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An 'extraordinary' Mass

Historic celebration at Epiphany highlights Church tradition, mystical aspect of worship

Saturday, February 04, 2012
Ana Rodriguez-Soto - Florida Catholic

Wearing the cappa magna (large cloak) that once belonged to Miami's first archbishop, Coleman Carroll, Archbishop Thomas Wenski enters Epiphany Church to celebrate Pontifical High Mass in the extraordinary form of the Latin rite.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski walks in the candelmas procession.
MIAMI — Extraordinary? That would be an understatement.

The more than 1,200 people who came to Epiphany Church Feb. 2 to see Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrate Pontifical High Mass in the extraordinary form of the Latin rite experienced an event that has not taken place in the state of Florida for at least 50 years, perhaps more.

“I celebrate (in the old Latin rite) every day but I’ve never seen a Pontifical Mass from the throne,” said Father Joseph Fishwick, an archdiocesan priest who serves as chaplain at South Miami Hospital. He celebrates a simpler, sung Mass in the extraordinary form every Sunday at 9 a.m. at St. Francis and St. Clare Mission in Miami.

Father Fishwick served as the cross-bearer at the Mass — one of the nearly 75 priests and seminarians who took part in the three-hour celebration. The Mass took place on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord and included a blessing of candles followed by a candlemas procession. The feast of the Presentation — known as the Purification before the Second Vatican Council — is celebrated 40 days after Christmas and also known as the feast of lights.

“I was trained in these Masses,” said Msgr. Jude O’Doherty, pastor of Epiphany Parish. “This is very rare. Normally you wouldn’t have the first hour-and-a-half.”

He was referring to the initial part of the Mass, which included both an entrance procession and the candlemas procession as well as several vestment changes by the archbishop, all done in front of the congregation.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski pauses at the altar while wearing a more ornate miter, his pallium and gloves to begin the celebration of Mass.

The Women's Scholae Cantorum of St. Michael Church, and members of the University of Florida's Schola Cantorum, led by Jennifer Donelson, chanted throughout the Mass.

Accompanied by priest-deacons, Archbishop Thomas Wenski incenses the altar before the consecration.

Participants at the Mass kneel at the front of the altar in preparation for receiving Communion.
For the first part of the Mass, the archbishop was seated on a large throne, or chair, that was placed on the left side of the sanctuary, below the altar. He entered the church wearing a long-trained cappa magna (literally a “large cloak”) that belonged to Miami’s first archbishop, Coleman Carroll. A white simple miter, a cope (a simpler cloak) and a lace alb that he changed into later also belonged to Archbishop Carroll.

The Mass was completely sung in Latin. The pontifical dalmatic (also worn by the archbishop) and the fiddleback chasubles worn by the attending priests were provided by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a clerical society dedicated to training and forming priests in the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Mass. Priests from the fraternity helped to prepare and guide the celebration, which involved two days of practice beforehand for all the priests and seminarians who took part.

“I’ve offered the old Mass but what we’re going to experience tonight is so extraordinary and unique,” said Father Chris Marino, pastor of St. Michael Church in Miami. “Candlemas is very complicated,” and similar to only two other celebrations in the extraordinary rite — Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday.

“All involve many blessings and a procession which is penitential in its nature,” Father Marino said.

He and Jesuit Father Christian Saenz offered a mini-workshop on the extraordinary form of the Latin Mass just before the Pontifical High Mass got underway. Aside from explaining what people were about to see, Father Marino said he highlighted the continuity between the pre-Vatican II Mass and the post-Vatican II Mass which is formally known as the ordinary form of the Latin rite – “ordinary” because it is the one celebrated today in nearly every parish around the world.

“A rupture did not take place in Vatican II,” Father Marino said. “Vatican II was all about continuity, bringing into modernity the ancient faith of the Church.”

It is one of the things Pope Benedict XVI has continually stressed, Father Marino added. The pope believes that there should be no conflict between the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Mass, but rather “mutual enrichment.”

While the ordinary form of the Mass stresses the need for people to take part in the celebration, and unite themselves to it with more than just an interior posture, the extraordinary form is a reminder of the mystical element of the Mass, characterized by more solemnity, silence and reverence, Father Marino said.

