An unusual Mass, with all the stops pulled out, was celebrated Monday at Mount St.
Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg.
At least it was unusual for the seminary’s 150 students who, for the first time in four decades, got to take part in a Tridentine Mass rite involving incense, ornate vestments, a sung liturgy in Latin and a supporting cast of several priests.
Chantry, a Renaissance church music choir from the District, did the chants and polyphony. Several clergy made the 90-minute drive to take part, including the celebrant, who was Monsignor Charles Pope, coordinator of the Latin Mass for the Archdiocese of Washington. The Rev. Paul Scalia, a priest in the Arlington Diocese, was the deacon and the Rev. John Fritz, a Rockford, Ill., priest studying at Catholic University and a graduate of “the Mount,” was the subdeacon.
“They were very moved by it,” said the seminary’s rector, Monsignor Steven Rohlfs. “It was the first time many of them had been exposed to the Latin Mass and I wanted them to see it at its best.”
The 58-year-old rector said he had grown up with the Mass, “but the vast majority of parishes have never experienced Mass like this as most church choirs are not able to do this kind of music.”
The 16th century Tridentine Mass was the church’s official rite until Vatican II permitted Masses in modern languages, after which the traditional Latin Mass was little used. On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI eased restrictions on its use, ordering bishops in a letter called “Summorum Pontificum” to make it more accessible to the faithful. At the time, one-third of 195 U.S. dioceses had no Tridentine Mass at all and there was only a handful in four dioceses stretching from Richmond to Baltimore.
Since then, interest has shot up worldwide, especially among young Catholics seeking a more transcendent worship. Locally, the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has set aside one of its crypt-level chapels for the rite. Last spring, students at Georgetown University petitioned to get the Mass offered twice weekly in a small chapel.
In September, 15 mostly young Archdiocese of Washington priests attended a three-day workshop in LaPlata, Md., on how to stage such a Mass. Monsignor Pope said some already have begun doing the Mass on their own.
“There is a beauty to the old liturgy if it’s done well,” he said. “This is the Mass that most of the canonized saints knew.”
Opportunities to take part in the traditional Latin Mass have “slightly increased” in the archdiocese, he said, but “frankly, there haven’t been huge requests from the laity.”
There might be if there were more priests offering it, which is why Mount St. Mary’s required all students be present at Monday’s event. Currently, 20 seminarians are undergoing two years of course work on how to do the Mass.
“First, we make sure they know sufficient Latin,” Monsignor Rohlfs said. Most of the seminarians prefer the English-language rite used in parishes today, “but they need to appreciate the extraordinary form of the Mass. The pope wants seminarians and priests to make the Mass available to people.”
But it’s a learned habit.
“I’ve found the first time you do it, the church is full,” he said. “The second time, it is half full, the third time it is one-quarter full and eventually you get to about 75 people who like that form of worship and want to stay with that.”
cJulia Duin’s “Stairway to Heaven” column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.