Skip to comments.The Last Daily Latin Mass in New York Is Facing Extinction
Posted on 08/15/2014 2:45:15 PM PDT by NYer
Down the street from the lights and sounds of Times Square stands the oldest building in the Garment District, the Church of the Holy Innocents. Over the decades its neighborhood has evolved into the tangle of chain stores and litter that it is today while the almost 150-year-old church has remained mostly the same since the day it was built. Step inside and the din is somehow lost, replaced by the last quiet, peaceful haven for New York’s traditional Catholics.
Yet what makes Holy Innocents truly unique is that it is the last Catholic church in the city to offer the Mass in Latin. The Latin, or Tridentine, Mass has been performed since the 6th century, and this rare service seems to have the effect of transporting one backwards through time. In the same way that the Mass is a testament to the past, the building itself is a landmark in New York history: giving last rites to those in the plane that crashed into the Empire State Building during WWII, baptizing Nobel laureate Eugene ONeill, officiating the marriage of performer Jimmy Durante, and overseeing the conversion of poet Joyce Kilmer.
Nowadays, however, the very thing that makes this place so extraordinary is also the thing putting it in danger. Despite the artistic, cultural and financial strengths of Holy Innocents, the church was recommended for closure in April as part of New Yorks “Making All Things New” initiative (a title one parishioner called “Orwellian”) to consolidate superfluous church spaces.
The reasons cited for the potential closure were that the church is not considered by the advisory board to be an active, vibrant community of faith, according to a letter from Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, sent in response to concerned parishioner and Frick Institute employee Valeria Kondratiev. A parish church is meant to be a center of worship and not a museum, he went on to say, addressing her concerns for the enormous, exquisite and priceless Constantino Brumidi mural affixed above the altar that would, in her opinion, most likely be unsalvageable if the church were closed.
This comes right on the tails of an immense $700,000 renovation project undergone just last year with most of the money going to restore the Brumidi mural. The project was paid for in major part by donations from parishioners and partly overseen by the same Archdiocese that may have known far in advance of the churchs potential for consolidation. Some people … gave until it hurt, parishioner Ron Mirro said. Its just very upsetting.
The interior of Holy Innocents (Photo by Kaitlyn Flannagan)
The puzzling thing about the cardinal’s claims of a lack of vibrancy in the community, however, is that Holy Innocents seems to have exploded in popularity since starting daily Latin Masses in 2010. Total Sunday Mass attendance is now 250-275, nearly triple the average attendance of 100 people in 2009. The church is nearing 75 percent of its ordinary seating capacity of 350-400. In addition, it is currently completely debt free with donations on track to double in the current fiscal year from the last.
Explanations for an inexplicable closure range. Some, like Mark Froeba, volunteer co-coordinator of the Holy Innocents Latin Mass, believe it’s an issue of misinformation and miscommunication. Mr. Froeba told the Observer that priests who were trained after the Second Vatican Council grew to harbor an animosity for the Latin Mass and the old, problematic ways of the church that it came to represent for them.
[To] a certain generation of priests, this is … the culture of the church they rejected in their youth … Theyd come to believe that it was the source of all the problems in the church: it was paternalistic, it was rubrical and not spiritual … all these sorts of condemnations that they came to believe in a heartfelt way, for them to now see it coming back is shocking to them.” Mr. Froeba said. Theyre hostile to something they fought 50 years ago that doesnt really exist anymore and this is a whole new thing, very much a product of the things that they fought for.
Others claim that the reason for closure lies in monetary gain from its prime real estate locationa five minute walk from all subway lines. Edward Hawkins was for years the leader of Holy Innocents chapter of the community service and fundraising philanthropic group, the Traditional Knights of Columbus. Im worried that its being devalued and blinded by the real estate. Thats whats really happening, Mr. Hawkins said. If they take this away from us … were never gonna get this community back. The people should be valued and they are not; its real estate thats valued.
A parishioner deep in prayer (Photo by Kaitlyn Flannagan)
Unfortunately, Holy Innocents has little recourse to save itself. As Catholics we are called to be obedient to our clergy and thats what we accept about our faith, said Con OShea-Creal, a regular commuter to the church from Queens. He and his wife Paige were recently married at Holy Innocents. The young couple agreed that they trusted in the Archdioceses final decision but that sometimes it can be difficult to do so.
