SF Chronicle on TLM in Oakland

I got a very interesting e-mail from a reader.

A reader sent an article from the San Francisco Chronicle with this explanation:

Hello Fr. Z!

Strange:  in the print newspaper the article is "Latin Mass Makes a Comeback"; but on-line, it is "  "The Latin Mass Under Fire in Oakland".  Same article!!!!

Let’s look at the article with my emphases and comments.


    Latin Mass is under fire in Oakland

    Matthai Kuruvila, Chronicle Religion Writer

    Friday, March 21, 2008

    Under the vaulted ceilings of St. Margaret Mary’s Church in Oakland, a revered tradition once forsaken has gained new life.

    About 300 Roman Catholics go there every Sunday to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass, a rite rich in symbolism that has been on the margins of Catholic life for more than four decades.  [A positive description.]

    But over the past year, decrees by Pope Benedict XVI have given the traditional Latin Mass greater official standing in the Catholic Church, opening the door for some churches to go back to it.  [In the previous sentence, the point was made that it was "on the margin".  Now it has "greater" standing.  This is good.  Often newstories say it was "suppressed" or "abolished".  It wasn’t.]

    Now, at St. Margaret Mary’s, grandparents [Which makes people think of "old people".  Not so!  I know grandparents in their 40’s.]  practice the rituals of their childhood. Young couples are being married under a tradition they encountered only recently. People drive from all over the Bay Area – and beyond – to worship there. The priest says an elderly Modesto woman comes from Stanislaus County once a month by taxi.

    But the revitalized tradition is drawing controversy. [Matthew 10:34] Some question whether the traditional rite is too outdated for a church grappling with the needs of a diverse membership and facing unprecedented challenges, such as an increasingly interreligious world.  [Uh huh.  The way to deal with challenges is to abandon our identity?]

    Those challenges are underscored this week, which is Holy Week. Today’s Good Friday service has been criticized by many Jewish groups, for example, because the Latin liturgy includes a prayer for God to "enlighten" Jews so they will "acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men."  [NEWSFLASH!  "DOG BITES MAN!"]

    The Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism released a resolution saying it was "disturbed and dismayed" by the prayer and that it undermined decades of productive Jewish-Catholic relations.

    The Rev. Michael Wiener, who presides over the St. Margaret Mary’s service, said it would deny the core of his faith if he didn’t say the prayer. [Yep.  And it would also violate the rubrics.]

    "Is it appropriate today to pray for the Jews? Of course," he said. "It can’t harm anybody to pray for them. Either God exists, and he helps us and he loves us, or this is just imagination, and only ideas."

    The Good Friday prayer is but one element of one particular day’s service. Those who attend the traditional Latin Mass say it offers a vast universe of imagery, gestures and song.  [As I can affirm is the case, after being celebrant for the Vigil at St. Augustine’s in South Saint Paul, MN.]

    Believers at St. Margaret Mary’s say the Mass has emboldened their faith. These worshipers speak of mystery and beauty and truth.  [Rem acu!]

    "It has been said that the traditional Latin Mass is the most beautiful thing this side of heaven," said Brandon Angelo, 34, who was not raised on the Mass but now attends seven days a week. "I truly believe it is."

    Those unfamiliar with the Mass, even lifelong Catholics, might find it impossible to follow its many details.  [Practice makes perfect.]

    Gestures, garments and even the position of the priest have meanings. The altar is to the east, facing sunrise.  [I like this writer!  He did homework!]  The gospel is said to the north, "the realm of darkness, paganism," explained Wiener, who also leads traditional Latin Mass services at the Oratory of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel in Santa Clara.
Elements in concert

    Angelo sees all the elements working in concert.

    He feels closer to God when he smells the burning incense, hears the bells intone, and sees the symphony of symbolic gestures and movements among the congregants at St. Margaret Mary’s.  [To use a term from music, it is like a Gesamtkunstwerk.]

    The service "draws you in bodily by appealing to the physical senses, but it also provokes and draws in the soul."

    Angelo believes some churches have made faith too easy.  [And therefore uninteresting.  But remember: progressivists tend to think that people are a lot stupider than they are.  So, in a kind of benevolent condescension, they dumb down language and gesture of the Church’s liturgy and soften doctrine so people won’t be overly taxed, or they seek to amuse.]

    "In some churches," he said, "there might be an effort to get more creative, the priest and the congregation try to keep people entertained, as opposed to holding to the tradition that God has passed down to us, which is infinitely rich."

    The Latin Mass played a pivotal role in shaping Christianity, said Frederick Parrella, professor of theology at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution.  [I would go farther: The older form of Mass helped shape Western Civilization.]

