Mass Appeal: How the Traditional Mass Engages All Five Senses

January 30, 2016

Back in the nineteenth century Father Frederick Faber famously wrote that the Mass was the “most beautiful thing this side of heaven.” As every Mass is a re-presentation of Calvary, and the altar itself the place where heaven and earth meet, one can understand why Saint Peter Julian Eymard called the Holy Sacrifice the “holiest act of religion.” Understanding all of this to be true, is it any wonder that more of the faithful are seeking a liturgy which seeks to restore a sense of the sacred?

For many, the Traditional Latin Mass is fulfilling just such a need. Rediscovering the manner in which the Church has worshipped for centuries has helped a growing number of Catholics to encounter the Lord more deeply. What many are realizing is just how effectively, and beautifully, the traditional Masses engage our senses. Indeed, it is a Mass for all senses.


The Latin Mass presents a visual which immediately speaks to the true focus of our adoration and worship. As the priest offers the Mass ad orientem (facing the altar or the liturgical east) we immediately recognize that the liturgy is not about us. This is something that simply must be experienced by the faithful to fully appreciate. In the past I have called this a true “game changer”, and it is. There is a significant liturgical catechesis in the simple fact that the priest is facing with the congregation, instead of facing the congregation. Far too many Catholics have experienced anthropocentric masses over the years, liturgies in which priest and faithful seem to focus their gaze upon each other. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the former Secretary for the Congregation for Divine Worship, said that often in the modern liturgy the priest has become a “showman”. As the priest spends much of the Traditional Mass facing the same direction as the faithful, speaking Latin the entire time, there is little confusion as to who he is speaking to.


The use of a liturgical language is another manner in which the traditional Mass effectively engages our senses. Maintaining an aura of mystery and antiquity, the liturgical use of Latin immediately transports the faithful from the secular into the sacred. The familiarity and comfort of the vernacular is left behind as we enter into the Holy Mass.

PM4FiYmHowever, it is also the absence of sound that catches our attention. This becomes most obvious during that most venerable of prayers, the Canon of the Mass. Dating back at least to the sixth century and Pope St. Gregory the Great, the Roman Canon (called Eucharistic Prayer 1 in the New Mass) is spoken nearly inaudibly by the priest. The great nineteenth century Benedictine liturgist Dom Prosper Guéranger describes this silence by stating that the priest “then enters within the cloud” with his voice not being heard again until the “Great Prayer is concluded”. This silence is only interrupted at the moment of consecration by the ringing of sanctus bells, signifying Our Lord’s presence on the Altar.

Many newcomers to the Latin Mass are struck by this absence of sound. Our culture puts a premium on noise. Silence, intentional silence, can be quite jarring at first. However, over time, the faithful learn once again how to use this silence to pray the Mass, instead of simply going to Mass.

Finally, if one is so blessed as to hear a High Mass, they will be treated to some of the most beautiful music ever created. A few years back Archbishop Alexander Sample noted that not all religious music is sacred music, but rather that which possesses three qualities: sanctity, beauty and universality. While seventies Haugen and Haas music, or nineties Praise and Worship songs, might be about God, we can objectively say that they are not sacred music. Liturgical music, true sacred music, is Gregorian chant and polyphony. The liturgical movement of the twentieth century sought to recover this musical heritage of the Church. From canonized popes (St. Pius X) to ecumenical councils (Vatican II), Holy Mother Church has consistently reaffirmed that this music is most appropriate for the Mass.


uScqNplThe use of incense within the Mass communicates to our olfactory receptors that we have entered into the sacred as this is not a scent identified with the hum drum of daily life. We find incense referenced all the way back in sacred scripture by St. John in the Apocalypse as he describes his vision of the heavenly worship, where an Angel holds a golden censer near the altar, upon which stands the lamb. The Church incorporates the use of incense during the Mass to symbolize the smoke of purification and sanctification. Incense is also understood to represent the prayers of the faithful rising to heaven.


Our sense of touch is most fully realized through the frequent posture of kneeling within the ancient rite. Simply put, we kneel more at the old Mass. During a Low Mass the faithful kneel from the prayers at the foot of the altar in the beginning all the way until the reading of the Gospel. During the Creed we also kneel when professing that Christ was incarnated and born of the Virgin Mary. Most notably, the faithful kneel to receive Holy Communion.


The final of the five senses is taste. The reception of Holy Communion, kneeling and on the tongue, fosters a true sense of awareness in the faithful. We are more clearly able to perceive what it is (or more accurately Who it is) we cannot touch. In the Traditional Mass only the consecrated hands of the priest touches Holy Communion. This was the universal practice of the Church for over a thousand years and, now more than ever, speaks to the sacredness of the moment. The children of Holy Mother Church are spiritually nourished by the Bread of Life.

