Father Markey, how long has St Mary’s in Norwalk, CT offered the Latin Mass?
We started in Advent 2007, a few months after the implementation of Summorum Pontificum. We began with a Missa Cantata, and now we have a Solemn High Mass every Sunday. We have been offering the Solemn High Mass every Sunday and every Holy Day, for about seven years. We also do the entire Holy Week services exclusively in the Extraordinary Form (EF).
I put the EF Mass right at the center of the Sunday schedule, at 9:30 A.M., to show that this Mass is not a fringe element, but an essential part of our parish life. We offer the EF three times a week now. Pope Benedict XVI has asked for the “mutual enrichment” of the two forms and the EF has influenced our Ordinary Form (OF) Mass in various ways. For example, all of our OF Masses are now oriented.
How would you characterize your parish and Mass attendance?
We have a wide demographic for the EF. To begin with, our parish has about 30 nationalities represented, and we offer the OF in both English and Spanish. On any given Sunday you can see people at the EF with Latin Missals in their hands that are Latin/English, Latin/Spanish, Latin/Portuguese, Latin/German, and and Latin/ Lithuanian. There are well educated professionals and also first generation immigrants who simply love the reverence. We have many young large families. As is common here in the United States with the EF, homeschoolers are also well represented.
We have locals who come from the town, but also families that come as far as an hour away every Sunday. It is inspiring to see the commitment of some of these young families who fill their minivans every Sunday and drive such a distance.
The OF Spanish Mass is our largest Mass on Sunday and the Solemn EF is the second largest. Clearly, the EF Mass has the largest collection.
How would you characterize the growth in your parish?
I have now been here for almost 10 years and in the beginning I was implementing many changes in the OF that prepared the way for the EF – more Latin, altar boys only, rarely using extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, and of course following closely the General Introduction to the Roman Missal (GIRM) and Redemptionis Sacramentum, the two keys rubrical documents for the OF. Change is always hard so I held classes, wrote articles in the bulletin, taught from the pulpit. A key element was investing parish finances in a much more developed sacred music program. For the first few years there was a lot shuffling around – some people leaving and many more coming. This period was not without conflict and I can only hope I was prudent in my decisions.
People who normally attend the EF do not often understand how important and challenging these types of changes are in the OF. The vast majority of Catholics only know the OF. If mainstream Catholics are to discover the EF as the timeless spiritual treasure that sanctified our forefathers, then exposing them to reverent OF Masses with more traditional elements becomes an important bridge. Pastors are going to encounter obstacles in trying to implement these changes. Some who prefer the EF can become impatient but we must remember that the bottom line is the salvation of souls. We cannot make the same mistake they made in the late 1960’s of implementing rapid liturgical changes with little catechesis. Many faithful Catholics had their faith terribly damaged during that period because of abuses, and it happened so sudden. Again, souls are at stake. A shepherd has to lead his flock through the transition with great care. Once the pastor is intellectually convinced that a holy liturgy is the most effective means of sanctifying souls, it is then a matter of the will. The key elements become prayer, prudence, and courage.
“People who normally attend the EF do not often understand how important and challenging these types of changes are in the OF. The vast majority of Catholics only know the OF. If mainstream Catholics are to discover the EF as the timeless spiritual treasure that sanctified our forefathers, then exposing them to reverent OF Masses with more traditional elements becomes an important bridge.”
Despite the difficulties I sometimes encountered with these changes, there was ultimately dramatic growth during that period. Once we started the EF, it was like opening a watering hole in the desert. Committed faithful Catholics flocked from far distances to be part of it. Overall we doubled our Sunday collection.
After the first five or six years of dramatic change and growth, I have to say the parish is now making only modest gains. The EF is averaging 225 people on any given Sunday. There is great commitment on the part of many faithful and the parish slowly grows. I think the Lord is saying that the key now is to keep the course, winning souls and families one at a time.
Confession is a big part of most successful parishes. How would you characterize the numbers of people who come to Confession at St. Mary’s?
About 4.5 hours of Confessions are scheduled every week, spread out over six days. To be honest, it is not enough. There are always lines and my pastoral responsibilities often don’t allow me to complete the people on line. Once a priest starts preaching Confession, and offering hours in the Confessional, people come from all over. I need to work harder at getting in the Confessional even more.
Any vocations from the parish?
We have one man who was ordained so far from the parish and three men who are currently in seminary. One young lady has entered the convent, and there are numerous more who are seriously discerning the call to religious life. Beyond finances and census numbers, vocations to the priesthood and religious life is the true measure of the health of the parish.
I am praying that God will bless our parish with more vocations. It should be said that, as Cardinal Dolan has pointed out, the true vocation crisis is really about the crisis in the family. Vocations come from holy families. The parish is simply the support system for the family. Make strong marriages and families and we will have plenty of good vocations.
How actively are your parishioners participating in the life of St. Mary’s?
