Five minutes before Mass yesterday, I squeezed into a seat behind a pole at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans for the first Latin Mass said there in years. Then the ushers started coming in with chairs packing people in wherever they could. Still, folks were standing in the vestibule just to listen to the nearly extinct language. And no, they weren't all old. Families and young adults were as well represented as they would have been at any other service.
I'm not sure why everyone was there. My guess is sheer curiosity had something to do with it. Maybe a sense of grasping onto a tradition and heritage that has been lost. For the older worshippers, it was probably a chance to experience the Mass as they learned it.
For the first time, it was a little awkward. It helped that this is the Mass as we know it, so it was easy to follow the format. And of course the readings and sermon were in English. But I spent time going back and forth to the missal so I didn't miss a response. Many of the responses are chanted so a lot of us were just guessing at the tune. As well, it was obvious many of us were fudging our way through the pronunciations (and hoping we weren't saying something blasphemous in the process). Others, however, recalled the prayers from an earlier life and went full speed ahead.
In general though, it was a beautiful experience. But I found myself paying a lot more attention to the words than I normally do at Mass. And the foreign language heightened the already complex mystery of the Eucharist. I also have to say congratulations to the Gregorian chant choir - they sounded great and gave the Mass that extra bit of something special.
With that sort of response, I'm guessing that the Latin Mass will return sooner rather than later.
Photo: Cathedral of St. John Berchmans choir loft. Shane Bevel/The Times