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Whalen makes the drive to St. Mary Star of the Sea in Jackson, Michigan, which cel­e­brates a high Latin Mass every Sunday. | Facebook

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.