Saturday, July 22, 2006

NLM Guest Report on 2006 Latin Liturgy Association Convention

[I asked Alex if he might write a report on this conference, which he attended. Thankfully, he assented. Here follows his own report of the LLA conference.]

By Mr. Alex Begin, St. Josaphat Latin Mass Community, Detroit, MI.

Recently, the Latin Liturgy Association (LLA) held its biennial convention in St. Louis, Missouri. From the very first convention in Washington, DC in 1986, this event has been one of the premiere opportunities for those interested in traditional liturgy to hear talks, experience exemplary liturgies, and network with likeminded individuals. This year’s convention was no exception.

The meeting kicked off on Friday, July 14 with an all-day tour of historic churches in St. Louis, led by architectural preservationist and LLA member Max Kaiser. Max has been actively involved in the restoration of a number of churches in St. Louis. He advocates raising the profile of historic churches as community resources to better utilize them and attract non-traditional funding sources. Max believes that supporters of Latin liturgy must take an active role in preserving our older churches, as we have a functional, and not just aesthetic, motivation to keep them intact.

Notable churches visited included the Shrine of St. Joseph (, an enormous church near downtown that had been slated for demolition in the late 1970s. A volunteer group acquired the church, and over the past 25 years raised millions of dollars to restore it to its original splendor. Though it is no longer a parish, one Sunday Mass is still held there weekly. A spectacularly illuminated high altar and reredos dominate the interior.

The “New Cathedral” (, is so named because the original “Old Cathedral” on the Mississippi riverfront still operates as a church. The New Cathedral is an un-wreckovated, awe-inspiring enormous church whose walls are covered with detailed mosaics. The sanctuary includes a high altar under a baldachino (umbrella-like covering structure), at which Mass may be celebrated either ad orientem or versus populum. There is no “table altar”.

The Diocese of Belleville, Illinois is right across the Mississippi River from the Archdiocese of St. Louis. There, a weekly Tridentine Mass is held in Holy Family “Log” Church, opened in 1799 and built of wooden timbers. Though humble and small, it reminds us of the continuity of the faith that our forefathers brought to our continent.

A large percentage (41%) of the population in St. Louis is Catholic. As a result, historic Catholic churches dot the area. The urban renewal process is running smoothly, resulting in a clean and revitalized downtown. Many formerly abandoned buildings have been refurbished and reopened. The tour left the impression that this momentum has also caused many historic churches to be restored to top-notch condition.

As usual, the LLA assembled an impressive roster of speakers. Fr. Frank Phillips, pastor of Chicago’s famed St. John Cantius Church, and one of North America’s leading proponents of the Tridentine Mass, spoke about the legacy of Msgr. Martin Hellriegel, who built a thriving liturgical life at St. Louis’ Holy Cross Church in the 1950s. He encouraged all parishioners to learn the chants of the Mass and Divine Office, in an era when such participation was not the norm.

Msgr. Michael Schmitz, North American Provincial (Superior) of the Institute of Christ the King, spoke about the Institute, and the role of traditional liturgy in the modern church.

Helen Hull Hitchcock, co-founder of Adoremus, addressed her organization’s efforts to bring about a “Reform of the Reform” of the Novus Ordo. Her husband, Dr. James Hitchcock, spoke about the founding of the LLA in 1975 and the role of Latin in today’s liturgical renewal.

Chant expert Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB, discussed effective methods of teaching chant to children. Dr. Richard Haefer led a workshop on singing the office of Compline, in the process demystifying many of the obscure symbols of chant notation.

This year’s convention was based at St. Frances de Sales Oratory (, a landmark gothic structure on the south side of St. Louis. In 2005, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke realigned several parishes. In the process, he gave St. Frances de Sales Church to the Tridentine Community of St. Louis, which had formerly shared St. Agatha Church with a Novus Ordo community. As a result, St. Frances de Sales has become North America’s largest Tridentine-only parish, both in terms of number of parishioners and sheer physical plant size. The term “Oratory” refers to the fact that the parish does not have geographic boundaries, nor is it an ethnic parish. Archbishop Burke invited the Institute of Christ the King to run St. Frances de Sales.

Stepping into St. Francis de Sales is in many ways a step back in time. Everything about it is in grand scale. The parish complex includes numerous buildings, among them a grade school and high school, apparently presently unused. The ICKSP has plans to open a pre-seminary on the grounds, to prepare North American candidates for entry into their seminary in Italy. Given the size of the congregation, it is entirely possible that a school could be (re)opened. There is a busy parish life with daily Tridentine Mass, devotions, and continual activities. There are even multiple choirs – hard to imagine when many Tridentine communities have challenges assembling even one choir.

The highlight of each LLA Convention is without a doubt the liturgies that are offered. Each convention offers one exemplary Novus Ordo Latin and one Tridentine Mass. In recent years, as the Tridentine movement has overtaken the growth of the Novus Ordo Latin Mass, the principal Mass of the convention has consistently been according to the 1962 Missal.

Saturday morning, a Novus Ordo Latin Mass was offered at St. John the Evangelist Church, notable for an enormous mural of the Ascension on the back wall of the sanctuary. Though the church had the architecture to support it, this Mass was not celebrated ad orientem. The choir and celebrant were clearly rather unfamiliar with the Latin Mass, which was evident to virtually everyone present. In all, this Mass was surprisingly out of character with previous LLA Masses. Fortunately, a powerful organ and accomplished organist made the Mass memorable musically.

Saturday afternoon, Vespers were offered according to the Novus Ordo Liturgy of the Hours in St. Mary of Victories Church, located in a warehouse area on the banks of the Mississippi. Convention Chairperson and organist Regina Morris led a small schola, and introduced a memorable new setting of the Latin hymn, Deus Creátor Ómnium.

Saturday night, Dr. Richard Haefer and Fr. Samuel Weber led the chanting of Compline according to the Tridentine Divine Office.

The best was saved for last: Sunday morning, Archbishop Burke celebrated a Pontifical High Mass at St. Francis de Sales. This two hour ceremony was well rehearsed and quite simply the most flawlessly executed Tridentine Mass this writer has ever experienced. Archbishop Burke processed in wearing a cappa magna, a lengthy train rarely seen. A full throne was set up on the left of the sanctuary. The church was packed with approximately 1200 people, the vast majority of whom were not from the LLA. One wonders just how large the St. Francis de Sales Tridentine congregation is, considering that they also have a second Mass on Sunday mornings!

At the conclusion of Mass, Archbishop Burke led a procession to install a new relic of St. Prosper at a side altar. During the procession, the congregation sang the refrain of the “Vatican Radio version” of Christus Vincit, while the choir sang the verses. It was spine-tingling to hear so many voices singing this familiar chant in unison.

St. Frances de Sales Oratory demonstrates just what is possible when magnificent, historic architecture is coupled with a large congregation and a supportive diocese. Most of us elsewhere in the world can only dream of the confluence of factors creating such a situation. Perhaps its most important role is demonstrating to other, more skeptical diocesan authorities that there is nothing to fear from a sizable Tridentine congregation. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

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