Concluding Thought

This most sublime moment of Holy Communion concludes our walk through the Mass of all senses. Understanding and appreciating that we are indeed both body and spirit, the Traditional Mass engages each of our five senses, thereby drawing us even deeper into the Eucharistic mystery. In the field of education many readily accept that people learn through a variety of senses: some are more visual, some auditory, others more tactile. Stepping outside of the more contentious liturgical skirmishes of recent decades, let us extend that same understanding of communication to the Sacred Liturgy. It is my hope that more faithful Catholics would seek out and avail themselves to the traditional Mass. May the Mass of the Saints lift our spirits toward heaven through the engagement of our senses.

Editor’s Note: It is indeed possible for the Novus Ordo be offered in a reverent and sensory-immersive way. That said, it very easily can be offered in a way that is both irreverent and banal (and unfortunately frequently is). While abuses can occur at any Mass, we would argue that the ancient Mass offers a more consistently transcendent and solemn experience. 

Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.

Brian Williams


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Reader Interactions


  1. Peter Jensen says

    I learned to love God and His Church praying the Tridentine Mass. I grew up being an acolyte and singing in the choir for all kinds of Masses, even the good old Pontifical High Mass. Those Masses were great. They had their place in time, and they probably still serve a purpose, although what it is now escapes me.The theology of Vatican II is solid theology, I believe, and the Novus Ordo Mass properly reflects that theology. We are the people of God. We pray the Mass in a way that recognizes the essential nature of the People of God, while also recognizing the unique role of the priest. Both forms of the Mass are beautiful in their own right (rite?). Both forms can engage all of our senses in a way that lifts our spirit toward God.Personally, all of the Tridentine Massess, both high and low, that I have attended in the past few years are greater attempts at showmanship than the Novus Ordo Masses. In all my years of serving all kinds of Tridentine Masses, I have never seen the displays of ostentatious bowing, chanting, incensing and vestment wearing as goes on at a Tridentine High Mass these days. Who are these people trying to impress. Meanwhile, the faithful are back to their reading their holy cards, praying their rosaries and flipping around their missals trying to keep up. Children are BORED. Choir leaders have more gesticulations than Sister Miriam Joseph ever imagined possible when she led the Marian Choir during Masses, back in the day. Archbishop Sample of Portland in Oregon gave a great homily last year, I think it was, in which he emphasized that we are all in the same Church, and that our unity overshadows the apparent divisions between those who prefer one form of the Mass over the other. I’m sure that you can find that homily on Youtube.

  2. Ifeanyi Edochie says

    Hi Peter, are you saying that the extraordinary form of the mass in itself is ostentatious or that the way it is practiced today, perhaps in your church, is ostentatious? I am not quite sure if your criticism is of the mass in itself or of the way it is practiced in your church. In any case, I would suggest it is wrong to compare the Novus Ordo mass and the Tridentine mass in the way you have. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II gave us the right to now celebrate both essentially at will. The church’s teaching is that these two forms of the mass are allowed for the faithful to choose according to each individual’s spirituality. Stop unduly criticizing the church and the mass. Instead pray for it! That is your calling as a Christian, coming online to church bash is inappropriate.

  3. Chels Joann Stenvert says

    I agree with Ifeanyi.
    Ordinary Mass for me is THE Mass. I resent the way some sections of the Catholic world disparage it and the people who enjoy it. Some go so far as to claim anyone who doesn’t choose the Latin Mass is not Catholic. Talk about narrowing the Church!

  4. Joe says

    Sir,Ifeanyi, who’s being inappropriate here ? It sounds to me that Peter is sharing his own love for the mass. Question, why Ordinary when what was in place for so long had been watered down to a protestant theme with the input from protestants. This article from Peter explains it and Thank you Peter.

  5. J_Bob says

    There is another element I enjoy in the traditional Mass. Besides the Latin, there is the Greek (Kyrie), & the Hosanna, that ties us back to our traditional roots.

    At our 7 AM daily Mass, we sometimes sing the Sanctus & Agnus Die in Latin. Most interesting is how the younger attendees have picked it up.

  6. bill bannon says

    This area is a near occasion of sins of disunity, pride etc. It gets clicks…attention. The magisterium ought to ban this topic from the net. Furtively many are implying their superiority over others. It’s a depressing aspect of Catholicism. I studied Latin for six years. I don’t like it in the Mass. It guarantees daydreaming at Mass by all teens and pre teens…and many blue collar adults.

