(From our time at Immaculate Conception Church in Fitchburg).
Parishes attract new people with old Mass
By Tanya Connor
A desire to attend Latin Mass – and belong to a parish – is bringing new members to Immaculate Conception Parish in Fitchburg and St. Paul Parish in Warren. The Masses, like those before Vatican Council II, benefit newcomers and long-time parishioners, those involved say. They do not replace, but are in addition to English Masses.
Father Daniel J. Becker, St. Paul’s pastor, said that last spring he started celebrating Latin Masses there at 10:30 a.m. Sundays, and also celebrates them at 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. Starting Aug. 16 the high Mass, which is sung, will replace the low Mass on Sundays, he said. Parishioners wanted these Masses and they are getting youth involved and saving people long trips, said Steven Rust, a member of St. Paul’s.
On June 28 Immaculate Conception Parish started a Sunday Latin Mass at 8 a.m., preceded by confessions and the rosary, and followed by refreshments, said Father Thien X. Nguyen, pastor. People there say the Masses are bringing new life and hope for preserving the parish.
Two years ago, in an apostolic letter, Pope Benedict XVI cleared the way for wider usage of this “extraordinary form Mass.” The ordinary form Mass is what most Catholics have attended for nearly 40 years. Extraordinary form Masses used to be held in basements or chapels, but since the pope’s letter they are coming to parishes, said Sam Schmitt, who has played the organ and directed the choir for the Latin Masses at Immaculate Conception.
“I’ve seen changes in attitude, where people thought, ‘That’s not mainstream; you’re cutting yourself off from the Church,’” but now have started to see it as a regular part of the Church, he said.
The resurgence of the Latin Mass can benefit even those who don’t attend, Mr. Schmitt said. English Masses might incorporate more of the Latin Mass music and priests who have celebrated the Latin Mass say it has influenced their reverence at English Masses.
“Everybody’s welcome to attend,” said Father David Phillipson, of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico. He celebrates Latin Mass at Immaculate Conception and, since last January, for the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary communities in Still River. These Masses fulfill the Sunday obligation, he said. Translations and explanations are provided in missals and he preaches and reads Scripture in English.
“It will strike one as being very different from the ordinary form,” he said. “But, if you give it time, there’s a good chance a person can come to appreciate its depth, its reverence, its beauty.”
“I’ve got to try it,” said Immaculate Conception parishioner Donald Dufault, after the 10 a.m. Mass that follows the Latin Mass. He said he was looking forward to reliving old memories. “I thought it was a beautiful Mass, back when I was in my 20s,” said parishioner Robert Belanger after the English Mass. “But then I guess they said times were changing. People didn’t understand Latin.” He said he didn’t think the Church would return to all Latin, but if some younger people are brought up with this Mass, they may want it in the future. “My oldest son made his first Communion this year,” Mr. Rust of St. Paul’s said. “He wanted to start serving Mass the day after.” He said Peter, 8, knew the Latin Mass parts; he’d been watching. “I wanted to be on the altar,” Peter explained. He said he likes “getting the water and wine and ringing the bells.”
Mr. Rust, who is director of St. Thomas Aquinas School at St. Paul’s, said Peter and other students attended the daily Latin Mass. “They liked the beauty of it,” he said. “Each hand gesture and word is saturated with meaning. They liked learning about it.”
Father Becker is teaching the students Gregorian chant so they can be in the Sunday choir with the adults, Mr. Rust said. Father Becker took two weeks of training in celebrating the extraordinary form Mass from the Canons of St. John Cantius, a religious community, at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.
Many parishioners hadn’t ever attended Latin Masses and some resisted because they don’t understand Latin, Mr. Rust said. Once they learned there was an English translation available and that even saints without Latin training understood and appreciated the Mass, they accepted it.
For some locals, having Latin Mass at St. Paul’s means they now can be involved in the parish, instead of spending their time traveling far away just to attend Mass, Mr. Rust said. Father Becker said that about eight new families have joined the parish because of the offering of Latin Mass.
In Fitchburg, a wedding and the need to record baptisms birthed the idea for Immaculate Conception to host the Latin Mass, Father Nguyen explained. Ted Turner said his daughter, Anne, and her fiance, John Triolo, from Virginia, wanted an extraordinary form Mass for their wedding in August 2007. Immaculate Conception’s church was recommended for the setting because of its great organ and acoustics.
Mr. Turner said his family didn’t belong to a parish; they have been attending extraordinary form Masses at St. Ann’s House in Still River with the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Mr. Turner has worked with Father Nguyen and parishioner Joseph Brisebois to bring the extraordinary form Mass and the “extraordinary form community” to Immaculate Conception in an attempt to bolster the parish. Father Nguyen said about 14 new families have joined the parish and membership continues to increase each week. Mr. Turner said the sisters in Still River are happy that some of the laity are joining Immaculate Conception, because “Catholics belong in parishes.” The sisters helped with the transition by loaning liturgical items such as vestments and patens. Father Phillipson said permanent donations of these items are welcome. Father Nguyen said baptisms which took place at St. Ann’s House had to be recorded in a parish, and parents asked him to do it at Immaculate Conception. He asked Bishop McManus about recording the baptisms. The bishop in turn asked him if Immaculate Conception would host the Latin Mass these Catholics wanted.