    In the 16th century, the Catholic Church was rife with corruption. Bishops, cardinals and even the papacy lived regally, funneling church money to fund their lifestyles. Priests didn’t know Latin, and instead mumbled gibberish during Mass. Others sold indulgences, the remission of sins.  [GRRRR…. Now this is a gross simplification.  That was also a period of great holiness, too!]

    At the Council of Trent in the 16th century, Catholic bishops led by Pope Pius V codified certain rituals and liturgy. The council also demanded a higher level of knowledge among priests and created seminaries, Parrella said.

    The traditional Latin Rite became the dominant form of Christian worship around the world. That would change after the Second Vatican Council, from 1962-1965, which sought full and active participation of congregants.  [However, the "active participation" of the members of the Church was always desired.  You have to understand what "active participation" means in this context.]

    Local language

    The many changes included allowing the language of worship to be in the local language. No longer would the priest have his back to worshipers. The traditional Latin Mass was replaced.  [Do you get the sense that this is now a different writer?  I wonder if an editor didn’t get hold of this and start reworking it.  That would account, perhaps with the conflict in the title of the article?]

    Many traditionalist [Now they are "traditionalists"] Catholics were deeply upset, and left the church to form their own flocks. They have long gathered in homes or other meeting places. A group calling itself the Society of St. John the Apostle meets at the Fisherman’s and Seaman’s Memorial Chapel at Pier 45-B in San Francisco to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass.

    An opening in 1988

    Pope John Paul II opened the door a little in 1988, allowing parishes to worship using the traditional Latin Mass with the permission of a local bishop. Many local bishops did not, but the Diocese of Oakland allowed a traditional Latin Mass to be held at St. Margaret Mary’s. The ultimate breakthrough came last July, when Pope Benedict XVI declared that it was up to local parishes to determine whether they want to use the Mass.

    Demographers say Christians increasingly are moving toward more personal, "charismatic" relationships with God – as opposed to relationships mediated by the church. A revival of the traditional Latin Mass would seem to defy that trend.  [Again, I get the sense that more than one person wrote this.]

    But on Sundays at St. Margaret Mary’s, the pews are packed.

    Couples walk in with children, their daughters’ heads covered in lace mantillas. Elderly retirees and yuppies sit next to each other. Generations of a family worship together, in Latin, following rituals scripted centuries ago.

    "I go because I’m a counterculture kind of guy, and to me the most counterculture thing is being a Catholic," said Rob Martinez.

    Dressed in all black, with seven tattoos (in mostly religious themes) and 11 body piercings, Martinez said that the traditional Latin Rite "is a very artistic, deep … great expression of Christianity. It’s been the Catholic Church’s way of expressing worship for hundreds and hundreds of years."

    But Parrella, the Santa Clara [Jesuit] University professor, said believers’ needs in the 16th century are different than the needs of those in modern society. And the church, as well as its worship, ought to reflect that.

    Many Latino Catholics are switching to Pentecostal churches, which emphasize a more personal relationship with God. In the Diocese of Santa Clara, lay people are increasingly taking leadership roles once reserved for priests.

    Needs of the people

    "If the church meets the needs of the people, then the church is really a church," Parrella said.  [Which sounds rather like the Church needs to cave into the world, even the ephemeral.]

    But Parrella said many of those at St. Margaret Mary’s also participate in subjective spirituality.  Catholics are obliged to support their local parish, a designation of geography. But these Catholics are choosing a parish based on worship style, he said.  [Let’s see if I get this straight.  Parella says the Church has to meet people ‘where they are at’, so to speak.  But people who desire the TLM are engaged in ‘subjective’ spirituality.  So, they are not supposed to go to a place that meets their needs, but rather they should stick to the geograhical parish?  I see. Sense a problem?]

    "These people who go to the Latin Mass show how modern they are," said Parrella, a practicing Catholic. "Just like the liberals who ‘parish shop,’ they’re shopping."

    E-mail Matthai Kuruvila at mkuruvila@sfchronicle.com.

    This article appeared on page B – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

I remember duing Papal April of 2005, a reporter at the Holy See Press Office who had come to Rome for the event wanted my comments about Card. Law celebrating one of the Masses of suffrage before the conclave.  I gave her some points.  I wound up being horribly misrepresented.  She later explained that my comments were cut and pasted not by her, but her editor in SF to make it seems as if I didn’t think the scandal in the USA in those days was a big deal.  I was pretty steamed.   Thus, it occurs to me that a reporter wrote a decent article, but perhaps too favorable and the editor tinkered with it a bit.

Just a theory.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. The “diversity” argument when used to attack the TLM is a lost cause. The TLM ADDS diversity to the Church – the best kind because the more traditional, the more inclusive. Thousands of years inclusive and millions of saints inclusive. Viva il Papa!

