18 May 2011

St. Mary Mother of God Church (Tridentine Latin Mass)

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow Knight of Columbus Peter suggested a trip to St. Mary, Mother of God Church in Chinatown to see their Tridentine Latin Mass. I jumped at the chance to go, as did several other friends from the Knights of Columbus and the Newman Center: Christina, Francisco, and (another) Michael. I had been to St. Mary Mother of God before to see their 11:30 AM Mass in Cantonese (Chinese), so I already knew what it was like to sit in that church for an hour without having any idea what was going on.

The Tridentine Latin Mass is the Mass that was performed in the Catholic Church before the 1962 Vatican Conference, which produced a new order of the Mass (known as “Novus Ordo,” or “New Order”) and allowed Masses to be given in vernacular languages. I have previously seen a “Novus Ordo” Latin Mass, a Mass in which the post-Vatican II Mass was given in Latin, but it is much rarer to see the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Latin Mass, which can only be performed with the permission of a local Archbishop.

St. Mary Mother of God was the same neo-Gothic church that I had seen before, except for a worn down shrine section of the church, which had since been improved with a navy-blue background and a large metal image of the Virgin Mary. The congregation was very conservatively dressed, with men generally wearing suits, and many women wearing veils. There were a lot of elderly folks at Mass, but a few families as well, like the one with five or six children that sat in front of us. Nearly everyone at the Mass was Caucasian.

The Mass itself was a very interesting affair. For much of the celebration, the priest, had his back to the congregation. He would chant a verse of a prayer or reading, and a response would come either from the congregation or the fantastic choir sitting in the loft at the rear of the church. The choir was fantastic, and their wonderful songs and chants filled the space with a very uplifting ambience. I was pretty confused as to what was going on throughout the Mass because, of course, I failed to grab one of the Latin Missal booklets located at the front of the church. I didn’t realize that nearly every section of the Mass was sung either by the choir or the priest, including the first two readings. I thought I had missed the entire Liturgy of the Word until the priest read the Gospel (in English).

The priest, who wore some sort of hat during the Mass (it looked like a beret) and spoke with a British accent, said in his homily that if we do not actively engage our faith, we become passive spectators to a grand spectacle, like the British Royal Wedding. He said that to avoid doubt, like that of the apostle Thomas in the Gospel reading, we need to work our faith out like a muscle. Part of exercising that faith, he said, was receiving Holy Communion, which preserves Christ’s resurrection over time. Later in the Mass, the congregation received Holy Communion in a manner that I’ve never seen before; we knelt before a small wall in front of the altar, and the priests and Eucharistic ministers distributed the host to our tongues as we knelt. It was a very interesting end to this very traditional Mass. Personally, I didn’t really feel connected to this Mass and some of my friends felt the same way. I think it is great that this tradition is kept alive, but I can also see why the Church moved away from the Tridentine Latin Mass and began to allow Masses in the vernacular. 


(This shrine has been recently refurbished) 

1 comment:

  1. You are incorrect that a Trad Latin Mass requires the permission of a local bishop. Any priest, and any parish, may celebrate one at will. See "Summorum Pontificum" issued by Pope Benedict.