Taking part in Mass requires not just understanding intellectually what one is doing but entering spiritually into that divine mystery and “allowing the beauty to wash us over and raise us up,” he said.

That is exactly how Consuelo Bascuas of Little Flower Church in Coral Gables said she experienced the Pontifical High Mass. “It was angelic, supernatural,” she said. “I think my blood pressure went down.”

Bascuas grew up celebrating the “old” Mass and said she still tries to go “to a Mass that’s quiet on Sundays.”

She especially praised the Gregorian chant choir that sang during the celebration. “The music was superb. Even in Rome, it’s hard to find a choir like this one,” Bascuas said.

That was music to the ears of choir director Jennifer Donelson, assistant professor of music-piano at Nova Southeastern University and director of the women’s Scholae Cantorum which also sings every Sunday at the 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Masses at St. Michael.

Donelson helped organize not only the Mass but the three-day music conference that accompanied it. The conference included a whole day of organ recitals Feb. 2 at Epiphany which brought together accomplished musicians from throughout the U.S., and a day-long presentation of academic papers Feb. 3 at Nova.

The conference centered on Charles Tournemire’s L’Orgue Mystique, five pieces of which were written for candelmas. “We wanted to see them in the intended setting, which is the Mass,” Donelson said.

Two especially-commissioned pieces by modern composers also were played during the Mass. “We’ve been working on this for months,” Donelson noted. “It’s really a historic event in the state of Florida.”

She said her goal in organizing the conference was “to show people that learning to pray with the tradition of the Church is one of the most beautiful gifts we can receive.”

Sergio Rodicio of St. Michael Parish brought along some members of the young adult group as well as altar servers “so they could see how easy they have it,” he joked. Actually, he said, “they saw something they’re not used to seeing, something extraordinary.”

Sitting through the three hours, and realizing the amount of work and sacrifice involved, makes you realize that “the Mass is not just about us. It’s for God,” Rodicio said.

That was part of the “teaching moment” provided by the historic celebration of this Mass, Father Marino said.

“What’s happening tonight should give us an indication of what should be happening in our parishes every Sunday — the dignity, the solemnity, the pageantry, if you will. But it’s not about entertaining people, it’s about worshiping God, along with the tradition and continuity of the faith throughout the ages.” 

Archbishop Thomas Wenski reads his homily, the only part of the Mass said in English.

Comments from readers

Dear Archbishop Wensky,

Congratulations!! God bless you and always give you courage to serve the church as you are doing now.

We are going pray by your ministery in our next Mass here, in Belém - Brazil.

This your atitude will shine in all around the world as example for others bishops who wants follow the pope and the real doctrine catholic.

Congratulations again.

Joao Augusto Rodrigues.

JDA - 2/7/2012 4:48 AM
Got to know about this Pontifical High Mass through the German website Very impressed by the pictures. I wished our Archbishop (Cologne, Germany) would do the same and send a clear signal by celebrating a mass in the extraordinary form in our Archdiocese as well.
MISSY FARBER - 2/6/2012 8:10 AM
I was able to watch this Mass as alive stream on I found it very uplifting and spiritually edifying and was happy to hear the traditional prayers and Apb Wenski's sermon. Thank you for this historic Mass and I hope there will be many more to come in the future, not only in Florida but in other U.S. dioceses and in the world at large.
JM O - 2/5/2012 10:32 PM
Awesome! Thank you Archbishop Wenski, please come over and visit us in St Pete some time.
STEVE - 2/5/2012 9:23 PM
I had the great privilege of attending the mass. I am so grateful the good Archbishop offered this mass. I know the blessings from this mass have only begun to flow. Thank you Archbishop Wenski!!!
JOHN M. - 2/5/2012 3:38 PM
This is wonderful. I am so grateful to Bishop Wenski for celebrating this Pontifical Mass. I hope he continues to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass regularly in the future and expose and support the Archdiocesan seminarians to it.
ALEX - 2/4/2012 8:11 PM
The mass was beautiful. Thank you so much to all those who made it happen. I agree with Father Marino, that this mass should be "happening in our parishes every Sunday"
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