This attitude is reflected in many of the parishioners of Holy Innocents. They are left with a feeling of helplessness and fear, making change.org petitions and writing pleading letters to the cardinal, but incapable of doing much else besides their daily Mass, to which they have added a prayer for the health and heart of Cardinal Dolan to spare their church.
The Latin, or Tridentine Mass, was abandoned in favor of the preferred New Mass, or Novus Ordo, after the second Vatican Council in 1970. The Council sought to make worship services less alien to modern worshipers and bring in new Catholics by making the church more accessible. They hoped to bring about more enthusiasm and community involvement.
Holy Innocents was built for the Latin Mass in the mid-19th century, but the Tridentine fell out of favor for about a generation after the Second Vatican Council ruled the New Mass as the preferred form. This New Mass became, with few exceptions, the only form of the Mass allowed until Pope Benedict XVI gave his permission in 2007 for wider use of the Latin Mass. In 2008, the Latin form came back to Holy Innocents, and it has contributed to the church’s current flourish. Founded in 1866, the parish will celebrate its 150th anniversary in two yearsif it survives that long.
Parishioners are made up of a diverse cross-section of races, ethnicities, and, surprisingly, ages. It is a common misconception that traditional Catholics are predominately elderly, but the Latin Mass is seemingly burgeoning in popularity among young Catholics, such as Eric Genovese, who recently turned 17. Young people are looking for a bigger sense in tradition … and I guess they find that more… in the Latin Mass, he said.
Mr. Froeba had some insight on why this might be. Authenticity [is] the zeitgeist of our time. People dont want the copy, they want the original, he told the Observer. For some people, especially young people, thats what [the Latin Mass] represents. Its something that has a history that stretches not just a few decades but centuries, even millennia.
A service in progress at Holy Innocents (Photo by Kaitlyn Flannagan)
The two main issues that Holy Innocents rallies for are the protection of the Latin Mass and, with its Shrine of the Unborn, the pro-life movement. The latter concern is a testament to the widespread question of whether the Latin Mass is inextricable from the more problematic elements of the traditional church that many believe should become more socially liberal including acceptance of female priests, gay marriage, transsexuality, and many other issues, abortion included.
Mr. Froeba maintains that the Mass, Tridentine or Novus Ordo, should reflect whatever the church teaches and whatever the church teaches should be embodied in the Mass. Social change has happened before in the church, he said, and it may well happen again. Mr. Froeba cites church stances on usury, the death penalty and slavery while going on to mention the Archdiocese’s recent support for the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Chelsea, a parish that caters to the LGBTQ community. Theres precedent for development of doctrine, he said.
Judge Andrew P. Napolitano debates such issues on television most of his days as the Senior Judicial Analyst for Fox News Channel, but many of his nights are spent at Holy Innocents. The cardinal … [is] a terrific human being … He has a very, very big heart. I am confident that in that very big heart of his, theres a place for [Holy Innocents],” he said. One of the churchs truisms is sacred then means sacred now, he told the Observer. The church teaches that if something was sacred, it was always sacred and it always will be sacred. Well, this Tridentine Mass was sacred for 1,400 years. It is sacred still.
A reason stated for the creation of the phasing out of the Latin Mass was a desire to unify the church. The belief was that doing the mass in the vernacular would make it more approachable and more appealing to Catholics as attendance numbers continued to dwindle on the whole. This sentiment is not shared by many members of Holy Innocents, however.
We pray the same prayers that have been prayed since time immemorial, regular parishioner Adam Fera said. When we sing hymns it not only unites us with Catholics throughout the world who are singing these hymns, but generations of Catholics before us … its a unifying force.
The cardinals final decision on the status of the closure will be revealed sometime in September.
The Church of the Holy Innocents was established in 1866 when the area around 37th Street and Broadway was semi-rural. The present edifice was completed in 1870 using the Gothic Revival style of architecture. The first pastor had the foresight to engage the prominent artist Constantino Brumidi, to create a monumental fresco over the main altar. Soon after Brumidi was commissioned to decorate the Great Rotunda of the U. S. Capitol Building with magnificent frescoes.