Like most parishes, there are plenty of groups to which one can belong. The CCD program is a huge part of parish life, with many devoted teachers, and families that need help. Intellectual formation is an essential part of Religious Education, but you really have to get involved in people’s lives to make a difference. This is always a challenge finding the time and energy to address all the needs of troubled families who lack formation. We also have women’s Bible Study, Spanish Bible Study, Teen Catechism, Youth groups, various devotions. We have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament all day on Friday and I would like to increase the number of hours. The homeschoolers are present, adding a lot of life to the parish, but they can be more difficult to organize because they are by nature quite independent. There is an independent lay-run school nearby associated with NAPSIS, but there is no official connection with the parish. They do good work in forming families as well.
What impact has music had on your parish?
The parish budget for the sacred music program has more than quadrupled during my time here. This has been a priority. The music program run by our choirmaster, David Hughes, who is not only a gifted organist and singer, but he has the uncanny capacity for teaching people of varied backgrounds how to appreciate and sing sacred music. We have three adult choirs – a professional schola doing renaissance polyphony every Sunday, a volunteer adult choir, and a Spanish adult choir. David’s great passion is working with children, teaching them Gregorian chant and polyphony. We have a student schola of nearly 100 students that meets twice a week to rehearse from September to June. The student schola is quite accomplished and sang at the English Masses for World Youth Day in Madrid.
What have been your three greatest challenges?
First, I think it is the same challenge of Dom Proper Gueranger, the Father of the Liturgical Movement: exposing people to the reality that we have been given an inexhaustible treasure in the Traditional Latin Mass. There is a richness in this Mass that never stops giving at a profound level of one’s being, if only people would take a little more time to work at it. This is the hard work, one soul at a time, one family at a time. Many of the faithful who attend the OF have trouble appreciating the EF, or see it as a threat. There are some of the OF faithful who can appreciate the EF the minute they first experience it. This is a special grace. For most others, it takes time. I regularly say that it takes 5 times before you can start to appreciate the EF. The Liturgical Movement inspired by Gueranger morphed in the 1950’s away from this hard work of teaching people about our liturgical traditions and instead opted for the easier root of reforming the liturgy, making the ritual less complicated, hoping that people would then be drawn to Mass even more. Hence we have the OF. While the intentions may have been good, it is my opinion that something quite valuable was lost.
Second, being a pastor to those who already love the EF but who have not allowed it to transform their interior life. There can be a thinly veiled combination of Gnosticism and Protestantism in those who love the EF that manifests its disingenuous nature by a lack of charity. The Church is alway in need of purification, but those who love the EF can fall into the trap of attacking the boat of Peter in a way that is unhelpful, placing themselves above the Church itself. Some of this bitterness is a self-inflicted wound. Certain Church authorities falsely suppressed the EF after the Council, arguing that EF had been abrogated, attempting to make those who love the Traditional Latin Mass feel as if they were doing something wrong. Pope Benedict XVI courageously corrected this error with Summorum Pontificum. However, the bitterness remains. No doubt many faithful who loved the Traditional Latin Mass after the Council were forced underground or to the fringes. For those who have been wronged it is good to focus on the Spiritual Act of Mercy, bearing wrongs patiently.
At the same time it must be said that those who love the EF must recognize that they have received an unmerited grace. It is a gift, not to be held over others who do not understand it, but as something to be shared. One beggar showing another beggar where he can find a piece of bread. Those who love the EF must have a passion for unity within the Church, making sure that this Mass does not become a source of division within the Body of Christ, and following the example of the saints, practicing obedience to Church authority.
Third, personal holiness. The only way this whole liturgical question is going to be resolved is by saints. Rephrasing a story about Chesterton, when asked what is the greatest problem with the Liturgical Movement today, I have to say that I am. If I had done a better job with what the Lord had entrusted to me here, there would be more far reaching results.
And your three greatest joys?
First, watching people’s lives being transformed by the liturgy. Some people have truly grasped all that we are trying to do. It is beautiful to watch them go beyond what I have said and to truly encounter the Lord Himself in the liturgy. I am not trying to draw people to myself, but to Our Lord’s True Presence in the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady. Once I see them connected to the Source, there is great satisfaction. Watching the altar boys who are drawn to this Mass is beautiful as well. They take pride in serving the Mass, starting at a young age and continuing through college years. How this happens is a mysterious working of grace.
Second, the miraculous renovation of our beautiful church of St. Mary’s. We have been renovating it for about four years and we just about to complete this final phase. The most impressive part of the renovation with the central reredos, an altarpiece over the high altar. It is an original painting by Leonard Porter of the Assumption. It is a great joy to offer Mass in this church.
Third, Solemn High Extraordinary Form Mass every Sunday. I love to offer the Solemn High Mass. My vocation is fulfilled when I am offering that Mass and great mysteries are communicated to my soul. The text speaks to me, the prayers speak to me, and the music transforms the moment into an eternal mystery. Even when I do not have the Mass, I enjoy sitting in choir, admiring the beauty the Church, praying the liturgy with the priest, watching the parishioners in their own prayers, and listening to the sacred music. I imagine heaven will be like this.
What do you see in the next three years on the horizon for St. Mary’s?
Once again, I think once our church renovation is completed, I think it is simply the hard work of keeping the boat on course, exposing more and more people to this great gift that God has given to us so that people’s lives can be transformed by the Eucharist and Our Lady. This is the hard work begun by Dom Gueranger over 100 years ago, and we continue it today.