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Diocese, Latin Mass community respond to new papal support

Two order priests will help train interested pastors in Arkansas

Published: September 15, 2007   
Leslie O'Malley
Father Terrence Gordon, FSSP, celebrates Mass in Latin at St. Patrick Church in North Little Rock Aug. 30. Ryan Kordsmeier and Joseph Brodsky serve on the altar.

Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic letter, "Summorum Pontificum," which allows for wider use of the Tridentine or Latin rite Mass takes effect Sept. 14.

Mass from the Roman Missal, in use since 1970, would remain the ordinary form, while the Tridentine rite from the 1962 Roman Missal would be the extraordinary form.

According to Catholic News Service, "the 1962 missal can be used for the sacraments of baptism, marriage, penance and the anointing of the sick, if the faithful request it. Bishops may celebrate the sacrament of confirmation according to the old rite, too."

The pope's directive states groups of laypeople may request the Tridentine Mass and parish priests should "willingly accede to their request." However, it also requires priests be qualified before celebrating this Mass.

Now the Diocese of Little Rock must prepare to accommodate these requests.

While applauding the efforts of the pope to bring "back to the fold (those) who became disenchanted due to the changes in the liturgy," diocesan administrator Msgr. J. Gaston Hebert admits there are difficulties to address.

"There are relatively few of us that were ordained at a time when Mass was celebrated in Latin. Even for those of us who are left, it is going to take some intensive study and training to provoke the memory of those years," said Msgr. Hebert, who was ordained in 1960.

"For those who never celebrated the extraordinary form of the liturgy, it is going to be a huge task to learn it both linguistically and the minute detail of the mechanics of the liturgy. 'Summorum Pontificum' specifies that only priests who are capable of celebrating the extraordinary form are permitted to do so -- that is a real hurdle," he said.

The diocese plans to devote its fall continuing education for priests in response to this directive.

"I have already had one request for northwest Arkansas," Msgr. Hebert said. "I would expect other requests to follow, mostly from the central and northern parts of the state."

Dr. Austin Welsh of Springdale is one of the laypeople working to bring a Latin Mass to northwest Arkansas.

"We've identified about 50 families with a preference for the older Mass," Welsh said. "I'm happy to say we've been given permission."

Although many Catholics, particularly those born after 1970, may have no experience with the Latin Mass, this extraordinary form has been celebrated regularly in Arkansas by priests from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Bishop Andrew J. McDonald gave permission to the order to begin offering the Tridentine Mass in the early 1990s.

Currently priests from this order serve the St. John the Baptist Latin Mass Community with Masses at St. Patrick Church in North Little Rock, St. Michael Church in Cherokee Village and St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home.

The faithful come to this "personal parish" from other territorial parishes all over the state, said Father Terrence Gordon, FSSP, assistant chaplain of the community.

As many as 90 people attend the community's Sunday Masses in North Little Rock and Cherokee Village with another 30 to 40 attending in Mountain Home, Father Gordon said.

He has seen increased interest since the papal statement was released.

"Just by the pope recognizing it (the Tridentine Mass)," Father Gordon said, "there's been a big interest in priests wanting to learn it -- they're less inhibited about it."

Priests from his order will also help with the training of diocesan priests in the state.

"It's a hard Mass to learn. It took me a year of practicing every day, just so I had it down right," Father Gordon said.

Some of the difficulty comes not from the language but the rubrics of the Mass, which indicate movements as well.

"There is a time and place for everything," he said. "(The priest and altar boys) are moving in harmony."

This atmosphere is what some Catholics prefer about the Latin Mass, said Welsh, who attended his first Tridentine Mass in St. Louis in 1996.

He said he was "very impressed" with the sermons and the lay participation and appreciates the older hymns and Gregorian chants.

Welsh said he sees the Latin rite as a Mass in which "(we) as sinners focus on God as opposed to a communal meal where we look at each other and help each other feel good."

He considers the Latin Mass a "good antidote" to practices allowed here that are not permitted in Rome, such as the use of female altar servers and taking Communion by hand.

Lorri Sonnier of Batesville and her husband David started attending a Latin Mass in Dayton, Ohio, in 1992. In 1998 after transfers with the Army, they ended up in Belgium, where they could find a Latin Mass again.

When he retired in 2001, the proximity of a Latin Mass community played an important role in their relocation decision.

"We're originally from Mississippi, but we didn't move back there because there was no Latin Mass in Mississippi," she said.

Sonnier, who now attends Mass in Cherokee Village, said she has noticed a few effects since the letter was issued.

Her husband, who works at Lyon College, has received questions from coworkers about the statement.

She also has seen programs about the Tridentine Mass on the Catholic television network EWTN.

And she has had trouble ordering a new missal for her daughter--"They're all out of stock," she said.


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