Latin is the official language of the Church, and has been used in the liturgy since at least the 3rd century. At Vatican II, the Church declared that the use of Latin was to be preserved in the Mass. Why? First, it highlights the sacred nature of the Mass when we use a special language in the sanctuary, rather that the common tongue of society and the marketplace. Second, it ensures that the prayers of the Mass are safeguarded for all time when they are recited in Latin, a “dead” language whose words never change in meaning. Third, it fosters a unity of belief among Catholics everywhere when a single language is used to celebrate the Mass, crossing nations and nationalities. Fourth, it allows us to pray as our forefathers have prayed, forming a continuum of prayer from generation to generation.
The best way for you to follow along with the Mass is to use the Red Missalettes provided at each entrance of the church. All the prayers are given in Latin and English. You’ll find that the prayers themselves are beautifully composed—they lift the heart and mind to God. As you are becoming familiar with the Mass, instead of reading every prayer, you may find it easier to simply watch, listen, and unite yourself interiorly to the actions of the priest at the altar.
Why doesn’t the priest face us?
In the Traditional Latin Mass, the priest serves as Mediator between God and man, leading the congregation in prayer as he offers the Holy Sacrifice to God the Father. We all face “liturgical east,” where the sun rises and from whence Christ will return at His Second Coming, according to traditional belief. Over the centuries, the east has come to symbolize Christ Himself—the center of our existence, just as the sun is the source of life in the natural order. Praying toward the east has been the custom of the Church for at least a thousand years. You will notice that the priest does turn to face us whenever he is speaking to us—for instance, during the sermon when he preaches to us, before several prayers of the Mass when he says, “Dominus vobiscum” (“The Lord be with you”), and at the end of Mass when he blesses us. At other times, he faces east and addresses God.