Skip to comments.At N.J. Parish, all Latin all the time
Posted on 02/04/2002 9:31:18 AM PST by Antoninus
At New Jersey parish, all Latin all the time
Judging by its modest sanctuary, Mater Ecclesiae Roman Catholic church in Berlin, N.J., might be any Catholic parish.
But when its rector, the Rev. Robert Pasley, begins to say Mass, this little church reveals its special place in modern Catholicism.
"Introibo ad altare Dei," Father Pasley said last Sunday, early into a long, elaborate high Mass.
"Ad Deum qui laetificat, juventutem meum," replied the five altar servers.
Yes, it's Latin: the language of Catholic liturgies for centuries until the early 1960s, when the Second Vatican Council decreed that liturgies should be said in the prevailing language of the parish.
Latin is not all that makes Mater Ecclesiae unusual, however, as many dioceses - including the Archdiocese of Philadelphia - allow a Latin Mass for special occasions. Our Lady of Consolation parish in the Tacony section and St. Francis of Assisi parish in Norristown, Montgomery County, each say one Tridentine Latin Mass every Sunday.
Founded in October 2000, the 266-family Mater Ecclesiae, in the Diocese of Camden, is one of only about 16 Catholic parishes in the United States that says Latin Mass every day according to the old "Tridentine" rite. And it is attracting worshippers from more than 50 miles away.
Here, the priest says Mass with his back to the congregation. Communion is taken silently, kneeling, and on the tongue, as in bygone days.
Other Vatican reforms are absent as well: There is no handshaking or "kiss of peace." The choir sings Gregorian chant in Latin. And only men and boys are altar servers.
"I guess you could say I'm a bit conservative," Father Pasley, 46, said and laughed. "I always felt Vatican II went too far" with its reforms.
Mater Ecclesiae's two Sunday Masses, as well as all baptisms, weddings, funerals and weekday Masses, are not only said in Latin but are performed according to the all-but-abandoned liturgical rite prescribed by the Council of Trent (hence "Tridentine") in the mid-16th century.
"That's incredible," said Jean Peters, copublisher of Veritas Press in Santa Monica, Calif., which issues a national directory of Catholic parishes that say Latin Masses. Last year there were 192 parishes in the United States that said at least one Mass a month according to the old rite, Peters said. But completely Tridentine parishes are "extremely rare." What makes Mater Ecclesiae (it means "Mother Church") rare even among Tridentine parishes is that it is staffed by a diocesan priest rather than a member of a traditionalist religious order.
St. Mary's parish in Rock Island, Ill., is a diocesan Tridentine parish of 450 families, "but we say English Masses, too," its pastor, the Rev. Michael Driscoll, said last week.
"This has been a response to requests from the people," Msgr. James Checchio, moderator of the curia for the Camden Diocese, explained recently.
Unlike some bishops who barely tolerate the Tridentine rite, Camden's leader, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, plans to attend Mater Ecclesiae's Candlemas service Sunday as a gesture of support, according to Msgr. Checchio.
Last Sunday's high Mass, which started at 11:30 a.m., began with a procession up the center aisle followed by the aspergis, or sprinkling of holy water on the altar and congregation. "Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor," Father Pasley intoned.
It translates to "Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed."
Slow and solemn - even mysterious - and shrouded at times in clouds of fragrant incense that filled the sanctuary, the Mass ended around 1 p.m. with a Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the ceremonial exposition of a communion wafer for adoration.
Mater Ecclesiae has no geographical boundaries, and membership is open to any Catholic who wants to worship there.
"We do love it," said Diane McBride, 34, of Pottstown, Montgomery County, who travels 90 minutes each way with her husband, Michael, and their four children most Sundays.
"It's more reverent" than the contemporary Masses and liturgies that grew out of the Second Vatican Council, she said. "We feel it expresses the church's teachings in a more clear way."
