Roma 24 maggio 2003

Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore


Articoli e segnalazioni prima della celebrazione

17 maggio 2003 - London Times

Forty years after the reforms of Vatican II, the old-rite Latin Mass is enjoying a renaissance in the Catholic Church

By Bess Twiston Davies 

Incense swirls through the sanctuary, enveloping the neat row of altar servers kneeling on the marble altar steps. A bishop towering above them raises a gold chalice, proclaiming in Latin that it holds the blood of Christ. He is reaching the climax of the Tridentine liturgy, the Mass once standard in the Catholic Church. It includes lengthy Latin prayers, lacunae of silence, an extra Gospel after communion.

The priests pray with their backs to the congregation, occasionally breaking into complex bows to the left and right of the altar. 

To the modern Catholic, it’s a bit of a mystery. Most under 40 grew up with the new rite, which replaced the Tridentine Mass in 1969, dropping Latin for the vernacular and obliging the priest to face his congregation, rather than east — the direction in which Christ is thought to have ascended to Heaven. To the average Catholic, today’s Mass at St James’s, Spanish Place, in Central London seems a scene from another age. 

Yet a startling proportion of the priests at the altar look younger than 40. A quick survey of the congregation reveals an equally mixed age group: middle-aged matrons in hats and headscarves sitting next to tiny girls in lace mantillas, elderly men in tweed or blazers wedged between earnest boys, pressing their straightened hands in prayer.
All seem plunged into intense, reverent concentration, disturbed only by the odd squeal from a recalcitrant toddler. 

The age range reveals the Tridentine Mass to be enjoying a renaissance with younger Catholics. More significantly, it is also producing vocations. Last year, 81 men sought 16 places at the US seminary of the Fraternal Society of St Peter, an order founded in 1988 by the Vatican to train old-rite priests. “We don’t do selfpromotion,” claims Father Arnaud Devillers, the society’s superior. Such statistics have been noted in Rome. Forthcoming Vatican guidelines on liturgy will advocate wider use of the old rite, possibly weekly, say reports in Inside the Vatican magazine. 

Until now, whether to allow or forbid the old Mass has been decided by diocesan bishops. “There is a certain idea among bishops that interest in the traditional rite represents the Church of the past, a mentality we don’t want now. We still have to convince them that values important in the Tridentine-rite liturgy, such as reverence, adoration of Christ, and the Mass as sacrifice, can be fruitful for the Church,” argues Loic Merian, founder of Ciel, Le Centre Internationale d’Études Liturgiques, a forum devoted to studying the old rite. “There is a great gulf now between the will of Rome and the bishops. Rome may impose a solution.” 

There are signs that it already has: the guest speaker at this year’s annual conference of Ciel UK, Ciel’s English offshoot, is Dom Fernando Areas Rifan, leader of the world’s only Tridentine diocese. Rifan is bishop of the Apostolic Administration of St John Vianney in Campos, northern Brazil. 

Under a unique agreement with the Holy See in January 2002, the 30,000 Catholics and 26 priests of Campos now have exclusive permission to celebrate Mass and Sacraments in Latin, using pre-Vatican II liturgy. They had left the Church 21 years previously, after the Bishop of Campos at the time banned the old Mass, imposing the new. 

In exile, the Campos Catholics joined forces with the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), Tridentinist schismatics who refuse to attend the new rite. In 1988 the Pope excommunicated the society’s leader, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Now, impressed by the piety of SSPX members visiting Rome, he is wooing them back. Plans are afoot for a Tridentine-rite parish in Berlin run by Tridentine-rite priests in conjunction with priests belonging to the traditional but mainstream Congregation of St Philip Neri. 

These developments are not universally welcome. Most Catholics are utterly indifferent to the Tridentine rite, claims Father Bruno Healy, parish priest at St Joseph’s, Bunhill Row, in the City of London. “The Tridentine Mass would interest only 5 per cent or perhaps 1 per cent of the people in the pews,” he says. “There are young fogeys who like it but I think they are just chasing something esoteric. Their interest mystifies and saddens me. They talk of the old Mass, but every Mass is new, fresh and unique. I put my heart and soul into every Mass I say, and I think most priests would say that it is wonderful to speak to people in their own tongue.” 

Thirty-two-year-old Brian McCall disagrees: “The Tridentine Mass teaches humility, being conscious of sinfulness, obedience. I went for 25 years to the new Mass and I didn’t think any of those things had anything to do with being Catholic.” He worships at St Bede’s, Clapham Park, in London, one of the rare English parishes to offer Tridentine Masses daily and on Sundays. 

“There is a tendency to allow Tridentine masses at 3pm on a Sunday,” says Dom Andrew Southwell, a priest from St Bede’s who serves old-rite Catholics outside London. “This is given as a way containing traditionalists who are seen as an eccentric fringe group, but there is a crying pastoral need to respond to young families.” 

Once a month, St Bede’s organises a family day, including a sung Tridentine Mass, doctrinal talk and vespers. Colette Oliver is one of the 200 who attend with her four children. Despite the Latin, she finds the old-rite Mass child- friendly. “In church my children are angelic, they are not immaculately behaved outside and used to be horrible in the new-rite Mass. People often say that the trappings and the incense are boring and too much for children. This isn’t true — they capture the kids’ imagination.” 

“I was amazed when the families started coming to the old-rite Mass,” says St Bede’s parish priest, Father Christopher Basden. “It went against all our 1970s assumptions that what modern Catholics wanted was a liturgy that was relaxed, contemporary, a bit jazzy.” 


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