From the tiny church of San Gregorio dei Muratori in downtown Rome, just across the river from the Vatican, the sound of Latin prayers spilled into the empty street on a Sunday morning.
Inside, a priest assisted by two others celebrated Mass facing the high altar, his back to the congregation. The pews were filled to capacity with about 40 people -- an international group of young and old, men and women -- who followed along in their missals.
It was Palm Sunday April 1, and not far away Pope Benedict XVI was celebrating Mass for some 40,000 people in St. Peter's Square. But most of the Catholics who filled the church of San Gregorio consider the pope's "new Mass" less satisfactory, and prefer to worship according to the rite used before the Second Vatican Council.
"In a word, it's reverence. There are moments of silence in this Mass, which is important. There's no sense of reverence at a papal Mass -- people are eating as if it's a picnic," said Gary Tarizzo, a 46-year-old airline pilot.
Tarizzo recalled one time when he had flown into Rome and rushed to St. Peter's Basilica to attend at least part of a major papal liturgy. He arrived just as the pope was finishing his homily, and many people were already walking out.
"There were so many empty seats that it was shocking," he said.
San Gregorio is one of three churches in the Diocese of Rome where priests have received special permission, called an indult, to celebrate the Tridentine Mass.
In a city of more than 2 million Catholics, perhaps 150 regularly attend these traditionalist Sunday liturgies, according to church officials. That's not a big percentage, but numbers are not the issue for the people who come.
"We're a small island in the Catholic archipelago," said Eric Hewett, one of several Americans who attend Mass at San Gregorio.
"The reason I'm here is that the Mass is done with great calm, stillness, dignity and beauty, and so I find that I finish with a greater sense of peace. I feel more like I've participated in an act of worship," Hewett said.
The new Roman Missal replaced the Tridentine rite in 1969. In 1984, Pope John Paul II first established the indult by which, under certain conditions, groups could use the pre-conciliar liturgy of the 1962 Roman Missal.
For older Catholics still attached to the old Mass, the indult offers an opportunity to return to the liturgy of their youth. But many of the worshipers in Rome are younger or middle-aged people who are discovering the rite for the first time.
Hewett, for example, a 32-year-old from Philadelphia, grew interested in the Tridentine rite when he studied church history. He bought an old missal online and began attending San Gregorio, which also offers daily Tridentine Masses in the morning and evening.
Hewett has an advantage: He knows Latin well. But he said knowledge of Latin is not essential, because many missals have the liturgical texts in both Latin and English.
"And even if not everyone understands the texts on a verbal level, this Mass has a coherence of symbols -- including the vestments, candles, bells and singing -- which helps people grasp it on a different level," Hewett said.
Father Joseph Kramer, an Australian priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, coordinates the Masses at San Gregorio. The fraternity was founded with the Vatican's blessing in 1988 to train priests for traditionalist Catholics.
Father Kramer said it would be a good thing if Pope Benedict, as expected, widens the permission to use the Tridentine Mass. For one thing, he said, traditionalists would appear less of a fringe movement in the church, and average Catholics would be more likely to try attending Tridentine celebrations.
Father Kramer said that to date most requests on the Tridentine rite have come from the faithful -- in a sense, from the bottom up. A papal document would give direction from the top down, with much more influence around the world, he said.
Not everyone who goes to San Gregorio is an exclusive devotee of the Tridentine rite. Ben Akers, a 30-year-old Catholic from the Arlington, Va., area, and his wife were attending their third liturgy at the church after a recommendation from friends.
Akers said he liked the rich symbolism of the old rite, along with the beautiful music at San Gregorio. The missal he used explained what the priest was doing liturgically, so it wasn't confusing, he said.
But Akers said the new Mass -- especially papal liturgies in St. Peter's and other Rome churches -- can also be beautiful, especially when done in Latin.
What detracts from the papal liturgies, he said, is the big crowd, the endless picture-taking and the occasional lack of respect. At Communion time at papal Masses, some people have to be told to consume the host, he said.
After attending Tridentine Masses at San Gregorio, Akers said he's probably not likely to seek out the old rite when he returns to Arlington.
"I'm a firm believer in participating in my local parish," he said.