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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Traditional Latin Mass--again

The 12 Noon Traditional Latin Mass at Saint Paul's in South continues to keep attracting people. I headed down there this past Sunday (August 15) after my part-time job in Center City. I had some time to kill so I did an Italian Market walk-through. So many dead fish! So many fish heads! The hipsters were out in force having breakfast at the Morning Glory cafe: huge platters of blueberry pancakes, waffles the size of bricks, omlettes that could double as prayer shawls.

After Mass, I bumped into Jerry, a regular parishoner, who suggested a cup of coffee at the remodeled Melrose Diner. The moment we headed for his car a twentysomething couple, who had been at the Mass, asked Jerry for a car jump. The woman was from Valley Forge, where there are no traditional Masses--it's Novus Ordo hand clappin' country, folks--and her boyfriend was from Vienna. Jerry successfully jumped their car, we all shook hands, and then we headed for the Melrose.

My STAR column of 3 weeks ago:

I go to Mass about twice a month. The reason I only go twice a month is because I am a parishioner of Saint Paul’s parish in the heart of the Italian Market. I go to Saint Paul’s because they have the Traditional Latin Mass. If one of the Catholic churches in the riverwards had a TLM, I’d stick to the neighborhood, but since I can’t transport Saint Paul’s to Allegheny or Lehigh Avenue, I have to make do with the two hour Septa-transportation time twice a month.

To me it’s worth it. Saint Paul’s is incredible. The sung high Latin Mass is a powerful thing minus all the disturbing elements I find in the so called New Mass, such as contemporary hymns (or “praise and worship” songs that have a non-Catholic flavor), the blurring of distinctions between priest and laity, the chronic handshaking and the overall lack of depth and mystery.

In our increasingly casual culture, it’s rare to see a congregation in most Catholic parishes in anything other than jeans and T-shirts, but at Saint Paul’s, the sight is much different.

I still wonder why so few Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese offer the TLM, especially since Pope Benedict issued his motu proprio or indult in 2006 allowing the Latin Mass to be said in any parish without the approval of the local bishop. This means that a group of Catholic parishioners, however small, can request the TLM from the parish priest. The priest can then deny or fulfill that request depending on whether he or one of his assistant priests knows how to celebrate the 1500-year old Mass that was once the staple and center of Catholic life.

I asked a group of my fellow parishioners at Saint Paul’s why Philadelphia lags behind other major U.S. cities in the number of parishes that celebrate the TLM. “That may change in 2011,” one man told me. “Once your average Catholic reads the new English translation of the Roman Missal, they will be struck with the beauty of the original Latin and they will say, ‘What did we throw out?’ This is beautiful! Then there will be a resurgence of interest in the Latin Mass.”

The new Roman Missal, once it’s implemented in all English-speaking Catholic parishes in 2011, will be a vernacular missal faithful to the original Latin text of the traditional Mass. The English Missale Romanum that was approved in 1970 was a mere paraphrase of the original Latin text of the old Mass (or the Extraordinary Form), rather than a translation. The changes in the 2011 Missal will be significant. Regarding the future Missal, even Pope Benedict acknowledged that “many will find it hard to adjust to unfamiliar texts after nearly forty years of continuous use of the previous translation.” Those in the know say that the tone of the new Missal will emphasize the sacredness of the Divine Liturgy.

It’s inevitable, I suppose, that some Catholic modernists are not happy about the coming changes. Since Vatican II, different factions of Catholics have emerged: traditionalists, conservatives, and liberals can barely agree on anything and in many instances they are at war with one another. The coming “return to tradition” Missal has so enraged some liberal Catholics that the National Catholic Reporter, a modernist Catholic newspaper, has initiated an online petition asking that the publication of the new translation of the Missal be “delayed indefinitely.”

Ironically, Vatican II never called for the wholesale reconstruction of the Mass. Instead, Vatican II specifically envisioned Catholics learning to sing the key parts of the so called New Mass in Latin. Clearly, certain unwarranted liberties were taken over the last forty years, and this is what the Pope wants to change.

When I left the Church as a young twenty something I thought it was because I was an agnostic, but the fact is, I was unhappy at the new style of Catholic worship. In those days I felt I was the only one who felt that way but since then I’ve come to see that thousands, even millions of Catholics, are on the same wave length.

With the Latin Mass Indult and the 2011 Missal, the Church is reclaiming her traditions. For forty years Catholics like me have had to wince or hold our breath whenever we went to church. We had to put up with guitars, handshaking hootenanny’s or hymns that sounded like music from Pat Robertson’s 700 Club.

Catholics like me can now worship as the saints in the Church worshiped for almost 2,000 years.

I’d say that’s something to celebrate.

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