Among the first things my wife and I were exposed to after becoming Catholics is the great liturgical discussion in Catholic circles over two forms of the Mass in the Roman Rite. (Mass is Catholic for “church service” and Roman Rite indicates that it is the largest of the 23 churches in communion with the Pope which is being spoken about.) This friendly discussion can be a hot button issue for some people, and it’s not hard to see why.
For the uninitiated, the most common is the appropriately titled “Ordinary Form” of the Mass. This is also called the Novus Ordo, though this title is favored by people who don’t like it. Often enough, it’s simply “the Mass” as for most Catholics this will be the way they experience Mass. Some of the the things that distinguish it from the “Extraordinary Form” is a greater variety of Scripture readings on a three year reading cycle, use of the local language, more involvement on the part of the congregation and a streamlined format that eliminates some repetition.
The less common format is called “The Extraordinary Form.” This is also known as “the Latin Mass.” It’s the old ordinary form, a format standardized just after the Council of Trent and in use throughout the Catholic world for about 400 years since then, with some small modifications. The Mass is celebrated entirely and exclusively in Latin, (except for the homily or “sermon”) though printed English translations are made available for those who want to read along. The priest faces away from his congregation, and for most of the Mass congregants are meant to be praying along with the Mass rather than actively participating.
After going to both regularly, I can safely say that the two are vastly different experiences. The theology and structure are largely the same, and even much of the content is unchanged. It’s the experience of it that is so very different.
In the Ordinary Form, it’s far easier for newcomers (like my wife and I, and any Protestant guests we may have) to follow along. There’s no language barrier, and everything is far more engaging. It’s easier to understand the Gospels and to appreciate the beautiful synthesis of Scripture and liturgy that makes the backbone of the Mass. Some “traditionalists” or supporters of the Extraordinary Form don’t like it because they’ve experienced an irreverent or “hokey” celebration of it, but my wife and I have only experienced reverent celebrations of the Ordinary Form.
The Extraordinary Form, on the other hand, is something that takes time and significant investment to appreciate. It provides a very reflective, traditional experience and a slower pace. The language barrier underscores the transcendent and timeless feeling of the whole affair. The priest and everyone else is focused on God, with the priest only occasionally addressing the people. It’s not hard to see why some people love this form of worship and find it difficult to adjust to the Ordinary Form.
After experiencing both, I have tried to attend both in a given week. If I had to pick one, it would be the Ordinary Form. I simply find that it serves both the purpose of worship and spiritual education at the same time, in a manner more accessible to me. Having said that, I do very much appreciate the Extraordinary Form, and am teaching myself Latin in order to better understand it. At the heart of both is the Eucharist, where we meet Jesus Christ himself. That makes either form of the Mass worth attending.