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Latin Makes a Comeback

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By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 24, 2007

P arts of it are 1,500 years old, it's difficult to understand, and it's even more challenging to watch. And it's catching on among young Catholics.

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It's the traditional Latin Mass, a formal worship service that is making a comeback after more than 40 years of moldering in the Vatican basement.

In September, Pope Benedict XVI relaxed restrictions on celebrating Latin Mass, frequently called the Tridentine Mass, citing "a new and renewed" interest in the ancient Latin liturgy, especially among younger Catholics.

Spoken or sung entirely in sometimes inaudible Latin by priests who face the altar instead of the congregation, it is a radical departure for most Catholics, who grew up attending a more informal Mass celebrated in their native tongue.

"It's the opposite of the cacophony that comes with the [modern] Mass," said Ken Wolfe, 34, a federal government worker who goes to up to four Latin Masses a week in the Washington area. "There's no guitars and handshaking and breaks in the Mass where people talk to each other. It's a very serious liturgy."

And it is a hit with younger priests and their parishioners.

Attendance at the Sunday noon Mass at St. John the Beloved in McLean has doubled to 400 people since it began celebrating in Latin. Most of the worshipers are under 40, said the Rev. Franklyn McAfee.

Younger parishioners "are more reflective," McAfee said. "They want something uplifting when they go to church. They don't want something they can get outside."

For some, the popularity of the service represents the gap between older Catholics, who grew up in the more liberal, post-Vatican II era, and their younger counterparts, who say they feel like they missed out on the tradition that was jettisoned in the move to modernize.

Although Chris Paulitz's parents never questioned the switch to the "new" Mass, Paulitz and his wife, Diane, only attend Latin Masses.

After each such service, "you feel like you've learned something and you've grown a bit," said Chris, 32, in an interview after a recent Mass at St. Rita's Church in Alexandria.

Priests, musicians and laypeople are snapping up how-to videos and books, signing up for workshops and viewing online tutorials with step-by-step instructions on the elaborately choreographed liturgy. For example, the rubrics dictate that a priest must hold together the thumb and index finger of each hand for much of the Canon of the Mass, the central part of the liturgy that culminates with the consecration of bread and wine.


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