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Today is the First Sunday of Advent, marking the start of a new liturgical year. On this particular Sunday, a significant change is taking place for Roman Catholics around the country: A new translation of the 2002 third edition of the Roman Missal will be introduced. From now on, for example, the Latin words Et cum spiritu tuo will be translated correctly as "And with your spirit."
None of this will have any effect on the Mass celebrated at noon every Sunday at St. Paul's Parish in South Philadelphia. That Mass - known as the Latin or Tridentine Mass - follows the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal that had been in use from 1570. It is rarely said because, in 1969, the Mass of Paul VI (sometimes called the Novus Ordo) became what is now referred to as the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, and the English Mass most American Catholics are now familiar with.
The Rev. Gerald P. Carey, 44, the pastor of St. Paul's, is too young to have grown up with the Latin Mass. He came to know it by way of music. An organist, Carey is a graduate of the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. It was there that he became familiar with the great choral settings of the Mass by Renaissance composers such as Josquin Des Prez, Palestrina, and Monteverdi, as well as such modern settings as the Duruflé Requiem. And it is such polyphonic settings of the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei that one hears St. Paul's five-member choir singing at the noon Mass.
What especially impressed Carey was the way in which the music illuminated the liturgy and the doctrine underlying it.
"You look at those works and you wonder how the settings worked in the liturgy," he says. "A classic example would be the Sanctus and Benedictus. Why did they compose them separately? The basic idea, I think, is that the first part - 'Holy, Holy, Holy' - would be done after the Preface, and the text 'Blessed is He who comes' would be sung after the Consecration, because Our Lord is then present at the altar. Once the Consecration has been effected, we can say the words of the Benedictus."
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI gave every priest the right to say the Latin Mass privately. In addition, his document Summorum Pontificum stated that "in parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962."
Carey became pastor of St. Paul's in June 2008, and celebrated his first Latin Mass there on Jan. 25 of the following year.
Among those attending that day was Thomas Rudolph, 65. A lifelong Episcopalian, Rudolph had drifted away from practicing his faith. "I visited a good many Catholic churches," he says. "Then I saw an online invitation to Father Carey's first Tridentine Mass. . . . Now, in order for the Tridentine Mass to be ... as glorious as it can be and a real teaching tool, it has to be as finely done as possible, and that includes, obviously, the actions of the priest. Father Carey comported himself in a way that was remarkable."
Over the next few months, Rudolph and Carey became close friends, and in July 2009 Rudolph became a Roman Catholic. "I was received into the Church because of this Mass," he says.
What takes place at St. Paul's usually is a sung Mass. The texts are sung throughout, either in plainchant or polyphony.
I'm a member of St. Paul's parish who is old enough to have grown up hearing the Mass in Latin. But the Masses in those days tended to be low Masses in more than one sense - they were often called "mumble Masses." There's no mumbling at St. Paul's. The sacred texts are clearly articulated throughout, and the sense of the Mass as a drama reenacting Christ's redemptive sacrifice is palpable. The aesthetic factor is not an add-on, but an integral part of the ceremony.
Perhaps surprisingly, at least half of those attending this Mass on any given Sunday are young people. Joyce Roman and her daughter, Rebecca, regularly attend, but both are also too young to have grown up with the older Mass. "For me, this is not about the past," Joyce Roman says. "It's about the world to come. It's the closest thing to heaven I know of." Rebecca, a sophomore at nearby Academy at Palumbo, concurs: "People who say that it's old or outdated should figure out what the right reason is to come to Mass," she says.
Henry and Susan Torrie, both 40, were raised Catholic, but had drifted away from the practice of their faith. However, as Henry Torrie explained in an e-mail, "our concern for our children's formation and the desire for them to grow up within a strong and clear moral framework drew us back to the Church. We'd read about the Tridentine Mass . . . and when we heard [about the Mass at St. Paul's] we went . . . and were floored by the reverence, depth, majesty, and beauty of the rite."
The Torries and their two children, Joshua, 8, and Ani, 6, now drive every Sunday from Prospect Park to attend Mass at St. Paul's. In fact, father and son are both servers at the Mass. Henry Torrie says that "we see a natural reverence growing in our children that we feel is coming largely from their attendance at the traditional Mass." His son apparently agrees. "I like helping the priest," Joshua says. "It makes me feel special, and I love being up close at the altar."
Just as those in the pews are likely to feel close to God.