Lately there has been talk of closing the parish. Quite a few national news outlets have picked up on the building controversy. You can check out the stories by New York Times, National Review Online, Rod Dreher, National Catholic Register. There is one by Voice of America that is quite interesting. Yesterday, Adam Shaw has a blistering contribution at Fox. You might check something I wrote about Holy Innocents, HERE and HERE.
Today I see a piece at the NY Observer. If for nothing else, check out the beautiful photos, best I’ve seen yet. My emphases and comments.
The Last Daily Latin Mass in New York is Facing Extinction
Down the street from the lights and sounds of Times Square stands the oldest building in the Garment District, the Church of the Holy Innocents. Over the decades the neighborhood has evolved into the tangle of chain stores and litter that it is today while the 150 year-old church has remained mostly the same since the day it was built. Step inside and the din is somehow lost, replaced by the last quiet, peaceful haven for New York’s traditional Catholics.
Yet what makes Holy Innocents truly unique is that it is the last Catholic church in the city to offer the mass in Latin. The Latin, or Tridentine, Mass has been performed since the 6th century, and this rare service seems to have the effect of transporting one back through time. In the same way that the mass is a testament to the past, the building itself is a landmark in New York history: giving last rites to those in the plane that crashed into the Empire State Building during WWII, baptizing Nobel laureate Eugene O’Neill, officiating the marriage of performer Jimmy Durante, and overseeing the conversion of poet Joyce Kilmer. [I didn’t know about Joyce Kilmer.]
Nowadays, however, the very thing that makes this place so extraordinary is the very thing putting it in danger. Despite the artistic, cultural, and financial strengths of Holy Innocents the church was recommended for closure in April as part of New York’s “Making All Things New” initiative (a title one parishioner called “Orwellian”) to consolidate superfluous church spaces.
The reasons cited for the potential closure were that the church is not considered by the advisory board to be “an active, vibrant community of faith,” according to a letter from Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, sent in response to concerned parishioner and Frick Institute employee Valeria Kondratiev. “A parish church is meant to be a center of worship and not a museum,” he went on to say, addressing her concerns for the immense, exquisite, and priceless Constantino Brumidi mural affixed above the altar that would, in her opinion, most likely be unsalvageable if the church were closed.
This comes right on the tails of an immense $700,000 renovation project undergone just last year with most of the money going to restore the Brumidi mural. The project was paid for in major part by donations from parishioners and partly overseen by the very Archdiocese that may have known far in advance of the church’s potential for consolidation. “Some people… gave until it hurt,” parishioner Ron Mirro said. “It’s just very upsetting.”
The puzzling thing about the Cardinal’s claims of a lack of vibrancy in the community, however, is that Holy Innocents seems to have exploded in popularity since they started their daily Latin Masses in 2010. Total Sunday Mass attendance is now 250-275, nearly triple the average attendance of 100 people in 2009. The church is nearing 75% of its ordinary seating capacity of 350-400. In addition, it is currently completely debt free with donations on track to double in the current fiscal year from the last.
Explanations for an inexplicable closure range, some believing it an issue of misinformation and miscommunication like volunteer Co-Coordinator of the church Mark Froeba who said that the priests who were trained after the Second Vatican Council grew to harbor an animosity for the Latin Mass and the old, problematic ways of the church that it came to represent for them.
Unfortunately, Holy Innocents has little recourse to save their home. “As Catholics we are called to be obedient to our clergy and that’s what we accept about our faith,” said Con O’Shea-Creal, a regular commuter to the church from Queens. He and his wife Paige were recently married at Holy Innocents. The young couple agreed that they trusted in the Archdiocese’ final decision but that it can be difficult to do so sometimes.
This attitude is reflected in many of the parishioners of Holy Innocents. They are left with a feeling of helplessness and fear, making change.org petitions and writing pleading letters to the Cardinal, but incapable of doing much else besides their daily mass, to which they have added a prayer for the health and heart of Cardinal Dolan to spare their church.
Parishioners are made up of a diverse cross-section of races, ethnicities, and, surprisingly, ages. It is a common misconception that traditional Catholics are predominately elderly, but the Latin Mass is seemingly burgeoning in popularity among young Catholics.
Judge Andrew P. Napolitano debates just such issues on television most of his days as the Senior Judicial Analyst for Fox News Channel, but many of his nights are spent at Holy Innocents. “The Cardinal… [is] a terrific human being… He has a very, very big heart. I am confident that in that very big heart of his, there’s a place for [Holy Innocents],” he said. [Amen! Well said.] “One of the church’s truisms is ‘sacred then means sacred now,’” he told the Observer. “The church teaches that if something was sacred, it was always sacred and it always will be sacred. Well, this Tridentine Mass was sacred for 1,400 years. It is sacred still.”
The Cardinal’s final decision on the status of the closure will be revealed sometime in September.
Read the whole thing there.
One of the beautiful photos.