A Candid Interview with Byron Smith
He’s the secretary of Una Voce America, which today supports the training of diocesan priests in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, otherwise known as the Latin Mass. In the this wide-ranging, exclusive Regina Magazine interview, Byron Smith tells the astounding story of the many people — some famous, some obscure — who have labored long and hard for more than fifty years to bring this Mass to Catholics in North America.
Perhaps the best-known of the surviving authorized Masses on this continent was in Ottawa, Canada, which eventually became the St Clement’s Latin Community. It became an inspiration to those holding similar aspirations in the States.
Q. What is the background on Una Voce America?
Una Voce in the United States was founded in September 1967. Its first Chairman was eminent philosopher, anti-Nazi and religious writer, Dietrich von Hildebrand. He led the association until his death in 1977, hosting several national meetings in Manhattan, near his academic home at Fordham University.
Before coming to the United States, Dr. von Hildebrand had written Liturgy and Personality (Salzburg, 1933) that had focused on the healing power of formal prayer as exemplified in the ancient Latin Mass. During his chairmanship, he wrote several books that concerned both the liturgy and the changes in the Church after Vatican II:
- Trojan Horse in the City of God (1967)
- The Devastated Vineyard (1973)
- Jaws of Death: Gate of Heaven (1976)
Following Dr. von Hildebrand’s death, W. Robert Opelle of California assumed the leadership of Una Voce in this country. Mr. Opelle had worked with the late Fr. Harry Marchosky to win diocesan approval for the traditional Mass at Serra Chapel of the San Juan Capistrano Mission, one of the first Mass locations approved after promulgation of the 1984 indult, Quattuor Abhinc Annos. It is still being offered there today.
During his tenure (1978-1995), Mr Opelle increased the visibility of Una Voce with a widely-read newsletter, “Our Catholic Tradition.” He initiated a national petition for a traditional Ordinariate that gathered nearly 50,000 names and was placed directly into the hands of Pope John Paul II in 1994 by Bob himself.
When British author Michael Davies indicated his desire in 1995 to merge all the traditional Mass organizations in North America into an umbrella Federation called Una Voce America, Mr. Opelle was named to its first board of directors.
In America, Una Voce’s main activity since 2007 has been to financially and logistically support the training of diocesan priests in the Latin Mass.
Q. How big is Una Voce today?
Una Voce America currently consists of over 65 chapters and 10 affiliates across the United States and eastern Canada, all working to increase the visibility and support the ministry of what Pope Benedict XVI pronounced, in Summorum Pontificum (2007), the Extraordinary Use of the Roman Rite.
Its Chairman today is R. Michael Dunnigan, JCL, and its main activity since 2007 has been to financially and logistically support the training of diocesan priests in the Latin Mass.
Q. There has been considerable growth in the TLM in the last 10 years in America. Can you give us a sense of how much growth there was before the Motu Proprio? After?
Along with the increasing number of Sunday Masses, daily Mass is offered in 60 locations in the U.S. also. Approximately 1,000 priests have completed a formal training program for the traditional Latin Mass and a few seminaries in the U.S. are training their men in offering the Extraordinary Form. (Statistics courtesy of UVA affiliate, Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei)
After the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, the number of Sunday Masses in the US almost doubled from 220 in 2006 to 420 today.
Q. What were the ‘worst of times’ for the TLM in America?
Until 1975, Archbishop Lefebvre’s still-unsuppressed Society of St. Pius X established several chapels in the U.S. that, while never accepted by local bishops, were not technically “unauthorized.” By the late 1970s, however, authorized Sunday celebrations of the traditional Latin Mass disappeared entirely. There were, perhaps, a dozen elderly priests who were permitted to offer the Mass privately. Those were the “dark ages” for the traditional liturgy.
Through a long process of petitioning sympathetic members of the Curia, Pope John Paul II granted permission for the traditional Mass in his 1984 indult. With that, a few weekly Mass sites were established in the U.S., in the dioceses of San Diego, Corpus Christi, and Orange. (In the latter was the famous mission of San Juan Capistrano.) A number of “experimental” and less-frequent Latin Masses were offered elsewhere, but the restrictions of this indult still made it difficult to obtain permissions from bishops.
In the late 1970s, there were, perhaps, a dozen elderly priests in America who were permitted to offer the Mass privately. Those were the “dark ages” for the traditional liturgy.
Q. Where is the newest TLM in America?
One of the most recent began in April, 2013, in Salisbury, North Carolina (diocese of Charlotte). Another began May 26 in San Francisco, California. At this writing, there may be others.
Q. Can you characterize the Latin Mass movement in terms of any demographics at all? I ask because I have the sense that early aficionados were intellectuals and artists. Is this true or am I way off base?
As for intellectuals and artists, yes, we can begin with Dietrich von Hildebrand who was an internationally renowned scholar. Joining him on his board of directors were Dr. Thomas Molnar, Catholic philosopher and author of over 40 books; political theorist Russell Kirk, whose writings gave shape to the post-World War II conservative movement; Major
General Thomas A. Lane, columnist, lecturer and author and H. Lyman Stebbins, founder of Catholics United for the Faith, among others.
We draw talented musicians and composers and there are new schools of Catholic art arising in university life, inspired by the traditional Latin liturgy. Along with that, one of the most important segments in our demographic is college and university students. We have at least two Una Voce chapters founded on university campuses and just about every Latin Mass community draws a disproportionate number of college-age young adults. This is an indication of how the Latin Mass answers the spiritual search that young people pursue, as well as its power to appeal to the intellect. For our own organization, we are grateful and blessed to have Michael Dunnigan, who is an internationally known canonist and scholar as chairman of UVA. So, you’re not off-base at all.
We draw talented musicians and composers and there are new schools of Catholic art arising in university life, inspired by the traditional Latin liturgy.
Q. Where have there been the most friendly bishops? Has there been progress in this area?
Perhaps one of the friendliest bishops in 1990 was the late Joseph T. O’Keefe, under whose auspices many regular Sunday Masses (including Sacraments and Requiems) were approved in the Archdiocese of New York and the diocese of Syracuse. Bishop James Timlin of Scranton invited the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter to establish a seminary and school in Scranton.
Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska strongly encouraged the work of the FSSP and permitted them to build a permanent seminary in his diocese.. (Bishop Bruskewitz retired recently and it seems that his successor, Bishop Conley will continue his legacy.) In a sense, any bishop who responds positively to the needs of his faithful can be said to be friendly — and there are have been many of these.