Thursday, October 21, 2010

Missa Cantata in Mayberry

Today's post is an extension of an article I wrote for my diocese newspaper, the Catholic News Herald.   If you are visiting my blog for the first time, welcome!  You may also be interested in the Rosary "Minute Meditations" series I'm writing for the month of October.  You can find them below this entry or in the Archives, at right.  If you would like to receive updates, please subscribe through the links on the right-hand column.  I always welcome comments!  You can leave one at the end of the post.

As a Vatican II-era child, I had no recollection of attending Latin Mass (known as the Tridentine Mass or Mass in the Extraordinary Form), so I was very curious about the recent revival of this ancient form of the liturgy.  I hoped for the opportunity to attend a Latin Mass and finally found one several years ago while on vacation.  I was instantly struck by the reverence and the formality of the Extraordinary Form.  As I followed along in the Latin-English missal, a simple question came immediately to mind:  Why on earth isn't the Ordinary Form a closer translation?  I think that the upcoming changes are a positive step in that direction.  In fact, I think it’s worthwhile to buy a copy of the Latin-English missal even if you never intend to attend a Latin Mass.  The beautiful prayers included in the booklet alone are worth the price.

Last year, my husband got a job in a little town called Mount Airy in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina.  I was surprised to discover that it was also known as "Mayberry" since it is Andy Griffith's boyhood home and the inspiration for that idyllic small town.  I was even more surprised to discover that Mount Airy was home to more Quakers than Catholics!  There’s a Baptist church on every corner, but only one small Catholic Church, named in honor of the Holy Angels. 

I knew I had found the right parish when I learned that Holy Angels pastor, Father Eric Kowalski, offers Latin Mass every Sunday at noon.  Once a month, a Schola (Gregorian Chant choir) sings the Missa Cantata (“Sung Mass”).  We occasionally attend Mass in the Ordinary Form, but even my children prefer the Latin Mass.  My non-Catholic husband notes that although he can’t understand the words, he has an appreciation for the solemn reverence of the Extraordinary Form.

When I was recently hired as a freelance writer for the diocese newspaper, the first article I proposed to my editor was one on the Latin Mass in our parish.  Father Kowalski graciously offered his assistance and suggested that I interview those who attend the Latin Mass regularly.  He even allowed me to take a few photographs during Mass.

Everyone I interviewed praised Father Kowalski to the skies, and rightly so, expressing sincere gratitude for his generosity and commitment to offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form every Sunday.  Not only does he have to pray the Mass in a language he doesn’t use every day, but he also has to prepare two separate homilies as the readings and Gospels are different for each form.

Father Kowalski had no idea that he would be offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form when he was assigned to Holy Angels in 2001.  One of his first projects was to renovate the beautiful granite chapel, built in 1921.  He discovered gorgeous hardwood floors under layers of carpet and tile, not realizing that he was improving the acoustics so that one day in the future the Schola could “make the walls sing.” 

Father often states that offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form has changed him personally.  “If you’re not careful, when you offer Mass [in the Ordinary Form], it’s very easy to make it about yourself.  With the Extraordinary Form, the ritual itself takes all of that away because you’re focused on the meaning behind certain gestures.  It’s not about the quip or the funny joke.  It’s about you offering the sacrifice In Persona Christi, standing before God and realizing your own unworthiness.”

The first group I interviewed was the Schola, led by Winston-Salem resident and attorney Robin Shea, who showed me the unique musical notations of the Gregorian Chant on her ipad.  Yes, there’s an App for that!  (It’s called “Liber Pro” if you’re interested.)  She was first introduced to Gregorian Chant when she was “volunteered” to learn it for the Latin Mass offered at the Wake Forest campus chapel.  Sue Harmer-Sommer, of Kernersville, also volunteered and serves as the group’s Latin pronunciation expert as she studied Latin and Gregorian Chant in school.  Patricia Donadio completed the group and jokes that the most difficult aspect is getting along with the other two ladies. 

When the Wake Forest Latin Mass was discontinued, the trio kept practicing, hoping to find another venue for their talents.  They discovered that Father Kowalski was offering the Extraordinary Form in Mount Airy and quickly volunteered to bring the Missa Cantata to Mayberry, much to Father’s delight and relief.  As he stated, “When the Schola is singing, I’m offering my prayers.  It fits seamlessly, unlike the Ordinary Form where everything is blocked.   It flows and it’s a very intimate moment with God.”  

Robin agrees. “The music is really beautiful and adds so much reverence to the Mass. I’ve been praying the whole time and didn’t even realize it.”  Robin would love to add more members to the Schola.  (If you're interested, you can talk to her after Mass.)

