Posted July 31, 2006

RETURN TO TRADITION | Old liturgy is new again

Latin Mass is nostalgic for some worshippers, a discovery for others.

The Kansas City Star
Photography: Keith Meyers, The Kansas City STAR

Night had fallen around the hospital, and John Reyna was sitting by his dying grandmother,s bed when he heard her saying something that wasn't in English.

She was reciting the rosary in her native Spanish. But another language soon flowed from her barely parted lips. Reyna realized she was saying parts of the Mass in Latin.

On her deathbed, this was what she was remembering, Reyna said " something that went back to her childhood. It preceded the reforms of Vatican II, when Mass began to be celebrated in native languages.

"After she died, I went looking for a Latin Mass, he said.

A year ago, he and his wife, Theresa Reyna of Lee,s Summit, found the Latin Mass community that meets at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, 2552 Gillham Road.

Next summer the growing community of about 100 families is expected to have its own home, the Old St. Patrick Oratory at 806 Cherry in downtown Kansas City.

The group has found special favor with the new bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Last fall Bishop Robert W. Finn gave the community the church building and a full-time priest, the Rev. Denis Buchholz of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, which trains priests in the older Latin (also called the Tridentine) rite.

The historic Old St. Patrick is undergoing extensive restoration under the direction of diocesan chancellor, the Rev. Bradley Offutt. The Kansas City Latin community is part of a growing movement, he said, but only about 25 groups, mostly in larger cities, have their own buildings.

Finn has said he loves the new post-Vatican II Mass, but he also has a love and respect for the Tridentine rite and thinks it has a special place in the church. He also has told the Latin Mass community that it will be receiving his support because he wants to see it prosper.

Many view the commitment as another way the bishop is moving the diocese in a more traditional direction.

But while there may be a place for the Tridentine Mass, its appeal is to a certain type of Catholic. And its not only those in the generation of Reyna's grandmother, who may have a nostalgic remembrance of the old Mass.

Many of the 170 people attending the Latin Mass Sunday were young couples with families. They followed along in the missal, a book giving the order of worship in Latin with the English translation. Buchholz, a German native, mostly faced the high altar with his back to the congregation. In the newer Mass, the altar is a free-standing table, and the priest faces the people.

Many women and girls wore veils on their heads and the altar servers were all boys, whereas in most parishes girls also serve. Throughout the service, the music that wafted from the choir loft was that of Gregorian chants. And for communion, participants knelt at a railing, unlike in the new Mass, where they stand.

Some newcomers, who also belong to local parishes, see the Latin Mass as an avenue to deeper spirituality.

This is the case with Mary Anne and Jeffrey Bredemann, who drive from Platte County with their six children.

Mary Anne, a convert, said there is a reverence in the Tridentine rite that makes it a more spiritual experience. But she likes the music in the new Mass because she is able to sing along.

The couple's 14-year-old son, Jack, said, "There is no talking, no chitchat inside the sanctuary. It just seems that the Mass is completely and totally focused on Christ,s presence in the Eucharist.

Jeffrey likes being part of a universal Mass that is the same around the world.

"I find it appealing because of its unchanging nature, pretty much like God himself.

Reyna, who is learning Gregorian chants and sings in the choir, sees the mystical presence of God. For his wife, Theresa, it's a spirituality of awe and wonder.

Steve and Lisa Shikles of Shawnee have been coming since Easter with their three children. The two boys, Henry, 7, and Eddie, 10, are training to be altar servers.

"I like going back to traditional values, Steve Shikles said. "This is more of a conservative approach. It's how the Mass used to be celebrated.

Not understanding the language is not a problem, said Lisa Shikles, who homeschools the children. The important thing is to focus on God.

Jennifer Potts of Kansas City, married with six children ages 3 to 18, has been part of the Latin Mass community since 1989, almost from its beginning.

"I wanted my children to see the traditions and beliefs of the Catholic Church in a traditional Catholic setting, she said. "As a child, I remember the nuns and walking into the church, kneeling and the blessing and the awe and beauty, and I wanted that to be passed on to my children.

John Quastler of Kansas City was raised in the Catholic Church and schools when the Latin Mass was the only Mass. After the Vatican II changes and problems with priests and nuns leaving and schools closing, he fell away from the church.

Finding the Latin Mass community in 1993 brought him back.

"Whether you understand the Latin isn't important, he said. "What's important is the feel of the Mass and the beauty of the service and the beauty of the music. The new Mass was simplified to appeal to the masses. It worked for some, but it didn't work for me."

Buchholz, 38, has a degree in economics and was ordained two years ago. He said young priests in his order move around frequently. He came to Kansas City in October after spending a year in rural Wisconsin and will find out at the end of August if he will remain another year.

The Latin Mass community in Kansas City is "very committed, very vibrant, very devout, he said.

And steadily growing, he said. The priest expects more growth when the group moves to Old St. Patrick. And there will be other advantages.

"After we get our own building, we will not be under the stress of a time schedule, he said. Now the 9:15 a.m. Latin Mass on Sundays is between the 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Masses of Our Lady of Sorrows. Buchholz also celebrates daily Masses and holds classes for children and adults.

When the restoration project is completed, the Latin Mass community will have a more stable, complete parish life, and this is one of the bishop's goals, Offutt said.

"The old liturgy should be more widely appreciated and more highly regarded, he said.

In addition, Kansas City is home to a traditionalist Catholic community, St. Vincent de Paul, composed of disaffected Catholics and established by the Society of St. Pius X, which is not approved by the Vatican. The bishop and diocesan leadership would like to see some of the people from St. Vincent brought back into the fold with Rome, he said.

The Tridentine Mass is "noble, beautiful, artful and worthy, Offutt said. "It has merit. There is no reason for it to be snuffed out. It is an important part of the great big Catholic Church.

"It never will become the norm again. But it merits being encouraged and helped along for the people who want it."