Philadelphia Inquirer on Mater Ecclesiae in Camden, NJ

There is a very good article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  This is what happens when an open minded reporter actually does some gumshoe reporting.There are some good themes.   My emphases and comments

Reviving a Latin past
By David O’Reilly
Inquirer Staff Writer

With their love of tradition and their formal dress code (no shorts even for children, and covered heads for women), the members of Mater Ecclesiae Church in Berlin Township can seem a tight-laced congregation of Roman Catholics.  [An interesting way to begin.  I think we all know that our culture has become far too informal, which, paradoxically, is a symptom that the bonds of society are breaking rather than getting closer.]

But on Sunday they were ringing bells, popping corks and slicing cake, and – mirabile visu! – some were even smoking cigars.

Mirabile visu? Isn’t that Latin?

Graceful, dignified, formal and obscure, [Again, the formality theme.]  Latin is the language of choice at Mater Ecclesiae, one of the only Catholic churches in the nation where all the liturgies are conducted according to the centuries-old Tridentine rite.

Its bells were ringing and corks popping after Sunday’s Mass because Pope Benedict XVI had on Saturday issued a decree allowing freer use of the traditional Latin liturgy, which had all but withered away in recent decades.

"My good friends, we are living through and a part of a major, fundamental, awesome reaffirmation of the tradition of our faith," the Rev. Robert C. Pasley, rector of Mater Ecclesiae, told his congregation from the pulpit during Sunday’s high Mass.

"I never thought I’d see the day."

Just how Benedict’s decree, or motu proprio, might affect the availability of Tridentine-style liturgies in area dioceses remain to be seen.  [Fair enough.]

While the "new order" Mass introduced in 1970 continues as the worldwide standard, Benedict’s decree instructs pastors to willingly provide Latin liturgies if their parishes contain a "stable" number of parishioners "attached to the previous liturgical tradition."

Bishops are also "earnestly requested" to accommodate requests for the Latin rites, and told they may create special parishes or chapels (like Mater Ecclesiae) dedicated to their use.

Since 1988, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has offered a Tridentine Mass each Sunday in one urban and one suburban parish. The Trenton Diocese offers the old rite once each Sunday in a Monmouth County parish.

Mater Ecclesiae, which is not a parish but a borderless facsimile open to all worshipers seeking to partake of the Tridentine tradition, is the site for Latin Masses of the Camden Diocese. It had 70 families when it began in 2000 and now has 520, according to Pasley, a diocesan priest.  [And so many say that the older form of liturgy won’t create much interest.]

Spokesmen for the Philadelphia, Camden and Trenton Dioceses, all of which allow limited Latin Masses, said their bishops were studying the three-page document. [I have always wondered about the whole "study" thing.  For example, I come from a parish where there were some 30 men ordained priest from the parish in as many years.  The liturgy was solemn, formal, traditional and Latin.  It was Novus Ordo, but celebrated in such a way, with such continuity with tradition that at first glance it is hard for many to distinguish from the older form.  So… what is to study?  This isn’t brain surgery, it’s common sense.  You would think that by looking at examples of places that really work well, people running places that don’t work so well would get some new approaches.  But that is above my pay grade.]

Sunday’s high Mass at Mater Ecclesiae began at 11 a.m. with a procession of three priests, 12 altar boys in black cassocks and white surplices, and 12 white-clad girls of the Blessed Imelda Society, as the choir and congregation sang Gregorian chant. In Latin, of course.  [Again, the theme of formality.]

Next, Pasley incensed the altar and shook holy water on the congregants before facing the altar and uttering the once-familiar words "Introibo ad altare Dei" – "I will go to the altar of God" – that for centuries began the Roman Rite Mass.

"What we do in this small chapel is no longer the exception to the norm," he told the 250 congregants in the sermon.

