The Latin Mass in New York City
by Barbara Monzon-Puleo
It was a determined but hopeful crowd which gathered at the Church of St Agnes in mid-town Manhattan one evening in 1989. Cardinal O’Connor had asked the pastor to establish a weekly Sunday Tridentine Mass. The gathering included such pioneers as the late Dr. William Marra.
Monsignor Eugene Clark fielded questions from a nervous audience still suffering from feelings of abandonment by the Church since the Second Vatican Council. This author recalls when an older woman, seated somewhere in the back of the church suddenly interrupted Monsignor’s explanation about the planning of the Latin Mass.
“You will need to re-consecrate the altar!” she shouted.
“Everything will be taken care of, ” Monsignor replied in his controlled way.
A year before, Ecclesia Dei had opened citywide not only weekly Masses according to the 1962 missal but conferences, Catechism classes, devotions and the sacraments.
Today, twenty-four years later, the reassurance that the Mass of the Ages would be available to the faithful has been a commitment carried out by the Archbishops of New York and the Bishops of Brooklyn. But Latin Mass devotees are diffused throughout the city and must travel to take advantage of all these offerings.
An older woman, seated somewhere in the back of the church suddenly interrupted Monsignor’s explanation about the planning of the Latin Mass. “You will need to re-consecrate the altar!” she shouted.
A Renaissance in NYC’s Garment Center
After the 2007 promulgation of the Motu Propio, another NYC parish which answered the call was Holy Innocents Church. Located on West 37th Street in the now-gentrifying heart of Manhattan’s famous Garment Center, the parish is experiencing a renaissance.
“When the then-Pastor expressed his openness to having a daily Mass, the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart and some male lay servers were very instrumental in assisting him to get in touch with possible priests and servers who would help say and serve the Mass,” explains their master of ceremonies Eddy Jose Toribio. “They were also very instrumental in helping the priests and servers to become familiar with the ceremonies of the Mass, in providing for the music, and for the vestments and other things that were necessary for the traditional Mass.”
Since then, the Church has also hosted Pontifical and Christmas Masses, First Saturday devotions and Holy Days.
“We have the traditional Midnight Mass at midnight on Christmas Eve. It is always very well attended. A professional choir was hired for this Mass. We have the Midnight Mass every year and (for the past two years) we have also sung the Anno a creation mundi and had a blessing of the Manger before the start of the Mass,” Mr. Toribio stated proudly.
Holy Innocents Church on West 37th Street in the now-gentrifying heart of Manhattan’s famous Garment Center, is experiencing a renaissance.
The Brooklyn Story
Bishop Mugavero appointed Monsignor James Asip to coordinate the weekly Latin Mass in Brooklyn. Msgr. Asip, a popular diocesan priest, soon gathered a group of a loyal parishioners who moved with the Mass to various locations, beginning with the Most Precious Blood Monastery to its present home at Our Lady of Peace Church in downtown Brooklyn.
Monsignor Asip pioneered marrying couples, performing baptisms and administering First Holy Communions in the Extraordinary Form. He also recruited priests in the city who he knew could tackle Latin. These included two Jesuits from Fordham University in the Bronx and some retired chaplains — and from the Vatican Mission to the United Nations, most recently, Monsignor Mauro Cionini.
A Fordham priest is currently in charge of the Mass at Our Lady of Peace, which a loyal group of 50-60 parishioners attend each Sunday. The parish gets together once a year after Mass for a Communion breakfast.
To this group, one must add the several dozen Catholics who come from far and wide around New York and its suburbs to attend the parish’s new monthly Saturday Teaching. These sessions, conducted by various priests from the NYC metropolitan area, teach the theology of the Latin Mass.
“Quite a few people come back each time,” says David Adam Smith, one of the organizers. “And there are always new people arriving. The teaching begins at 12:00 noon, with a Solemn Mass or a Missa Cantata offered at 1:00 pm. The schola is quite good, and provides an excellent example of what Catholic music should be.”
Our Lady of Peace offers monthly Saturday Teaching sessions which instruct a growing crowd of Catholics about the theology of the Latin Mass.
The TLM in a Cemetery Chapel and the Future
Because many parishioners travel many hours from other boroughs or New York suburbs, the Diocese of Brooklyn gave permission for a Latin Mass at the chapel of St John’s Cemetery in Queens, celebrated by Father John Wilson. This Mass is quite crowded, attended weekly by about 100 people. Many of these are young families who are clearly hoping for a parish of their own in the near future.
Today, across New York City, the faithful enjoy Masses, processions, devotions and sacraments in the traditional rite. But what of the future?
A parishioner at Brooklyn’s Our Lady of Peace, Robert Maresca, offers a pithy prognostication.
“Of course, the Traditional Mass is available in several churches today, but it’s my belief that it will grow only to the extent that the Church hierarchy promotes that growth.”