Sunday, November 26, 2006

Great Parishes: St Agnes, St Paul, MN

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It had been more than a year since I had visited so today I thought it was time to go over and see what the "Youth Movement" was doing to St Agnes in St Paul, the "parish that must be preserved but I don't want to go to a two hour Mass every weekend." Kinda sounds selfish and hedonistic, doesn't it. Because their services in the past have always been great whenever I have been there.

But things are looking pretty good since Father Welzbacher asked for transfer to a smaller parish. Even those two gigantic statues didn't bother me as much as they usually do. Or maybe my prayer life is better.

I don't know how one can tell a Tridentine from a N.O. Latin High Mass. But I didn't hear word one of English, other than the readings (done by a lay adult lector in "cassock and surplice", no less, that is new, I believe) and those prayers after the Creed that I am becoming less resistant too. It depends on how well they are written, I think. Plus the status of my prayer life.

Normally, when I have gone to St Agnes for the High Mass, it has been on a Christmas or Easter and I don't recall hearing the congregation singing some of the Mass Gregorian Chant responses. But they were this morning! I hope this bodes well for the rumored Tridentine Indult if it comes comes down. A Latin Mass with no participation by the congregation is pretty boring and it's easy to get distracted. I speak from experience, being born well before Vatican II.

Actually, to my eye, the only thing that told me that it wasn't a Tridentine Mass was the fact that after the Communion after the celebrant, Father John Ubel, their new pastor and his two deacons (both priests) gave the chalice, properly covered with things the names of which I once knew, to a 12 year old altar boy to place on the credence table (I still remember that
term).


Just touching the chalice in my day as an altar boy would have been grounds for excommunication after much hard penance and severe public humiliation to serve as a warning to others.

I'm no expert in classical (or any other kind of) music but I know what I like and the Mass (op. 87) by Herzogenberger was great. The Kyrie made me feel like I had been to Confession to Padre Pio or the Cure' d'Ars. It also reminded me of a visit to a Romanian Orthodox Church a couple of years ago when the number of "Lord Have Mercy's" must have ran into the hundreds. The Sanctus and the Agnus Dei were also great.


It's harder to appreciate the Gloria and the Credo and the other parts of a sung Latin Mass if you can't follow the sung words unless you were familiar with the music ahead of time. My three years of altar boy service and two years of High School Latin still serve me in good stead.

One pleasant surprise was the appearance of pastor emeritus Monsignor Richard Schuler at the Mass. He is up and about. But he needs quite a bit of assistance. But he was alert and handled his biretta doffing duties admirably. (It was a four-biretta Mass). Msgr Schuler is the man responsible for the sung Latin Mass at St Agnes and the inspiration for many similar ones around the United States.

The battalion of altar boys at a St Agnes Mass always are on top of their jobs. Father Ubel referred in his homily to the pilgrimage to Rome from which he had just returned with a large group of St Agnes altar boys (read: many future priests)!

The music by the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale and the professional musicians was wonderful, as always. My only quibble, and being the "detached critic", I always have one, is the addition of an organ prelude and postlude to the service.

I don't think that the parish received a copy of Cardinal's Arinze's stinging rebuke to English (UK) priests last Winter which reminded them that the music is to accompany the Mass. It is not there for entertainment. St Agnes is the one parish where you can be certain that a sizeable portion of the congregation will arrive early and stay late for prayer. This is greatly hindered when the organ, wonderfuly played to be sure, keeps them from that.

I'll have to get my pal, Mr. Google, to find a copy of the good Cardinal's message and pass it on.


One of the logistical problems at St Agnes is the heaters that are under most pews. If you wear size 12 clodhoppers like I do, you can not kneel in a pew if there is a heater behind you without twisting your feet at least 45 degrees. That can't be done. After the Mass, I did scout out other seating areas and did spy some pews on the Epistle/St. Joseph side of the church that had a few heater-less pews near the front. You'll want to head there if you are overly-endowed, feet-wise.

But the sung Latin Mass at St Agnes is a magnficent experience. You can find the schedule of the Masses and the performance on their web page.
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