Mary Adamski

View from the Pew
A look inside Hawaii's houses of worship

By Mary Adamski

Saturday, November 17, 2001

Nostalgic visit to Latin
Mass at St. Anthony

The priest said "Dominus vobiscum," and the congregation answered "Et cum spiritu tuo."

That was the easy one: "The Lord be with you" ... "And also with you." It's an exchange that occurred several times during the Traditional Latin Mass at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at St. Anthony Church in Kalihi.

That weekly service is the only time and place that the Latin language service is officially permitted on Oahu by Honolulu Catholic Bishop Francis DiLorenzo. This gathering of about 50 people faithful to the historical format of worship was the conservative counterpoint to an earlier view from a liberal Catholic parish pew.

It was an experience that an older generation remembers, the days when they followed along on the English (or other vernacular language) side of the Missal since, truth be told, very few understood the language of ancient Rome in which the priest conducted the hourlong service.

A history-making 1960s summit of church leaders, popularly known as Vatican II, revamped the liturgy to bring worshippers from a passive role into action.

It's a concept that Protestants implemented with the Reformation more than 400 years earlier!

Nowadays in Catholic churches, lay people share in roles formerly reserved to priests by reading Scriptures and distributing Communion. They pray along with the presider and sing along with the choir -- scads of new and not always wonderful music replaced Latin hymns.

The group that returns each Sunday to the Latin Mass makes a quiet statement that the Vatican II changes were not universally accepted.

In fact the resistance played on in an international drama of schism and excommunication. In 1984, Pope John Paul II decided to let the diehards continue their Latin Mass, under the scrutiny of each bishop.

For a pair of visitors from the present, the experience was pleasantly nostalgic. Where else do you see Catholic women wearing hats and mantillas these days? Who ever strikes their breast in repentance anymore?

Outside of the Three Tenors' Christmas special, when do you ever hear "Panis Angelicus"? We felt the ghost of Sister Mary Martinet waiting to strike as you tend to nod off, being so disengaged by the language difference.

Invoking the Old Testament when only the Hebrew High Priest was worthy to enter the Holy of Holies, Father Charles Schmidt -- his back to the congregation -- presided at the consecration of bread and wine.

It did underscore the sense of sacred mystery, which supporters say has been lost now as the priest faces the congregation.

Altar servers ring bells for key moments in the Mass, a "heads up" dating back to medieval times when the masses at the back of massive cathedrals were so separated from the action at the altar.

The Latin Mass aficionados enjoy another medieval memento, spending more than half the Mass on their knees, a far cry from the earlier no-kneeling experience at Newman Center. They do have something in common with that modern Manoa congregation in the minimal energy worshippers put into prayer responses.

No wonder Protestants, they of the hearty amens, are puzzled when they find themselves in a Catholic pew.

Our step back in time was rounded out nicely by the sermon topic chosen by Schmidt, a retired Maryknoll missionary. The subject was Purgatory, that "waiting room to Heaven," where "departed souls are cleansed of spiritual blemishes."

It's a place of not only physical pain, but the "pain of loss of the vision of God, like children separated from their parents," he said.

It was a place that Sister Mary Martinet in Catholic grade school delighted in describing. But I hadn't heard it mentioned from a pulpit in modern times when, it seems, the idea is to accentuate the positive.


Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
Email her at

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