By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – A Mass that employs the “language of the Church” and an “age-old” tradition has attracted the young – and their elders.
It is a Latin Mass in which celebrant and people all face the same direction.
“People were asking for it (Mass in Latin),” Msgr. Robert K. Johnson, rector of St. Paul Cathedral, said. He celebrated the Latin Mass there Jan. 1 and March 19 this year. No date has yet been set for the next Mass in Latin, he said this week.
On March 19 Bishop McManus celebrated the Mass for the feast of St. Joseph, and Father Steven M. LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish, concelebrated. Deacon Anthony J. Xatse, of St. Paul’s, and David F. Vaillancourt, of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Milford, assisted.
Msgr. Johnson, master of ceremonies, noted that this was the “novus ordo,” or ordinary form Mass. It is the Mass most familiar to local Catholics, but it is celebrated in Latin.
“It’s one of the many options in the liturgical life of the Church,” said Msgr. Johnson, who is director of the Office for Divine Worship and a liturgist. He said Latin is the official language of the Church, “a language many people still know, understand and appreciate.”
(There also is an extraordinary form Latin Mass, called the Tridentine Mass, since it uses the texts and rites of the missal Pope St. Pius V promulgated in 1570 after the Council of Trent. The last revised version of the Tridentine Mass was issued by Pope John XXIII in 1962.)
Any celebrant can choose which way to face at any Mass, including Masses in English, Msgr. Johnson said. Very early in the Church, celebrants most likely faced the people, and Vatican Council II liturgical revisions gave them the option of doing so, he said.
At the St. Joseph’s Day Mass, celebrant and people faced the same direction. Msgr. Johnson described it as “ad orientem” – toward the East.
“It is the ancient posture that the Church prayed in for many centuries, because the East was the place of the Resurrection, the direction of the rising sun, symbolic of where Christ would come at the end of time,” he explained. “We’re all oriented, not toward each other, but toward Christ.”
In St. Paul’s, that actually meant celebrants and people were facing South, Msgr. Johnson said, explaining that the cathedral was to face East if it faced Main Street. But it was built a little way up from Main Street, with its front doors opening onto Chatham Street.
At this Mass there were tall candles on the altar. Msgr. Johnson said candles can be on top of the altar or beside it at any Mass. Seven candlesticks are part of a pontifical Mass with the bishop as main celebrant, he said.
“I thought it was well done,” Owen Towne, 17, said of the Mass, at which he was an altar server. He’d also served at the cathedral’s Latin Mass Jan. 1, which was celebrated the same way. He said he hoped to serve more Masses like this.
“I like the reverence, and the fact that we use an age-old tradition – “ad orientem” … and that we’re using the language of the Church,” he said.
“It was kind of backwards … because the bishop is facing the other direction,” said his 11-year-old brother Simon Peter, who also served the Mass.
Their mother, Sheila, said this was his first time serving this form of the Latin Mass, but her sons have been learning the extraordinary form at St. Anne’s Convent in Still River, where the family occasionally worships. Simon also serves English Masses at St. Paul’s, which is their parish, she said.
She said she and her husband and nine of their 10 children attended the St. Joseph’s Day Mass. She praised Bishop McManus’ Latin and said the chant choir was extraordinary.
“This is particularly special,” she said. “The liturgy offers a reverence and beauty that helps raise my heart and mind to God.”
“It was awesome,” said Anne-Claire Nickle, 8, of St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury.
Her mother, AnnaMaria Nickle, said Anne-Claire goes to Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Still River, where she attends a Tridentine Mass every day.
“It was wonderful,” Mrs. Nickle said of the Mass at St. Paul’s. “I felt privileged to be here, because it was so beautiful.”
Yolanda Torres, of St. Paul’s, said this was her first Latin Mass, although many words were familiar because she usually attends Spanish Masses.
“It feels different,” she said of the Latin Mass. “It was, like, so spiritual and calm. It makes you think and meditate … because it’s, like, more mellow” and requires concentration.
“I did like it,” said JoAnn Joseph Massarelli, 57, another St. Paul’s parishioner. “It did bring back memories.” She said she’s been to Latin Masses elsewhere and loved the fact that this one was celebrated for St. Joseph’s feast day.
“For the humblest saint … to have this beautiful tribute – it was a blessing,” she said.