Latin Luminescence Not Far From Fenway

During a recent visit to Boston’s beautiful Holy Trinity German Church, I fell in love with the reverent worship of the high Latin Mass.

Everything was a prayer: the sacred chants, the organ music filling the reverberant nave, the rhythm of the liturgy. My breathing slowed as I was enveloped by images and sounds that drew me toward God.

I felt a familial tie to the strangers around me and to the priest as he ascended the sanctuary’s seven steps. Facts about the symbols and ritual of the Tridentine Mass suddenly tumbled from my head to my heart.

The turreted white altar was flanked by golden angels and a red velvet veil covered the tabernacle behind it. Of course that altar would be elevated, I thought.

Of course. Here was Christ at the Last Supper — the high priest climbing Calvary. Time and space were being transcended.

The Latin of the Passion reading that Palm Sunday came alive. I realized this was the language spoken by the Roman soldiers who had cast lots for Jesus’ garments. These words passed Pontius Pilate’s mouth.

How had I ignored the rich tapestry of this traditional rite Mass till now?

In 1990 an indult was granted to have the old Roman-rite Mass celebrated within the Archdiocese of Boston; Holy Trinity was assigned to host it.

Soon a thriving Latin Mass community grew as Catholics who hungered for this liturgy came weekly from miles around. They were of all ages. Not a few were young couples with children in tow.

Holy Trinity itself is the only national Catholic German Church in New England. Its membership is ethnic, not drawn from within geographic borders like most neighborhood churches. Any Catholic with German ancestry who lives within the archdiocese and supports the church may join.

The German-Americans and the Latin Mass group do not just cohabit this South End building. They have bonded, as in a marriage.

Together their parish has five active choirs, including a Gregorian chant ensemble, a contributing membership from 94 zip codes and a budget in the black. It hosts an Oktoberfest and its Christian Arts Series offers orchestral and choir music concerts free to the public.

Every Sunday there is one 10 a.m. Novus Ordo Mass (in English and German) and one noon Tridentine Mass.

Uncompromising

German-Americans founded Holy Trinity in 1844.

Several parishioners were among the first musicians in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The immigrants popularized their old-world Christmas customs such as Midnight Mass and the decorated pine Christmas tree.

They hired noted architect Patrick Keeley to design the current church, a gray neo-Gothic structure of Roxbury puddingstone and Maine granite dedicated in 1877 on the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

Over the years the parish opened schools, an orphanage and a home for the elderly. Although those have closed, the church’s cultural and religious identity — both German and Catholic — remains visible and uncompromised.

A massive 2,880-pipe organ dominates the loft. Below the loft, penitents fill the confessionals before each noon Mass. Red votive candles burn near a side altar.

Six-foot high Stations of the Cross with captions in German line the blue-and-gold walls. Above each station stands a tall hand-carved wooden statue of an apostle.

These alternate with 30-foot-high stained-glass windows bearing images of Michael the Archangel and other saints. Shafts of colored sunlight kaleidoscope over the dark brown pews, which can seat 1,200.

Peering down from higher on the walls are frescoes of St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier and other canonized Jesuits. The Society of Jesus ran the parish from 1848 to 1961, when it was transferred to the archdiocese.

At the highest point near the vaulted cathedral ceiling are images of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Pictorial pages of salvation history surround worshippers. How easy it must be, I thought, for parents here to teach their children about the community of saints. I wondered whose images were hidden beneath a dozen statues draped in Lenten violet.

Then the bells called me back.

The tower bells pealed above while before me the sanctus bells rang. The thurifer incensed the Blessed Sacrament as the priest elevated first the sacred Host and then the chalice of Precious Blood.

It was a catch-your-breath moment of grace.

We knelt along the white marble altar rail to receive Communion. How had this railing and the artwork and statuary survived the past 40 years?

One man later answered that question for me. He said, with a smile: “Stubborn Germans.”

Closing Time?

After Vatican II, the church naturally switched to the new Roman rite Mass. But its new altar where the priest could face the people was moveable.

Discard the hand-carved altar behind it or the expensive railing? Not these frugal and patient Germans, said George Krim, organist and music director since 1953.

Parishioners stored away all the artifacts from the Latin Mass: the Mass cards from which the priests had read and the ecclesial vestments that each symbolize a piece of Church history. If the traditional Roman rite Mass returned, they would be ready.

“Lo and behold,” said Krim, “20 years later, when the archdiocese was looking for a church where the Tridentine Mass could be celebrated, Holy Trinity had preserved everything and was able to comply with both orders.”

Now the archdiocese, faced with massive financial pressures and a precipitous falloff in Mass attendance over the past 30 years, is looking at the historic church with a different eye. Parishioners were told last year that Holy Trinity might have to be closed and sold.

Two social-services agencies that use the basement and rectory will be displaced if this happens. So far, two closing deadlines have been postponed and no new date has been announced.

Those hoping to visit Holy Trinity someday could join with parishioners now in this prayer that they offer after Mass: “Virgin Most Sorrowful, we pray for a miracle to happen; Virgin Most Sorrowful, pray for us.”

Gail Besse writes from

Hull, Massachusetts.

Planning Your Visit

Holy Trinity is open only for Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation and for special events. An excellent website, holytrinitygerman.org, posts current news. For more, call (617) 426-6142.

Getting There

Holy Trinity German Church is at

140 Shawmut Ave.
in Boston. The website gives detailed directions. A small parking lot abuts the church and a larger one behind it is accessible from
Washington Street
.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy