Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quo vadis? Try Latin Mass

MANILA, Philippines—Brush up on your Kyrie and Pater Noster. Ransack the old baul and bring out your lola’s lace veil and Roman Catholic Daily Missal in Latin. And don’t compare the lovely Gregorian hymns you heard the nuns chant long ago with what you’d be hearing.

Do you want to make a trip down church memory lane? If you want to immerse yourself in pre-Vatican II liturgical rituals and rubrics because you rue that the Roman Catholic Church is too involved in the modern world as, in fact, it should be as the church’s social encyclicals so urge, there is a place for you to go.

In other words, if you are a traditionalist and you want to find company...

Skirts, veils

Every day, for some years now, the Tridentine Rite of Mass, also known as the traditional Latin Mass, is being held at the Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church. (The word Tridentine is derived from the Roman Catholic Church’s 16th-century Council of Trent that preceded Vatican I and II.) Located in New Manila in Quezon City, the church is run by the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). Fr. Adam Purdy is the prior of the church.

In this church, women wear veils as in pre-Vatican II days. Those who have none could borrow veils and even skirts right there. (A woman offered to lend this writer a skirt.)

Women are urged to not wear pants and instead wear skirts or dresses. Men are enjoined to wear decent attire. Men and women in shorts and those with bare backs and figure-hugging outfit are not seen here, unlike in mainstream churches where the dress code is sadly, generally ignored.

Last Palm Sunday’s Latin Mass (including the blessing of the palm fronds) at Our Lady of Victories Church was two-and-a-half-hours long. The Mass (readings, prayers) was entirely in Latin, and mostly chanted solo, except for the Credo and Pater Noster which the choir and the congregation sang.

The Palm Sunday gospel (the Passion of Jesus, which is among the longest in the entire year), which took some 30 minutes to chant, was delivered with the priest facing toward the side. Those with Latin missals could follow but the rest simply listened, sat, stood, knelt. There was no homily and little oral participation from the congregation.

Back turned to people

The priest, Albert Hela (we were told), wore the old version of the chasuble, and celebrated Mass facing the altar, with his back turned to the people. He faced the congregation only when he sang “Dominus vobiscum” and “Ite misa est.”

Communicants kneeled at the railings (no queuing) and received the Eucharist straight into their mouths from the priest and not from lay ministers.

And the music? This was not the Misa del Campesino of Latin America. And this was not the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat or the chapel of St. Scholastica’s. If the music alone of the “momentous occasion” (as the invitation described it) were to be critiqued, there was much to be desired.

As one observer said, “St. Gregory the Great would agree that solemn need not be long, tedious and dry. The Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist, was a super-charged, dramatic event. Jesus saw to that. I was looking forward to at least hearing a soaring Panis Angelicus.”

Excommunicated, reinstated

But there are Catholics who still want this kind of 16th-century liturgy. About 400 people—properly attired, many carrying Latin missals—were present at the Palm Sunday Latin Mass.

SSPX was founded by the controversial French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who defied Vatican II reforms. He ordained four bishops without the permission of Pope John Paul II and was promptly excommunicated. The four bishops were reinstated into the Catholic Church only last year.

But according to background information from Purdy, the lifting of the excommunication does not mean that SSPX is now fully reconciled with the Church. For its part, SSPX had issued a statement, signed by one of its bishops, Bernard Fellay, expressing “filial gratitude to the Holy Father for this gesture” and looking forward to “talks which enable the Priestly Society of St. Pius X to explain the fundamental reasons which it believes to be at the origin of the present difficulties of the Church.”

Purdy (who was not present last Sunday) had invited media to the Palm Sunday Mass so that the traditional Latin mass would be popularized. He said: “The Holy Father Benedict has made known his intention for the return of this celebration of the Mass. His Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007 was world news. This document is the request of bishops and priests to restore/return to the Traditional Liturgy.”

Emy Ortiz, an advocate of the restoration and of the Tridentine Mass, said: “The Lord Our God is calling His people to go back to tradition. Modernism has [put] mankind in peril. Mankind is already going back to natural and traditional medicine. So, in religion, mankind is going back to tradition for it is the truth and was formed by Jesus Christ Himself and his apostles.”

Not everyone totally agrees.


Theologian Percy Juan Bacani of the Missionary of Jesus, a much sought-after lecturer and preacher, said of the move to popularize and restore the traditional Latin Mass: “It’s totally out of context. God would like to talk to you in your own language, in a language you understand. How do you explain the divine in a mysterious language?”

Latin, the lingua franca of the Roman empire, is no longer spoken anywhere in the world but many words and phrases have survived and made it into the major languages of the world. Much like Sanskrit in the Hindu religion.

“It’s a nostalgia for the past,” Bacani said.


Bishop Julio X. Labayen, known to be a progressive bishop and a Carmelite, told the Inquirer: “The Church also respects the traditionalists. If the Latin Masses would keep their faith tight, then let them be. The most important thing is faith in Christ Jesus.”

He added: “But after Vatican II, and with the liturgy that we have now, we can see that the Church has moved into the language of the people. It is in order to make God’s message meaningful to the masses.”