Latin Mass may be easier said than done
Home News Tribune Online 07/18/07
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By HENRY ROSOFF
GANNETT NEW JERSEY
The pope has made it easier for Catholics to go back to their roots.
On July 7, Benedict XVI ended the church's restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass, which is said in Latin and performed by a priest who faces the altar as opposed to the congregation.
But Central Jersey Catholics shouldn't expect to be looking at their priests' backs and listening to the ancient language in large numbers.
While a handful of Roman Catholic churches in New Jersey celebrate the Latin Mass because of a 1984 papal ruling, local church officials say it will take a while to implement the pope's instructions. They want to make sure the Latin Mass is celebrated properly and need time to train priests.
"At this point, it's just a lot of wait and see," said Monsignor Michael Alliegro, who heads the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Metuchen, a region that includes more than 600,000 Roman Catholics in Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset and Warren counties. "We only have three priests who can say the Mass at this time . . . and we don't know how many want to learn."
And there's also the question of how many Catholics want to attend the Latin-rite Mass.
"I grew up with the Latin Mass, and I didn't appreciate it," said Antonette Roberto, parishioner at Mary Mother of God Church in Hillsborough. "I didn't understand why we sat through something we didn't understand, and we couldn't even afford the prayer books, which they didn't provide back then."
The pope announced his decision in a four-page apostolic letter with an accompanying personal letter. He said that effective Sept. 14, all Catholics wanting to attend a Mass celebrated in Latin will be accommodated.
The Tridentine Mass was the standard Mass performed for all Roman Catholics prior to the changes brought in by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Those changes included a new Mass meant to be said in local languages.
Following intense lobbying by some conservative Catholics, Pope John Paul II decreed in 1984 that the Latin Mass could be said in a diocese as long as local bishops gave their permission.
Benedict's new guidelines take this one step further. Now, any priest who wishes to celebrate in Latin "does not require any permission." The pope also has instructed local pastors to offer the old Mass to any "group of faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition."
But the pope also stressed that the Latin Mass is not meant to replace the modern Mass and that the local bishops still have control in deciding how this expansion would be accomplished.
Jim Goodness, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, headed by Archbishop John J. Myers, said the changes would come slowly.
"At this point, we're not sure how many priests in our diocese are willing to do it," said Goodness, whose diocese includes Union County. "It's been a number of years since the Mass has been a regular part" of the church.
Myers has said he is most concerned with making sure priests who wish to begin celebrating the Tridentine Mass do it properly. This means those wanting the old Mass at their churches must first truly understand Latin and know the proper rubrics, the movements associated with the ceremony.
"The majority of our priests have not said Mass in Latin," Goodness said. "We're going to be working with our office of divine worship over the next couple of weeks to help them."
There are seven churches in New Jersey that celebrate a Mass in Latin.
About 15 years ago, the Shrine Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in Raritan began offering a Tridentine Mass on the fourth Sunday of every month. The church recently expanded the offering, celebrating the Mass on each second Sunday as well.
Alliegro said the Metuchen Diocese is looking for the chapel to lead the way in slowly bringing back Latin Masses.
"We hope to be able to have a weekly Mass there by September," he said.
Alliegro said that, like the Newark Archdiocese, Metuchen also wants to make sure priests who learn how to celebrate the Tridentine Mass get it right.
To help ensure this, Alliegro, along with Monsignor Donald Endebrock and Monsignor David Fulton, are devising a plan to aid ordained members of their diocese attempting to learn how to celebrate the Mass.
Charles Prats, a priest at Shrine Chapel capable of leading a Tridentine Mass, said the bimonthly Masses now serve churchgoers throughout the Diocese of Metuchen — and he added that the pews are usually are full.
"I'm 53, and I remember when I was an altar boy many years ago, I used to help the priest celebrate the Masses," he said. "It's beautiful and much more complicated."
Prats believes now that Benedict has made additional Latin Masses readily available, more churchgoers will discover what he said his congregation has found to be a "more sacred and more holy" ceremony.
"There is a certain nostalgia for the beauty and the rhythms of the Mass in Latin," Goodness said. "Some people feel it's a much more reflective experience."
However, he adds that there's just no way to tell how many Catholics mirror the current pontiff's mood and will begin celebrating a Mass they don't completely understand — the exact problem Laura Ferreras has with the Latin ceremony.
She attends Mass in English at St. Matthias Catholic Church in the Somerset and finds it much more fulfilling.
"I haven't been to a Latin Mass since I was much younger," Ferreras said. "It may be more beautiful, but I get more out of it if I understand the words."
Tom McGrath of St. Thomas the Apostle R.C. Church in Old Bridge understands Ferreras's viewpoint but feels there's something to be gained from the Latin rite.
"I think it more mysterious," he said. "Probably a lot of younger people would like it as much, but there's an air of piety about it."