  2. The “diversity” argument as used to attack the TLM is a lost cause. The TLM ADDS diversity, the best kind: thousands of years inclusive and millions of saints inclusive.

  3. Jim says:

    Interestingly, the prayer for conversion of Jews in the eastern (Ukranian) rite is very similar to the prayer used in the TLM before the recent change. This, of course, has escaped the notice of the press.

  4. Schrenk says:

    What a terrible way to end an article – pointed comments about “subjective spirituality” and accusations of “shopping.” As usual, Father, you adeptly highlight the inconsistencies in these biases. I can’t understand why supposedly ‘open-minded’ people are so close-minded when it comes to what they call “traditionalism.”

  5. jacobus says:

    “If the church meets the needs of the people, then the church is really a church,”

    Well surely a Church that calls itself Catholic can find a way to meet the needs of those who want to be traditional Catholics.

  6. Arthur Connick says:

    The article had a ricochet effect in the media. On Easter Sunday, a reporter from the local Fox affiliate, KTVU Channel 2, showed up and interviewed Father Wiener. A cameraman shot footage during the 12:30p Traditional Latin Mass, and a pretty favorable story aired on KTVU\’s 5pm and 10pm news programs. No video online, though.

  7. TNCath says:

    “But Parrella said many of those at St. Margaret Mary’s also participate in subjective spirituality. Catholics are obliged to support their local parish, a designation of geography. But these Catholics are choosing a parish based on worship style, he said.”

    Well, then perhaps the local parish should start a Mass according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII? That would keep these folks in their local parishes, and the local parish would insure an “objective spirituality,” and free them from “parish shopping.”

    I love how the article ends, referring to Father Parella as a “practicing Catholic.” That’s very good to know!

  8. Matt Q says:

    Father Z wrote:

    “Just a theory.”


    Not a theory at all, Father. That is exactly what happens. It’s even portrayed in the movies and on TV shows.


    Schrenk wrote:

    “What a terrible way to end an article – pointed comments about ‘subjective spirituality’ and accusations of ‘shopping.’ As usual, Father, you adeptly highlight the inconsistencies in these biases. I can’t understand why supposedly ‘open-minded’ people are so close-minded when it comes to what they call ‘traditionalism.'”


    Shrenk, it’s due to the fact they are not really as “open-minded” as they think. Journalism is no longer just about the facts. These reporters feel it is necessary to inject their opinions and bias or draw their own conclusions. That is not journalism at all. Write an op-ed piece then, or their own paper on a subject.

  9. Mar says:

    “I go because I’m a counterculture kind of guy, and to me the most counterculture thing is being a Catholic,” said Rob Martinez.

    Now, that’s my kind of Catholic! I’ve been saying the same for some time.

  10. Chironomo says:

    I would bet most certainly that this was edited for favorable pro-TLM comments. The change in tone and in the actual writing style is easily noticeable as one who reads lots of papers looking for evidence of “borrowed” materials… I am guessing that the editor wanted the eventual impression to be left that the growth in the TLM is causing “conflict” within the Church between “traditionalists” and “practicing” Catholics. Why the labels anyway? If Catholics attending the EF in 1940 were not “traditionalists”, what would make them so now? The point here is to compartmentalize those who attend the TLM as out of the mainstream, and therefore of no real consequence to ordinary Catholics. How long will it be before they dicover that they can no longer marginalize those pesky “traditionalists”? I give it two more years….

  11. I must say that any time I have been involved with an occurance which has been reported in the media that they have gotten some vital fact wrong. The names were misspelled, the quotes gotten backwards, an important fact reported incorrectly, etc. That being the case why should I trust any of the news that is reported in the MSM?

  12. Matthai Kuruvila says:

    As the writer of the article, I thought I’d drop a note. This is a very thoughtful critique of the story. I work hard to make my stories as accurate as possible, but I always learn a lot from readers — and critiques done with good intention, such as this one. It’s very helpful. Let me just respond to a few comments.

    If it’s got my name above it, the responsibility for the story is entirely mine, for better or for worse. Editors do not have the power to wildly insert things into my stories. It’s part of my contract — and most newspaper reporters — that I can remove my name from the story if I don’t feel like it reflects what I reported. So any blame should be pinned on the writer :-) … Headlines are another matter, and the online editors are yet another separate element.

    Some of the criticisms suggest simplification on my part. I think that’s true — but inevitable. In the format of a newspaper story, it’s hard to get in all the nuance and subtlety — particularly for something as complex as the history and description of the traditional Latin Mass.

    Thank you for such a well-done analysis.

