MANITOWOC, Wis. – Sunday’s Packers football game might as well have been occurring on another planet for the 50 adults and children attending the Latin Mass inside the downtown ornate sanctuary of the former St. Boniface Catholic Church.
“Holy Mother, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death,” said teenager Ashley Reif as she prayed the rosary out loud many times with parishioners starting about 30 minutes before the beginning of the “Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite” in what is now St. Francis of Assisi’s Faith Formation Center.
The Rev. Canon Andreas Hellmann normally leads the Latin Mass, which began last October, as a liturgical ceremony encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI who in 2007 said it is a “precious treasure to be preserved.” While Hellmann’s sermons and general announcements are in English, the 90-minute Mass and accompanying chants by the choir are in a language that few in the pews are fluent in.
“But once you get used to it, you will feel at home anywhere … Chicago, Paris or China,” Hellmann said Monday from St. Joseph Oratory in Green Bay, his “home” that is part of the global religious community Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.
As Hellman opened the Mass by sprinkling the altar and “the faithful,” he proclaimed, “Gloria patri, et filio, et spiritui sancto.” A Latin-English booklet missal offers side-by-side translation of the Mass that the priest and attendees from Manitowoc, Kewaunee and Sheboygan counties describe as filled with “beauty,” “majesty” and “reverence.”
Hellmann is cognizant of the impediments to more Catholics choosing to experience Latin Mass, especially in the United States where many people seem compelled to check their smartphones for text messages or Facebook updates seemingly every few minutes.
“People are used to a Mass that may be entertaining, makes them feel good, celebrates the community,” Hellmann told the Herald Times Reporter of Manitowoc.
But the priest said the focus is on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and is part of a service with long stretches of silence. “That might be disturbing to some people,” Hellmann said. “But we live in such hectic times … let your soul breathe and appreciate the divine drama and liturgy.”
For much of the Latin Mass, the priest’s back is toward the congregation as he says, “Gloria in excelsis deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Laudamus te. Benedicimus te. Adoramus te. Glorificamus te.”
“I’m not turning my back on them, but we are all turning ourselves toward the Lord,” Hellmann said. “The one very beautiful thing I know is that in the heart of the Mass, the canon of the Mass, I pray the same way as Christians have done as early as the fourth century,” he said. “Our participation must, first and foremost, be internal and spiritual,” said Hellmann, ordained in 2000. “The beauty of the liturgy, the chant, the majesty of the Mass leads to internal change … without that, I wonder what would be the spiritual fruit.”
Hellmann said, “Christ and the devil are at war and we are caught in the middle.”
But the people of God have free will to not give in to the devil’s temptations. Prayer is all powerful, Hellmann said.
With the smell of burning incense thick in the air, he said Jesus Christ is “the bridegroom of our souls” who holds the keys to heaven and eternal salvation.
Margaret Reinbold, Reif’s grandmother, sang in Latin in the choir loft Sunday with four others. She’d like to see others learn the liturgy in what she called the Roman Catholic Church’s official language.
“What I find beautiful is being able to receive the Lord on our knees and on our tongue,” Reinbold said of the priest, and only the priest, placing consecrated communion wafer in her mouth as part of the Eucharist during a Latin Mass.
Her husband, Joe Reinbold, believes the Eucharist “has lost some of that sense of reverence” when the wafers are not distributed by priests “who have consecrated hands.” Then the Eucharist, he said, may become more symbolic like many Protestants believe, rather than true transubstantiation where the bread and wine has become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Bill and Jennifer Neumann of Whitelaw attend Latin Mass in Manitowoc and Green Bay with their six children, ages 3 to 10. On Sunday, Francis, 10, and Victor, 7, assisted Hellmann during the Mass.
Bill Neumann said he understands how for many Catholics, taking the time to understand and appreciate the Latin may be a challenge.
“For us, the Mass is about having family time together,” he said.
“We enjoy the reverence … this Mass is the closest thing to the Vatican we can find. We are going to go there on a family trip in about six years,” Neumann said.