Friday, January 11, 2008

St. Josaphat Catholic Church

One thing I love about metro Detroit is all the magnificent old Catholic churches everywhere. The parishioners who built those churches, it is true, belonged to generations past; and most of their children and grandchildren have fled to the suburbs and their Bauhaus-inspired 'worship space' travesties harking back to Stalinist-era functionalism. Another thing I like about where I live in Detroit is that from our sixth-floor apartment windows, I can see Comerica Park (the Tigers' stadium) across the street and Ford Field (the Lions' stadium) behind it, the Detroit Opera House just across Grand Circus Park from our front door, and look down Washington Boulevard to St. Aloysius Church and the Archdiocesan chancery offices, and down Woodward Avenue to Hart Plaza and across the Detroit River into Windsor, Ontario. I also love the fact that I can see where we go to church. Out our East window I can see St. Josaphat Catholic Church, a three-minute drive away.

You can read in more detail at the official parish website about historic St. Josaphat Catholic Church (founded in 1889). It is one of the earliest Polish churches in Detroit, founded after St. Albertus and Sweetest Heart of Mary (both also visible from our East window). At one time in had a convent and a school (both elementary and high school) run by the Felician Sisters. (The high school tuition was $4.00/month when the schools were closed in 1960.) Together with the German St. Joseph parish nearby, with its splendid liturgical musical program, they form a parish cluster. When we first arrived in Detroit and were driving through the neighborhood, we were going East on Canfield St. and came to Sweetest Heart of Mary Catholic Church, which sported a banner announcing the August 12th 2007 Pierogi Festival. Among other things, the banner regaled us with bold letters: "GAMBLING, BEER, and BINGO!" "Our kind of place," declared my wife, allowing as we could stop looking for a parish home then and there. Between a name like Sweetest Heart of Mary and "Gambling, beer, and bingo" and Polish Pierogis & Polkas, how could you go wrong! As things turned out, we find ourselves just a few blocks away at St. Josaphat where the usus antiquior is offered. Yet we identify with the cluster of parishes of which Sweetest Heart of Mary is a part.

Fr. Mark Borkowski, who is the administrator of this cluster of parishes in metro Detroit, has been largely responsible for facilitating the implimentation of the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Josaphat, first as an Indult, under the 1988 Ecclesia Dei provision, which expanded the earlier authorization of 1984, and then under the current provisions of Pope Benedict's Summorum Pontificum (2007). St. Josaphat has worked in close cooperation with the Tridentine community in Windsor, Ontario, now at historic Assumption Catholic Church.

As church buildings go, St. Josaphat is attractive, if comparatively modest. Many of the older churches in Detroit are far more elegant and ornate. One thinks of St. Mary's Church in Greektown, St. Florian in Hamtramck, Assumption Grotto, the recently closed St. John Cantius, or even the interior of Sweetest Heart of Mary. As Masses go, I can think of parishes that offer more ornate liturgical settings than St. Josaphat. The orchestral Mass settings offered regularly by Assumption Grotto and even the musical programs offered by St. Joseph's in our parish cluster are cases in point. Yet the Missa Cantata offered every Sunday morning at St. Josaphat in the forma extraordinaria is beautifully simple, reverent, and focused. The music director, Wassim Sarweh, does a commendable job. (While these recordings are far from perfect, here are two clips, the first from the Sanctus Mass VIII -- Missa de Ángelis, January 21, 2007, and the second from the Kyrie Eleison - Mass for Four Voices, April 8, 2007.) Best of all, there is nothing to distract one spiritually from full active participation in the Mass. For the first time in many, many years, my wife tells me that she no longer dreads going to Mass, but actually looks forward to Sundays. I am grateful and quite agree.

Celebrants of the usus antiquior at St. Josephat rotate among a number of different priests, some from Polish or German backgrounds with notable accents in their homilies. His Excellency, Bishop Earl A. Boyea has also served as celebrant in the Sunday morning Tridentine Mass. Homilies consistently address substantial matters at the heart of the Catholic Faith and are generally very good. Fr. Borkowski himself exemplifies many of the qualities that attract persons such as my wife and myself to St. Josaphat, although he (and others) may be surprised by my saying so. He is a good and attentive confessor, yet outside the confessional he has a somewhat taciturn, if not curmudgeonly, demeanor. In the pulpit, he speaks the plain truth without mollycoddling. There is nothing of the mealy-mouthed, glad-handing huckster here. Call us strange, but my wife finds that refreshing, and so do I. I do not think we are alone, however, from the several deeply devoted parishioners we have met so far.

