Skip to comments.Devoted to the past
Posted on 03/07/2005 9:36:40 AM PST by CatherineSiena
Altar boys - and no girls - kneel before the altar at the end of High Mass at St. Stephen, the First Martyr. The Catholic church opened in December.
It's Sunday morning at St. Stephen, the First Martyr Church in south Sacramento. As usual, the hard wooden pews are packed 15 minutes before Mass. A mother near the front whispers to her four attentive children. A little girl of about 8 adjusts her white veil.
The parishioners begin reciting the rosary, and the haunting sounds of the mysteries fill the chapel. Somewhere, a bell rings. The Latin Mass begins.
St. Stephen, a new church in a struggling neighborhood off Fruitridge Road, officially opened in December and already has about 700 members. They come from all over Northern California to worship because this church, which celebrates the Latin Mass and promotes traditional church teachings, gives them what they want.
St. Stephen is the only diocesan-approved church in Northern California - some say in the state - that celebrates only the Latin Mass, sometimes called a Tridentine Mass. Other churches may offer the Mass, but St. Stephen is devoted to it. Each worship service is a Latin Mass.
"The people who come here have decided to make their faith the center of their lives," says the Rev. John Berg, chaplain of the church.
Celebrating Mass here is like going back more than 40 years, before the changes of Vatican II. Parishioners use missals (liturgical books) first published in 1962. Women and girls cover their heads with lace veils. The priest faces the altar (away from parishioners) for part of the service and speaks a language that few understand.
St. Stephen is part of small but growing movement of churches filling the spiritual needs of traditional young Catholics. Rejecting the "new" Mass, they're embracing rituals that are more than 1,000 years old. They say the Latin Mass is more reverent and more family-oriented, and does a better job of promoting traditional church teachings, particularly abortion issues.
Lanibeth Gonzales wears a lace veil during Mass. At St. Stephen, the 1960s-era reforms of Vatican II are less in evidence than at most Catholic churches. After Mass, many of the families will visit in the social hall.
"I like the richness of the tradition ... and I find that it's much more supportive of the family," says Barbara Dana of South Land Park, who home-schools her seven children and attends St. Stephen regularly. "Everything about my life says pro-life, and I think it's important that my church does, too."
The majority of the parishioners at St. Stephen are middleclass families in their 30s and 40s, dispelling the myth that only the elderly nostalgic for their past would be interested in attending such a Mass. The typical family has five or six children, according to Berg. Most of those kids are home-schooled by their mothers.
Supporters say the growth of the Latin Mass reflects a need among many Catholics for the traditional teachings of the church.
"There's a whole generation of young Catholics who came across the Tridentine Mass and feel as if their birthright was taken away from them," says Mary Kraychy, executive director of Ecclesei Dei, a national clearinghouse based in Illinois that distributes information about the Latin Mass. "They're taking it back."
Kraychy says there are about 30 churches like St. Stephen throughout the country, and many others are adding the Latin Mass to their schedules. She does not keep track of the number of people attending these Masses.
"Some could have only 10 people," says Kraychy, "but others, like St. Stephen's, are attracting young families and growing."
A young parishioner reads from a 1962 missal with passages in Latin.
All Catholic Masses were said in Latin until 1965, and many Catholics were not happy with the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council.
In 1998, Pope John Paul II began encouraging bishops to permit the restricted use of the Latin Mass. This was a way of reaching out to the followers of a schismatic priest, Marcel Lefebvre, and other unhappy traditionalists, according to the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor in chief of America, a Catholic magazine, and author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church."
"I think the original intention of allowing the Tridentine Mass was to satisfy the needs of the people who had grown up with it and were attached to it," Reese says. "The thought was that the next generation would grow up attending English Mass, and the Latin Mass would fade away. I don't think anyone foresaw young families being attracted to it."
He adds that the number of traditionalists is still small.
"Ninety-nine percent of the Catholic people are very happy with the English Mass and do not want to go back," says Reese. "You have to remember this is attracting a small group."
Traditionalists began getting attention a couple of years ago after reports that actor Mel Gibson belonged to a traditionalist Catholic church. However, Gibson's Malibu church is not associated with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is reportedly independent. There is also a traditionalist church in Sacramento that is not associated with the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.
Father John Berg holds up the Host as he prepares for Holy Communion during Mass.
