Latin Mass Altar-Boy Camp Draws Strong Interest

Youth from four states attended the three-day camp in South Carolina, praying and playing sports together while learning how to serve the ancient Mass rite.

Father Christopher Smith, administrator of Prince of Peace Parish in Greenville, S.C., instructs participants in the parish's Latin Mass altar-boy camp.
Father Christopher Smith, administrator of Prince of Peace Parish in Greenville, S.C., instructs participants in the parish's Latin Mass altar-boy camp. (photo: Stephanie Stewart)

TAYLORS, S.C. — More than 60 young men and boys participated in a three-day camp in late July dedicated to learning to serve the traditional Latin Mass.

Boys aged 6 to 18, from four states including Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina, came together at Prince of Peace Parish near Greenville, S.C., to spent time in prayer, study and sports, while learning to serve the ancient rite of Mass under the tutelage of two diocesan priests and a seminarian from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP).

Father Christopher Smith, administrator of Prince of Peace, and Father Renaurd West, both priests of the Diocese of Charleston, together with Michael Cunningham, a third-year seminarian for the FSSP whose home is in nearby Spartanburg, S.C., offered boys and young men of all ages the opportunity to learn altar-boy movements and rubrics as well as experience three daily Masses culminating with a Missa Cantata (Sung Mass) on July 25.

In addition to the academic and spiritual activities, seminarian Cunningham led afternoon activities in football, while Father West competed head-to-head on the basketball floor. The camp was free to all, with funds donated for food and training materials by area parishioners, other Catholics and businesses.

“I was at most expecting 10 or 15 from our parish,” said Father Smith. “The initiative of people who were enthusiastic about the project led to 62 boys and young men coming from as far away as Ohio.”

Added Father Smith, “I was stunned by the response of the boys, their families and those who wanted to defray the cost of the camp. I should learn to trust in God's providence more!”

Parishes dedicated solely to the traditional Latin Mass and sacraments periodically host altar-boy camps and training sessions, but a diocesan parish hosting one in the midst of South Carolina and drawing more than 60 boys is unique.

“Although I am sure that communities like the FSSP could probably do a better job at training the kids, I think that exposing young people in diocesan parishes to the riches of the extraordinary form can only be beneficial to the Church and to the spread of the Latin Mass,” Father Smith said.

FSSP seminarian Cunningham agreed. “Diocesan parishes are the heartbeat of the Church, and they are where the vast majority of Catholics attend Mass,” he said. “This venue gives a much-needed opportunity for both Catholics who prefer the ancient rite along with those who primarily attend the ordinary form to meet and interact with each other.”

The participating boys were equally enthusiastic about their experiences with celebrating both forms of the Mass.

“I really enjoyed learning the low Mass rite,” said Vincent Ortiz, 9, son of Ivan and Christine Ortiz, parishioners at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in North Canton, Ohio. “I had only participated in the high Mass as an altar boy.”

Added the altar boy, “I also liked learning how to stand and genuflect. It was fun when they used a book to teach us those things.”


Mutual Enrichment

The mutual enrichment of both forms of the Roman rite was one of the benefits anticipated by Pope Benedict XVI, when he issued Summorum Pontificum in July 2007.

“Men and women both have a yearning for the sacredness of God; it is how we are all wired,” said Cunningham. He described the ancient liturgy as bearing a particular attractiveness.

Father Smith agreed. “I have seen many times that an authentic experience of the transcendent, as opposed to the immanent, resonates with many men at a level they often are at a loss to explain,” he said. “The objectivity of the rite, the solemnity, the way the sacred ritual is both manly and graceful at the same time — not unlike many military ceremonies — often corresponds to a need many men have for order, hierarchy and meaning.”

Prince of Peace Parish offers a traditional Latin Mass on Sundays at noon throughout the year, as well as opportunities for daily Mass and processions on special feast days and holy days of obligation in the extraordinary form.

The parish is widely known in the area for its numerous altar boys who serve Mass in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms, while many of the camp’s participants from other parishes, dioceses and states had only infrequently or never before experienced the traditional Latin Mass.

Father Smith said that although he is sensitive to the high work demands of many of today’s parish clergy, he encourages other parish priests to host similar events for boys and young men. “It is an investment in our Catholic men and vocations of all sorts and an investment we have to make if the Church is to continue to grow in a world so deaf to Christian values and so threatening to an authentic understanding of what it is to be a man and a man of God,” he said.

“Involve some good Catholic laymen and seminarians and other young clergy and spread the wealth!”

Brian Mershon writes from Greenville, South Carolina.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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