‘It’s like walking into eternity’

July 9, 2007

Jim Ritter, Staff reporter | jritter@suntimes.com

The 12:30 p.m. Sunday mass at St. John Cantius has none of the modern trappings. No altar girls, no guitars, no sign of peace — and almost no English.

During most of the hour-long mass, the Rev. James Isaacson’s back is toward the worshippers, in the traditional manner.

At one point, he kisses the altar, turns toward the people and sings, “Dominus vobiscum.” (The Lord be with you.)

“Et cum spiritu tuo,” the choir responds. (And also with you.)

The traditional Latin mass has been making a comeback since 1984, when Pope John Paul II approved its use.

On Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI decreed that a priest no longer needs his bishop’s approval to say Latin mass. And, if parishioners ask their priest to say a traditional mass, “the pastor should willingly accept their requests.”

Every Sunday, more than 200 Latin masses are offered in the United States, according to Glenview-based Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei. That’s up from about 175 in 2001.

At least six churches in the Archdiocese of Chicago offer Latin masses.

The pope’s decree might not have any immediate impact on the Chicago archdiocese, because Cardinal Francis George already allows Latin masses.

Still, the pope’s statement likely will generate interest in traditional masses, “particularly among the young,” said Christina Borges of the Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest on the South Side, which offers Latin masses.

In the modern mass, adopted in the 1960s, the priest faces parishioners and speaks their language. In the traditional Latin mass, the priest faces the same direction as worshippers.

In 1988, St. John Cantius, 825 N. Carpenter, became the first parish in the Chicago archdiocese to reintroduce traditional masses. The church offers one English and three Latin masses on Sunday.

The Latin masses attract worshippers from Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Parishioners offer a litany of adjectives to describe the experience: sacred, contemplative, poetic, serene, spiritual, reverent and timeless.

“It’s like walking into eternity,” said parishioner Kevin Haney.

Some older worshippers are nostalgic for the Latin mass they grew up with. But a growing number of parishioners grew up after Vatican II.

Sarah Michalowski, 18, drives 60 miles each way from McHenry County to attend Latin mass each Sunday.

“I’m in love with the traditional mass,” she said. “We almost lost it for a while.”

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One Response to “‘It’s like walking into eternity’”

  1. Karen H. -- San Diego said

    Well…St. John’s got what they wanted. Sorta. The motu proprio said parishes can do ONE “extraordinary mass.” Not three.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    I wonder if they now have the problem of armies of older ladies and men saying the rosary DURING the mass. Not after, not before. But DURING.

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