By Victoria Kearns
Western New York Catholic (September 2007)
In an effort to preserve the integrity of the faith and embrace those who may have felt distanced from the Church's ancient Latin liturgy by Vatican II reforms, Pope Benedict XVI is easing access to the Latin Mass.
In his Apostolic Letter, "Summorum Pontificum," Pope Benedict called for an "interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church" with those who desire the Tridentine Liturgy or Latin Mass (which originated at the Council of Trent in 1565) by loosening restrictions on its usage.
Now priests may offer the Latin Mass to any "stable (regular parish members) group of faithful" people requesting it without seeking permission from their bishop. The Latin Mass may be used anytime except during the Easter Triduum. Usage of the Latin forms for other sacraments is also allowed.
While Pope Benedict is asking the whole Church to "generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows," he is not reversing reforms made by the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s.
"This is a pastoral outreach on the part of the Holy Father," Bishop Edward U. Kmiec said. "It is a generous, hopeful extension of a hand."
Pope Benedict hopes that a more flexible allowance of the Latin Mass would stimulate a deeper spiritual life among worshippers, ensure reverence and sacrality of the liturgy, and embrace those who grew up on the Latin Mass and remain strongly attached to it.
He also said that young people have demonstrated an increased attraction to the Latin liturgy and "found it is a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist."
The Summorum Pontificum maintains only one rite, albeit in two forms. The Latin liturgy will be seen as an extraordinary form of the liturgy while the current Mass remains the ordinary liturgy.
"There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal," Pope Benedict wrote. "In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. 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."
There have been seven revisions of the Latin Mass since 1545. Reforms were made to the Mass over the years to ensure the rites and liturgical books were brought up to date. The last reform of the Latin Mass was made by Blessed John XXIII in 1962.
In 1970, following Vatican II, Pope Paul VI reformed the liturgical books for the Latin Church and called for their translation into the common languages of the people. The priests turned to face the people and the use of lay readers was encouraged. While Latin could still be spoken, it was to be used within the liturgical structure of the new Mass.
To ensure acceptance of this reform, the Vatican then insisted on compliance by discouraging use of the 1962 Latin Mass. However, Vatican II ever prohibited the Latin Mass entirely. It only placed limitations and restrictions on its use. Pope Benedict's move to grant more freedom to practice the Latin Mass may mend old bridges with those who have felt splintered from the larger Church.
The Scripture readings of the Latin Mass, which are read in English, are offered on a different cycle than those in the ordinary Mass. Sermons are also spoken in English. There are no lectors, deacons do not distribute Holy Communion which is received only as bread to kneeling parishioners and directly on the tongue.
There is no procession with gifts, no Prayer of the Faithful and no Sign of Peace. The intention of the Mass is announced before the priest gives his sermon. The length of the Mass remains constant. The priest stands with the congregation facing the altar.
The diocese offers the Latin Mass at 1:30 p.m. Sundays in the chapel of Our Lady of Help of Christians Parish, Cheektowaga, with a rotating schedule of priests who are fluent in Latin and familiar with the ancient liturgy. Approximately 80 people from throughout the diocese and as far away as Ontario and Syracuse attend regularly. A Latin Mass is also offered at 9:30 a.m. Sundays by St. Anthony of Padua's Parish, behind City Hall, Buffalo.
"The Latin liturgy always presents a greater devotion, serenity, sacredness, holiness -- a deep sense of prayer," said Richard Grecko who attends the Latin Mass at Our Lady Help of Christians.
Since the Latin mass stems from a bygone era in Church history, there may be fewer priests fluent in Latin or familiar with the Roman Breviary of 1862 to offer Mass.
"We have a small number of priests who can offer the Mass in Latin," Bishop Kmiec said. "Many of our priests who previously celebrated the Latin Mass would need a refresher course and the younger priests, who have never celebrated the Latin Mass, would need instruction in the Mass and the sacraments in Latin."
Father Robert Martin, ordained in 1983 and among several priests to offer the Mass in Latin at Our Lady Help of Christians, Cheektowaga, said it was four years of Latin study at Canisius High School that prepared him.
"Latin isn't offered in the seminaries anymore," he said. "When someone approached me to say the Mass in Latin, I was able to read it from the 1962 Breviary because of the Latin I learned at Canisius."
Father David W. Bialkowski, pastor of St. John Gualbert, Cheektowaga, has also been offering the Latin Mass at Our Lady Help of Christians.
"It is the awe, reverence and mystery that appeals to some people. Because of that it's attractive, but I think we're talking about a small group of people, Father Bialkowski said.
"The pope highlights unity, but I'm not sure it can create unity," he said. "It may lead to polarization. I'm seeing that more people are having some strong feelings about this both ways."
Father Paul Nogaro of St. Stephen Parish, Grand Island, who also offers the Latin Mass at Our Lady Help of Christians Church said he doesn't see it growing and doesn't see many young people in attendance.
Bishop Kmiec does not think there will be a significant increase in the number of Latin Masses in the diocese.
"There is not a demand for this. I don't have a sense that there is a groundswell of support in our parishes that more people want the Latin Mass," Bishop Kmiec said, adding there are no plans for a Latin Mass parish. "A parish has so many ramifications. It's more than Mass on Sunday. A parish would need income and programs of catechesis, and I would hope it would delve into the rest of the church. In the course of time, if it were appropriate, we could erect a parish, but there are no plans to do so at this time."
[Hat tip to R.R.-D.]