For starters, I don't know any Latin. Well, I know a little. By which I mean that I know enough to chant myself through the Tantum Ergo and remember vaguely what each line means. But as far as Latin Masses go, I'm lost, even with the aid of the booklets provided. Additionally, I'm unfamiliar with this form of the Mass; I can attend a Novus Ordo in any language and know what's going on, but at a Latin High Mass, my guess is as good as the guess of a random passerby on the sidewalk outside.
But nonetheless, the experience is one of a deep and reverent pause. Time taken away from the ways of the world and given to something greater than myself; something perhaps confusing, even frustrating, but invigorating all the same.
The exact details of the High Mass are all but foreign to me, but the feelings of uncertainty and frustration in prayer are two things I am fluent in. Just as the high ceilings stretched toward heaven can't help but retain and send back the chants and prayers as echoes against the great stone walls, the heights of my stone heart -- and thus, my prayers -- can only reach so far. My existence is a cracked, old, dusty piece of human desperation; every act of praise and lamentation extends only so far as the steeple of my mind, caught up and trapped in the great hollow ceiling of my thoughts. The walls of my body are covered with scars reminiscent of the Way of the Cross, and the Saints who assist me on my journey take their stationary places inside my world where they keep idle watch over my soul.
I sit and hunger and listen and yearn and close my eyes and try to focus on the things I can't interpret anyway.
And He sings over me. (Zephaniah 3:17)
Just as the priest offers prayers for my soul before the tabernacle in a language I don't know, in a quiet voice which I can't quite hear, God in heaven sings a song especially for love of me. Where my praises are trapped and my heart is stoic and my life and faith a mystery to those outside my walls, God's song for me finds flesh in a tiny wafer of bread; what I try to complicate, God has made simple.
The Catechism says that "Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely." (CCC 102) How true this is, also, of the Mass. This one Word, this singular Utterance of the Father -- Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate -- is himself a language I have yet to understand, but the effectiveness of his grace does not depend on any of my capacities. It depends only on him and his being sung, taking his place in the heart of my heart and resounding through the echo chambers of my failing human condition.
My silent shouts are met here with the eternal whisper which shaped the cosmos. I am made whole without knowing it; new without feeling it. God takes his repose in the uncertain chaos of my being.
And here he remains, singing his inaudible song, echoing silently against the limits I place and the walls I build, proclaiming peace to a heart which only speaks unrest.