Latin Lovers

A church in San Francisco has done what many other churches in the country are doing: using Latin in parts of the Mass.

SAN FRANCISCO — When Gloria Gazave started as a cantor at St. Thomas More Church in San Francisco, she turned her classical training as a singer to good use.

The 5 p.m. Saturday Mass now features the Kyrie sung in Greek, with the Sanctus, Gloria, Agnus Dei and sometimes the Creed and Memorial Acclamation sung in Latin.

“It was real slow at first, but now people sing along. It is not that hard,” said the mother of five. The church prints song sheets that include the Latin chants.

“I was kind of nervous about how it was going to be accepted,” Gazave said. “But everyone has commented on how beautiful it is.”

St. Thomas More is part of a quiet trend to incorporate traditional Latin Church music, particularly the chants, into the body of the vernacular Novus Ordo Mass. This is not the beginning of a return to the Mass in Latin, several experts said, but a recognition that a part of the Church’s heritage needs to reclaim its position within the liturgy.

The trend is accelerating at the same time as a new English translation of the Roman Missal, expected to reincorporate more traditional language, is in the works, several liturgy experts noted.

“There is a renewed interest in the Latin texts, the Latin chants,” said Patrick Vallez-Kelly, director of the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Office of Worship. “I think some people are going back to the instructions that came out of the Second Vatican Council that have always exhorted us to maintain a basic repertoire of Latin. That has largely been ignored in the American church. There is a generation of music directors and liturgists who are coming back to that — this is something of value.”

Vatican II encouraged the use of Gregorian chant and recommended it to have “pride of place” in the liturgy.

“There may be a natural call that this kind of natural chanting has on the human heart, and that’s why for so many years of being absent from the churches it is now being welcomed by so many,” said Helen Hull Hitchcock, editor of the Adoremus Bulletin. “As St. Augustine said, ‘Singing is praying twice.’”

Pope Benedict XVI’s love of traditional church music is also sparking the movement toward more Latin and Gregorian music, Vallez-Kelly said. The Holy Father wrote extensively on the liturgy as a professor and then as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, particularly in The Spirit of the Liturgy. Now that he is Pope, his thoughts have become more familiar.

“I think in some ways he’s a voice for what other people have been feeling,” Vallez-Kelly said. “There are certain aspects to the liturgical renewal that weren’t done well. There has been a lot of disregard for the norms — and a lot of free experimentation done poorly.”

‘Our Heritage’

In fact, the Church Music Association of America’s sacred music seminars that once drew 40 to 50 people now lure hundreds of Catholic musical directors, organists and singers, Religion News Service reported. And St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke this spring announced the creation of Institute of Sacred Music in the Office of Sacred Worship and the appointment as director of noted music scholar and Benedictine Father Samuel Weber.

In San Francisco, a city of immigrants, the number of foreign language Masses is high. At Sts. Peter and Paul Church near Fisherman’s Wharf, the Chinese Mass includes the Our Father in Latin, said Salesian Father Harold Danielson. The church’s Italian Mass includes some Latin chants as do some of the regular English Masses, the priest said.

While some might hope the renewed interest in the Latin chants is a movement back toward the days when the Mass was entirely in Latin, Church liturgy scholar Father Giles Dimock said the Mass in the language of the people is here to stay.

“My own opinion is that most people are happy to be able to understand the Mass, particularly the readings, but they miss the great Church music of the past,” said the Dominican priest, who taught liturgy for 40 years in Rome and Washington, D.C., and is now at Franciscan University at Steubenville, Ohio.

Pope Benedict’s relaxing of restrictions on celebration of the Extraordinary Rite of the Mass in Latin will mean greater celebration of the Mass in Latin both in the extraordinary form and the ordinary form, Father Dimock said.

But Mass in Latin will remain just one form of the Mass celebrated in the Church. Father Dimock noted that during his recent visit Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in English, “but they used a great deal of Latin music” in Yankee Stadium and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Masses were “very beautiful. I don’t think it has to be all or nothing.”

The papal Masses in New York had an evangelical aspect, Hitchcock said. “Uniting this kind of beauty with the texts in the Mass creates an appeal that is beyond mere words or intellect. This is one of the functions of music in the liturgy that Pope Benedict has fostered throughout his career.”

“Personally I think it’s a bit odd that for years the only place you could hear some of the great Catholic music was in the high Anglican churches,” said Father Dimock. “It is our heritage.”

Valerie Schmalz is based

in San Francisco.