When Deacon Scott Peters of St. Benedict in Duluth was in deacon formation, he was told repeatedly that you never know just what ministry you will find yourself in. But perhaps the last thing he expected was to be preparing for a solemn high Mass as it would have been celebrated in 1962.
Yet that Mass, with a polyphony choir, a chant schola, servers and another permanent deacon who is coming up from a Twin Cities parish famous for its traditional liturgies to fill the subdeacon role, will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, at St. Benedict. The liturgical celebration is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and it is the anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum,” which liberalized access to the traditional Mass.
“I never thought that I would be working in liturgy, especially the Traditional Latin Mass,” Deacon Peters said. When he was in formation, he was doing social work and thought his ministry might involve that. He says he didn’t even know what the old rite was.
He said the whole thing began with the Duluth Men’s Schola. (Full disclosure: This writer is the founder and director of the schola, which will be singing Sept. 14.) Then Father Eric Hastings, who will celebrate the Sept. 14 Mass, began to offer the simplest version of the Traditional Latin Mass, a “low Mass,” and there were no servers, so Deacon Peters learned how to serve.
From there, things began to develop slowly. The next step was doing the more complicated sung version of the Traditional Latin Mass, a “missa cantata,” culminating in a heavily attended missa cantata last year featuring a polyphony choir. (This year the choir will be singing William Byrd’s “Mass for Four Voices.”)
From there, the next step was a solemn high Mass, which is vastly more complex — and a vastly more demanding liturgy for a deacon.
Deacon Peters said all along it was something meant to be guided by the Holy Spirit and carried out peacefully.
“There are no agendas, there were no expectations, it was just people who loved liturgy and wanted to be faithful to what the Holy Father was asking of us,” he said.
He said the pope’s writings on the liturgy call the older form of the liturgy a “precious treasure to be preserved” and something he wants to offer “to all the faithful.”
“In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture,” the pope wrote in Summorum Pontificum, in a passage pointed out by Deacon Peters. “What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”
A bigger role
In the Traditional Latin Mass, there is really no liturgical role for a deacon in the low Mass or even in a missa cantata. All that changes in the solemn high Mass. For one thing, he will have to chant the Gospel — in Latin.
But the complexity goes well beyond that. Deacon Peters said the deacon’s role includes praying some of the prayers that in the ordinary form of the liturgy are said only by the priest.
“It’s a subordinate role, but it’s much more assisting the priest,” he said. “. . . It’s very heavy rubrics, and the deacon is assisting the priest in every aspect of it.”
He said in some ways this is easier than in the ordinary form liturgy because everything is spelled out very exactly. “There’s never a moment that’s not choreographed,” he said. But the rubrics are also very complex.
“There’s a beauty to it, there’s a history to it, there’s a theological meaning behind every gesture,” he said.
Learning all that has been a labor of love for the past year. Deacon Peters met John McLoughlin, who will be the master of ceremonies at the Mass, for an hour every week, so they could pray evening prayer, study the rubrics and practice them. Joining them at many of those practices were parishioner John Specht and his sons, who will be serving the Mass.
The group from St. Benedict will be assisted by Deacon Nathan Allen from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a canon lawyer who is familiar with the older rite from his work at St. Agnes parish in St. Paul but who has never done a solemn high Mass either. Deacon Peters said his counterpart was gracious enough to do the subdeacon role and leave the deacon role to him since he had already learned it.
Deacon Peters freely admits that his work with the traditional liturgy has changed him as a deacon. “I’m a different deacon than I was before,” he said. He said he is more prayerful and reverent in how he approaches the sacrifice of the Mass, in whichever form it’s celebrated, a sentiment he has also heard from altar servers.
He said the approach for this Mass and all the work associated with it is not confrontational or controversial but simply motivated by a desire to hand a “precious treasure” on, as a gift.
“We want it to be an act of love,” he said.
He said the parish is inviting all the faithful from the region to attend. Priests and deacons from the diocese are invited to attend the Mass and sit in choir, as there is no concelebration in this form of the Mass. For details, contact the parish at (218) 724-4828. Northern Cross