Skip to comments.Latin Mass attracting a younger generation of parishioners
Posted on 12/31/2003 10:15:57 AM PST by tridentine
CHESAPEAKE Common sense would suggest its only an ever-dwindling band of nostalgic, silver-haired Catholics who come to St. Benedict Chapel to hear the Rev. Damian A. Abbaticchio lead services in the dead language of Latin.
Yet Sunday mornings find youthful faces throughout the church. A steady trickle of newcomers in their 20s, 30s and early 40s has boosted St. Benedicts membership to about 200, leading it to add a second Sunday service and expand its building. The chapel had about 80 members when it was founded in 1992.
Many of the young newcomers were restless Catholics who have found in the Latin Mass something tried and proven.Theres a sense that the whole has been refined over centuries, said 36-year-old Ron Weber, a Chesapeake resident who grew up going to English-only Masses. It gives you the sense that God is always the same. From the old Mass to the rosary, traditions that fell out of favor among their parents after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s are making a comeback among many young Catholics. They are a big trend in the church, said Kathleen Cummings of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, which is based at the University of Notre Dame.
The old practices include personal devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ; novenas, which are prayers said over nine consecutive days; and using prayer beads while reciting the rosary. Many of the practices can be done alone.
For the younger generation, which rarely experienced the traditions while growing up, the old practices can serve as a new way of connecting with the divine. They enable people to pray in a certain way that helps their faith, said the Rev. James Martin, who has written about the trend as associate editor of America, a Jesuit magazine.
St. Benedict and St. Joseph, established in Richmond in 1991, are the only two churches in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond that celebrate the Latin Mass regularly; both had to receive permission from then-Bishop Walter F. Sullivan. St. Benedict is a mission church operating under the auspices of St. Gregory the Great Church in Virginia Beach.
More than 100 dioceses across the country have parishes that celebrate the Latin Mass regularly. The rite also is know as the Tridentine Mass, because it was institutionalized by Catholic Church leaders at the Council of Trent in the 16th century.
What impresses Abbaticchio about the old rite is that, apart from the sermon, priests have little opportunity to inject themselves into the service. The Mass is scripted and predictable.
Theres no personal interpretation at all, he said. The meaning is definite. Some of the more obvious differences between a contemporary Mass and a Latin Mass were apparent on a recent morning at St. Benedict, which occupies a narrow, former bungalow in Chesapeakes Princeton Halls community. Chastity is a Lifestyle advised a bumper sticker on one of the members cars; rosary beads hung from the rear-view mirror.
Inside the sanctuary, most women and girls covered their heads with lacy mantillas or round, doily-like pieces of satin.
During the service, the 86-year-old Abbaticchio, resplendent in a green and gold chasuble, prayed at times behind a wrought-iron railing that separated the altar from the congregational worship space. Some congregants followed along in red missals giving both the Latin text and an English translation, as well as instructions on when to stand or kneel.
Dominus vobiscum, Abbaticchio said, speaking to the crowd: The Lord be with you.
Et cum spiritu tuo, responded his flock: And with thy spirit.
In a modern Mass, a priest faces parishioners when he performs the sacrament of holy communion. In the Latin Mass, however, Abbaticchios back was toward the congregation, with a tinkling bell marking the moments at which the bread and wine became consecrated.
For older Catholics and many baby boomers at St. Benedict, the old liturgy has almost a nostalgic feel: It is the standard with which they grew up. But for some younger Catholics raised on English-only services, the Latin Mass is oddly fresh in its return to tradition.
Weber said he first learned about the Tridentine Mass while studying religion as a student at The College of William and Mary. After graduating and settling in South Hampton Roads, he visited St. Benedict out of curiosity.
He said he finds in the old Mass a quality of immutability the sense that God doesnt change, and neither does the way you worship.
Joe and Susan Kalis, who live near Smithfield, said they began learning about the traditional style of worship while giving their children religious instruction during home schooling.