Susan Fetta of Doylestown, Bucks County, met her husband, Guido, at a Tridentine Mass in Camden's Immaculate Conception Cathedral about four years ago. He was an altar server; she was singing in the choir.
"It's just a love for the reverence of this Mass," said Susan Fetta, 44, who sings Gregorian chant and Latin polyphony. Father Pasley married them three years ago in a Tridentine rite at the cathedral; like the McBrides, they belong now to Mater Ecclesiae and drive 90 minutes to Mass.
Michael Meier, 39, of Voorhees, Camden County, has only a 15-minute drive to Mass. "We like the reverence, the beauty of the liturgy, the silence," he said.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Archbishop of Philadelphia, has declined requests for more Latin Masses or the establishment of a Tridentine parish, according to the Rev. Thomas Mackle, director of the archdiocesan office for worship.
"We get petitions, but in our parish self-studies and cluster planning" during the 1990s "there were just not sufficient numbers" to justify it, Father Mackle said.
In 1990, Cardinal Bevilacqua granted an "indult," or special permission, for a Tridentine Mass to be said Sundays at St. John the Evangelist parish in Center City. Parking proved limited, however, so the archdiocese reassigned the Masses to the two more accessible parishes in Tacony and Norristown.
"It's a great opportunity to reach out to a portion of the Catholic community who might otherwise be disaffected," said the Rev. Dominick Finn, a hospital chaplain in residence at St. Francis of Assisi parish.
He has been saying Tridentine Masses there on Sundays since mid-1999.
"I couldn't believe how quickly it [the Latin] came back to me," said Father Finn, who was ordained in 1956. About 90 people typically attend the Masses there.
Although it functions autonomously, Mater Ecclesiae is a mission of St. Edward's parish in Pine Hill, Camden County. Its member families "are very generous with their support," said Father Pasley, who hopes Bishop DiMarzio will grant it full parish status soon.
Mater Ecclesiae's history parallels the troubled history of Latin Masses since the Second Vatican Council.
According to Father Pasley, the eight-acre site was farmland in 1970 when Joseph Natale bought it in hopes of creating an order of disabled Benedictine monks.
He raised a complex of buildings that now serves as Mater Ecclesiae's campus. Although Natale imported the Tridentine rite Masses and called himself "Brother," he was never ordained and operated his "Holy Family Monastery" without permission of the diocese.
Meanwhile, many traditionalist priests and laity around the world who resented the reforms of the Second Vatican Council had joined a schismatic church headed by French Archbishop Marcel LeFevre.
In 1988, Pope John Paul II acknowledged that a sizable number of Catholics still yearned for the old ways, and allowed diocesan bishops to accommodate them with "a wide and generous application" of Tridentine liturgies.
A messy dispute over ownership of the Berlin monastery erupted when Natale died in 1995. Worshipers who enjoyed the Tridentine Masses won.
With the permission of former Bishop John McHugh, a member of the traditionalist Fraternity of St. Peter began saying regular Masses there, but he left in 2000 when Bishop DiMarzio refused permission for him to establish his own religious order.
Last year, Bishop DiMarzio turned to Father Pasley, who has a special interest in traditional church music, and asked him to become rector of a mission to be known as Mater Ecclesiae.
"We're beginning to be known now," Father Pasley said last week. "People appreciate the music, the sense of awe. In a world of confusion, it's nice to pray in a quiet atmosphere."
You are assuming that those who prefer the Tridentine Mass don't know what is being said?
That's got to be just plain ignorance. Most of the people who prefer it know exactly what is being said at all times.
It's just a matter of being open-minded and willing to learn.
Some like the Latin and the mystery it evokes.
I'd be curious how many of the parishoners say the Rosary during Mass. That always struck me as bizarre.
I don't mean to compare the Mass to an opera, but I also prefer an opera in its original language. You don't have to know any particular language to know what is going on. The Latin words, in a Mass, give you a meaning that you can 'feel inside' and they bring a solemnity to the service that English can't. (IMMHO)
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