Will Latin Masses return?
The prayer books at Saint James Church in Durham are split down the middle like a phone book. White pages are in English. Yellow pages are in Spanish. At the 2:30 p.m. Mass worshippers can also pick up copies in a third language: Latin.
Right now the small church, a mission of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Chico, is the only one in the North State offering a traditional Latin Mass. But that may change, thanks to a new decree from the Vatican.
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI eased restrictions on the Latin Mass, allowing any church that wants to say it to do so. Heretofore, churches have needed permission from their bishops to celebrate Mass in Latin.
To Catholics who regret the church’s liberalization since Vatican II in the early 1960s, the pontiff’s decree is a welcome sign that the church is returning to its conservative roots.
There may not be an immediate demand for the traditional Mass locally, however, for the simple reason that St. James has been offering it for two years now and Durham is close to Chico.
Bishop William Weigand, who is based in Sacramento, has been supportive of the church’s desire to say a Latin Mass, even sending up one of his own priests to do so twice a month. Bishops in other areas have not been as supportive. By and large, for the past 40 years people who requested the Latin Mass have been shunned as fringe traditionalists.
The church never officially banned the Latin Mass. When the Second Vatican Council decided to switch to the vernacular, however, it largely disappeared. The church was trying to reach a younger audience, people who were influenced by the various movements—women’s liberation, civil rights—of the time, and the vernacular seemed better able to do that.
Liberalization has had a number of negative impacts on the church, traditionalists say. They point to the occurrence of things that were forbidden before: priests ad-libbing their prayers, for example, and “lay people” being allowed to participate in the Mass by reading from the Bible. Traditionalists also point to people who see communion as taking in the symbolic body of Christ, as opposed to the literal body of Christ, as a sign of the faith’s decay as a result of liberalization.
Traditionalists think Vatican II cheapened the religious experience by making the church reflect the outside world and making it more like entertainment.
“People don’t want the church to be like the outside world,” said Jeff Culbreath, a business broker from Orland who regularly attends Latin Mass at St. James. He explained that people want the church to be a place apart from everyday problems, a sanctuary where they can go and be in the presence of God.
They’re also unhappy about the role of women in the church, he added. According to tradition, women have a place in the church as mothers or choir leaders, but not as priests, lectors, or in any other position of authority because God said those roles can be filled only by men.
“Feminism is anti-Catholic,” Culbreath explained. “[A woman’s] role is not to be an authority in the church or in the world or in the family.”
However, feminism is a reality of the everyday world, and some churches have accepted women as lectors and even priests. The Catholic Church in particular has changed a lot in the past 40 years to keep up with the changing times. There are now sexual-misconduct hotlines and pamphlets at the back of each church, and last month the Vatican even released the “10 Commandments of Driving.”
Some people find certain church teachings—on contraception, for example—"inconvenient” and don’t follow them, said Jason Van Buskirk, who has a master’s degree in theology and has been an active member of St. John the Baptist for seven years.
The old way of saying Mass will be slow to catch on, Van Buskirk said, because people will have to get used to the Latin language and the priest spends most of his time with his back to the congregation.
It may take 30 or 40 years, but “it’s got permanent staying power,” Van Buskirk said.