Parishes are the center of Catholics’ life of faith – where they celebrate Mass each week, participate in ministries and celebrate the sacraments, including weddings and funerals. Now, the form of worship that some feel drawn to will be relegated to places outside of these central spaces. As a result, hundreds of Catholics who attend Latin Mass in about six parishes in one of the country’s most visible archdioceses will be forced to worship differently or find a new place to do so.
The change follows a decision last year in which Pope Francis severely limited the use of the ancient rite in a move he said was aimed at increasing global unity among the faithful. He suggested then that those who preferred the Latin Mass were using it to reinforce ideological divisions within the church.
Gregory said Friday he has not found that to be the case in the Washington area.
“I have found that the majority of the faithful who participate in these liturgical celebrations in the Archdiocese of Washington are sincere, faith-filled, and well-meaning,” he wrote. “Similarly, the majority of priests who celebrate these liturgies do their best to respond pastorally to the needs of the faithful.”
The new guidelines are an attempt to comply with Francis’ decision while continuing to provide for Catholics who find beauty and tradition in the old form of the Mass, Gregory said.
Many of these Catholics, however, view the decision as a slap in the face. Kenneth Wolfe, who has attended Latin Mass in Washington for more than two decades, said Gregory’s decision did nothing to bring together worshipers in the area.
“There can be no unity when the cardinal fires the first shot and everyone is then supposed to drive from wherever they are, in a parish, to a place that is nowhere near them,” he said before the executive order was issued. “That does not make any sense.”
These Americans are devoted to the ancient Latin mass. They are also at odds with Pope Francis.
Under the new rules, the Latin Mass — also known as the Tridentine Mass — can only be celebrated at the chapel of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Forest Glen, Md., the Franciscan monastery in the Holy Land. in America in northeastern Washington. and St. Dominic’s Mission Church in Aquasco, Maryland.
Christmas and Easter masses, as well as the sacraments, including marriages and baptisms, must also use the modern form. The new rules will be reassessed in three years, Gregory wrote.
Most Catholics attend the modern form of Mass, which is celebrated in the local language. But a small number of traditionalists are intensely devoted to the Latin Mass, dominant before the 1960s.
For some, celebrating the old rite is a form of protest against what they see as the liberalization of the Church since the Second Vatican Council and especially during the pontificate of Francis. Others say they find the Latin Mass rich in tradition and drawn to its more than a millennium history.
Gregory said he had listened to the concerns of Catholics attending Latin Mass during the church’s world synod listening sessions over the past few months and asked archdiocesan offices to provide them with a pastoral care. He noted that these Catholics may attend Masses in the Modern Rite that incorporate elements common to the Latin Mass, including Gregorian chant, incense and long periods of silence.
This stipend is hardly comforting for Patrick Lally, who attended Latin Mass at St. Mary Mother of God in the district’s Chinatown for more than three decades. For him, the Old Rite is not a form of protest, but a way to connect with the ancient tradition of Catholicism and find spiritual fulfillment.
“When I go to Latin Mass, I know that I am celebrating the Mass that my grandparents celebrated, my great-grandparents celebrated and my ancestors celebrated in time immemorial,” Lally said. “And I feel like I’m with them.”
Prior to the publication of the decree, the parishioners of Sainte-Marie waged a long and passionate campaign to convince Gregory to allow the Latin Mass to continue in the parishes. They wrote letters, spoke at synod hearings and invited the cardinal to visit their church. Gregory’s staff responded that his schedule would not allow him to come, according to a copy of an email exchange viewed by The Washington Post.
Lally vowed on Friday to continue participating in his parish ministries, but said he planned to attend the old rite elsewhere – an arrangement he said would diminish the fullness of his worship. He said Gregory’s decision was deeply unfortunate news for the area’s Latin Mass community.
“We’re going through hell on this one,” Lally said. “It’s really difficult.”