Berg, chaplain of St. Stephen, wants to make it clear that his church is a part of the local diocese under the auspices of Bishop William K. Weigand. But Berg says St. Stephen parishioners do hold definite views on Vatican II. "We believe that it needs to be interpreted in light of the tradition of the church," Berg says.
The Latin Mass was offered in the Sacramento area at two churches in the early 1990s. Over the years, the number of worshipers grew, and eventually they asked for permission to form their own church. The bishop granted this, and the diocese and church members purchased a former Lutheran church in 1999.
After a lengthy renovation, the church was consecrated Dec. 13, 2004. It was named after St. Stephen, who was stoned to death in A.D. 35 for preaching the Gospel.
"The people here are serious about their faith, and they have strong beliefs," says Berg. Many of the cars in the church parking lot have anti-abortion bumper stickers. "They are not cafeteria Catholics."
Cynthia and Phil Carey of Wilton both grew up in large Catholic families and attended churches where the "new" Mass was celebrated. They say they would never go back.
"We love the culture at St. Stephen's, the sense of community and God-centeredness," says Cynthia Carey, 40, on a Saturday afternoon at her home. "The children get a real sense of their faith here."
Altar boy James Carey, 9, holds back a yawn during the two-hour Mass. At left is Noah De La Cruz; at right is James' brother Stephen.
The Careys have seven children: Andrew, 12; Stephen, 11; James, 9; Mark, 6; David, 5; Marie, 4; and Helen, 2. They are expecting their eighth child in April.
Cynthia Carey does not know if she will have more. "We'll take them as God gives them to us. We count them all as blessings."
It's not always easy. Phil Carey, an attorney, is the sole financial provider for the family. His wife home-schools the children. "The church says the parents are the primary teachers of the children," Phil Carey says.
The family lives on five acres in the country where they keep pets and livestock. The family room has been converted into a classroom. The days can be long, but the Careys say the benefits are worth it.
"It's important that the kids see us live our faith and not just by going to church on Sundays," says Cynthia Carey.
Sundays at St. Stephen are viewed as special days. Parishioners arrive for church in their Sunday best. The children sit with their families in the pews, not in nurseries.
By the time the priest and the procession of altar boys - no altar girls here - begin down the center aisle of the church, the mood is somber. Because of Lent there is no organ music. A choir sings from the loft.
After Mass, many families head off to the social hall. Most of them linger for several hours, enjoying the sense of community - something they say they don't find at other churches.
Traditional Catholic ping!
Did you catch the picture with the kid "holding back a yawn"? There's always a little shot somewhere.
But we live in the present -- not the past!
Truth doesn't change.
The younger families do seem to have several children, and there's nothing more beautiful than seeing a woman with all of her jewels in tow, it never ceases to touch me. Also, I've always loved hearing the cooing of a baby at Mass. It comforts me and puts a great smile on my face. The chant of a baby; precious!
The Latin Mass Community is like that voice crying in the wilderness, but I don't think it will survive. It's a voice that many of those in power consider a throwback that must be tolerated until it withers on the vine.
The powers that be will remain the powers that be, and that bodes well for the 'progressives', but bodes ill for the Traditionalists, IMO.
Yes I saw that, but let's compare that stifled yawn to what goes on at NO masses, just to be fair. Besides he was probably up late practicing his Latin prayers. ;-)
Thanks for the ping.
This parish sound's alot like my parish in demographics. Interesting to the article talks about priests praying in a language "few understand". I've picked up a ton of Latin in just 1 year of attending the TLM, I'm hardly claiming that I could have a conversation in it with a native speaker (if such existed) or anything but I can follow even without my missal. Immersion is the best way to learn, go to daily mass!
If you don't pick it up you aren't really trying, it's not hard.
Thanks for correcting me. You weren't on my ping list for that.
I believe Vigneron brought in a Christ the King priest in Oakland. I think the entire parish is traditional. I heard rumors Una Voce wants to bring FSSP to Fresno.
You are right. There is an Institute priest at St. Margaret Mary's. But unlike the Institute's other parishes in the U.S., they also have the Novus Ordo there.
To access my side-by-sides, get on Salvation's ping list: (Catholic Caucus; I usually post the Latin gospel in the evening of the same day).
Do they? nick and I were debating this the other day.
Is that your site?
I guess Father means the vernacular language Mass, since English is the native language for a small minority of Catholics. I was in the pews a few months back with a man from Mexico and English didn't mean a thing to him.
Too bad we didn't apply Vatican II in a different manner:
36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
If we could have said some of the prayers in Latin, we would have both known what we were saying.
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