  7. Ifeanyi Edochie says

    Joe, I think we can both agree that in Peter’s comment is enthusiasm. However, I will go as far as saying it may be misplaced especially if it amounts to criticizing the church teaching and rational on the validity of both forms of the mass. I for one now attend the tridentine mass every Sunday. However, I go to a daily mass parish for convenience which only celebrates the novus ordo mass. I would lying to you if I dont think there are a number of things which are done in my parish that go against even canon law. But I think its another thing for me to come out to the public and begin to criticize my parish even to the point of undermining the magisterium of the church in my posts. There is a specific reason why Our Lady in many of her apparitions warn us not to criticize priests but to pray for them. That/those priest(s) Mr Jensen so articulately criticized has the power to change bread into Christ himself (body, soul and divinity) at mass. There is no greater miracle. You can go to all the apparition sights but none will be as wonderful. Not even the angels, not even our Blessed Mother (the Mother of God) was given that authority by Christ himself. Have you ever sat to think or medidate or have you read about what Our Lady does at mass? What actually happens in the spiritual realm at every mass? Yet, here we are so easily talking about the mortal man whom Christ chose to act in his person. Remember, he still is a man who is prone to mistakes, forgetfulness, mental lapses and a general lack of knowledge. So yes, even I fall prey to criticizing them sometimes but I refuse to equate this to love. No it is a misplaced sense of enthusiasm! I think we as catholics are called to be better.

  8. Susan says

    Ah, gentlemen! You’ve hit on a pet peeve of mine! Look at the words you capitalize, and yet, you do not capitalize Mass? Yes, it is a proper noun. We, as Catholics, know that their is only one Mass, the one time offering of Himself as sacrifice to the Father. The veil of eternity is lifted, Heaven and Earth meet, and we participate in the one, eternal, liturgy. Therefore we have one Mass, one proper noun, one capital “M”!

  9. Victoria Clark says

    “We are more accurately able to perceive what (or Who it is) that we cannot touch.” What? How exactly is it that we can more accurately perceive something we cannot touch? This statement rings of sentiments i often hear expressed that make it appear that “Self-styled ‘traditionalists’ are almost superstitious in their notions about what does and does not constitute reverence and what is and is not sacrilegious.”

    Brian, I note that you are careful not to say that communion on the tongue has been the practice of the church over all time and I commend you for that. Some traditionalists “even go as far as to circulate misleading pamphlets claiming that communion in the hand was not an apostolic custom.” But, the sentiments you express appear to be at least influenced by the idea that communion on the tongue is somehow superior to communion in the hand. Is that your belief?

    We ALL do well to double check our sources lest we are deceived by our own confirmation bias. Its so easy to adopt views that resonate with us and our own experience and ideas. I know this because I did it a lot when I was a Protestant. But, that is not the Catholic way. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote,

    “Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all the the judgement and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.

    Notice the Angelic Doctor does not say “I submit all to the judgment of the Holy Roman Church unless I think she contradicts Tradition”!

    Gentlemen, be careful who you listen to. Quotes taken out of context can be deceiving! The idea that the Eucharist should only be touched by consecrated hands is a canard that has been supported by yanking quotes out of context in a true Protestant fashion. Take a look:

    “One of the most common ‘traditionalist’ quotes against communion in the hand is one that circulates on a pamphlet where they claim that St. Basil the Great said that outside of persecution it was never proper to receive by hand. They cite from his Epistle 93 and obviously have not read the Epistle except to prooftext a single line from the work…
    …It is needless to point out that for anyone in times of persecution to be compelled to take the communion in his own hand without the presence of a priest or minister is not a serious offence, as long custom sanctions this practice from the facts themselves. All the solitaries in the desert, where there is no priest, take the communion themselves, keeping communion at home. And at Alexandria and in Egypt, each one of the laity, for the most part, keeps the communion, at his own house, and participates in it when he likes.
    For when once the priest has completed the offering, and given it, the recipient, participating in it each time as entire, is bound to believe that he properly takes and receives it from the giver.And even in the church, when the priest gives the portion, the recipient takes it with complete power over it, and so lifts it to his lips with his own hand. It has the same validity whether one portion or several portions are received from the priest at the same time.” [2]
    Since St. Basil says the exact opposite of what ‘traditionalists’ try to make him say, he cannot be cited as a witness for their arguments against hand reception. It is also popular for ‘traditionalists’ to quote the directives of local councils which restricted communion by hand to claim “see the early Church discouraged it”.

    -all quotes above are from “The Red Herring of Communion in the Hand” Written by I. Shawn McElhinney and ‘Matt1618

    Brian, the Church has shown great kindness by allowing the Tridentine form of the Liturgy to those who prefer it over the Ordinary Form and your piece shares the beauty of it very well. But too often, I see people elevate their preferences as superior and turning attention to abuses after Vatican II with the implication that getting back to the Tridentine Liturgy is the answer to the abuses. In doing so, I submit that we are failing to ask a question that should be on the lips and in the hearts of all the faithful:

    What was the Holy Spirit’s intent in Vatican II?

