Young Catholics raise demand for traditional Latin Mass
Roman Catholic churches nationwide are rushing to accommodate a surge in demand for the traditional Latin Mass, which is drawing a surprising new crowd: young people.
Since July, when a decree from Pope Benedict XVI lifted decades-old restrictions on celebrating the Tridentine Mass, seven churches in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area have added the liturgy to their weekly Sunday schedules.
“I love the Latin Mass,” said Audrey Kunkel, 20, of Cincinnati. “It’s amazing to think that I’m attending the same Mass that has formed saints throughout the centuries.”
In contrast to the New Order Mass, which has been in use since the Second Vatican Council in 1969 and is typically celebrated in vernacular languages such as English, the Tridentine Mass is “contemplative, mysterious, sacred, transcendent, and [younger people are] drawn to i t ,” said the Rev. Franklyn McAfee, pastor of St. John the Beloved in McLean, Va. “Gregorian chant is the opposite of rap, and I believe this is a refreshing change for them.”
Susan Gibbs, the director of communications from the Archdiocese of Washington, said the attraction demonstrated by the young adults is “very interesting.”
Besides the liturgy’s rich historical content and spiritual significance, the younger generations show an interest in the old becoming new again, said Louis Tofari of the Society of St. Pius X, an order of clergy that opposed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
“People who never grew up with the traditional Mass are finding it on their own and falling in love with it.”
The Tridentine Mass helps people in their 20s and 30s who have grown up in a culture that lacks stability and orthodoxy see something larger than themselves: the glory of God, said Geoffrey Coleman of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter ’s Our Lady of Guadalupe seminary in Denton, Neb.
The Tr identine Mass “detaches me from the world and lifts my mind, heart and soul to heavenly things,” said Michael Malain, 21, of Houston.
Kirk Rich, 21, of Oberlin, Ohio, remembers the first time he attended a Tridentine Mass and recalls thinking that a new religion had been invented.
“That’s certainly what it seems like when comparing the two forms of the Mass,” Mr. Rich said.
The biggest difference between the two forms is that the Tridentine Mass is always celebrated in Latin, except for the homily. The priest also leads the parishioners facing east, the traditional direction of prayer. The New Order Mass can be celebrated in Latin, but usually is not. There are also differences in some of the prayers, hymns and vestments.
As a result, the overall feel of the Tridentine Mass is more solemn and serious.
“The coffee social is after the traditional Latin Mass, not in the middle of it,” said Kenneth Wolfe, 34, of Alexandria, Va. “No one can say, with a straight face, that the post-Vatican II liturgy and sacraments are more beautiful than the ones used for hundreds and hundreds of years.”
Like the churchgoers now demanding the celebration of the Tr identine Mass, the pr iests learning the rite are usually younger as well.
The Society of St. Pius X trains priests in the liturgy of the Tridentine Mass and has received as many as 25 requests a week for instruction since July.
“The phone was ringing nonstop, and I was getting e-mail after e-mail,’ Mr. Tofari said. “The response was absolutely incredible; most of the people who call are below the age of 30.”
The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter has collaborated with Una Voce America to host workshops for clergy in Denton, Neb. Una Voce America, which promotes the celebration of the Tridentine Mass, usually teaches the rite to 12 students a session. But in September, it increased that number to 22 to meet the increased demand for training.
Many pr iests think the changes approved by the pope will do more than bring young people into the church. They think the celebration of the Tridentine Mass will increase the faith of many followers.
The Rev. Paul Scalia, 37, has been celebrating the Tridentine Mass at St. Rita Church in Alexandria. He said the increase in young attendance is evidence that the Mass is something living and life-giving.
“The beauty is tremendous, as it draws us to God, who is beauty Himself,” Father Scalia said.
The Rev. Alfred J. Harris, pastor of St. Mary, Mother of God Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., has embraced the return of the traditional Tridentine Mass, in which the priest faces the altar rather than the congregation and celebrates in Latin.