Searching for Gravitas – How a Muslim Service Brought me Back to the Latin Mass

July 13, 2011

I may be a Latin enthusiast, but that really has no influence on me when I declare that the Latin Mass is one of the treasures of the Catholic Church.

I think the reason I like it so much is that it holds a profound sense of–to use a Latin word–gravitas, that is, a sense of seriousness and substance, of sublimity and otherworldliness.  Just behold the incense, the Latin prayers, the chanting, the kneeling during communion, even the very silence, and you will see that the traditional Latin Rite is imbued with a sense of something greater than ourselves and the world.  It’s something that makes us distinctly aware of Christ’s presence.  It’s an inspiration that we can carry with us even after Mass.

A few months ago, I admit that I was feeling a little disillusioned with Mass (the vernacular Mass of Vatican II), especially in college.  It certainly made me feel warm and fuzzy sometimes, with all the joyful singing and hug-it-out peace-be-with-you’s.  The feeling of being connected in a community gave me emotional highs of belonging and goodwill.  Yet these feelings were temporary.  Feelings of warmth and fuzziness don’t equal feelings of completeness or satisfaction.

It took me a visit to a Muslim service in South Bend to help me realize what was missing.  I was deeply struck by the stern imam, the deeply sincere prayer of submission, the Arabic chanting, even the respectful separation of men and women during worship.  All of it was imbued with a sense of gravitas.  Everyone knew why he or she was there and everyone demonstrated the properly respectful demeanor.  This is the gravitas to be found in the Latin Mass, and it’s something that I wanted.

It’s funny how an Arabic Muslim service helped lead me to the Catholic Latin Mass.

I think the Latin Mass is so essential today because it offers the gravitas that many Catholics yearn for, whether they realize it or not.  In our world of relativism, convenience, temporary emotional highs, and lack of commitment, the Latin Mass offers truth, substance, solidity, sacrifice.  These are the elements that I hope the Third Edition of the Roman Missal will recapture when it comes out on November 27.

No matter what, though, we should always remember the value of the Latin Mass.  Through it, the Catholic Church stands as one of the few institutions that offers gravitas in a world full of fickleness.  No big deal, though; it’s just another reason of why being Catholic matters.