Saturday, July 7, 2007

Catholics about to breathe new life into Latin mass

Minnesota worshipers who prefer the classic liturgy are delighted that today the pope is set to approve its wider use.

Karen Hastreiter wasn't even born when the Roman Catholic Church turned away from the traditional Latin mass.

But as a parishioner at St. Augustine in South St. Paul -- the only Catholic church in the Twin Cities metro area that offers the old liturgy -- Hastreiter can attend either the contemporary mass that became commonplace in the 1960s, or the centuries-old version called the Tridentine mass.

Almost always, Hastreiter and her family choose the old-school option.

Now more Catholics will get to choose. This morning, Pope Benedict is expected to issue a decree allowing broader use of the old mass, a move he hopes will please traditionalists and lead to greater unity in the church.

The classic mass, which is celebrated entirely in Latin, uses songs, rites and Gregorian chants that were common before the Second Vatican Council -- known as Vatican II -- instituted reforms in the 1960s.

While it can be celebrated in Latin, the contemporary mass is usually celebrated in the local language.

Currently priests are required to obtain permission from their bishops to use the older mass.

Why does Hastreiter, 29, opt for a service that doesn't include any English?

"For me, it's much easier to pray at because it's much more contemplative; it's very reverent," she said. "The prayers are so beautiful. Sometimes when I go to the English mass, there's just not that same sense of prayer. It really jumps out at you when you attend a mass that's really so God-centered. It's just a stark contrast."

The Tridentine mass -- a more rigid service where the priest has his back to the congregation -- has become a rarity. St. Augustine is the only parish of the 222 served by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that offers it. The Church of the Sacred Heart in Flensburg, Minn., and St. John the Evangelist in the Dioceses of St. Cloud and Winona, also have standing permission to use it.

Demand is hard to gauge

It's difficult to know just what the impact of the pope's decision will be for Minnesota Catholics.

It is likely to please followers of the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist group that opposes the modern mass. It has several chapels in Minnesota, and its only U.S. seminary -- St. Thomas Aquinas -- is near Winona.

But beyond traditionalists, "it is hard to see that it will have any immediate impact," said Don Briel, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. "There doesn't seem to be a huge demand for it in this region, but I suspect there might be some growing interest.

"Some people will see this as a turn to the past; other people will view it as a concession to conservatives," he said. "I think, in fact, it's a recognition of the rich diversity in the tradition of Western Catholic thought, and it's probably not likely to have a huge impact in the short term."

The Rev. Michael Keating, a Catholic studies professor at St. Thomas, doesn't anticipate a major shift in how the archdiocese's 750,000 Catholics worship.

"Those who would have wanted [the Tridentine mass] day to day or steadily would have arranged for it," he said.

Bishop Richard Pates of the archdiocese said the church will use the time between today's announcement and the Sept. 14 implementation to access interest in the traditional mass. "From my sense, people for the most part find satisfaction with the liturgy as it presently is," he said.

Pates hopes the pope's decree will inspire more unity in the church. "That's our prayer and hope," he said.

The Rev. John Ubel of the Church of St. Agnes in St. Paul, who leads a parish where one of five weekly services is the modern mass celebrated in Latin, said he's not sure what the impact will be.

"How many parishes will really call for it? You know, that's a real open question," Ubel said. "I don't sense that there's really a real strong call for it, but there are some people who are clearly interested.

"I will listen to the people of the parish."

Not just for older folks

At St. Augustine, the Rev. John Echert has seen a growing interest in the Tridentine mass. Attendance is often at least equal to that at the modern liturgy, he said.

"They're not necessarily older people," Echert said. "They're young Catholics or Catholics with young families. There are more babies crying at Tridentine masses than any other masses, I can tell you that. I would say numbers are upward of 300 in attendance."

Colin Cain, 53, a parishioner at St. Augustine's, remembers the conversion to the new mass and is happy with how this change is being handled.

"I'm happy to see it for the church as a whole," he said. "I hope things go smoothly, unlike when the new mass came in." StarTribune

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