At the end of the past year, Alex Begin offered some remarks on "2007 in Review" in his Tridentine Community News column in the parish newsletter (December 30, 2007). Among other things, he commented on Pope Benedict XVI's Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, and its effect on those in the "Tridentine trenches." He writes:
There is no question that there has been a refreshing change in attitude in the Archdiocese of Detroit. To their credit, even if they are not particularly fond of the Classic Form of the Liturgy, many diocesan leaders have seen the way the Roman wind is blowing. They have displayed concern for St. Josaphat that this writer never expected to see. Auxiliary Bishop Earl Boyea has even arranged his schedule t celebrate Mass at St. Josaphat approximately once per quarter, no small feat for someone whose Sundays are chock-full of appointments and obligations to visit countless parishes.
It is worth noting here that just after the mutu proprio came out in July, Fr. Borkowski said that he doubted whether "more than two or three other parishes will begin offering the old Mass" ("Traditionalists welcome wider OK for Tridentine Mass," Michigan Catholic, July 13, 2007). In his December 30th column, however, Mr. Begin observes:
Apart from St. Josaphat, 21 other parishes in our region have either started or are exporing starting Tridentine Masses of their own, proving that there has been latent demand for this liturgy.
After some remarks about recent developments in Windsor, he continues:
Sacramental activity has increased: Our core group of three churches has already witnessed Baptisms, Funerals, and one Wedding according to the Extraordinary Form. Next up: Confession in the Classic Form.

At the international level, the year started out on a fine note with the publication of Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical stressing reverence in worship, proper adherence to rubrics, and use of Latin and chant. Two parishes in Detroit added latin to their Novus Ordo Masses in response to this document.

July 7 saw the publication of the long-awaited Motu Proprio that gives any priest the right to celebrate the Tridentine Mass and Classic Form Sacraments. Although its effective date was not until September 14, arrangements for new Extraordinary Form Masses began worldwide almost immediately.

EWTN stepped right up to the plate and offered its first live Tridentine Mass on September 14, celebrated by Fr. Josef Bisig, founder of the Fraternity of St. Peter. No stranger to our region, a few weeks after this historic broadcast, Fr. Bisig came to Michigan to celebrate the Solemn High Anniversary Mass for our sister Tridentine Community in Flint. Music for that Mass was provided by a joint Assumption-St. Josaphat Choir. EWTN broadcast a second live Extraordinary Form Mass on December 15, and has promised to do more on a regular basis.

Another long-awaited move was made when Pope Benedict replaced longtime Papal Master of Ceremonies Archibishop Piero Marini with Msgr. Gido Marini (no relation). The latter shares our Holy Father's desire for liturgies by-the-book, unlike his more freeform predecessor. The first Masses organized by the new MC already show his thinking: The altar has been arranged to our Holy Father's published liking, with the traditional six tall candles and a crucifix in the middle on which the celebrant can focus. Traditional vestments and an old Papal Chair have reappeared. Msgr. Marini has also made several public statements supporting the Motu Proprio. Is a Papal Tridentine Mass in the future?

The vatican music program is next up for reform: As anyone who has watched Masses broadcast from St. Peter's Basilica can attest, the Sistine Choir does not possess the professionalism one would expect from Chirstendom's premier church. Our Holy Father noticed: As a first step, in 2007, he appointed a new choir director, Fr. Pierre Paul, to re-establish Gregorian Chant as the primary form of singing the Mass and Vespers at St. Peter's Basilica. It would not be illogical to expect that soon, a new director will be appointed for the Sistine Choir, the special choir that sings for papal ceremonies....

In twelve months, both our local and international situation have turned around better than we could ever have imagined. We have our Holy Father, local authorities, and especially the Holy Trinity to thank for that. And thank them we should, by way of spiritual bouquets and Rosaries of thanksgiving.
Amen to that.


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