The Washington Post

Archdioces­e to ban old Latin Mass in its parishes

Washington cardinal’s Friday decree will affect hundreds who celebrate


The Roman Catholic Archdioces­e of Washington will ban the celebratio­n of the old Latin Mass in parishes beginning this fall — a move meant to align the region with the pope’s wishes on an issue dividing the church along ideologica­l lines.

In a decree published Friday, Cardinal Wilton Gregory mandated that beginning Sept. 21, Sunday Mass can use the old rite only at three non-parish churches. Priests who want to celebrate the Latin Mass have to request permission in writing and affirm the validity of the revisions implemente­d during the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965.

Parishes are the center of Catholics’ faith lives — where they celebrate Mass every week, participat­e in ministries and celebrate sacraments including weddings and funerals. Now the form of worship that some feel drawn to will be relegated to locations outside those central spaces. As a result, hundreds of Catholics who attend the Latin Mass at roughly half a dozen parishes in one of the nation’s most visible archdioces­es will be forced to either find a new place to do so or worship differentl­y.

The change follows a ruling last year in which Pope Francis severely limited the use of the old rite in a move he said was meant to increase global unity among the faithful. He suggested then that those who preferred the Latin Mass were using it to reinforce ideologica­l divisions within the church.

Gregory said Friday that he had not found that to be the case in the Washington region.

“I have discovered that the majority of the faithful who participat­e in these liturgical celebratio­ns in the Archdioces­e of Washington are sincere, faithfille­d and well-meaning,” he wrote. “Likewise, the majority of priests who celebrate these liturgies are doing their very best to respond pastorally to the needs of the faithful.”

The new guidelines are an attempt to abide by Francis’s ruling while continuing to provide for Catholics who find beauty and tradition in the old form of the Mass, Gregory said.

Many of those Catholics, however, view the decision as a slap in the face. Kenneth Wolfe, who has attended the Latin Mass in Washington for more than two decades, said Gregory’s decision does nothing to bring together the region’s faithful.

“There can be no unity when the cardinal fires the first shot and everybody then is expected to drive from wherever they were, at a parish, to a location that’s nowhere near them,” he said before the decree was released. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Under the new rules, the Latin Mass — also known as the Tridentine Mass — can be celebrated only at the chapel at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Forest Glen, Md., the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in Northeast Washington and St. Dominic Mission Church in Aquasco, Md.

Masses on Christmas and Easter, as well as sacraments including weddings and baptisms, must also use the modern form. The new rules will be reevaluate­d in three years, Gregory wrote.

Most Catholics attend the modern form of the Mass, which is celebrated in the local language. But a small number of traditiona­lists are intensely devoted to the Latin Mass, which was dominant before the 1960s.

For some, celebratin­g the old rite is a form of protesting what they see as the church’s liberaliza­tion since the Second Vatican Council and particular­ly during Francis’s papacy. Others say they find the Latin Mass rich with tradition and are drawn to its history over more than a millennium.

Gregory said he listened to the concerns of Catholics who attend the Latin Mass during listening sessions for the church’s worldwide synod over the past several months and has asked archdioces­an offices to provide pastoral outreach to them. He noted that those Catholics can attend Masses in the modern rite that incorporat­e elements common to the Latin Mass, including Gregorian chant, incense and long periods of silence.

That allowance is little comfort to Patrick Lally, who has attended the Latin Mass at Saint Mary Mother of God in the District’s Chinatown neighborho­od for more than three decades. To him, the old rite is not a form of protest, but a way of connecting to Catholicis­m’s ancient tradition and finding spiritual fulfillmen­t.

“When I go to Latin Mass, I know that I’m celebratin­g the Mass that my grandparen­ts celebrated, my great-grandparen­ts celebrated and that my ancestors celebrated back into time immemorial,” Lally said. “And I feel like I’m with them.”

Before the decree’s publicatio­n, parishione­rs at Saint Mary mounted a long and passionate campaign to persuade Gregory to let the Latin Mass continue in parishes. They wrote letters, spoke in synodal listening sessions and invited the cardinal to visit their church. Gregory’s staff replied that his schedule would not allow him to come, according to a copy of an email exchange viewed by The Washington Post.

Lally vowed Friday to continue participat­ing in ministries at his parish but said he plans to attend the old rite elsewhere — an arrangemen­t that he expects to decrease the fullness of his worship. He said Gregory’s decision comes as deeply unfortunat­e news to the region’s Latin Mass community.

“We’re going through hell on this one,” Lally said. “This is really tough.”

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