By luke eggleston / SUN staff writer
In July, Pope Benedict XVI released an apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum intended to broaden the availability of the Latin Mass to Catholics.
Many progressive Catholics fear that the letter signifies a dramatic shift to the right.
Father Joseph Scardella is the Syracuse Diocese’s director of the Office of Ministerial Formation and Liturgy and RCIA. He believes that the pope’s letter is an attempt to retain Catholics who might otherwise be drawn to the Society of Pius X, a right wing faction founded by the excommunicated French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, which rejects many of the tenets of Vatican II.
“The reason he [the pope] did it was to reach out to those who may leave the church and join the Lefebvre group,” Father Scardella said. Nevertheless, Father Scardella insisted that the letter is intended to simply make the church more inclusive and it does not represent a move to damage the guidelines established by Vatican II.
“People see this as a step backward but it’s not a step backward,” he said.
Vatican II determined that the bishop could decide how and when the Latin Mass, or Tridentine Mass as it is often called, was to be celebrated. The Novus Ordo was established in order to allow the laity to participate in the liturgy more easily.
“Vatican II allowed the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular…so that it was more accessible,” Father Scardella said.
The moto proprio (pope’s own initiative) enables a parish community to request a Latin Mass if it so chose. In addition, it indicates that a new parish could be erected within the diocese for the sole purpose of celebrating the Mass and sacraments according to the missal of 1962.
The Syracuse Diocese is currently deliberating on how to respond to the pope’s letter regarding the Latin Mass.
Father Scardella noted that since the moto proprio was issued, there has been no clamor for the Latin Mass in any of the regions.
“I have yet to receive even one phone call asking for the Latin Mass,” Father Scardella said.
According to him, the guidelines will likely not significantly impact the Latin Mass as it is practiced in the Syracuse Diocese. Currently, the diocese offers Latin Masses in each of the four regions. St. Mary’s in Oswego hosts the Latin Mass for the Northern Region, while Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica hosts it for the Eastern Region and St. John the Evangelist in Binghamton offers it in the Southern Region of the diocese. The Latin Mass for the Western Region has traditionally been held at St. Stephen’s in Syracuse. However, as of Aug. 16 it will be held at Sacred Heart Basilica Sundays at 4 p.m.
Although the letter establishes strict guidelines for the practice of the Tridentine Mass it also relaxes the rules. The letter dictates that the Latin Mass would only be celebrated once on Sunday in each parish. In addition, priests wishing to celebrate the older form would be required to be able to liturgically and linguistically celebrate the Mass in Latin.
Moreover, the document stresses that those who wish to have a Latin Mass “must have an attachment to the rite,” according to the document.
The purpose of the moto proprio is not to attract curiosity seekers or those who are yearning for the old days.
“It’s important that people aren’t going for the sake of nostalgia,” Father Scardella said. “It’s important that they recognize that they’re going to Mass.”
Father John Mikalajunas has been celebrating the Latin Mass for 17 years. Ordained in 1969, he was already familiar with the Tridentine Mass before Bishop O’Keefe asked him to study it.
“I’ve grown to appreciate the Mass over the years,” Father Mikalajunas said.
He said that many of the parishioners who are most interested in the Latin Mass are under 30. So none of them are there simply to relive the past.
“It’s not the nostalgia. I think they love the reverence and the mysticism,” he said, adding that the young people see it as a direct communication with God.
Byron Smith is the lay coordinator for the Latin Mass in the Northern Region and he was instrumental in re-establishing it in the Syracuse Diocese in 1990.
“It’s very reverent. It’s a living connection with the whole history of the church,” Smith said. “It allows for a very deep and prayerful encounter with our Lord.”
Smith, who met with Cardinal Jozef Ratzinger in 1989 in order to discuss the Latin Mass as well as the Syracuse Diocese on behalf of Bishop O’Keefe, believes that expanding access to the old rite is an important part of the pope’s mission.
“He’s a man who is very compassionate and thoughtful,” Smith said. “He wants this to be something that brings about reconciliation and can be a source of healing. He’s concerned with serenity and unity within the church.”