Brick by Brick in Athens, OH – The TLM returns!

Brick by Brick in Athens, Ohio, is what I glean from a story sent by a reader.

From The Athens News. Let’s have a look with some of my patented emphases and comments:

An ancient and beautiful liturgy returns to an Athens church

Fifty years ago last week, something called the Second Vatican Council came to an end. [“something called”… heh] It had lasted more than three years and had considered the Roman Catholic Church in the modern world.

It was widely covered, as religions comprising more than a billion people tended to be.

The council, frequently referred to as “Vatican II,” had issued many documents in the form of constitutions, declarations and decrees. These were widely misinterpreted, primarily by those who had not read them. [Not to mention by those who wrote them.]

The most celebrated change brought about by Vatican II was that the Mass could now be said in the vernacular – the languages of various countries; previously, it was said in Latin everywhere. This was taken to mean that it must be said in the vernacular, which was never the case. [Exactly.  So far so good!]

Congregations went hog-wild. [Again, the writer is getting it right.  Refreshing, from a secular paper.] Soon there were folk-rock Masses, hootenanny Masses, puppet Masses, and so on. Encouraged to participate more actively in the Mass, congregations were soon flailing their arms around, adopting postures reserved for priests, and undertaking other alterations to the principal service of the Church. Those who looked askance were told to get with “the spirit of Vatican II.”

Translations into the vernacular were, often as not, very loose. They were not so much translations as interpretations, which sometimes included what various groups wished the liturgy would include. [About which I wrote for years and about which I continue to remind the readership on a regular basis.  What damage those texts did to our Catholic identity over the decades of their use!]

(The liturgical changes during the swinging ’60s and nearby years were by no means limited to Roman Catholicism. In one famous example, the beautiful language of the Anglican/Episcopal “Book of Common Prayer” of 1928 was cast aside for . . . something else.) [Indeed.  Which is part of the landscape behind Anglicanorum coetibus.]

The liberties taken with the purported findings of Vatican II were such that in 2007 Pope Benedict issued an apostolic letter, [Motu Proprio] Summorum Pontificum, in which he decried the pain caused by “arbitrary deformations of the liturgy.” The Latin Mass was still permissible, he said, and always had been.

There’s much more to it, but this brief history is necessary to introduce a wonderful and remarkable thing: This month, for the first time in nearly half a century, the traditional Latin Mass [Thank you for not just writing “Latin Mass”.] is regularly being said in Athens. It is celebrated each Saturday at 8 a.m. at St. Paul Church.

The revival of the old liturgy is the work of Fr. Jonas Shell, [May his tribe increase and thrive.  This young priest was ordained, I believe, in 2013.  Here is another example of what I have been talking about for so long: young men and priests are going to revitalize Holy Church through, also, their use of the traditional forms of our sacred liturgical worship.  When they learn the older forms, they are transformed by them, which produces in turn a knock on effect with their congregations.] who arrived in Athens as parochial vicar in July. Young and enthusiastic, he began the Latin Masses Dec. 5, in response to the request of several parishioners, some of whom had sought it for years. (It wasn’t that there was opposition to the Latin Mass here so much as a shortage of priests with the time to add it to their schedules; contrary to popular supposition, priests and other clergy do not have six days off each week.) [The writer has a touch of snark.  I like it.]

Let me describe the Latin Mass to you, because it is unlike anything that you, Catholic or not, are likely to have encountered.

It takes place in a largely darkened church. [Is he describing only the Rorate Mass?] The priest and two servers enter, and in Latin, give the traditional words and responses. The congregation is free to say them along – “Dominus vobiscum” “Et cum spiritu tuo” – or not, as they wish. The servers, whose role is more elaborate than it is in other forms of the Mass, stand in for the congregation in the liturgical celebration. [I think he is implying that the congregation remains silent, which is not the case in every TLM community.] There are a homily, in English, and communion.

As has been true in other places where traditional Mass has been reintroduced, the congregation (at the two celebrations of it so far) has included some who are old enough to remember when it was the only form of the Mass offered, but also a number of young people filled with love for the Church and eager to know its depth. [Usually a large number, who are starting big families.] A family of mother and father plus two young sons and a daughter from Stockport, Ohio, have come to the traditional Mass both weeks, mother and daughter each wearing a mantilla, as was once expected. [And is now optional… though I think it is a great idea.]

The difference in the liturgy and the atmosphere could not be more pronounced.