Mass ended after 90 minutes and a half-dozen Dominus vobiscums later with more incense and an exposition of the consecrated host, or communion wafer, in an ornate monstrance. (The much shorter and simpler Sunday low Masses begin at 8:30 a.m.)  [A useful piece of information foa reader who might be curious, but perhaps not up for the full nine yards.]

After a special ringing of the church bells [How many times have the bells been mentioned?] and a singing of the ancient hymn Te Deum ("Thou, Lord"), the congregation relocated to the church hall for sparkling cider and cake. [and the cake ] About a dozen of the men – including Pasley – retired to a veranda for a bit of conversation and "Chestertonian incense," or cigars.[and incense]

"We love coming," said altar server Mark Byrne, 16, of Allentown, N.J.. The oldest of nine children, Byrne said he loved "the beauty and solemnity" [again the formality] of the Tridentine Mass: "The Novus Ordo [English-language Mass] is just not the same."

Marisa Consoli, 17, who said that next year she will join a traditional order of cloistered nuns  [What?? Not Sister Chittister’s group?] that prays day and night for priests, said she owed her "vocation to the Latin Mass because it increased my love for the Lord."

Although the word Tridentine comes from the 16th century Council of Trent that standardized the Roman Rite liturgies of the Catholic Church, "the council in no way created the Mass" that bears its name, Msgr. Charles Sangermano, pastor of Holy Saviour parish in Norristown, noted last week. Rather, he said, the council and Pope Pius V pruned regional variations from a rite that was centuries old.

The Tridentine Mass of 1570 served as the worldwide standard for most of the world’s Catholics until the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 instructed that Masses and other liturgies would henceforth spoken in the local, or vernacular, tongue with the priest facing the congregation. [Here the writer seriously fumbles the ball.  Vatican II stated that Latin was to be retained and that the vernacular could be used occasionally for some parts of the Mass.  There is no document of the Church that requires Mass to be celebrated versus populum.] It took several years to be implemented.

While a breath of fresh air to many of the world’s Catholics, the change shocked millions of others who had assumed that the Mass was divinely ordained, or nearly so, and immutable[Right.  And when it changed,   It is hard to blame people for falling into taht false idea, but correcting it was the responsibility of those who knew better.  They didn’t correct it.  Now that it is being corrected, people are feeling pain over the issue again.]

In 1988 Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, granted diocesan bishops special permission to provide an occasional Latin Mass. [Not quite.  Bishops could establish as many as they wanted.  It didn’t have to be merely once in a while.] Many chose not to do so, out of concern that their dioceses, or the whole church, might form into modern and traditionalist camps.  [Or because they didn’t like the old Mass.  Or because the people asking for them were so sour that it was hard to work with them.]

"This fear . . . strikes me as unfounded," Benedict wrote in his Saturday decree, further adding that by allowing greater use of the old rite, he hoped to restore to the mainstream the "not small number" of alienated Catholics who never warmed to the new Mass.

Pasley said the impact of Benedict’s decree will be gradual. "Many priests don’t know Latin and don’t have an interest in it," he said, but "down the line, as they become more exposed to it, that will change."


For a video of high Mass at Mater Ecclesiae Church in Camden County, along with the pope’s decree, go to

Contact staff writer David O’Reilly at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@


Well done, all in all.  I think the writer deserves some positive feedback. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Wow, even an ablative supine! This must be the growing influence of Fr. Z. on the MSM . . .

  2. Michael E. Lawrence says:

    Fr. Z,

    I agree the writer did a good job. I sent him a short note last evening. He seemed like a nice guy, too. I hope he comes back.

  3. Jamie Frater says:

    Thanks for posting this Father. It is very nice to see an article that is so lacking in hostility or bias! I wonder how long it will be before he finds himself a regular traditional Parish.

  4. Jamie: I am not sure there wasn’t a bias in favor of the Ecclesia Mater community and the older form of Mass.  On the other hand, I can’t see that that is bad.  I don’t care if reporters take a position.  I just want them to get the facts rights when they do, one way or another. 

