Cardinal Stickler’s Tridentine Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Cardinal Stickler’s Tridentine Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NY On Sunday, May 12, 1996, an overflow crowd of over 4000 worshippers gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, to participate in a Pontifical Tridentine Mass celebrated by Cardinal Alphonse Stickler in what has been described as “one of the most important dates in the history of the restoration of the Traditional Mass in the United States and, for that matter, in the entire world”. The following Monday, May 13, a front page article in the New York Times Metro Section told the story. Excerpts from the article follow below: The Faithful Welcome An Old Rite By PETER STEINFELS [excerpts] “Vocem jucunditatis annuntiate” -“Declare it with a voice of joy.” With a choir chanting those Latin words, Alfons Cardinal Stickler, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Library, proceeded to the altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to begin a Solemn High Pontifical Mass sung in Latin according to the traditional Tridentine Rite. It was the first such Mass to be celebrated in the cathedral in 35 years. The words, taken from the prophet Isaiah, captured the spirit of the worshipers who filled the Cathedral last evening to exult in every magnificent detail of a form of the Roman Catholic Mass that has largely disappeared since the Second Vatican Council called for a revision of the church’s liturgy in 1963. John Cardinal O’Connor, the Archbishop of New York, briefly addressed the congregants, receiving warm applause after welcoming them to what he called “this historic occasion.” “I feel privileged that you have requested this Mass be celebrated here in what is your cathedral,” the Cardinal said. “All are welcome here. We are one body, one body in Christ.” The worshipers were dazzled by the rite’s precise choreography, beginning with the entrance by Cardinal Stickler, who wore a scarlet kappa magna, a silk cape with a 30 foot train. They were quieted in their souls by the rippling rise and fall of Latin chant. And they were stirred by the Gloria of Mozart’s Coronation Mass. The Mass was a special moment of triumph for a hard core of traditionalist Catholics who have fought, sometimes quite bitterly, to preserve a form of worship that they believe is an essential link to the Catholic past and the fullness of their faith. “This is the restoration of our liturgical home,” said one worshiper, Christopher A. Ferrara, a 44-year-old lawyer from West Caldwell, N.J., who heads a public-interest law firm that aids Catholics involved in anti-abortion campaigns and other public controversies. “You can’t go into someone’s home and remove the furniture and everything else without disorienting everyone,” he said, “but that’s what happened with our liturgical home 30 years ago.” After the Second Vatican Council, the Tridentine rite was replaced by a new liturgy written to encourage the congregation’s active participation. Local languages replaced Latin. Prayers that had been whispered or said silently were now said aloud, and ritual gestures that had been blocked from view now became visible because the priest faced the congregation across the altar rather than facing the altar with his back to the congregation. The changes led to complaints that the liturgy’s sense of mystery had been lost, and that the Catholic idea of the Mass as reenacting Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross had been swallowed up by the imagery of the Mass as a meal. Many Catholic officials agree that the change from one rite to another was carried out hastily and has sometimes produced unapproved innovations that range from the banal to the nearly blasphemous… Cardinal Stickler, a tiny man of 85 with a fringe of white hair and a cherubic face. spoke in grandfatherly tones on Saturday about the requests he had received to celebrate the old Tridentine Mass from places as distant as Nepal. He said that he never went without the permission of the local bishop. “I don’t want to create conflict in a diocese or parish,” he said. The numerous traditional Catholics who were privileged to attend this historic event left with encouragement and inspiration. This moment should be remembered by all — especially where there continues to be resistance to the legitimate celebration of the Tridentine Mass in dioceses where an interest has been shown by the faithful. With the testimony of Cardinal Stickler, a bishop who was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, it cannot be justly said that the Tridentine Mass is a “fringe” phenomenon, or in any way “unfaithful” to the mission of the Church.