On the participation of the laity at the Traditional Latin Mass

Occasionally we receive questions from parishioners regarding the sacred liturgy which we would like to address for the benefit of the community. Here’s one question we recently received: 

Question: When I attend the Traditional Latin Mass, I sometimes see priests doing different things. Also, I see the laity doing different bodily postures and responses. Are there rubrics that define what we are supposed to do?

Answer: There are strict rubrics for how a priest celebrates the Tridentine Mass, which must be followed. If you had a different priest every Sunday, all of his postures, gestures, level of voice should be exactly the same. There could be a slight variation, for example, most priests sit down for a sung Gloria, but a priest may choose to stand at the altar. 

The laity’s bodily postures and actions were never regulated. For nearly 2,000 years, and even now, there are no rubrics that govern what the laity do. Whether they stand, sit, kneel, beat their breasts, make the sign of the cross — all of this is up to them. Be mindful that there are local customs. Let’s start with when to stand/kneel/sit. Below is a link that has a nice chart (from Baronius Press) that shows postures at Mass for the laity.

CLICK HERE to download the posture guide

A note regarding the laity’s responses during Holy Mass

The participation of the congregation at the Tridentine Mass is interior, involving eye and heart, and exterior by mouth.

The people present at the Tridentine Mass do not recite out loud the prayers of the Mass. Only the server or servers join with the priest in reciting the prayers at the foot of the altar (which include the Confiteor) and in speaking the other responses. Most of the prayers that the priest says are spoken inaudibly, including almost all the Mass of the Faithful: the offertory prayers, the Canon of the Mass (except for the preface and the final doxology), and (apart from the Agnus Dei) those between the Lord’s Prayer and the post communion.

At a Solemn Mass or Missa Cantata, a choir sings the servers’ responses, except for the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. The choir sings the Introit, the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Gradual, the Tract or Alleluia, the Credo, the Offertory and Communion antiphons, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei. Of these, only the five that form part of the Ordinary of the Mass are usually sung at a Missa Cantata. In addition to the Gregorian Chant music for these, polyphonic compositions exist, some quite elaborate. The priest largely says quietly the words of the chants and then recites other prayers while the choir continues the chant. Also worth noting is during the recitation of the Our Father, the priest will recite the prayer by himself and the laity respond only at the end with sed líbera nos a malo.

If you know the Latin responses and want to say them – say them in a quiet voice to yourself.

The responses below are listed in the order in which they are uttered by the laity during Holy Mass.

At the Collect
– Et cum spíritu tuo.
– Amen.

At the Gospel
– Et cum spíritu tuo.
– Glória tibi, Dómine.

At the Offertory
– Et cum spíritu tuo.

At the Preface
– Amen.
– Et cum spíritu tuo.
– Habémus ad Dóminum.
– Dignum et justum est.

After the Consecration
– Amen.

After the Lord’s Prayer
– Sed líbera nos a malo.
– Amen.
– Et cum spíritu tuo.

Before Communion
– Dómine, non sum dignus… *  (three times)

At the Dismissal
– Et cum spíritu tuo.
– Deo grátias.
– Amen.*

At the Last Gospel
– Et cum spíritu tuo.*
– Glória tibi, Dómine.*
– Deo grátias.

*Spoken, even during Sung Masses.