Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus

Aug. 21, 2003
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Diocese offers Latin Mass in each region

“Spera in Deo, quoniam adhuc confitebor illi: salutare vultus mel, et Deus meus.” “Trust in God, for I shall yet praise Him, my Savior, and my God.” This is one of the prayers recited at the Tridentine Rite Latin Masses being celebrated throughout the Diocese of Syracuse.

Prior to the promulgation of the New Order of Mass by Pope Paul VI in 1970, the whole Roman, or Latin, Rite used the Missale Romanum, which the church published in 1570. That Rite has been accurately called the Tridentine Mass. Tridentine comes from the Latin word which refers to the city of Trent, Italy, where the 19th Ecumenical Council, the Council of Trent, was held in the mid-16th century. The Council also directed the development of the 1570 Missale Romanum.

While the official Missale Romanum underwent some minor changes between 1570 and 1962, the Mass basically remained the same around the world. A Tridentine Mass is said in Latin, the language of the Catholic Rite. Most of the Mass is said facing the tabernacle and the priest is facing the same direction as the people. Father Stephen Wirkes, pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Mexico explained this tradition. “It should not be seen as the priest turning his back on the congregation,” Father Wirkes explained. “But rather the priest, acting as shepherd, and the congregation, the flock, are turning their faces toward God together in order to have a conversation with God –– not with each other. Facing east is symbolic and goes back as far as temple worship. The sun rises in the east and in ancient times the altars were built to face the sun,” said Father Wirkes. In 1965, major changes were made to the Mass that coincided with the close of the Second Vatican Council. And in 1970, 400 years after Trent, priests were celebrating Mass in the vernacular, facing the congregation and speaking the words of the consecration aloud. The old rites virtually disappeared.

In 1988, a papal indult approved the celebration of the Tridentine Mass with the permission of local bishops. Many Catholics throughout the country started traveling to parishes that offer the traditional rite. In the Syracuse Diocese, the traditional Latin Mass is now offered at St. John the Evangelist Church in Binghamton, St. Stephen’s Church in Syracuse, Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica and St. Joseph’s Church in Oswego. Byron Smith, Chairman of UNA VOCE (with one voice) in Syracuse, has been a very active advocate for the return of the Latin Mass. He has worked with other traditionalists to find priests who would celebrate the Old Rite. “We found two priests in Albany and one priest in Syracuse who were willing to commute to parishes throughout the area to celebrate the Latin Mass,” said Smith. This has increased the workload of parish priests, but Smith knows they are filling a great spiritual need for those who want to touch the roots of their Catholic faith. “We are a special ministry who need a deeper prayer experience,” said Smith. “We have a lot of young people attending who want their children to grow up the way they and their parents grew up with the Latin Mass.”

Father Wirkes explained why he’s happy to participate in the old rite and why he feels the Latin Mass has such a spiritual impact. “There is an absolute sense of reverence, awe, and mystery in the Latin Mass,” he said. “All of the things used in the Latin Mass help a person worship well. The language, the posture and the ritual has a totally vertical dimension.” There is a lot of silence in the Latin Mass compared to the new Mass. When Father Wirkes was asked how the congregation could participate in the silent Mass, he replied: “Participation is just as active as in the new Mass, but it is interior worship, not exterior, or vocal. Everyone can follow along with the priest through the missile and internal worship.” Father Wirkes explained that another reason he is so honored to be able to celebrate the Latin Mass is he, like many who celebrate the old rite, don’t want the ancient rituals and music to be lost. “Much of the famous historical music, like the Gregorian chant, is in Latin,” said Father Wirkes. “These are treasures of the Western Civilization.” How do those who want to participate in a Latin Mass learn the language? “Nothing changes in the old Mass. There were only 52 weekly Masses written, not like the three-year cycle of our liturgy of today,” said Father Wirkes. “The missals are written in English and in Latin so it is much easier to get used to and become familiar with,” he said.

“In 1984, in an attempt to reach out to the traditionalists in the church and to bridge the past, the pope allowed the rebirth of the Latin Mass. In 1988 the Diocese of Syracuse, following the pope’s example, established the four Latin communities in the four regions of the diocese,” said Father Wirkes. “It also provides a great sense of the Communion of Saints. There’s a connectedness and history of the Catholic faith, and the rebirth of the Latin Mass is a stark reminder that we, who are the Church, are not time-bound.”

Father Wirkes admits that there are pros and cons to both Masses. “That is why I am very happy to be able to do both,” he said. “I live very happily in two worlds.”

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