How the Latin Mass Returned to Roman Trier

How the Latin Mass Returned to Roman Trier

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by Stefan Schilling, MD

A German medical doctor relates how he fell in love with the traditional liturgy – and how he became embroiled in a decade-long struggle to win permission for the Mass to be celebrated in the ancient city of Trier, founded by the Roman Emperor Augustus and Catholic since the time of Constantine.

As I was born in 1963 — during the convocation of the Second Vatican Council — I never actually experienced the traditional liturgy during my childhood. I grew up in a good Catholic family in a modern suburban community outside Mainz (a small city in central western Germany). In my parents' house and in our local parish, we followed the new, post-conciliar liturgy of Paul VI.

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2000 YEAR OLD ROMAN RUINS at Trier, Germany — Catholic from the time of the Roman Empire.

During the 1960s, our suburb was a newly built post-war settlement, and we had  no church building for many years.  Instead, we used a local rectory for Mass and for Carnival events.  There was no sacred space for our village.  In the rectory, we had only chairs, no benches – and of course no way to kneel. We were told that there was no money available for building churches in the Mainz diocese.

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ANCIENT CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL AT TRIER built on the foundations of the palace of St Helena, mother of Constantine.

In the late 1970s, I attended our diocesan high school in Mainz, and I can’t remember anyone ever expressing any critical thoughts regarding the huge liturgical upheaval that followed in the wake of the Vatican Council. After school, I was active in the Catholic Boy Scouts, where we were encouraged to ‘use our creativity,’ inventing our own liturgies in loose-leaf notebooks. No one ever questioned the “new” liturgy, neither my family nor anyone in my social environment.  There was simply no other liturgical variant.

I was active in the Catholic Boy Scouts, where we were encouraged to ‘use our creativity,’ inventing our own liturgies in loose-leaf notebooks. No one ever questioned the “new” liturgy, neither my family nor anyone in my social environment.

By the time I was slightly older, however, I began increasingly to question this liturgy I had grown up with.  It seemed to me that the new rite was less about worship, and more about featuring the priest at center stage, along with the lay people who were ‘selected’ to participate in the liturgy. 

In fact, it seemed to me that in the new rite the proper focus on the major events of Holy Mass had been lost long ago. We were afforded hardly a moment for our own silent prayer, or to await that inner peace so essential for worship.  In the new rite in Germany, every moment had to be filled with action.

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VIEW OF ROMAN BATHS AT TRIER, the city established by Augustus Caesar, and Catholic since Roman times.

Together with other students, then, I became increasingly interested in experiencing  the quieter, more predictable, “real” worship found in the old Mass, where people’s actions were in the background and God was brought back to His rightful place — in the center of the action, so to speak. 

Now and again we students would drive to a parish in Kiedrich, a picturesque medieval town amidst the vineyards along the Rhine. In this simple country parish, the church had maintained a special schola cantorum for many years.  Saints’ days and feasts were celebrated with due solemnity. 

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FAMOUS STEINBERG VINEYARD along the Rhine River valley, created by Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages.

We students would drive to a parish in Kiedrich, a picturesque medieval town amidst the vineyards along the Rhine. In this simple country parish, the church had maintained a special schola cantorum for many years.

At about this time I decided I would no longer receive Communion in the hand. My belief in the Real Presence was too powerful for me to countenance the numerous abuses I had observed in the practice of giving Communion in the hand. 

At the suggestion of a friend, I attended the Holy Mass in the traditional rite for the first time in a parish near Frankfurt.  I watched joyfully as the celebrant handled the Body of Christ in a reverent, convincing and consistent manner.  His careful use of the corporal,  the closed hold of his fingers on the Host from conversion to purification, on the paten and in administering Holy Eucharist in the mouth — here, it was clear that no one needed to explain the Real Presence.  From these many gestures and signs, that the Body of Christ was really and truly in the Host was abundantly clear to anyone attending this Mass.

I watched joyfully as the celebrant handled the Body of Christ in a reverent, convincing and consistent manner.  His careful use of the corporal,  the closed hold of his fingers on the Host from conversion to purification, on the paten and in administering Holy Eucharist in the mouth — here, it was clear that no one needed to explain the Real Presence.

 I remember thinking that the form followed the content of our Faith totally in these actions. Only much later did I come across the concept of lex orandi lex credendi; that is, the notion that “the law of prayer determines the law of faith“ and therefore that one’s external actions shape one’s inner attitude.