    But that is not the question I hear from traditionalists. Instead, they seem to be diverted by a question as old as the one hissed in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say that?” A similar question is posed by those who have set out to prove that the Holy Spirit did not lead the Ecumenical Council. To prove that instead, it was highjacked by masons, communists, liberals and Protestants. Traditionalists seem to prefer to listen to those who dare to rip Pope John Paul II’s quote out of context to redefine the magisterium’s meaning of “pastoral” to incite dissent than to understand what the Holy Spirit was doing in the Council.

    If we want to understand what the Holy Spirit intentions are with the Pauline Liturgy, we must first understand that it is not a modern invention that needs to be scrapped so the Church can get back to the Tridentine Liturgy. The Pauline Liturgy is a RESTORATION of the ancient liturgy.

    “Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium set out with the goal of undertaking (according to its own words) “a general restoration of the liturgy “; therefore any attempt to determine the intentions of the Council must be to examine the Pauline Mass and seek to find the rationale of the Council Fathers. We must look at the Pauline Rite in the manner of a restoration and not as a “fabrication” or else we are doing an injustice to the Council and bearing false witness as to its intentions.” -quote from Appendix A: The Pauline Liturgy: A True Restoration by I. Shawn McElhinney

    Wait, you may say. Didn’t Quo Primum say that the Tridentine Liturgy is to apply “henceforth, now, and forever” and that “this present document cannot be revoked or modified” meaning it can never be changed? No. In perpetuity means that they are to last indefinitely, that no specific date or time is set in advance when this will automatically lapse; Thus it will remain in force until subsequently modified by legitimate authority. -The Pope, The Council and The Mass.

    Just as God had a plan for the Tridentine Liturgy at the time it was introduced, He has a plan for the Pauline Liturgy at this time. For those Catholics who prefer the Tridentine Liturgy, be thankful the Church has shown kindness in allowing it for you! But, I urge you to look beyond your personal preferences and strive to embrace a vision of WHY the Holy Spirit has given us the Pauline Liturgy as the Ordinary Form and WHAT he wants us to do with it. I think you will see a world in need of Jesus Christ and how to reach them and bring them into full communion with His Church. That’s what he did for me. Pax Christi

  10. Jay Lowell says

    Vatican II introduced into the world a new religion. It has it own Popes and it own Religious service. To say that it is Catholic and the Novus Ordo is just an adaption of the Traditional Latin Mass is heresy. The Vatican II cult and it religious service is impotent spiritually. It has produced in it’s fifty plus years division, heresy, and a lost generation of souls that has delighted the followers of Baal. Since it’s inception the “Christian West” has made divorce, homosexuality, euthanasia, adultery, pornography and abortion an acceptable part of modern life. The Third world’s was not spared it’s heresy, the Vatican II church encouraged a mixture of tribal practices and Novus Ordo customs to form part of it’s service. Vatican II popes have entered sanctuaries and prayed with the followers of false religions even to the point of kissing a ‘holy book” of one of these false religions . Anyone who believes they are Catholic and belongs to this cult , is deluding themselves . It would be better that the followers of Vatican II . for their souls sake stay home on Sunday and watch Football.

  11. Angel Falcon says

    Hello Brian,

    Thanks for the lovely article. I just went to my first TLM and I can say, without reservation, that I will only go to it after 25+ years years of Novus Ordo Mass, if I have the opportunity. This is not a slur on the Novus Ordo Mass–since it’s beautiful and THE MASS–but my experience in various local churches is that the congregations are a bit more flippant. It’s not the Mass that was the problem for me, it was the pews. I always got the sense people were bored or didn’t want to be there. Just my bad luck, I guess.

  12. Dennis says

    Summorum Pontificum was and is a great blessing and God reward Pope Benedict for his courage. However to free access to the Old Rite while keeping the Modernists on board he had to resort to subterfuge. Until 1969 there was only one Roman Rite, the one which essentially had been in use since at least the 5th century. From 1967 the commissioners appointed by Paul VI devised a new Roman Rite which they intended to replace the previous one. At no time during the years that followed was there any suggestion of two forms of one Rite. There was the old rite which was effectively and illegally banned from most parts of the Western Church and there was the new rite or novus ordo which was implemented from 1970.
    An unfortunate effect of the novel idea of two forms and one rite is that these, the EF and the OF, being equal under the terms of Summorum Pontificum are of equal value in the sight of God. I cannot believe that a man made liturgy, albeit valid in a minimalist sense, pleases Almighty God and confers the same graces to man as the immemorial liturgy handed down to us from the Apostles and organically grown from the Temple sacrifice to replace the Old Covenant. The Sacrifice of the Mass is the supreme worship of God and man tinkers with it to his peril, as witness the collapse of the Roman Church since 1970.


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