Traditional Latin Mass a draw at St. Mary's on Broadway

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PROVIDENCE — Two months after it has started offering the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, St. Mary’s Church on Broadway is drawing more than 250 people to its two Sunday Masses.

At the end of August, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), a religious society which offers the Extraordinary Form, assumed leadership of the parish. The fraternity was invited to the Diocese of Providence by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin.

During a visit to the parish on Sunday Oct. 21, Bishop Tobin told the Rhode Island Catholic he was pleased with how the parish was progressing.

“I think they’re off to a terrific start. I think the response among the people has been very strong,” Bishop Tobin said.

The bishop described the Extraordinary Form as “another expression of the legitimate diversity of worship” in the Church. “We know it appeals to some people. It does not appeal to other people, but it’s an option. It’s a choice for them,” Bishop Tobin said. “I think it is meeting one spiritual need.”

There is one other parish in Providence where the Extraordinary Form is available — Holy Name of Jesus Church on the East Side of Providence. But Holy Name also offers Mass in the Ordinary Form. At St. Mary’s all Masses and other sacraments are offered according to the traditional rite before the reform of the liturgy in the 1960s.

At St. Mary’s, the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass drew an estimated 145 congregants from around Rhode Island and as far as the Worcester area and Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

One commuter was Antony Vernaglia, 77, a Rhode Island native who now lives in Uxbridge, Massachusetts. He said he grew up with the Latin Mass. “When they stopped it, I lost something that was dear to me,” Vernaglia said. He said it was “nice to see it back,” comparing it to the return of an “old friend.”

Ryan Gary, who recently relocated to Rhode Island to attend Roger Williams University School of Law, said he encounters something in the Extraordinary Form that he doesn’t in the Ordinary Form. “I’m grateful to have the Latin Mass because I’ve been to the Novus Ordo,” he said. “There’s something missing. There’s something about the Latin rite — it’s hard to describe.”

Evan Cornell drives down with his wife Amanda and three young children from Sandwich, Massachusetts, to experience the Extraordinary Form and the other benefits of attending a parish overseen by the FSSP.

“Most people who come here are here because they want to be Catholic in the entirety of their lives and that’s what we want,” Cornell said. “A fraternity parish makes it really easy to live a fully authentic Catholic life at home but also in the parish.”

He and his wife agreed that there is “something different” about being in a parish led by the FSSP. Cornell said it was the way the fraternity parishes “pull parishioners in holiness towards Christ.”

FSSP parishes place particular emphasis on education and the liturgy, according to Father John Berg, FSSP, the new pastor at St. Mary’s and a former superior general of the fraternity. The liturgy he said forms our idea of God and understanding of what it means to be Catholic. The FSSP also has a strong educational bent and sermons tend to be longer, diving into questions or morality or doctrine in order to better equip parishioners to explain their faith in a secular society, Father Berg said.

Father Berg expects that the parish will continue to grow as word of mouth spreads. “But we’ve been really happy with the response so far,” he added.

Catholics who aren’t used to the Extraordinary Form sometimes need time to “get a taste for it.” The use of Latin can also make it hard for newcomers to feel like they can’t follow, according to Father Berg.

But Catholics shouldn’t let that stop them from attending the Latin Mass. “It’s best just to attend and to see and to observe and to watch the adoration which is taking place,” Father Berg said.

In both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, signs and symbols during Mass are an important means of communicating the reality of the faith.