  5. Jonathan Bennett says:

    It is good to read an article on the traditional Mass that does not fall into all the old cliches, and that recognizes that many of those who participate at Mass are not old fogies but young Catholics who are serious about their faith.

  6. dcs says:

    Let us be charitable and assume that the writer meant “tight-knit” and not “tight-laced.”

    We recently celebrated a First Holy Communion at Mater Ecclesiae and one of the first remarks we fielded from visiting family was about how closely-knit the community seemed to be.

    The Inquirer published another article about Mater Ecclesiae some years ago that was also very fair — the title was something like “At NJ church, it’s all Latin all the time.”

  7. Maureen says:

    Apparently, this is the Blessed Imelda in question:

    Man, that’s a good one. Wish I’d heard it before my First Communion.

    Dang, she needs a _ballad_. Or a country song, even.

  8. jaykay says:

    A very good and well-balanced article, I would have said. What a refreshing change, in contrast to what appeared opposite the leader columns in the “Irish Independent” (one of Ireland’s leading dailies) yesterday. I can’t provide a link but believe me when I say that I have rarely seen a more vituperative, bile-laden piece of deliberate denigration and misinformation in quite some time, and all of it untainted by any attempt at fairness or even genuine fact-finding. It was quite clear that the young(ish) lady in question had a major agenda and wanted to get it out come what may. It made even Sr. Chittister’s piece look positively intellectual.

    Unfortunately such articles are now par for the course among our journalistic soi-disant opinion formers, particularly where the Catholic Church is concerned (the Anglicans and others get an easy ride, strangely enough). Reminds me of Yeats:

    And no knave brought to book
    Who has won a drunken cheer,
    The witty man and his joke
    Aimed at the commonest ear,
    The clever man who cries
    The catch-cries of the clown,
    The beating down of the wise
    And great Art beaten down

    Except we’re not talking of Art here of course. What did someone else say? Ah yes:

    If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you.

  9. nab says:

    Fr. Z,
    I know of one priest who asked another (older) priest why everyone started celebrating versus populum, given that it was not a directive from the Vatican, obviously. He found and copied a directive (memo form I think) from the USCCB in the 70s that stated for everyone to do just that. Thought you might like to know…I don’t have any of the reference information, though.

  10. MM says:

    Great article, but I’m becoming confused.

    When I emailed my priest, (and copied the bishop), to request a more orthodox, Latin based NO Mass as well as the classic rite Mass on occasion, my bishop informed me that Summorum Pontificum does not mean any changes to the NO mass; it would continue to be in the vernacular with the same way; music, readings, etc., and that there already is a classic rite Mass (about 70 miles from me) in our diocese.

    My priest didn’t respond at all; I don’t expect to see any changes for some time. Count me as disappointed, but my prayers do continue!

  11. Sid Cundiff says:

    I think we all know that our culture has become far too informal, which, paradoxically, is a symptom that the bonds of society are breaking rather than getting closer.

    Amen, bro’!

  12. RBrown says:

    Spokesmen for the Philadelphia, Camden and Trenton Dioceses, all of which allow limited Latin Masses, said their bishops were studying the three-page document. [Fr Z’s comment: I have always wondered about the whole “study” thing.]

    It’s the MO of middle managers–and despite the bishop being the shepherd, American bishops tend to be middle managers.

    Study it means they have a new situation, and don’t know how to react, so they have to form study groups and steering committees.

    The MP is pretty straightforward. Why each bishop can’t just read it is beyond me.

  13. dcs says:

    Spokesmen for the Philadelphia, Camden and Trenton Dioceses, all of which allow limited Latin Masses, said their bishops were studying the three-page document.

    I’m sure many priests are “studying” in those dioceses it too. Or maybe they’ve already moved on to the next stage, studying the old Missal.

  14. Legisperitus says:


    Perhaps the Bishops are acting as middle managers because the USCCB keeps acting as if it were a CEO.

    My Motu Proprio party is just beginning… I celebrated by buying a Lewis & Short.

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