We were re-taught the faith when we taught our children, and suddenly realized we had missed an awful lot, said Joe, who, like his wife, is 41. Echoing a comment common among their peers at St. Benedict, the couple said the Tridentine rite properly puts a heavier emphasis on the sacrament of communion.
Most typical was Leanne Smiths view that the Latin Mass demands more reverence than is usually found at the standard worship service. Smith, 35, said she skipped from one church to another before stumbling upon a Latin service in Northern Virginia five years ago. It opened my eyes, she said. This is what our Lord, the apostles, have passed down.
Compared to the old rite, some younger members said, the contemporary Mass is too unpredictable and too much like Protestant services.
To some extent, interest by some young Catholics in devotional practices reflects a wider appreciation within Catholicism for time-honored ways. Pope John Paul II declared the period from October 2002 to October 2003 as the Year of the Rosary, and last month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document describing how traditional practices can fit into Catholic life.
Martin called the document an attempt to map a middle ground for Catholics with strong feelings about traditions like religious devotions.
On the one hand, you have people, mostly liberals, who say, 'Its baloney and superstitious, and you have other people who say, 'Youre not a real Catholic if you dont pray the rosary, he said. Martin said the old traditions will continue to find young adherents.
The most salient part is that for many young Catholics, these devotions and things like the Latin Mass are just sort of exotic, sensual, mysterious, very other, so it sort of fascinates them, Martin said.
Additionally, he said, younger Catholics are less likely to be biased against traditional practices they havent experienced than some older Catholics who remain glad to be rid of ways that they found stifling or outmoded.
Some research indicates young Catholics are more conservative than their parents as well.
But Cummings said the old practices also appeal to some within the younger generation who are struggling to find ways of defining and demonstrating their Catholic identity.
The Latin Mass would be one way to proclaim ones self as distinctly Catholic, she said.
1) The Dreadful Diocese of Richmond is one of the most dissident in the country, rife with liturgical abuse, lousy music, and nearly heretical sermons. Several Chesapeake parishes are among the worst I've ever seen. Unsurprisingly, vocations in the DDR are nearly nonexistant.
2) The St. Benedict chapel began life as "Our Lady of the Rosary" (or something very similar), an "independant" chapel served by SSPX and SSPV priests. Fortunately, they had the good sense to get right with the Bishop, and affiliate with the Benedictines who run St. Gregory.
The utter irony is that as time goes on, it is becoming more apparent that the exact opposite is true -- the Latin Mass attracts people from every age group, while many parishes churches (particularly in older urban areas) end up closing their doors and selling the property once the last silver-haired parishioners pass on or move into nursing homes.
It goes even beyond that. Traditional parishes often have an average age of around 10, as the pews are overflowing with large young families with an average of several children for each adult. Meanwhile the non-traditionalists are contracepting themselves into oblivion.
As you say, many Catholic parishes are following the main-line protestant example of serving a dwindling population of silver-haired elders. But these operations all stay in business for the same reason: that's where the money is. Main-line protestant congregations often have huge endowments and no parishioners -- an ideal situation for a vicar looking for a cushy sinecure. Same with more and more Catholic priests these days, especially those of a certain persuasion.
Isn't that where Pat Buchanan goes to Mass?
If you think about it, you may come to realize that's not really true. If the true reality of the Mass is that it's a mystery taking place on a supernatural plane, and that it's an act of sacrifice and worship directed to God, not to man, then which language helps you understand that reality?
The evidence all indicates that the Catholic faithful understood the reality of the Mass back when it was offered in Latin. Catholics used to understand that the Mass represented an "unbloody re-presentation of the sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary." Today when the service is in the vernacular, they haven't a clue.
Well I might be missing something but I do think this. Any language is not relevant in this inadequatcy. Even silence would suffice except for the Words of Consecration and the Liturgy of the Word.
Sometimes. Justice Antonin Scalia also goes there.
How ironic ... that Bishop Sullivan was one of the worst supporters of liturgical abuse in the Novus Ordo ... perhaps he allowed these two chapels as an outlet for those totally disgusted with such abuse, in order to shut them up.
Guess that would explain why my wife and I cross the Potomac most Sundays...