If you do attend the Latin Mass in Mount Airy, you’ll likely be welcomed by Sid Cundiff.  He drives from Winston-Salem every Sunday to serve as an usher.  He’s also the informal “communications officer” and keeps an email list to update anyone interested in the Extraordinary Form in the state of North Carolina.  You can add your name to his list by emailing  

Sid points out that Mass in the Extraordinary Form has three important characteristics.  It is serious, it is a solemnity and it is holy.  He is quick to add that he is not opposed to the Ordinary Form or that it lacks these characteristics, but that the Extraordinary Form is more focused on these three aspects of liturgy and “that something out of the ordinary is being done.”

Ron and Libby Boyd attend Latin Mass every Sunday, driving nearly two hours from Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, because it reminds them of their childhood.  As Libby stated, "We were raised in the Latin Mass.  It is solemn and respectful.  It's quiet and you can pray.  We like that atmosphere." 

Holy Angels parishioners Paul and Joan Zomberg attend daily Mass in the Ordinary Form where Paul is a lector.  Paul says that they prefer the Extraordinary Form because "it's more spiritually satisfying."  Joan adds, "We praise God because He is good.  Latin Mass is more about praising God that petitioning God."

Robert and Doris Cross are also Holy Angels parishioners who attend both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.  Robert, as a convert, had only seen Latin Mass on TV and was curious about it.  Doris, on the other hand, grew up with the Latin Mass.  She says that she likes the wider range of Scriptures in the Ordinary Form, but the Extraordinary Form "is very focused on being prayerful and quiet and you focus on Jesus.  You can kneel for Communion like we used to do back home."

Gerald and Billy Healy drive from Yadkinville because "they were raised with the Latin Mass and love it."  Billy, a convert for nearly 60 years, declares that at Latin Mass they are "home again."   Their grandson, Patrick Healy, is a Greensboro resident and a grad student studying Chemistry.  He became an altar server for the Latin Mass over 15 years ago and fills in when young trainee Michael Kafant is not available.  Patrick is grateful that Mass in the Extraordinary Form is "close by with a regular schedule." 

Winston-Salem resident Emmanuel Kafant is a convert from the Greek Orthodox Church.  His six adorable, well-dressed children behave perfectly and are so reverent.  Emmanuel drives his family of eight to Latin Mass every Sunday because it expresses "the faith of Catholicism-- what we believe about the Mass, what we believe about the Eucharist-- without any ambiguities.  It's distinctly Catholic."  He's a Belmont Abby College graduate and has been attending Latin Mass since 1991.  His son, Michael, an altar boy, says that Latin Mass and serving in Latin “just feels normal” as that’s all he has known.

Michael Long, also a Winston-Salem resident, found a Latin Missal several years ago in a thrift shop.  He said it's the best dollar he ever spent.  He doesn’t mind the drive to Mount Airy every Sunday because he feels that he “has gone the extra mile and that God has brought me to a very holy time and place.”  Opening his missal, he reads, “Send forth your light and your fidelity to lead me on and to bring me to your holy mount.”  Michael thinks that there is no coincidence that he is driving to Mount Airy.  As he points out, “God has richly provided for this faith community…  Father had the inspiration to restore this chapel and brought back the altar rail [not knowing] that we would bring back this liturgy… The choir members had an inspiration to start studying Gregorian Chant.  I’ve seen the altar boys and where they got their training, and it’s very good training.  God was preparing all these things to happen, and who knew when the time was going to come when the pope would say, ‘Let’s make this more available.’  God had even prepared me through finding this [Latin] missal.”



There will be a special Missa Cantata in honor of All Souls Day on Tuesday, November 2nd, at 6:30 pm at Holy Angels Catholic Church in Mount Airy.  During the Mass, the new black vestments will be blessed.

Sid Cundiff provided the following links for more information on the Mass in Extraordinary Form:
Sancta Missa is a highly informative site that is well worth your time to read if you are planning to attend a Latin Mass (or even if you aren't).  You can read the English-Latin Missal online at this link


Theresa said...

Very interesting, Peggy! I have some very vague memories of the Latin Mass. I enjoyed your piece.

Anonymous said...

Some priests are just plain averse to this form of the Mass. Too sad. You are certainly blessed, Peggy! Good article. Hope its good news echoes far and wide.

Anonymous said...

Dominus vobiscum

CatholicFireman said...

I just saw a photo of Holy Angels. What a lovely little church!

Peggy Bowes said...

Thank you for taking the time to read the article and leave a comment. We are indeed blessed to have a beautiful chapel and a very holy priest.

...Et cum spiritu tuo