Arizona Republic gets lots of the Latin Mass details right

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It’s time for a simple test. Yes, this does involve some Latin.

True or false. The following quotation is taken from the Communion passages in the Latin Mass.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccàta mundi; miserère nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccàta mundi; miserère nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccàta mundi; dona nobis pacem.

Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccàta mundi.
Beàti qui ad cenam Agni vocàti sunt.

Yes, this is a bit of a trick question.

Actually, this is a short quotation from the modern Novus Ordo Missae, but drawn from the official foundation text — which is in Latin. Of course, millions of Catholics know this rite through its many official translations, from the Latin, into the languages common in their pews. There are parishes that, with the permission of their local bishops, perform this rite in Latin.

Thus, this quotation is taken from a Latin Mass. But it is not taken from the rite that is commonly known, for millions of older Catholics, as “The Latin Mass.”

Why do I bring this up? For this simple reason: The staff at The Arizona Republic recently waded deep into the details of Catholic liturgy in a lengthy feature story written as part of its coverage of the recent murder of a young priest named Father Kenneth Walker and the savage beating of another priest at the same parish, Father Joseph Terra.

Both were members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which, as the story explains, is dedicated to Catholic life and worship as expressed in the traditional Tridentine Mass. Here is some background from this long and very detailed story:

In 1988, about a quarter of a century after Vatican II was formed, the new pope, John Paul II, at the urging of conservative Cardinal John Ratzinger, who would later succeed John Paul as Pope Benedict XVI, allowed a limited return to the Tridentine Mass, but only with a bishop’s approval.

(In 2007, Pope Benedict issued what amounted to an executive order allowing any priest to celebrate the Tridentine Mass in any parish.)

Pope John Paul also approved the creation of a new priesthood order, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, named for the Apostle Peter, who is considered the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike other priestly orders, this one would be dedicated to maintaining the tradition of the Latin Mass.

So what is the problem in this story, which, frankly, is way better than the norm? From my perspective there are two issues.

First of all, while the historical details in the story are good, the Republic keeps switching back and forth between calling this rite the Latin Mass, when there are actually several Masses in Latin, and calling it the Tridentine Mass, which is much more specific. Trust me, I know that it is hard to get these details precisely right (I am sure that in this post I will use language that is not accurate enough for insiders), but it is important to be as precise as possible.

Consider the details in this passage. This is long, but crucial.

(The two priests) had not worked together for long, but they were unified in their devotion to the oldest traditions of the church.

As members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, both men embraced what they saw as the purest way to express the sacraments, in the language of the early church, Latin, and performed with the priest facing the altar, not the congregants — his only job being to glorify God.

Haec quotiescumque feceritis, in mei memoriam facietis … As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of me.

The liturgy the two men celebrated is five centuries old. In the face of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the church codified the liturgy during the Council of Trent. It became known as the Tridentine Mass, after the Latin name for the Italian city.

The Mass was unchanged for 400 more years, until half a century ago, when Pope John XXIII and his successor, Pope Paul VI, literally turned the liturgy around. No longer was the priest to face away from the congregation. Instead,
he would face the people and speak not in Latin, but in their own tongue.

You can see the timeline issue, right?

Is the Tridentine Mass the “oldest” rite or tradition of the church? Actually, from the point of view of the Eastern Rites, the Tridentine Mass is rather modern — as the story then turns around and notes a few lines later, with the reference to this liturgical text being “five centuries old.”

My point here is not to criticize those loyal to the Tridentine rite. I am simply noting that it is not the Latin Mass, singular, nor is it the oldest rite in the rich liturgical traditions of the Church of Rome.

Here is my second point. It is also important to note that this rite does not define, as the Republic team suggests, what is “orthodox” (a doctrinal term) Catholicism, as opposed perhaps to “traditionalist” liturgical practice of a particular era, as favored by many Catholics. As in:

Terra would also add orthodox touches to the ordinary Mass, covering the chalice with a veil, for instance. … Terra was soon transferred about 45 minutes east to Angels Camp, Calif. … (It) might have had to do with Terra’s orthodoxy, including his wearing of the cassock, a traditional priest’s robe, and miter, a ceremonial hat, around town.

Actually, bishops wear a mitre. This traditionalist priest was probably wearing a biretta.

So “orthodox” is not the right word for some of these liturgical issues, even though the story is hinting — perhaps accurately — that there were actual doctrinal tensions related to the work of these priests in this particular diocese. Again, this is very detailed and picky material.

In the end, this is a very unusually detailed story about a highly poignant topic and most of the details are right.

However, the story does suggest, in some ways, that these priests and those loyal to them are like aliens who have come from another planet and landed on the fringe of modern Vatican II Catholicism. Traditions that for millions in the past and present have been taken as normative — priests facing East, along with their congregations — are described in highly exotic terms that make the whole matter sound rather bizarre. That is rather strange, from my point of view (as an Eastern Orthodox layman).

