Ite, Missa Est

More and more Catholic colleges and universities are adding a traditional Latin Mass to their schedule, now that Pope Benedict has given universal permission for its usage. By Valerie Schmalz.

When Pope Benedict XVI loosened restrictions on celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass last July, Notre Dame University’s campus ministry immediately began planning how to implement the change.

Notre Dame is just one of a number of Catholic colleges and universities that viewed the Pope’s July 7, 2007, Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum as a signal that the form of the Mass dating to 1570 should be available on their campuses. Others, such as Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York, began offering the Mass of Blessed John XXIII at the behest of students.

“It’s actually been a lot of fun to work with,” said Brett Perkins, Notre Dame’s campus ministry coordinator of the Mass of Blessed John XXIII, as the older liturgy is now also known. Campus ministry staff spent the summer ordering English-Latin missalettes, buying vestments, and training priests in the rubrics and language of the traditional Mass.

“The Mass is the Mass, but the traditional Latin Mass seems more sacred,” said Leah Turner, a junior at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. “It seems to capture the tradition of the Church more.”

Notre Dame, Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., and St. Vincent College are among the colleges that began to offer the Mass of Blessed John XXIII shortly after the Summorum Pontificum’s effective date of Sep. 14. Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., plans to offer it soon and Franciscan University of Steubenville will offer its first such Mass on March 30.

Summorum Pontificum, which the Pope issued on his own initiative or motu proprio, said that the Mass according to the Missal of 1962 must be offered as long as a “stable” group of the faithful requests it. The only exception is during the Easter Triduum.

The Pope referred to this Mass as the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. “It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were ‘two rites,’” he wrote. “Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.”

Pope Benedict wrote in an accompanying letter to the bishops that the 1970 Missal of Pope Paul VI, regularly called the Novus Ordo (new order of the Mass) “obviously is and continues to be the normal form.”

‘Preserve the Riches’

The older form of the Mass had never been juridically abrogated, although since 1988, express permission had been required from the bishop. That is no longer required.

In a letter to bishops accompanying the motu proprio, Pope Benedict wrote: “It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer.”

“For a Catholic university, it’s almost imperative to preserve these treasures of civilization,” said Notre Dame sophomore John Gerardi, who was part of a group of students who asked for the traditional Mass, parts of which date back more than 1,000 years to Pope Gregory the Great.

Msgr. R. Michael Schmitz is vicar general of the Institute of Christ the King, with North American headquarters in Chicago. “Many of the students tell us that it is simply inspiring very strongly the presence of the divinity, the presence of Christ,” Msgr. Schmitz said. “It is inspiring awe.”

He believes the reverence the older form inspires will increase its popularity over time. He noted the extraordinary form is being celebrated around the country with little fanfare, including recently at the Newman Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

Said Michael Bertotti, a senior at Thomas Aquinas: “I think both forms of the Mass are valid and very good. The old Mass makes more clear the splendor and majesty of the Mass.”

There is more ritual, more Signs of the Cross, kissing of the altar and quiet prayers, with the priest facing ad orientem (toward the East) with the people and toward the altar for much of the Mass, noted Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press. Ignatius Press is the primary English-language publisher of the works of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI.

The Scripture readings are on a one-year cycle, and only an Old Testament or Epistle is read in addition to the Gospel. The Gospel is largely drawn from the Gospel of Matthew.

In contrast, the newer form has a three-year Scripture cycle for Sundays and solemnities, and a two-year cycle for weekdays. The readings are drawn more extensively from the Old Testament and the Gospels of John, Luke and Mark.

Growing Together?

Notre Dame offers the extraordinary form at 8 a.m. on Sundays in a chapel located at the center of the campus and attendance hovers around 100, Perkins said. The resurgence of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, with 75% of the Catholic students attending Mass at least on Sunday, is enriched by the extraordinary form, he said.

Thomas Aquinas College offers both the extraordinary form and the Mass of Paul VI in Latin and in English. Jesuit Father Cornelius Buckley, chaplain, said some students have embraced the traditional Latin Mass, but others just don’t like it.

“You’re not as involved because there are so few responses. A lot of the prayers are said quietly by the priest so it is harder to follow what is going on,” said Theresa O’Reilly, a senior at Thomas Aquinas.

O’Reilly said she prefers the newer form. “It seems to me when the priest faces everyone you have kind of a circle around Christ. When he holds up the host, everyone is centered on Christ,” she said.

On the East Coast, at Fordham, Jesuit Father Joseph Currie, director of campus ministry, said the university offers the Mass once a month in deference to the Pope and the desire of students who formed a Facebook group to request it. “We are giving it a chance to catch on,” Father Currie said. “If it is of God, it will last. If it is not of God, it will go on its way.”

Pope Benedict’s desire is to heal the polarizing divisions of liturgy that resulted from the almost wholesale discarding of the 1962 Missal, Father Fessio said. In his July statements, the Holy Father stressed his goal was to make room for those who feel closer to the older Mass and to continue the organic development of the liturgy of the Roman Rite, particularly the Mass.

Aspects of the extraordinary and ordinary forms may change for both, with what could be a growing together of the two forms of the Roman Rite, Father Fessio said.

“I think the Holy Father is trying to make possible the kind of gradual and organic growth that should have taken place and did not,” said Father Fessio, adding that the Pope “wants to reconcile the Mass as it was celebrated for centuries with the Mass as it is celebrated today.”

Valerie Schmalz is based in

San Francisco.