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 attending Latin Mass in half a dozen parishes in one of the country’s most visible archdioceses will be forced to find a new place to do so or pray differently.
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.
Other dioceses have taken similar action: the Archdiocese of Chicago, one of the largest in the country, has placed limits on where the Latin Mass can be celebrated and requires priests who celebrated the old rite ask permission to continue doing so. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has relegated the Latin Mass to four non-parochial locations. The Archdiocese of Denver allowed parishes that already celebrated the Old Rite to continue doing so, but said two seminaries would no longer train priests in the Old Latin Mass.
Some Washington-area Catholics view Gregory’s decision as a slap in the face. Kenneth Wolfe, who has been attending Latin Mass in Washington for more than two decades, said the move does nothing to bring worshipers together in the region.
“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.
Eliminating the Latin Mass from parishes could have financial ramifications. In a letter to Gregory in May, the Reverend Vincent De Rosa said his parish, St. Mary Mother of God, in the district’s Chinatown would struggle to survive if his Latin Mass parishioners left and took their gifts elsewhere. .
“Losing half our population overnight would put our finances in the red by at least $130,000, crush our volunteer base, and seriously hamper our ability to proclaim Christ here,” he 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 allowance is hardly comforting for Patrick Lally, who has attended Mass in Latin at Sainte Marie Mère de Dieu 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 persuade 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.”