For all the almost 25 years of my priesthood I have been privileged to say the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, known more widely as the “Traditional Latin Mass.” And one of the more memorable aspects of that form, remembered even by those who haven’t attended in years, are the prayers at the foot of the altar. Most prominent in those prayers is the recitation of Psalm 42. The key text which gives context to the moment are these lines:

Et introibo ad altare Dei: ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.
And I will go to the altar of God: to God who gives the joy of my youth.

I will not wade in the waters of debate over how best to translate the Latin. The difficulty is rooted in the Hebrew word giyl which usually means joy, but is also used elsewhere (e.g. Daniel 1:10) to refer to youth. The Latin text elaborates both senses into the phrase “who gives joy to my youth” or by extension “who gives my youthful joy.”

I’ll be honest, my youth wasn’t all that joyful. I am happier now than then. God has been good to me and delivered me from many personal trials that originated even in my earliest days.

But that said, there is a great beauty in the line, indeed the whole psalm, which speaks of deliverance. The Psalmist asks himself, “Why are you cast down my soul, why groan within me? Hope in God, I will praise him still! My savior and my God!

And thus as we go to God’s altar, we seek to leave our troubles behind. We go to praise him, to forget our troubles, to lay down our burdens. And, coming now so close to him at his altar, he gives us a youthful joy, a gladness.

To me, the notion of a youthful joy is that of a joy that comes from innocence, from a time before the all to common cynicism and jadedness of this world has reached us. Here is a simple joy, a joy that is in the moment. Here is an innocent joy like that of a youth who, without pretension look wide-eyed at a gift and says, “Wow! Gee! Thanks!” and vigorously and exultantly enjoys it. Yes, a youthful joy, an innocent and unpretentious joy, a simple joy, A Christian son or daughter in the presence of Abba, our loving Father.

Et introibo ad altare Dei: ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.
And I will go to the altar of God: to God who gives the joy of my youth.

I thought of all this as I saw the video below. As it opens, it is clear we are in the autumn of life. A song plays in the background called “The Last Song.” Our focus shifts to an elderly woman who, looking out on the world from her window, casts a whimsical look at the autumn scene. She shuts her window (for the last time).

She is clearly living more now on memories more than the present. A picture of her family from long ago hangs over the mantle and she grabs a photo of her dead husband, looking as he did when she first met and fell in love with him. Yes, her last thoughts are of love.

She sits in her chair and dozes off. Suddenly the radio goes dead, but it is really she who has died. Her final and fading memories, as she clutches the memory of her love are those of her youth, when she was strong and could dance to life’s rhythms.

And then it happens. God gives her the joy of her youth. She awakens, forever young.

Enjoy this beautiful video. It is told in secular terms but its message is of youthful joy, and the endurance of love.

One day, if we die thinking of Love and longing for Him, Our Lord will sing us to sleep and awaken us, forever young.

For now, I will go to the altar of God, to God who gives me youthful joy.

12 Responses

  1. Peter Wolczuk says:

    When I first became active, or became active again, in my faith in my fifties; the longer forms of the mass seemed somewhat tedious and to drag on. Now, as learning and experience fulfill and enrich that faith, the joy which is mentioned early on here, takes me nearer to the source of that mass. Then, time flies by and, as I line up for the Eucharist, there’s a slight disappointment that it’s ending already.
    Like the elderly woman who becomes “forever young” I have experienced the youthful fascination in an infinite lesson which keeps offering more and more of a sort of peaceful passion – as in not frantic searching outside the lesson which dominated most of my adult life.
    I’ve recently heard a wistful seeming popular song about being forever young which seems to seek it in the finite and the worldly yet, I wonder, would it be so wistful if it looked beyond limits and didn’t cling to an early part of growth and, instead, moved along with growth?
    Thank you for helping me focus on this with this post.

  2. RichardC says:

    Amen.

  3. teomatteo says:

    “He confides himself (the priest) to the mercy of God ….who imparts to us uanlterable youth of soul and blissful immortality.”
    This statement accompanies the text in the 1962 missal (alongside the english text). I have read this during the extraordinary form of the mass for many years and after your insightful writing i will be drawn closer to your actions on the altar. Thank you Monsignor Pope.

  4. TeaPot562 says:

    Having been an altarboy in the late 1940s, I easily recall the responses, up through “Adjutorum in nomine Dominini!” answered by “Qui fecit Coelum et terram.” (Our help is in the name of the Lord; Who made Heaven and Earth.”
    Although I much prefer the OF to the EF, a/c the scripture readings in the three-year cycle, I still have fond memories of the other.
    Thanks for the meditation on “the joy of my youth”.
    TeaPot562

  5. Matthew Ogden says:

    I’ve actually found myself that attending Mass in the 1962 Missal has helped me to deepen my understanding and appreciation of Mass in the 1970 Missal. The two complement each other quite well if you know more about what’s going on and give the proper devotion when attending either.

  6. Greg Desme says:

    A little bit of Heaven On Earth, a full sung Latin Mass!

  7. Cece says:

    AMazing video, full of Life and Hope. let’s just all keep our eyes on the Prize of Eternal Salvation. Alleluia!!!!!

  8. Clinton R. says:

    Thank you Monsignor for your devotion to the Mass of all Time. Thanks to Benedict XVI, a new generation is getting to fall in love with the TLM. This beautiful Mass is creating real growth in the Church. Deo Gratias!

  9. Deacon Henry says:

    When I vest I still say the Latin vesting prayers and when I wash my hands I pray; “Lord wash away my iniquities, cleanse me from my sins.”

  10. Cynthia BC says:

    Sometimes in my Lutheran parish we sing a song based on Jeremiah 31, which includes:

    “Young women will dance for joy, and men young and old will make merry…”

    and whenever we do I think *wail* what about middle-aged women…don’t we get to dance for joy or make merry?

    :(

  11. K. Louise says:

    Until that day, we can live thinking of Love and longing for Him. And the older we grow, the closer we are to that day. Middle-agers and old-agers take a look and rejoice. The time draws near when we will see the Face of Love at last, and, as a bonus, it will be impossible for us to sin any more.

  12. Annette Strachan says:

    From Jeremias Chapter 31 in the Douay-Rheims Bible : Catholic Translation of the Bible. 31:13 ‘Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, the young men and the old men together;and I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them joyful after their sorrow’ .. It seems to be for those who are celibate by choice.

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