According to Roman Catholic Tradition, the Traditional (Pre-Vatican II Roman Missal, "Tridentine") Latin Mass in all its essentials was passed on by St. Peter, the first pope, to the Church. The Apostles themselves, according to St. Ambrose, worked at its elaboration. It reached its complete perfection with Popes St. Damasus (fourth century) and St. Gregory the Great (sixth century). As the great liturgical scholar, Fr. Adrian Fortescue, wrote, this Mass is "the most venerable in all Christendom, with a history of unbroken use far longer than that of any Eastern rite, there being no doubt that the essential parts of the Mass are of Apostolic origin."
When we attend this Mass, we are directly connected with our Lord, with the Apostles themselves, with the saints and martyrs who died for the privilege of attending this Mass, and with all the Catholic faithful from the first century up to the present day. The current pope, John Paul II, has added his voice to those of his predecessors when he decreed: "By virtue of my Apostolic authority, I decree that respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition."
This Mass developed over the centuries into a perfect art form, as well as a method of worship. It has always been known for its beauty, reverence, and mystery. It has inspired authors and poets, saints and sinners, popes and peasants. Within the space of an hour, it can inspire spirituality through the flow of graces otherwise unattainable.
The Mass is a sacrifice, an act by which the Church gives to Almighty God, officially and in the name of all, the worship that is due to Him alone. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus Christ, through the ministry of the priest, offers Himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine. Christ enables us through Himself to adore God in a suitable manner, to thank Him worthily for all His favors, to render Him full satisfaction for sin by the offering of the sacrifice of Calvary, and to address to Him our needs.
For those who have never before participated at a Traditional Latin Mass, the formality and elaborate ritual of this Mass may at first seem unfamiliar. There is an atmosphere of prayer and quiet reverence among the people in the pews as they participate, interiorly, in the Sacred Mysteries. Before Mass silence is kept to show respect for the Real Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, which is reserved in the tabernacle at the center of the altar.
The crucifix above the altar reminds the congregation that the Sacrifice of the Cross and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are one and the same. The lighted candles on the altar symbolize Christ as the Light of the World. The priest and the congregation together face the tabernacle and altar where the Mass is offered.
The Mass is celebrated in Latin, the official language of the Roman Catholic Church, used as a liturgical language in the West since as early as the first century. The unchanging nature of the Latin language has preserved the orthodox doctrine of the Mass handed down from the the Apostles and the early Church Fathers. The congregation uses prayerbooks, called missals, which have the Latin text accompanied by its vernacular translation.
The faithful receive Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling out of reverence. Communion is given only under the species of bread with the words (translated from the Latin): "May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto life everlasting. Amen."
A Mass in which the priest recites the prayers is called a Low Mass. A Mass in which the priest and choir sing parts of the Mass is called a High Mass. The Gregorian chant (plainsong) used at High Mass is the ancient music of the Roman Catholic liturgy, named after Pope St. Gregory I (590-604), who codified the existing chant melodies.