Fifty-seven priests and two deacons attended clergy continuing education Oct. 16-18 at St. John Center in Little Rock to learn more about the expanded use of the Latin Mass.
Father Joseph Portzer, a former chaplain for the St. John Latin Mass Community in North Little Rock, returned to Arkansas to lead the program on Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic letter "Summorum Pontificum," which went into effect Sept. 14. The expansion of the extraordinary form of the Mass is often referred to as "motu proprio," meaning the decree is the pope's personal initiative in the matter.
Near the conclusion of the program, about 35 priests and two deacons attended a High Mass celebrated by Father Terrence Gordon, the current assistant chaplain for the Latin Mass community in North Little Rock, Cherokee Village and Mountain Home.
The same chapel in Morris Hall at St. John Center where the Oct. 18 Mass was celebrated was also the place where students from St. John Seminary attended Latin Mass from 1951 until the seminary closed in 1967. Latin Mass also was offered in the chapel for a couple of years in the 1990s.
Parishioners from North Little Rock and Cherokee Village formed a choir and sang Gregorian chant during the Mass. A booklet was provided to the priests, deacons and diocesan employees to use in order to follow the readings and prayers in Latin. The homily was the only portion of the Mass that was in English.
"It's very commendable to receive such enthusiasm for the will of the Holy Father in this matter," Father Portzer said.
The society of apostolic life provides priests to 26 dioceses in the United States to celebrate Mass using the 1962 Roman Missal.
The Diocese of Little Rock was the first diocese in the country to ask the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter to provide an overview of the "motu propio" to its priests and deacons. During the clergy program, Father Portzer, a professor of Gregorian chant, liturgy and spirituality at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Neb., also reviewed the basics of celebrating a Tridentine Mass.
Father Portzer, who served in Arkansas from 2000 to 2002, said extensive training would be required if a priest in Arkansas wanted to celebrate Latin Mass. The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter's seminary in Nebraska is offering five-day workshops to interested priests who are too young to have studied the Latin Mass or to older priests who forgot much of the language and rubrics.
"We have already educated 50 priests in the Old Mass," he said.
Father Portzer admitted even after five days of training a priest would unlikely be ready to celebrate Mass on his own.
"It is an involved rite," he said. "When we are in the seminary, we are asked to practice the Mass for six months every day."
Only priests who are trained are allowed to publicly celebrate the extraordinary form of the Mass.
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