Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Reviving a Latin past

~from the Philadelphia Inquirer

With their love of tradition and their formal dress code (no shorts even for children, and covered heads for women), the members of Mater Ecclesiae Church in Berlin Township can seem a tight-laced congregation of Roman Catholics.

But on Sunday they were ringing bells, popping corks and slicing cake, and - mirabile visu! - some were even smoking cigars.

Mirabile visu? Isn't that Latin?

Graceful, dignified, formal and obscure, Latin is the language of choice at Mater Ecclesiae, one of the only Catholic churches in the nation where all the liturgies are conducted according to the centuries-old Tridentine rite.

Its bells were ringing and corks popping after Sunday's Mass because Pope Benedict XVI had on Saturday issued a decree allowing freer use of the traditional Latin liturgy, which had all but withered away in recent decades.

"My good friends, we are living through and a part of a major, fundamental, awesome reaffirmation of the tradition of our faith," the Rev. Robert C. Pasley, rector of Mater Ecclesiae, told his congregation from the pulpit during Sunday's high Mass.

"I never thought I'd see the day."

Just how Benedict's decree, or motu proprio, might affect the availability of Tridentine-style liturgies in area dioceses remain to be seen.

While the "new order" Mass introduced in 1970 continues as the worldwide standard, Benedict's decree instructs pastors to willingly provide Latin liturgies if their parishes contain a "stable" number of parishioners "attached to the previous liturgical tradition."

Bishops are also "earnestly requested" to accommodate requests for the Latin rites, and told they may create special parishes or chapels (like Mater Ecclesiae) dedicated to their use.

Since 1988, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has offered a Tridentine Mass each Sunday in one urban and one suburban parish. The Trenton Diocese offers the old rite once each Sunday in a Monmouth County parish.

Mater Ecclesiae, which is not a parish but a borderless facsimile open to all worshipers seeking to partake of the Tridentine tradition, is the site for Latin Masses of the Camden Diocese. It had 70 families when it began in 2000 and now has 520, according to Pasley, a diocesan priest.

Spokesmen for the Philadelphia, Camden and Trenton Dioceses, all of which allow limited Latin Masses, said their bishops were studying the three-page document.

Sunday's high Mass at Mater Ecclesiae began at 11 a.m. with a procession of three priests, 12 altar boys in black cassocks and white surplices, and 12 white-clad girls of the Blessed Imelda Society, as the choir and congregation sang Gregorian chant. In Latin, of course.

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