Matthai Kuruvila, Chronicle Religion Writer
Friday, March 21, 2008
Under the vaulted ceilings of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Oakland, a revered tradition once forsaken has gained new life. About 300 Roman Catholics go there every Sunday to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass, a rite rich in symbolism that has been on the margins of Catholic life for more than four decades. But over the past year, decrees by
Pope Benedict XVI have given the traditional Latin Mass greater official standing in the Catholic Church, opening the door for some churches to go back to it. Now, at St. Margaret Mary's, grandparents practice the rituals of their childhood. Young couples are being married under a tradition they encountered only recently. People drive from all over the Bay Area - and beyond - to worship there. The priest says an elderly Modesto woman comes from Stanislaus County once a month by taxi. But the revitalized tradition is drawing controversy. Some question whether the traditional rite is too outdated for a church grappling with the needs of a diverse membership and facing unprecedented challenges, such as an increasingly interreligious world. Those challenges are underscored this week, which is Holy Week. Today's Good Friday service has been criticized by many Jewish groups, for example, because the Latin liturgy includes a prayer for God to "enlighten" Jews so they will "acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men."
The service "draws you in bodily by appealing to the physical senses, but it also provokes and draws in the soul." Angelo believes some churches have made faith too easy. "In some churches," he said, "there might be an effort to get more creative, the priest and the congregation try to keep people entertained, as opposed to holding to the tradition that God has passed down to us, which is infinitely rich." The Latin Mass played a pivotal role in shaping Christianity, said Frederick Parrella, professor of theology at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution.
Pope John Paul II opened the door a little in 1988, allowing parishes to worship using the traditional Latin Mass with the permission of a local bishop. Many local bishops did not, but the Diocese of Oakland allowed a traditional Latin Mass to be held at St. Margaret Mary's.
But on Sundays at St. Margaret Mary's, the pews are packed. Couples walk in with children, their daughters' heads covered in lace mantillas. Elderly retirees and yuppies sit next to each other. Generations of a family worship together, in Latin, following rituals scripted centuries ago. "I go because I'm a counterculture kind of guy, and to me the most counterculture thing is being a Catholic," said Rob Martinez. Dressed in all black, with seven tattoos (in mostly religious themes) and 11 body piercings, Martinez said that the traditional Latin Rite "is a very artistic, deep ... great expression of Christianity. It's been the Catholic Church's way of expressing worship for hundreds and hundreds of years."