Father Nguyen said he could not celebrate the Latin Mass without training. But he agreed to host the Latin Mass, after securing the support of the parish finance committee, a focus group and getting the bishop’s approval for Father Phillipson to celebrate it. Father Ngyuen said this benefits the parish too; it brings young members and financial support to a community where, “I bury more people than I baptize.”
Immaculate Conception parishioner Lucille Lamarine said she was impressed by the many, well-behaved children at the June 28 Latin Mass. Fellow parishioner Linda Bourque said they’re thrilled with the new members, who help support the parish.
Preparations to host the Mass predate current discussions about closing Fitchburg parishes, Father Nguyen said. He said he does not know what will happen to the parish through the pastoral planning process.
He said he asked Bishop McManus if he could take the Latin Mass community with him if Immaculate Conception closes and laughed about the bishop’s response: “Are you Moses?” Latin Mass attendees expressed gratitude to Father Nguyen and the bishop and pope. “Our hopes were high, but we were entirely unprepared for the palpably sacred ambience that persisted in the church,” John Mick said of Immaculate Conception’s June 28 Latin Mass. “I had the distinct impression that Father, the altar servers, and the choir were actually praying (not acting out roles).” “I teared up a bit,” Barbara Meier said of that Mass. “I couldn’t help but think, ‘We’re in a parish now.’” She said they’re very grateful to the sisters at St. Ann’s too.
Mr. Turner said the pope spoke of the ordinary and extraordinary forms as mutually enriching.
“The extraordinary form Catholics are being enriched by having the advantages of full parish life,” Mr. Turner said. “And the ordinary form Catholics are being enriched by the sudden occurrence of this beautiful liturgy with full sung Masses.” “We just want to bring people in and have them experience it,” said Mr. Schmitt. “It’s part of the heritage of the Church.”
Mass of 1962 sees revival
There’s quite a history behind the Latin Masses which have become a regular feature at Immaculate Conception Parish in Fitchburg and St. Paul Parish in Warren. Two years ago Pope Benedict XVI cleared the way for wider usage of such Masses – through his apostolic letter “Summorum Pontificum,” which recounts some of the history.
The apostolic letter was accompanied by a letter to bishops, intended as commentary, according to Msgr. James P. Moroney, St. Paul Cathedral rector and a consultor to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. (Msgr. Moroney, executive director of the Secretariat for the Liturgy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1996 to 2007, helped The Catholic Free Press with the following account of the history.)
The apostolic letter and letter to bishops were issued July 7, 2007. The apostolic letter took effect Sept. 14, 2007. The apostolic letter was issued as “motu proprio” – at the pope’s personal initiative – Msgr. Moroney explained. This letter, often simply called the motu proprio, gives instructions concerning the availability of the Mass of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII in 1962. The letter uses the term “extraordinary form” for this “Mass of 1962,” which is also sometimes called the “Tridentine Mass,” since it uses the texts and rites of the missal Pope Pius V promulgated in 1570 after the Council of Trent.
The Mass most Catholics are now familiar with is the “ordinary form Mass.” It uses the texts and rites of the missal Pope Paul VI promulgated in 1969, which had been revised in light of Vatican Council II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. This missal, for Masses in Latin, was also translated into other languages for Masses in the vernacular. (Latin Masses using this missal are like Masses in other languages, not like extraordinary form Latin Masses.)
Pope John Paul II further amended this Missal. That “third typical edition of the Roman Missal” (or sacramentary, in the present English translation) is what is now used for most Masses in the Worcester Diocese and the Latin-rite Church throughout the world. (Here “Latin” does not refer to the language used, but distinguishes Catholics who worship this way from Catholics in the Eastern Churches, such as Maronites and Melkites.)
From 1970 to 1984 a few priests were granted special permission to celebrate the Mass of 1962.
Since some people were still attached to that Mass, in 1984 Pope John Paul II granted permission for its celebration – through the Congregation for Divine Worship special indult “Quattuor Abhinc Anno.”
In 1988, with the apostolic letter “Ecclesia Dei,” issued as motu proprio, Pope John Paul II “exorted bishops to make generous use of this power” to grant permission for the celebration of this Mass. “Summorum Pontificum” authorizes any qualified priest to celebrate this Mass without prior permission of the diocesan bishop.
The Roman Missal Pope Paul VI promulgated is “the ordinary expression of the ‘Lex orandi’ (Law of Prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite,” Pope Benedict XVI says in “Summorum Pontificum.” “Nonetheless, the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V and reissued by Blessed John XXIII is to be considered as an extraordinary expression of that same ‘Lex orandi,’ and must be given due honor for its venerable and ancient usage.” Pope Benedict XVI says these two expressions will not lead to “a division in the Church’s ‘Lex credendi’ (Law of belief);” they are two usages of the one Roman rite.
The 1962 missal was never abrogated as an extraordinary form, he says. In “Summorum Pontificum” he sets forth the conditions for using this missal. One of those conditions says: “In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962, and ensure that the welfare of these faithful harmonizes with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the guidance of the bishop…avoiding discord and favoring the unity of the whole Church.”