New Hopes for the Old Mass

People who have been attending the Tridentine Mass for years are welcoming Summorum Pontificum, the Pope’s letter extending permission to celebrate that Mass.

CYRUS, Minn. — Garrett Dalhoff and his wife, Camilla, make significant sacrifices to get their family to Mass every Sunday.

They awake by 5:30 so they can get their eight children dressed and out the door for their arrival at Sacred Heart Church in Flensburg, Minn., 83 miles from home. They arrive by 8:30 a.m., just in time for the Rosary and confessions. It’s a routine they’ve followed for years.

The Dalhoffs are among 300 parishioners who choose the weekly Old Latin Mass offered at the parish — and among many in this country who have been attending the 1962 form of the Latin Mass for years.

Because celebration of the Mass has depended on specific permission from the local bishop, it often has meant that devotees must travel long distances and attend the Mass at “off” times, such as a Sunday afternoon. 

But that’s been a small price to pay for people like Dalhoff, who had a hard time with less-than-reverent liturgies at his local church.

“I reached the point where I would come back from Mass and I would not be at peace,” said Dalhoff, a licensed school psychologist. “The more I experienced the Latin Mass, the more I looked forward to Sunday. I wasn’t going to settle for anything less.”

With the July 7 release of Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI granted greater permission to celebrate the older form of the Latin Mass. But for years, families like the Dalhoffs and religious communities such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the Society of St. John Cantius have kept the flame of the Old Mass alive.

All the new attention to the Latin Mass is even causing some non-devotees to check it out — with mixed results.

“I participated in two Tridentine Masses in the past month,” said John Hughes of Woodbury, Conn. “It is very reverent and beautiful and sacred, but I can understand the reasoning behind updating the liturgy. I had a missal and still had a hard time following things.  But it is good to see this move by the Pope.”

Like many devotees of the old Mass, Dalhoff said that he prefers it for its reverence.

“I wanted a devout, God-centered liturgy,” he said. “Everything that we believe is reflected and expressed in the Tridentine form of the Mass. We pray what we believe. When we assist at the Mass of the Ages, everything we do reinforces what we believe to be true.”

Father Dennis Kolinski also tries to put into words what he appreciates about the Old Mass. A priest of the Chicago-based Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, he says it is the otherworldliness of the liturgy. “The Tridentine Mass, which objectively speaking is ritualistically stylized, has a transcendent character to it,” he said.

Summorum Pontificum goes into effect Sept. 14. According to its norms, if a stable group of devotees of the 1962 missal request that the Mass be offered in their parish, and there is a priest able to say it, they need no special permission to go ahead. It’s not clear yet how widespread the requests will be but Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio predicts it will be popular.

 “There’s no question it will add to the number of Tridentine Masses celebrated,” said Father Fessio, theologian in residence at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla. “Many younger priests want to celebrate it, and groups such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter will continue to grow. It would be very unusual if it didn’t lead to a greater celebration of the old Mass.”

Others aren’t as sure.

“I don’t think there will be an immediate groundswell,” said Chicago lawyer Fred Dempsey, who attends both 1962 and Novus Ordo Masses celebrated at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Volo, Ill. “In five years, there may be a different paradigm … and a healthy, newfound respect for the Church’s heritage.”

Dempsey wonders if the old Mass’ availability won’t influence the Novus Ordo in a positive way.

The Novus Ordo Mass is open to a lot of interpretation, he said. “You can do it in a high Church kind of way or a kid’s Mass. Perhaps the wider availability of the Tridentine Mass will introduce some more solemn elements to it.”

Not all bishops have agreed with the change.

Prior to the issuance of the Summorum Pontificum, Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels said that, depending upon how the document is written, it could polarize the Church and be seen as a negation of the Second Vatican Council. A group of French bishops said that the decision “risks endangering the unity among priests.”

Father Kolinski, a priest of the Society of St. John Cantius, said Pope Benedict answered the cardinal’s objections.

 “Pope Benedict wants to foster unity through this way of expressing it,” said Father Kolinski. “We have one Roman rite, but two forms of the liturgy — the ordinary and the extraordinary.”

Father Fessio agreed.

“I understand that, in his address to the bishops and cardinals, the Pope said that he hoped that the two rites would mutually influence one another,” explained Father Fessio, who describes the Mass that he is most accustomed to celebrating as midway between the two. “Hopefully, the two will converge to what the Council actually intended.”

“Cardinal Ratzinger stated many times that what actually took place was an unprecedented ‘breach,’ ‘rupture’ or ‘incontinuity’ of the Church’s tradition,” explained Father Fessio, a former doctoral student of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI.

The Council “didn’t intend for the revised Mass to be a complete psychological and phenomenological break from the past.”

Tim Drake writes from

St. Joseph, Minnesota.

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