Part one of a three-part series on special liturgical celebrations offered in the diocese of Providence.
PROVIDENCE — On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI relaxed restrictions on the use of the Tridentine Mass, the Latin-language liturgy that predates the Second Vatican Council. The pope’s instruction came in a four-page apostolic letter entitled Summorum Pontificum.
After hearing of this letter, Father Michael J. Woolley, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Woonsocket decided to learn to say the Mass and offer it monthly in his parish. Over the past three years, the pastor explained that the Traditional Latin Mass continues to be cherished by Catholics throughout the state.
In his letter, the pope said Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Roman Missal, sometimes referred to as the Tridentine Mass and now officially known as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, should be made available in every parish where faithful desire it. The Tridentine Mass has been allowed as a liturgical exception since 1984, but Catholics had to request permission from local bishops, who did not always consent.
“A lot of lay people and clergy had an affection for the traditional Mass,” said Father Woolley. “What Pope Benedict said in Summorum Pontificum was that what was holy then is holy now. He wanted it to be revived.”
John Boni of Bellingham, Massachusetts attended his first Latin Mass in April 2008 when it was first offered at St. Joseph’s Church.
There are many aspects of the Latin Mass that Boni was drawn to, he said. The decoration of the altar, the priest facing east or “ad orientem,” the music, communion kneeling and received on the tongue, and the powerful silence were all spiritual elements that added to the sacredness of his experience.
“Some may think that too much silence means you are not really participating in the Mass, but I disagree,” said Boni. “I think the silence helps me focus more on God during the Mass and that to me is a truer participation.”
Boni’s family attends the Latin Mass when it is offered monthly at St. Joseph’s parish. On other weeks, they attend the new Mass.
“While I prefer the Traditional Latin Mass, I certainly still appreciate the regular Mass also,” he said. “Perhaps the future will be a merging of the two forms of Mass, taking the best of both.”
The Latin Mass draws Catholics into beautiful prayer, said the Father Woolley.
“People appreciate this kind of liturgy,” he said. “Latin is a liturgical language that makes everyone equal.”
Since 1978, Holy Name of Jesus parish in Providence has celebrated a Mass in Latin, and since 1984 that Mass has been in the Traditional Form every Sunday.
Father Joseph Santos, pastor of Holy Name, finds that the quality of the prayers is the most beautiful component of the Traditional Latin Mass.
“I find it not only theologically correct, but also on a deeper level than some of what was incorporated into the new rite,” he said. “The reverence is inherent in the rite itself and the fact the priest faces the same way as the people conveys the simple truth that he is there to lead the faithful and not to be the one that the people are focusing on as an individual.”
It is the reverence that draws Catholics to this Mass, said Father Santos, specifically many parishioners traveling from bordering states.
“They find a source of stability in a very confusing and changing world,” he explained. “This is something that is there as it has been and as it will be.”
With a passion for the Latin Mass, Allen Maynard of North Carver, Mass travels 42 miles to attend Holy Name with his wife and five children each week.
Feeling disenchanted with the Church, Maynard said he couldn’t find a parish where he felt like he was Catholic. After a long search, eventually he began to attend the Traditional Latin Mass.
“It is beautiful,” he said. “I think it is unmistakably oriented toward God.”
Maynard, who is on the national board of Una Voce America, a global organization that promotes the Tridentine Mass, said that the Mass is efficacious regardless of what rite one attends.
“I would like to see more people aware of it and be curious of it. Catholics do need to understand their liturgical heritage,” said Maynard. “It’s what their parents and grandparents went to. I think Summorum Pontificum was not just a gift to us who love the traditional Mass, but it was a gift from the pope to the whole church. A lot of fruits will come from this.”
Many people have fond memories of the Traditional Latin Mass and are attracted to its reverent atmosphere. Father Woolley said that this Mass has a significant history and is irreplaceable in the life of the church.
“The more exposure it gets the more people like it,” he said. “It’s over 1000 years old. It’s a witness to the undying faith; it connects us not only with Catholics throughout the world, but with Catholics throughout the centuries.”