Modern Mass is conducted as if silence is the enemy, [Do I hear.. or not hear… an “Amen!”?] that there should never be a time when there isn’t something noisy going on. Active participation is so encouraged that it sometimes seems as if there isn’t an opportunity to contemplate the mysteries of faith. [That’s based on a false notion of “active participation”.  Still and silent interiorly receptivity is every bit as “active” as carrying bowls around and singing every verse of every pop-combo ditty.] Even during communion itself, the most fundamental of the seven sacraments, congregants are expected to sing rather than think about how profound it all is. [And that is a key point.  You can sing and sing and sing, and then discover that, while you are getting the words and notes right, you were actually thinking about the rest of the day and what you had to do.]

The Latin Mass is quiet, often silent or close to it. The Church teaches (and I think it stands to reason) that prayer must include listening, to hear what God tells us. This is easier to do, especially for easily distracted persons such as myself, when there’s not sensory overload. When there is music with the traditional Mass (as Fr. Jonas hopes to institute from time to time, employing seminarians), it is typically in the form of chants that encourage this phenomenon rather than replace it.

Modern Mass has in some ways unintentionally come to resemble, say, a PTA meeting. The instant it is over, people are talking and laughing, greeting people across the room, immediately transported from whatever was going on minutes before to the modern secular world. Those who wish to stay and pray must have powers of concentration that far exceed my own. (I am as guilty of these things as anyone else, alas.) The Latin Mass ends in silence, and congregants remain silent; most remain to continue their prayer.

It is entirely beautiful and at least to me inspiring. And now it is to be had here in Athens again, after an absence longer than most people here have been alive. [What a shame.]

Some no doubt see it as a liturgical relic, but it is far more than that. It transforms the church into a room full of holiness upon which those there may draw, taking from it as much as they wish or need.

Fr. Z kudos to the folks in Athens, OH and to Fr. Shell.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. ChesterFrank says:

    Can someone explain the Rorate Mass, for us that do not know all the forms of the TLM? A link to a book on the topic would be ideal.

  2. Imrahil says:

    Our reverend host has done so, here:

    It is a votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin, which has Isaiah 7 as lesson, the Annunciation scene as Gospel (hence the name, “Angel’s Office”), and is sung in the morning (or, somewhat less traditionally) in the evening at candlelight while it is dark entirely dark outside, at least for the beginning.

  3. Steve Girone says:

    I know Father Shell from his time in the Diocese of Steubenville (home to Franciscan University). He is as solid and humble a young Priest as you will find. It was a sad day when Father Shell was transferred, but I am so happy for the people of Athens. May God bless Father Shell!

  4. capchoirgirl says:

    Seriously, if this can happen in Athens, it can happen anywhere. Athens, OH is generally known as the most liberal of Ohio’s 88 counties (mostly because of Ohio University being down there). I was shocked to see that this is there. Also surprised this is in the Athens News, given that that paper (which I had to read, regularly, for my job for more than five years) is incredibly liberal/left.
    Miracles happen!

  5. ACatholicGuy says:

    “Some no doubt see it as a liturgical relic, but it is far more than that.”

    I grow tired of this worn out idea that the TLM is a “relic”. In fact, I refuse to accept that premise.
    I think that everytime I hear someone (who’s probably older than me) suggest something along those lines I’m going to give him one of those pitied smiles along with a comment along the lines of “oh your poor dear, you’ll understand someday!”

  6. Sword40 says:

    We love the Traditional Latin Mass. In fact that is all we attend any more. Our Archbishop gave us our own church this October 1. The FSSP sent us a priest, Fr. Stinson. Then this past Sunday we worked with the FSSP parish in Seattle, North American Martyr’s and held our first Rorate Solemn High Mass at our new (old) parish in Tacoma, WA. The NAM choir came down to help us sing the Mass and we had almost more altar boys than the poor Sanctuary could handle. Never have I seen so many people at a 6:30am Mass. Sure we could have squeezed in a few more, but not many.

    It brought tears to my eyes to see all the beauty that had been taken from us just a few years ago. Now its is returned.

  7. Eric says:

    What Athens needs is a 7 a.m. procession on All Saints day, complete with church bells ringing and maybe a marching band.
    Just a suggestion.

  8. The Cobbler says:

    “Still and silent interiorly receptivity is every bit as ‘active’ as carrying bowls around and singing every verse of every pop-combo ditty.”
    I have to disagree with you there, Father. Anything involving a pop-combo cannot be as active as still, silent, interior receptivity. ;^)

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