For many Catholics over 40, those Latin words for “The Lord be with you” evoke nostalgic images of a simpler world, a better time.
They remember sitting, standing and kneeling through Sunday morning Mass, following along in their leather-bound missal, while a priest devoutly prayed to God from a high altar.
It was a centuries-old tradition that embodied the mystery of faith like no other ceremony.
“The Latin Mass leads people to the worship of God, it preserves the sacred elegance of the text,” said the Rev. John Rizzo, a member of the Fraternity of St. Peter, an order of Catholic priests dedicated to preserving the old Mass. “When you’re at the (old Mass), you remember what church is all about.”
Spokane’s Joe Bell, who is retired, is still upset over changes in the Mass made 25 years ago.
“First they allowed the Our Father in English, then they added this Prayer of the Faithful,” he said. “Then, several months of oozing this English into the Mass, then bang, it’s all English. I couldn’t go to church for about six months.”
Bell is part of a small, organized movement of Roman Catholics in Eastern Washington trying to pressure Bishop William Skylstad into bringing back that service, known as the Tridentine Mass.
Skylstad is reluctant to grant their wish.
The group, called the Ecclesia Dei Society, meets monthly, advertises in several newspapers and sends out mailings.
They get fewer than two dozen people at their meetings, but have more than 200 on their mailing list, said Michelle Lowell, the group’s founder.
She is convinced that if the Tridentine Mass is offered in Spokane, hundreds of people would find their faith renewed, their worship revitalized.
A convert to Catholicism 10 years ago, she attended her first Tridentine Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in 1990. Since then, Lowell has been bent on worshiping God in Latin, using the old rite.
“This is a grass-roots, lay Catholic effort,” she said of her movement. “We want to prove to the bishop in a physical sense, because it will be in a physical sense eventually, that the faithful deserve the Tridentine Mass.”
Skylstad, spiritual leader to 75,000 Eastern Washington Catholics, said he has reservations about the Tridentine Mass.
It violates the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, which changed the Mass so worshipers would have a clearer sense of their own involvement, he said.
“It’s not enough for us as Catholics to believe that the bread and wine on the altar are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, or that we find Jesus in the Word and sacred Scriptures,” he said. “But also, we have to find Jesus in the community.”
That was the thrust of Vatican II, he said. Authorities in Rome have stressed that message again and again, he said.
While he hasn’t flat out refused to authorize the Tridentine Mass, Skylstad said he is not yet convinced it would be beneficial to his diocese. He continues to discuss the matter with his council of priests and the Rev. Michael Irwin, spokesman for the St. Peter Fraternity.
He worries that a Tridentine Mass will detract from, rather than enhance, the worship of God.
“Those who wish to go back to the traditional Latin form want to experience a very isolated form of worship,” he said. “It becomes a very personal sort of one-on-one, without a lot of interaction and community.”
During the Tridentine Mass, the priest stands with his back to the congregation, facing a high altar. From there, he performs a precise set of prayers and movements. He bows, kneels, crosses himself and kisses the altar all according to rigid script.
The congregation follows along in a missal, a book with Latin and English on facing pages. The service is 90 percent priest, 10 percent congregation.
In the new Mass, the priest faces the congregation from a central altar. The people in the pews play a central role, responding to prayers, singing several hymns, sometimes holding hands and sharing a sign of Christ’s peace with each other.
Although the new service also follows a set of rules, a variety of prayers and songs can be substituted for the standard version.
The new Mass allows for several different types of music. Two popular versions are folk and jazz.
As the new Mass was phased in in 1969, 90 percent of Catholics embraced the changes, Skylstad said.
He acknowledged that a vocal minority of Catholics still are angry about the changes made 25 years ago.
Joe Bell is one.
Bell and others complain that the uniformity is gone, that the use of “cowboy songs and banjos” takes away from the sanctity of the service.
“Every parish is a cult of its own,” Bell said.
He blames the new Mass for the exodus of members from the Catholic Church.
“We’ve lost a generation of people, because they’ve lost that mystical atmosphere of worship that you got in the Latin Mass,” Bell said.
Skylstad debated that point, saying that the church would lose even more members if the Vatican II changes had not been made.
Some Catholics have refused to accept the new Mass. They found a leader in the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a French traditionalist who founded the Priestly Society of St. Pius X.
After years of tolerating the movement, Pope John Paul II excommunicated Lefebvre and four of his bishops in 1988 for disobedience. Still, more than 300 priests trained by the society continue to operate, including five in Post Falls at Immaculate Conception Church.
St. Pius X followers have created the first division or “schism” in the Roman Catholic Church in more than a century. Past schisms led to the emergence of Protestantism during the Reformation of the 16th century and the founding of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
After excommunicating Lefebvre, the pope tried to reconcile the priests and followers of the St. Pius X Society with the church.
In his 1988 document titled Ecclesia Dei (literally, “The Church of God”), he established the Fraternal Order of St. Peter for traditional priests and encouraged bishops to use the Tridentine Mass for the purpose of reconciliation.
Skylstad pointed out there is a difference between bringing back the Tridentine Mass for reconciliation and bringing it back because people are searching for a more mysterious form of worship.
“When people point to a language and make that a greater value than the commitment to the church … then that’s a misplaced value,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s not hurtful and it’s not painful. But it’s a value that gets out of whack in terms of commitment to a community of faith that’s on a journey.”
Tridentine Mass supporters complain that modernists have made room for everyone in the church but the traditionalists.
“Not everyone who lives in 1995 is enamored with rock ‘n’ roll,” said the Rev. Irwin, the St. Peter’s spokesman. “Many people like the old dead composers.”
While most traditionalists don’t want to erase the changes brought about by Vatican II, they hope to preserve a corner of Catholicism for themselves and future generations.
“The Mass is a worship of God,” the Rev. Rizzo said. “We should be oblivious to the things about us. We’re there to talk to God, not our neighbor. First we concentrate on God.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story Definitions The Tridentine Mass is the ancient worship service of the Catholic Church. Although its origins are debated, it was standardized in 1570 by the Council of Trent, which was convened by Pope Pius V. The rules established by the council require the Tridentine Mass be said in Latin. The movements and prayers of the priest are rigidly scripted. The Revised Mass, or the Novus Ordo, is the worship service implemented after the Second Vatican Council met in 1962-1965. The Revised Mass is offered in the native language of the worshipers. The priest and the lay people leading the Mass have much leeway in choosing prayers, music and hymns. The Latin Mass is any Mass said in Latin. Either the Novus Ordo or the Tridentine Mass can be said in Latin. Traditionalists insist on the Tridentine Mass. - Kelly McBride