The Tridentine Mass, the Latin-only rite both loved and hated by many Catholics for its medieval qualities, is roaring back into use after a July 7 papal decree loosened the rules on celebrating it.
Two traditional priestly societies dedicated to the rite report that priests from all over the country are signing up in droves for weeklong classes to learn the rituals and language of the Mass, named after the 16th-century Council of Trent.
Monsignor Michael Schmitz, vicar-general of the Florence, Italy-based Institute of Christ the King, said he has received hundreds of calls from interested clergy.
“This is a nationwide phenomenon,” he said. “Many more parish priests and younger priests are interested in learning to celebrate the Latin Mass.
“Whenever the Latin rite is celebrated, you get many young people,” he added. “They are looking for something that speaks to the soul, and the beauty of the liturgy is awe-inspiring. The heartfelt presence of God really affects them.”
The Elmhurst, Pa.-based Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter trained 50 priests on performing the rite this summer at its Our Lady of Guadalupe seminary in Denton, Neb.
Its September session is already full and its Elmhurst bookstore got a “big upsurge” in demand for priestly training materials within two days of the announcement, said the Rev. Carl Gismondi, a Fraternity priest studying theology at the Dominican House in the District.
“It is a detailed liturgy, so there’s a lot of books and videos needed to teach a priest how to say this Mass,” he said. “There’s something about it that’s very attractive to people. It’s more than nostalgia because a lot of young people are interested in it.”
Until Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration, called a “motu proprio,” the Tridentine Mass could be celebrated only with the approval of the local bishop. One-third of U.S. dioceses had no Tridentine Masses, and most of the others had only one or two per week. Benedict noted in his document, though, that the post-Vatican II Novus Ordo, or Mass of Paul VI, will remain the church’s usual celebration.
The Society of St. Pius X offers a “free Mass kit” along with a 120-minute instructional video for priests on its sspx.org site.
Neal Kotlarek, manager of the Catholic bookstore near the Archdiocese of Detroit headquarters, is ordering reproductions by the case. “Usually, I just carry a few copies,” he said.
Maureen Williamson, a manager at the Fort Collins, Colo.-based Roman Catholic Books, said 200 copies of its $155 deluxe edition priest’s altar missal sold within two weeks of the papal announcement. She typically sells 20 to 35 a month.
“We’re projecting we are going to sell more than 700 by the end of the year,” she said. “Now that this Mass is able to be said by anyone at any time, priests and parishes have been ordering it.”
Priests from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Alexandria and St. John’s in McLean are sending priests to Denton, Neb., in September. The Rev. Franklyn M. McAfee, pastor of St. John’s, was trained in Denton four years ago and plans to implement the Tridentine rite in early October. It will replace his parish’s noon Latin celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass.
“The people here really want it,” the priest said. “All sorts of prominent people have asked me for it. They’re not opposed to the Novus Ordo Mass, but they prefer the 1962 Missal,” referring to the rules that Pope John XXIII drew up for the centuries-old Mass.
“It’s more reverent, more transcendent,” Father McAfee said.
In the older rite, worshippers must kneel to receive Communion on their tongues; the priest always leads the parishioners in facing east, rather than facing them; and the rite is always in Latin. There are other differences in terms of liturgy, priestly vestments and the manner in which laity take part in the service. Women communicants of the Tridentine mass customarily cover their heads, although it is not mandated.
“Logistically, I think the challenge for the next two months for priests who want to say the Mass is to get the missal, vestments and plan for working with a modern sanctuary,” Father McAfee said. “Altar boys need to be trained, and men need to learn Gregorian chant. There’s a ton of work for parishes with a priest who wants a Mass.”
“The solemn high Mass is a production,” he added. “It’s very choreographed. Someone called it the greatest ballet in the world. It’s all very scripted.”
Ann Thunder, one of his parishioners, likened altar-boy training to football diagrams.
“If you word it in terms of a sports analogy, it works,” she said, “such as server A passes a cruet to server B.”