Thanks to a college founded in 1844 by Free Will Baptists, a very Anglican-looking chapel hosted the college’s first ever Catholic Latin Mass on Sept. 24 — a tribute to the college’s historic dedication to religious liberty.
“It’s not only appropriate that the chapel host the old Mass, but it is a matter to be celebrated and rejoiced in that a college which prizes religious liberty would warmly welcome Baptists worshipping in the chapel, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, Orthodox,” Professor of English David Whalen said. “It is a matter of public and universal joy that the chapel is home to all of those things.”
For those unfamiliar, the Roman Catholic Rite has celebrated what is called a Tridentine Mass from 1570 until 1962. The Low Mass, a form of the Tridentine which is mostly inaudible, is celebrated on weekdays. The High Mass, reserved for Sundays, Holy Days of Obligation, and other special feasts throughout the year, is sung and involves more responses from the congregation.
In the Second Vatican Council in 1962, the “novus ordo” Mass replaced the old Mass. The novus ordo Mass is characterized by more participation from the congregation, an emphasis on worship and the relationship between the priest and the congregation, and can be said in the vernacular rather than Latin. There does exist a novus ordo Mass in Latin. It was only in 2007 that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI allowed priests to practice the Latin liturgy in all seven sacraments.
Priest and 2010 Hillsdale graduate Fr. Nathanael Anderson celebrated the first Low Latin Mass in Christ Chapel.
“In a way it’s in conformity with what Hillsdale represents,” he said. “Hillsdale strongly believes in recovering and living our heritage.”
Fr. Anderson approached the Catholic society about coming to Hillsdale and since this semester’s theme is on liturgy, it worked well to have him say a Low Mass.
“The Latin Mass is part of our tradition. It’s something that as a Catholic you can’t hate because it’s part of our tradition,” president of Catholic Society Karl Weisenburger said. “It’s also important to know the novus ordo in context of the Latin Mass and what it used to be.”
Anderson grew up as an evangelical Protestant. Two years after he had graduated from Hillsdale he converted to Catholicism, and it wasn’t long until he felt called to the priesthood.
“One day in confession, [the priest] brought up being a priest to me,” he said. “It hit me pretty hard. I had a desire to become a priest, but I wasn’t sure about it. None of my family was Catholic. It was hard not having a Catholic family or upbringing.”
Anderson said it wasn’t until his parents converted on Easter in 2014 that he had the courage to enter the seminary. Once there, he decided to teach himself how to say the Latin Mass.
“When I converted, I realized that probably no one in my family had been Catholic since 16th century Sweden, and I had a desire to be connected with that tradition,” he said. “As a Catholic you should want to preserve what is old. This is a sacred heritage; we can’t forget about it.”
The difference between the Latin Mass and the novus ordo can be off-putting, but some eventually see the Latin Mass as an escape from their daily lives.
“The primary draw for most people is a sense of the sacred,” Anderson said. “What’s happening here is set apart from what happens in my ordinary life. That kind of jarring difference, after you get over the barrier, can become something very enticing.”
Senior Morgan Morrison attends a Latin Mass back at home. The first Mass he ever attended was a Low Mass.
“My first encounter with Catholicism was a Latin Low Mass during high school. It was dark, silent, and completely breathtaking. There was no mistaking it for some other Christian denomination. This was Catholic,” Morrison said.
Morrison said he is happy that students are seeing the old liturgy.
“I’m really happy that Hillsdale had the chance to experience the Latin Mass, too,” he said. “It requires a different type of participation from the laity than the novus ordo. Following along with the prayers is hard work. You have to concentrate on your missal and the priest. But the result is well worth the effort. You can enter into the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice more fully without distractions.”
Unless weather poses a significant barrier, Whalen has been driving to Jackson to attend a Latin Mass for the 25 years he’s been at Hillsdale. He started going back in his undergraduate days.
“I certainly didn’t know much about the old rite, but what drew me to it was a kind of instinctive recognition of the perfect way the form of the Mass embodied and represented the sacramental reality of the Mass,” Whalen said.
The sacramental reality is “the fact that Christ is becoming completely present in an intimate union with us,” Whalen said.
“That was perfectly represented by that form of Mass. Not because it’s pretty. It’s not an aesthetic attraction or appeal. It’s not historical. My attraction is not nostalgic. I didn’t grow up with the old Mass,” he said. “My attraction is fundamentally sacramental and liturgical.”
Whalen said the reverential posture and movements of the Mass also appeal to him.
“What is distinctive about the old Mass is that the personal individuality of the participants is profoundly suppressed. That strikes some people as really off-putting and alien,” he said. “Some people are attracted to it — to the humanly impersonal nature of the ritual. So that the divine and human personal nature of Christ’s presence is more clearly revealed. We’re getting in the way of the reality of the divine. It’s not about me.”
The Latin Mass is an image of the eternal, for its “fixed and permanent” nature is “meant to point to or symbolically embody the permanence and eternal nature of the church,” Whalen said.
“For a while, going to the old Mass was thought to be something questionable since to be attached to it was thought to be an implied rejection of the new Mass. That sense has largely died out,” he said. “People now regard the old Mass as they would view a beautiful old church. This is a place in which great things can happen. It’s a good in and of itself.”
Whalen was careful to point out that even though he may call it the “old Mass,” it is still something very vibrant.
“I think of it as alive, not a museum piece. It’s not a dead relic we bring out and dust off and say ‘how quaint,’” he said. “It doesn’t participate in time. In that way, too, it’s an image of the eternal.”
The High Mass will take place in Christ Chapel on Oct. 2 at 5 p.m., followed by a talk from Whalen.