Pope Benedict XVI wants Catholic parishes worldwide to offer Masses in Latin, saying it is a "gift from God" and a "treasure from the past" that should be offered alongside Mass celebrated in the regular language of people where they live.
But East Valley Catholics doubt many would turn out for such Masses after initial curiosity or the novelty ended. So they wonder about the value in training current parish priests in Latin and teaching them to properly lead the old Mass, with its distinctive chants and precise rituals.
"I don't think very many Catholics are going to go back to the Tridentine Latin Mass," said the Rev. John Cunningham, the founding priest of St. Bridget parish in Mesa and St. Mary Magdalene parish in Gilbert. "They have lived with the New Mass for 40 years, and I believe they find it more meaningful and expressive of their faith."
"Vernacularization" was instituted as part of the sweeping changes of Vatican Council II (1962-65) to renew spirituality in the church in a modern world, to give lay people greater roles and to better experience the Mass in terms they understand.
On June 14, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, announced Pope Benedict's request to the Latin Mass Society in London. "The Holy Father is not returning to the past; he is taking a treasure from the past to offer it alongside the rich celebration of the new rite," the cardinal said, adding that the pope wanted it in "all the parishes. Not many, all the parishes, because this is a gift of God."
The call includes a request to all Catholic seminaries to train candidates for the priesthood to celebrate the Latin Rite. Moreover, parishes could use their catechism classes to prepare Catholics largely unfamiliar with the rites followed before 1970, when the Novus Ordo Mass was ordered. Latin Masses are to follow the 1962 Roman Missal, first codified by Pope Pius V after the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
At the initiation of Bishop Thomas Olmsted, Masses in Latin have been offered daily since 2004 in an east Phoenix parish, monthly in a Mesa church and at other scattered parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.
"We are supportive of the Tridentine Mass where people want the Mass, and we are trying to train more priests," said diocesan spokesman Jim Dwyer. But, he said, Bishop Olmsted and Office of Worship staff have not seen the official Vatican communications related to Pope Benedict's call. "Until we see the guidelines, we really can't address the idea of doing it in every parish yet," he said.
The plan got generally a cool reception among Catholics reached for reaction.
"I haven't had any requests in my parish for the Latin Mass," said the Rev. Doug Lorig, pastor of St. Maria Goretti parish in Scottsdale. He has not heard of any of his parishioners regularly attending the 6:30 a.m. daily Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle in Phoenix or one at 1 p.m. Sundays that typically draws as many as 250 worshipers.
"They haven't asked for it, and I haven't made any kind of offering for it," Lorig said. For priests, he said, it would take extensive training to meet the rubrics and procedures of the Mass not commonly experienced by Catholics in decades. It's much more than just mastering Latin, he said, "You have to learn all the liturgical movements, and everything behind it." Lorig predicted "a lot of priests are going to hesitate, and they certainly aren't going to do it if there is no call for it."
"I don't see a need to see it in every parish," said Betty Bova, a member of St. Bernard of Clairvaux parish in Scottsdale. Those who want the Latin Mass "could travel a little bit and just go to it," she said. If her parish had such a Mass mixed into its weekend schedule, "I would probably attend once just for curiosity and for old-time sake, because when I was little, that is what we did," Bova said.
"I think it's boring," said 82-year-old Mary Douglas of Tempe, a longtime member of St. Mary's parish in Chandler, saying the church should be more concerned with retaining young Catholics. "What can we do to make people to stop leaving the church?"
Many Catholics cannot even understand the Mass in English, "much less in Latin," said Douglas, who, for many years, has attended St. Mary's Christmas Eve Latin Mass, which she termed a "rewarding experience," nonetheless.
"The big picture is what counts," she stressed. "Why are people leaving? Why do they not attend Mass? Why is Mass boring?"
Allison Walters, a 38-year-old Tempean with St. Andrew the Apostle parish in Chandler, said she hears no call from her Catholic peers for a Latin Mass. "I appreciate it for the history and the charm, how it once was," Walters said. "I would want to attend it once and experience it once, but I wouldn't do it on a regular basis." She said she would take her two children. "They would be bored quicker than me," she predicted.
"You would have to attend it pretty regularly to figure it out," she said, adding that the priest's homily in English now has great meaning to her, but likely she would not make such a connection if she listened to it in Latin.
A member of St. Mary Magdalene parish in Gilbert, Judy Webber, recalls singing Latin in a choir when she was young. "The nice thing about it was that no matter where you went in the world, or within the States, the same Mass was celebrated." Webber said the old Mass represents a "rich tradition, and I really welcome it back and look forward to it."
Jay Kilroy, a parishioner of Queen of Peace in Mesa, said he was "very refreshed by Vatican II. I thought it was a great move in the right direction." He would not attend a Latin Mass if it was offered at his church. "I have not felt or sensed that there was a groundswell of people who like the Latin Mass," he said.
The priest who regularly leads Latin Masses in Phoenix, Mesa, Clarkdale and Flagstaff, the Rev. Kenneth Fryar, welcomed the news of the pope's quest for the spread of the Masses.
"God deserves proper adoration, proper devotion, proper respect, and that is what this Mass is all about," he said. He criticized those who want Mass to be "convenient" or fitting their wishes. "Convenience is out of the question here. The church has always been dedicated to serving God. That is the main issue here."
The rite calls for the priest and congregation to all face the altar because "the whole focus of the Mass is toward God, and he unites himself with the people," said Fryar, adding that "praying and praising" isn't a "social thing" where there has to be a lot of music "and you need a lot of stuff to keep everyone entertained."
He insists that Olmsted "has made it clear that he doesn't want anyone celebrating the (Latin) Mass who doesn't know how to do it properly."
Cunningham said no one has requested, to him, a celebration of the Latin Mass during his 34 years in the priesthood. He said he believes the pope may be seeking to engender "a sense of unity in the church," evoking the pre-Vatican II times when it was the universal language for the church. He said today's younger priests seem to be "more conservative, in general, and display a penchant for traditionalism when it comes to the liturgy," so "some of them, no doubt, will be pleased with the return to the Tridentine Mass in Latin and its 16th century theology," said Cunningham, a religious studies instructor at Arizona State University.
Across the Phoenix diocese, with 91 parishes and 25 missions, Masses are offered in eight languages, besides English and Latin: Spanish, Italian, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Tongan, Lithuanianand Mayan, according to Dwyer.
"I have never heard any of my friends being serious about returning to the Latin Mass," said Harold "Hal" White, a member of Church of the Resurrection parish in Tempe. "We just don't talk about it. ... If they want it, I think it's fine. I don't think I would go back to it."