I was equally impressed by the Traditional Rite’s common orientation in prayer.  That is,  the traditional rite does not make the priest the center of the action — though to be fair there are many priests who do not seek this center stage.  Instead, his place is almost akin to that of the head of a procession in a village feast.

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MONKS DORMITORY, Kloster Eberbach in the Rhine Valley

Finally, there was plenty of silence, especially in the central part of the Mass where we are called really to pray with the celebrant.  I was also delighted to find that my private prayer was no longer seemingly an affront to others – something to be “talked to death.“  The Holy One was the focus of this Mass, not the person of the priest, nor the performances of amateur liturgists.

I was also delighted to find that my private prayer was no longer seemingly an affront to others – something to be “talked to death.“  The Holy One was the focus of this Mass, not the person of the priest, nor the performances of amateur liturgists.

Here, I felt spiritually secure and at home.  Over time, I came to love the liturgy more and more,  despite the fact that traditional Masses at that time were hard to find for me, and indeed for anyone in Germany. For me, this liturgy touches my interior life, something I can hardly put into words.  Perhaps it is the experience of what we call  “grace.“

Over the years, I often wondered why Catholics were not permitted to attend both liturgies. The de facto ban on the traditional rite irritated me, the more so because pretty much everything else in what one could term liturgical “peculiarity“ was allowed and indeed encouraged.

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LATIN MASS IN COLOGNE GERMANY at the Eucharistic Congress organized by Pro Missa Tridentina, a German organization founded in1 990 to support the Latin Mass in the German-speaking world.

For example, I’m somewhat chagrined to report that the seminary of the diocese of Trier – an important Catholic community since the time of the Romans – organized what was billed as a “techno worship“ to celebrate the Millenium Year 2000.  The concluding “hymn“ of this “Mass“ was a German Idol hit for that year entitled  “No Angels,” performed in the presence of the Bishop and diocesan clergy. (You will forgive me if I use an American phrase here: “You can’t make this stuff up.“)

The seminary of the diocese of Trier – an important Catholic community since the time of the Romans – organized what was billed as a “techno worship“ to celebrate the Millenium Year 2000.

Liturgically speaking, in Germany everything seemed possible.  The single exception to this rule was any request to allow the traditional liturgy.  This was treated as if it were indecent and, indeed, reprehensible.

I learned this after I graduated from my medical studies, and established my family in Trier in 1993.  This was when I first approached the now-deceased Bishop of Trier with a request to permit an “Indultmesse” here.   A need was not seen by the bishop.

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ALTARPIECE, Church of St. Martin In Oestrich in Rhine Valley.

Thank God for the good priests and even municipalities in Trier that we found that offered a respectful form of the liturgy of Paul VI “ordinary” Mass.  Our family found such a community, and there our three daughters were baptized.  For these many years, our family has lived with both forms of the Roman rite – the ordinary and the extraordinary form.  For many years we had to drive many miles to do this.

Liturgically speaking, in Germany everything seemed possible.  The single exception to this rule was  the traditional liturgy.  This was treated as if it were indecent and, indeed, reprehensible.

When the new Bishop (now Cardinal Marx) of Trier was installed in 2002, I began asking him for  permission to celebrate the Holy Mass in the traditional rite in our diocese. During our subsequent correspondence, I collected about 300 signatures to support my request.  After over two years of  painstaking correspondence with the Diocese’s Consultancy Department, permission was finally granted at the end of 2004 for a single Indultmesse to be celebrated on Sundays and holidays in Trier.  Permission was conditional, however, on the observation of many restrictions regarding place, time, inter alia, etc.

This was eleven years after my first request to the bishop of Trier.

In spite of the limitations established, I’m happy to report that the response to the Old Mass has been such that the diocese has agreed to provide a separate priest for pastoral care in the extraordinary rite in the Trier jurisdiction. Of course, we greatly rejoiced over the long-prayed-for Motu Proprio from the Holy Father regarding the traditional liturgy.  In the Diocese of Trier, we hope and expect for a future of “normality“ in the usus antiquior of the one Roman rite.

The centuries-old beloved traditional Roman rite is finally back as a special form of the Roman rite.  Recognized again after more than 35 years of de facto abolition, the Mass has regained its full citizenship in the Church. For this, I say, ‘Deo Gratias!”

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