    – matthai kuruvila

  13. AlephGamma says:

    Mr Kuruvila,

    Congrats on posting on the wdtprs.com/blog! :) Maybe you already have a blog as well? I don’t so I’m not lifting any stones but just being curious. :) It would have been interesting to see the differences in what was submitted by you and what was edited, just to see what the changes are. On another topic, hopefully the Chronicle could someday publish it policies concerning headlines, especially if they are so contrary to each other since at the time I only had access to the story online and this is somewhat troubling.

    Have a good day,

  14. AlephGamma says:

    I just ran into an interesting Chesterton quote from http://www.chesterton.org/discover/quotations.html

    “The simplification of anything is always sensational.” – Varied Types

    Which confirms my belief that blogs are a good thing and that the quote relates to printed media’s limitations.

  15. Matthai Kuruvila: I am very grateful that you made your clarifications. Please know that you are welcome here!

    Fr. Z

  16. Mrs.C says:

    I’m a parishioner at St. Margaret Mary, where the Traditional Mass is celebrated by the Institute of Christ the King. For once I am glad that someone from a major Bay Area paper tried to see the Traditional Latin Mass from the perspective of the Catholic faithful who love it. Mr. Kuruvila reported as he saw things from the pews. I have not met Mr. Kuruvila personally, though I know he spoke with quite a few parishioners over a period of a few months, and he was there for several Sundays during Lent. I hope he comes back, now that the somber mood of Lent has been replaced by the joyous celebration of the Easter season. To truly experience the glory of Catholic liturgy, you’ve got to stay a while!

  17. SFCM Organist says:

    Mrs. C, what is the state of the music program over there? I’m going to be traveling for several months this summer, but I would like to offer my voice and organ skills to the parish once I get back.

    Holy Week at the parish I currently assist at in San Francisco was humiliating, and indicative of a deeply rooted contempt for the rubrics of the mass and the example set by our Holy Father this past year. The frustration that I have felt over the past week has made me question my vocation to be a parish music director… I shouldn’t be feeling like this at age 23!

  18. gravey says:

    SFCM, The music is traditional Catholic; just check out their web site. I will tell everyone that Margaret Mary is a refuge. The S.F. Bay Area is a challenge for any Catholic loyal to the Pope and Magisterium. St. MM has three Liturgies: the TLM, the NO in Latin and an English NO; all sacred and reverent. Prior to her passing, I took my 84 year old mother to St. MM and I will never forget her looking at me with tears in her eyes saying it was the first time in 40 years she felt like she had attended a Catholic Mass.

  19. AlephGamma says:

    SFCM: The music director of my local Faith Community in the Catholic Tradition is moving along. It is on the East Bay. Let me know if you would like more information. Maybe this could work out for the best. It is also getting a new pastor but I am still wondering if Fr Wiener would be interested in offering a novena there? It would require an altar-ation, but I am willing to help out. I’ll even volunteer for altar boy.

  20. St MM Parish Member says:

    SFCM, there is no parish music director at St. Margaret Mary. Different singing groups sing at the different Masses. The organist is the common element among them, but he is not a choir director. We have prayed for a director who would work with all of the groups and teach them, but there is no money for such a person. Fr. Wiener has forbidden a capella singing even for the Gregorian chant.

  21. Mrs.C says:

    SFCM Organist: For the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Margaret Mary, three separate amateur choirs have been working together to cover most Sunday High Masses as well as many feast days. They are: Choir of the Angelus, which is composed of homeschooled children, a women’s choir (Sacred Heart Choir), and a men’s schola.

    Thanks to the dedicated parishioners who volunteer to study and sing in theses choirs, I can say modestly that we were able to cover all but Holy Saturday for the Holy Week liturgies – necessarily a cappella (Gregorian chant) for most of Holy Thursday’s Mass and for Good Friday, of course. Very often for weekday Low Masses, we have an excellent organist who supports the traditional liturgy.

    I hope you have a chance to attend the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Margaret Mary sometime, and your comments and suggestions are always welcomed and appreciated. If you need more information about music at St. Margaret Mary’s traditional Mass, please feel free to email me at the1230mass@yahoo.com .

  22. RBrown says:

    Some of the criticisms suggest simplification on my part. I think that’s true—but inevitable. In the format of a newspaper story, it’s hard to get in all the nuance and subtlety—particularly for something as complex as the history and description of the traditional Latin Mass.
    Comment by Matthai Kuruvila

    I understand that there are necessary limitations to newspaper articles. But I don’t understand why someone like Prof Parrella, whose head still hasn’t left the 70’s, was selected to comment on the situation.

  23. Mrs. C says:

    In the interest of accuracy and correct attribution: Mr. David Sundahl is listed at the St. Margaret Mary website as the organist and choir director for the St. Margaret Mary Choir, which sings at the novus ordo Masses. He has held this post for the past 15 years. Mr. Sundahl is also one of the two teachers for the Choir of the Angelus.

Comments are closed.