But so be it. Millions of Catholics, and lots of journalists, do consider religious traditions strange and exotic. This story leans that direction from time to time, but is far better than the norm.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia B

    1) The Agnus Dei is not part of the consecration; it comes afterwards during the Communion portion of the Mass.
    2) It is not necessary to ask permission of the Bishop to say the New Mass in Latin. We still sing the Agnus Dei, the Kyrie (in Greek), the Gloria, the Credo and Sanctus without special permission which is frequently done during Lent, especially.
    3) At the time of Trent, there were slightly different versions of the Mass around the West. Other than a few rites that were very old and allowed to remain (and still remain), the rest were standardized into what is called the Tridentine Rite.
    4) The Tridentine Rite has been tweaked over the years; it has not remained exactly the same since Trent. I have missals from the 30s, 50s, and 60s. There are slight differences. I remember the Last Gospel of John and the Prayer to St Michael that ended Mass before Vatican II.
    5) What people call theTridentine Rite today is more appropriately called the Extraordinary form of the Mass, like your illustration. It is what was in use in 1962 – right before Vatican II. Turns out it had some prayers during Holy Week that Jews found offensive so, even it has been modified some. It might also be properly called the 1962 Mass.
    6) FWIW I attended an open house at a Greek Orthodox Church. In response to a question, the guide smiled and said their service was very much like the former Catholic Mass; a Lutheran opined that the new Catholic Mass was very much like Lutheran service.
    7) There is the SSPX which is not in Communion with Rome and completely rejects Vatican II. It would have been much better if the FSSP has picked a name that wasn’t so easily confused with the SSPX.
    8) The whole section on “orthdox” and “traditional” would be better is just totally axed and copletely re-written after interviewing somebody at a diocesan rectory or a seminary. The Extraordinary and Ordinary forms of the Mass are both “orthodox” as far as Rome is concerned. In Catholic parlance, the reporter needs to get a better understanding of “traditional”, “Tradition”, and “Traditionalist”. They mean very different things.
    9) And, of course, this whole discussion is only about the Latin Church rituals and not those of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome, which also vary a bit from each other as well as from the West.

    • tmatt

      The Agnus Dei is not part of the consecration; it comes afterwards during the Communion portion of the Mass.

      I will correct that.

    • fredx2

      What you have written shows the complexity of things, so I applaud the reporters for getting almost everything right, or at least acceptable.

  • Julia B

    “the story does suggest, in some ways, that these priests and those loyal to them are like aliens who have come from another planet and landed on the fringe of modern Vatican II Catholicism.”

    I have been to a church that regularly has a 1962 Mass for our diocese – the priest comes from St Louis U and it looks just like the Masses I remember.
    I have also been to a 1962 Mass at a church in St Louis run by the FSSP order, which doesn’t look much like the Masses people my age remember, mainly because of the very, very elaborate garb which is apparently due to the order’s European origin and sensibilities. Even at a Cathedral High Mass, I don’t think Americans in the years before Vatican II saw those enormous gloves or the extremely tall mitre or some of the gestures that are features of FSSP Masses. Unlike the run of the mill 1962 Masses, they often attract certain kinds of Catholics who actually do seem to be kind of fringe to most American Catholics. Even Pope Benedict didn’t wear those kinds of things. Many of the people in attendance dress as we did in the 1950s. It’s not a doctrinal thing; it’s aesthetic preferences. However, most agree their music is heavenly.
    I’m prepared to be criticized for saying this and supporting that part of the article.

    • fredx2

      No, I think you are right. The big gloves are a mystery to me. Never saw them. But I think the motivation behind them is: “Let’s treat this seriously”, which is fine. As the priest dresses, so dress the people. Now people are coming in shorts and flip flops, something inconceivable in times when they took mass much more seriously.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    “The Mass was unchanged for 400 more years…” Really? There were no changes at all? Sorry, but there were, the most recent having occurred under Pius XII.

    “…until half a century ago, when Pope John XXIII and his successor, Pope Paul VI, literally turned the liturgy around.” St. Pope John XXIII had nothing to do with it. He called the Council, but the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first document of the Council, wasn’t even published until six months after he died.

    “No longer was the priest to face away from the congregation. Instead, he would face the people and speak not in Latin, but in their own tongue.” Um, no. The conciliar document says nothing about how the priest was to face and only says that the vernacular was to be incorporated into certain parts of the Mass, not the whole thing, for instance the biblical readings. In fact, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal assumes that the priest is facing East (as tmatt put it so well) rather than toward the people. However, innovators got ahold of it and what they did to it wasn’t pretty.

    So if the Republic writers want to get this right, they need to talk to liturgical experts and not presume that they know it already just because of what they assume happened at Vatican II, since we all know what assuming does to us (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfvTwv5o1Qs) (except to the Blessed Virgin Mary).

    • wlinden

      Well, Orthodox Jews insist that halakhah has never changed since Sinai… an assertion I have often run into in online forums.

      • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

        And there are Catholic traditionalists who insist that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper in the same way that the Tridentine Mass is celebrated. At least with the Orthodox Jews, there’s a language continuation. How much Jesus spoke in Latin is highly debatable.

  • Julia B

    It’s me again. Now that I’ve read the whole article, I must say that I was very impressed – very respectful and thoughtful. Considering the few mistakes that have been noted.

    Notice that the writer said “traditional Latin Mass” in almost every instance. That was the accepted lingo before Benedict decided to designate them as the Ordinary and the Extraordinary form of the Mass – so that they might influence each other. This was mostly called TLM – maybe you thought the “T” meant “the” and not “traditional”.
    I took a look at the dates given. I think the reporter might have muffed that. If Fr Terra would soon celebrate 25 years as a priest that meant he was ordained in 1989, but there is also information that he joined the FSSP in 1994. That is most unusual for a diocesan priest to be allowed to join a religious order after having been a priest for 5 years already. I guess it could happen, but I never heard of it. Priests in religious orders could very possibly be transferred around to 7 states, but not a diocesan priest.
    One thing that is not mentioned is that once a diocese designates a church particularly for the TLM and the FSSP, the parish membership is not determined by where you live geographically as with most parishes.
    BTW I didn’t notice anything in the article portraying the priests and their parishioners as having been dropped from another planet. It is true that many bishops didn’t like the Traditional Latin Mass and had to be pressured into allowing it and they reported that. The photo at the top is of a bishop and his priests, not a parish priest. We don’t really know if these priests were into the ultra fancy garb and practices that has fueled disdain from mainstream Catholics and some bishops. There was a time when Irish and German Catholic bishops were not very kind to immigrant Eastern Rite Catholics and their priests and bishops.
    Last comment: the reporter perfectly caught the wistfullness for having a church open for random visits during the day as in the old days. People really did just drop in for a quick prayer or zone out (meditate) to clear your head for a few minutes. I first realized that was gone when I tried to find an open church where I could pray for a friend in a horrific accident. They were all locked. Such a personal bit would really touch a lot of people in an area like Phoenix who are native or retired Catholics.
    Well done. And the comments showed the effort was appreciated.

  • fredx2

    Hats off to the Republic for getting almost everything right. Very good work and it sounds like the reporters put some sweat into getting it right. This is a topic that gets complex very quickly, as you can see from the comments.

    There were a few common misconceptions, for example that Vatican II eliminated Latin (wrong) or that it made the priest face the people (wrong), but those are things we were routinely taught in the aftermath of Vatican II. Then, we had less access to the actual documents, so we relied on what bishops and priests were telling us. Turns out they had it wrong, or they “interpreted” it. As soon as people got access to the documents, (not really until the internet age) it was clear they interpreted things quite a bit, probably with good intentions, but somewhat to the detriment of the integrity and beauty of the mass.

    The only big mistake I saw was the part about “John XXIII and Paul VI making the changes”. That sentence clangs like a bell when serious Catholics read it, because we know that the Pope was not the driving force for those things, the council itself was. It’s kind of like saying Obama passes laws, not the Congress.

    The council met, the council developed the documents that changed things, and the Popes did not have that much to do with it, besides calling the council and perhaps then implementing the things the council wanted done.

    Oh, and the Miter/Mitre thing. That was a bit of a chuckle.

  • fredx2

    For further background –

    Father Joseph Fessio has a great little article about the changes to the mass that Vatican II wanted, and those that we got.

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0540.html

    “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, was one of two documents ….issued by the Second Vatican Council. …Sacrosanctum Concilium is one of the most important documents of the Council, one that has been the least understood and, I believe, has wrought the most havoc — not by having been fulfilled — but by having been ignored or misinterpreted.”

    As to the use of Latin:

    “Paragraph 54 is a key paragraph: “In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue.” What did the Council have in mind? Let’s continue: “This is to apply in the first place, to the readings and to the Common Prayer. But also as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people.” Yet it goes on to say, “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass” — (that is, the unchanging parts, the parts that are there every day) — “which pertain to them.”

    So, the Council did not abolish Latin in the liturgy. The Council permitted the vernacular in certain limited ways, but clearly understood that the fixed parts of the Mass would remain in Latin. Again, I am just telling you what the Council said.”

    As to the music:

    “Paragraph 114 adds: “The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care.” Then in paragraph 116 we find another shocker: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian Chant as specially suited to the Roman Liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” That’s what the Council actually said. If you are in a parish which prides itself on living the spirit of Vatican II, then you should be singing Gregorian chant at your parish. And if you’re not singing the Gregorian Chant, you’re not following the specific mandate of the Second Vatican Council.”

    Fessio’s thoughts on what “Active Participation” means are very interesting. More than anything else, the phrase “active participation” was used to change the mass from something beautiful and deep, into something banal and superficial.


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