Sunday, 25 November 2007
Good News from The Washington Post
Latin Makes a Comeback
Young Catholics Are Leading a Resurgence of the Traditional Mass
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 24, 2007; page B09
Parts of it are 1,500 years old, it's difficult to understand, and
it's even more challenging to watch. And it's catching on among young
It's the traditional Latin Mass, a formal worship service that is
making a comeback after more than 40 years of moldering in the
In September, Pope Benedict XVI relaxed restrictions on celebrating
Latin Mass, frequently called the Tridentine Mass, citing "a new and
renewed" interest in the ancient Latin liturgy, especially among
Spoken or sung entirely in sometimes inaudible Latin by priests who
face the altar instead of the congregation, it is a radical departure
for most Catholics, who grew up attending a more informal Mass
celebrated in their native tongue.
"It's the opposite of the cacophony that comes with the [modern]
Mass," said Ken Wolfe, 34, a federal government worker who goes to up
to four Latin Masses a week in the Washington area. "There's no
guitars and handshaking and breaks in the Mass where people talk to
each other. It's a very serious liturgy."
And it is a hit with younger priests and their parishioners.
Attendance at the Sunday noon Mass at St. John the Beloved in McLean
has doubled to 400 people since it began celebrating in Latin. Most
of the worshipers are under 40, said the Rev. Franklyn McAfee.
Younger parishioners "are more reflective," McAfee said. "They want
something uplifting when they go to church. They don't want something
they can get outside."
For some, the popularity of the service represents the gap between
older Catholics, who grew up in the more liberal, post- Vatican II
era, and their younger counterparts, who say they feel like they
missed out on the tradition that was jettisoned in the move to
Although Chris Paulitz's parents never questioned the switch to the
"new" Mass, Paulitz and his wife, Diane, only attend Latin Masses.
After each such service, "you feel like you've learned something and
you've grown a bit," said Chris, 32, in an interview after a recent
Mass at St. Rita's Church in Alexandria .
Priests, musicians and laypeople are snapping up how-to videos and
books, signing up for workshops and viewing online tutorials with
step-by-step instructions on the elaborately choreographed liturgy.
For example, the rubrics dictate that a priest must hold together the
thumb and index finger of each hand for much of the Canon of the
Mass, the central part of the liturgy that culminates with the
consecration of bread and wine.
"I knew there would be some interest, but I didn't know how quickly
it would spread and how really deep the interest was," said the Rev.
Scott Haynes, a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago who started a
Web site in August offering instructions in celebrating the Mass.
So far, the Web site, http://www.sanctami ssa.org , has received 1
million hits, Haynes said, adding that he receives several hundred
e-mails a day from fans of the service. "I was surprised by how many
people have latched on to this," he said.
Portions of the Tridentine Mass date back to the sixth century, but
it was standardized at the Council of Trent in 1570 -- hence the name
Tridentine. It was largely supplanted by the reforms of the Second
Vatican Council in the 1960s, which modernized the Mass liturgy and
translated it into modern languages.
The modern Mass, or Novus Ordo, can be said in Latin, but it is a
radically different service from the Tridentine Mass. Until
September, when the pope issued his Motu Proprio allowing greater
freedom in celebrating the Tridentine Mass, priests who wanted to
celebrate it needed special permission from their bishop, and it was
celebrated at only a few churches in the Washington area.
In the Diocese of Arlington , where the bishop and priests are
considered more conservative than in Washington, the number of
churches where the service is celebrated has increased from two to
seven since the Motu Proprio. The Arlington diocese, which stretches
from Northern Virginia south to Lancaster and west to the Shenandoah,
has sent six priests to a training center in Nebraska , at the
Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter seminary, for an intensive seminar.
In the Archdiocese of Washington , no more churches have added the
Mass. Monsignor Charles Pope, who celebrates the Mass at St. Mary's
in Chinatown, thinks that it's because of the number of parishioners
demanding the Tridentine Mass is small. But those who want it "are
very interested and very passionate about it," he said.
Priests who know the ritual are training other priests, and the
diocese plans to offer training next year, said archdiocese
spokeswoman Susan Gibbs.
But the service is not without controversy. Jewish groups have
protested a Good Friday prayer in the Mass that refers to the
"blindness" of the Jews and calls for their conversion. Vatican
officials have suggested that the prayer could be removed but have
not done so.
For those who have fallen in love with the Mass, though, it is a part
of what marks Catholics as unique among Christians.
"Before Vatican II, there were a lot of things that marked Catholics
as Catholic: the Tridentine Mass in Latin, fish on Fridays, those
kinds of things," said Monsignor Kevin Irwin, dean of the School of
Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University . "And I think
that 40 years after the [Second Vatican] Council, there is a revival
of questions asking what is Catholic identity, and for some, this is
an external manifestation of saying, 'We're Catholic.' "
At St. Rita's Church, more than 150 worshipers listened and watched
in silence as four black-and-gold- robed priests, accompanied by a
half-dozen servers and a five-person choir, spoke and sang the
hour-long liturgy. There was no homily, no English and no lay
participation. In a throwback to the past, some women wore lace head
In a crystalline tenor, the celebrant, the Rev. Paul D. Scalia,
recited the Lord's Prayer :
Pater noster, qui es in caelis: sanctificetur nomen tuum . . .
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . .
Scalia, St. Rita's parochial vicar, added the Mass within days of the
pope lifting the restrictions.
Scalia, 36, said he loves "the beauty of it, the silence . . . the
antiquity. . . . It has a much more a contemplative feel to it. . . .
This is the Mass that so many saints were raised on and themselves
offered and prayed."