the mass that created the spiritual “mess” we now see in the Church. It was the changing of the actual mass.

    Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi. As we Worship, So we Believe, So we Live

  • sticking to the Truth

    The article mentions left wingers ignoring and mocking the youth who attend the TLM in droves…by doing so, the Left wingers have tipped their hand….like every other left winger, they are only interested in a person or group of people as long as the people agree with them or are useful for their agenda. Once the people buck off the leftists’ traces, they become demonized by the left. Left wing “Catholics” are no different than their secular leftist counterparts. Marxism, Alinsky, “spirit of Vatican II” false reforms….all are cut from the same cloth…Satan’s.

  • Joe

    This is wonderful! I am 29 so I am one of those who have recently found and fell in love with the Latin Mass. At first I have to admit, I thought this was something that older folks wanted, but it became quickly obvious that members of my own generation crave the Latin Mass as well. With each passing year it is becoming more and more obvious that the Latin Mass is not going anywhere any time soon. The Masses are growing in number and attendance by people of all ages, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. At this time, I think, we should continue to attend, invite others to attend, demand more of these Masses and we should do all of this with an attitude of love, peace and compassion. Like a mother or father to a young child. We already know that we are the future; I think we can sleep easy on that. Now we must be Christ-like in brining others to it.