In the early years cows roamed the streets and open pastures around Holy Innocents. As the city rapidly expanded northward the community, known as the "Tenderloin", teemed with immigrants from Europe. By the early 1900's the area was known for newspaper publishing (The Herald) and theaters (The Metropolitan Opera House). Holy Innocents was called the "actor's church". Eugene O'Neill, the playwright, was baptized in the church in 1888.
By 1910, the area went through a profound change as the tenements were rapidly replaced by imposing commercial buildings. By the 1920's hundreds of thousands of workers earned their living in what became known as the Garment Center. Longacre Square changed its name to Times Square and Herald Square became synonymous with shopping. Meanwhile, Holy Innocents became spiritual oasis for vast number of people who went to work in the offices, factories and showrooms in the buildings that towered above. Not only did the church continue to offer spiritual direction but it also assisted people to rise to better economic and social circumstances.
Today the church is the oldest building in the Fashion Center. Yet, it is youthful in its enthusiasm for meeting the challenges of ever changing environment - new people, new technologies, new ideas. The church enjoys a vibrant spiritual life and is considered a "second home" to thousands of workers and visitors who find comfort and support here. Through the presentation of fine music and art, the church uplifts the human spirit, helping people to reset goals and standards to ever-higher levels. Spiritual growth, social services programs, and self-improvement opportunities are part of fabric from which Holy Innocents is made.
The Latin Mass is offered every Sunday at 11:00AM at St. Agnes Church in the Grand Central area. So the first sentence is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Already posted. See http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/3193059/posts?page=2#2
“I love Latin, I teach Latin, Latin is a dead language, therefore I am going to marry an undertaker.” Story I remember from my high school Latin teacher whose husband ran one of the two funeral homes in town.
Not to be related to this story, but it came to mind when I read your post.
Oh, well, that changes everything! /s
The headline speaks to daily Mass, however, and the stark possibly for closing altogether, so let’s not hold our breath.
ONE Sunday TLM in NYC? Pathetic.
But that’s just me.
Looks pretty dead in the worship service pictured.
I did not say it was the only Tridentine Mass in NYC. I know the St. Agnes one because I attend it off and on. So let’s not hit the “pathetic” button just yet. Or the sarcasm.
The first line of this story is a lie and I have proved it.
How do you know this is a “worship service”? (We usually call it a Mass.) She may have popped in on her lunch hour or come in at an off hour for a bit of quiet and meditation.
A Latin low Mass might typically be said to look rather inanimate by an observer who doesn’t have the slightest clue what s/he’s talking about.
I presumed that the Observer wasn't lying.
"A service in progress at Holy Innocents (Photo by Kaitlyn Flannagan) "
She may have popped in on her lunch hour or come in at an off hour for a bit of quiet and meditation.
And caught the two guys in their vestments at the altar doing deep knee bends, while the Priest is doing something at the altar with his back to the congregation. Silly of me to assume it was a mass, just because that's how they used to look before they turned the priests around, and this is a traditional mass church.
So the couple of dozen or so people are resting or meditating on their knees during their lunch hour, the altar boy and the other guy are resting on their knees or exercising, and the priest is tidying up the altar?
And the church might look live rather than dead to someone who has never seen packed pews. Last mass I went to, folks were packed in tighter than the cheap seats on an airplane. Most of the parishes around here have weekly attendance of 10 to 20,000 with 11 to 21 services a week.
My own parish’s Latin Mass attendance is about the same as the pic — low 20s — but we are true Catholics much as the good folks of The Church of the Holy Innocents surely are. We don’t use artificial contraception, promote abortion, endorse homosexual ‘marriage’ or tolerate pornography or in general engage in the heresies of Vatican II liturgies.
These are 3 or 4 separate photos, you or I don’t know if they’re related.
It would be pretty sparse for a Sunday Mass, but well-attended for a daily Mass, even by pre-V II standards! And daily Mass is the point of the story.
Thank you for the first legitimate response to my comment. If it is a weekday mass, your point is well taken.
Just received this from Juventutem Long Island and thought you and the others would be interested.
We here in NY are just heartbroken that Holy Innocents is on the chopping block.
St. Patrick's Church - 2013
has been replaced by ..
Price Chopper Supermarket
Sadly, the supermarket draws a much larger attendance than the church. It is a reflection of our secularist society.
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