Sunday, May 09, 2004

The Final Day for the Traditional Roman Rite Mass at St. Mary's by the Sea




Mrs. Kraychy can scratch one traditional Roman Rite Mass from her excellent Ecclesia Dei list. The last traditional Mass for the foreseeable future was celebrated at St. Mary's by the Sea in the Diocese of Orange this afternoon. Next week's Mass will be the Novus Ordo in Latin. For those interested, I understand it will be celebrated by one of the Norbertine priests who have been instructed by the Abbot that it is to be all in Latin, celebrated ad orientem, only using the Roman Canon and such other optons as bring it as close as possible to the traditional Roman Rite. I doubt if there's anything they can do about communion-in-the-hand and assorted other "options" which are "mandatory optional" and having nothing to do with Catholic tradition.

The traditional Mass did go out with a bang, though. In the first place it was as crowded as I've ever seen it. This noon Mass was SRO by 11:30. There were people along the side walls, a few people standing in the center aisle, the back of the church was full, the vestibule was full, there were people on the porch and going down the front steps. It was a solemn Mass, with celebrant, deacon,and subdeacon, crowds of altar boys, and several priests attending "in choir". The schola was of professional quality, some of the singers having sung with the Los Angeles Master Chorale. All the chant propers were sung and I think I recognized the Missa Papa Marcelli. A string quintet accompanied Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus at communion time.

No bishop found time in his busy schedule to honor this priest for 50 years of service.

Father Johnson was not well enough to celebrate the Mass but he gave the homily which was more of a farewell sermon as this Mass was in celebration of his 50 years as a priest and of his retirement as pastor and, as I believe the phrase is now, "from the active ministry."

The sermon was one of his stem-winders. He spoke of his early priesthood and being a bit out of step with the times even in the days leading up to The Council. The powers that be kicked him around even then, avoiding giving him a pastorate under any (or no) pretext. His "popularity" didn't increase after The Council. After the council his refusal to give communion in the hand was something of a last straw. They offered him a couple of choices. Father says they offered to "recycle" him. He didn't want to be "recycled". (Who would? It sounds like one of Mao's re-education camps.) Or he could go to this little out-of-the-way, one-priest parish on the verge of closure if he didn't take it. Nobody much attended there and they figured he couldn't do any "damage". The priest who was leaving said he'd get about 17 confessions during the Christmas season. That was St. Mary's 25 years ago.

The first thing he did was install an altar rail and make the sanctuary look like a sanctuary again. And he was off and running. The second thing he did was begin an extra Mass, a Latin N.O. High Mass at noon, which he didn't need permission for, and petition the bishop to allow him to make it a traditional Roman Rite Mass. The number of parishioners has multiplied many times over from his first days. These days he gets 17 confessions on the average week day. Confessions are heard 7 days a week at St. Mary's. (Or they were up until today. Monday will be a new regime and time will tell what practices continue.) His converts are in the hundreds, if not the thousands. We heard many of them testify to his zeal at the celebration after Mass. Is there another priest in this country who has walked his entire parish and knocked on the door of every single residence within the boundaries, whether Catholic or not? And if there is, has he begun again as soon as he finished the last residence? Fr. Johnson has done it 5 times through and would still be doing it if his health had not let him down.

I don't mind admitting to a few tears. Fr. Johnson will be missed more than he will ever know. But there are a few silver linings. The first, and probably the greatest is, that now as "an elderly, retired priest" he will be able to celebrate the traditional Mass every morning, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, instead of just once a week. Alas, it must be "without a congregation under the regulations. But even if I can't attend it, it's good to know this saintly man is celebrating it and bringing its graces down to our needy land. And, of course, it is not the end of every traditional Mass. There are others in the nearby Archdiocese of Los Angeles. They will mostly take a bit of driving to get to, but I did get new tires last week. Should be all set for a few long treks. And there are the Eastern Rite churches; always a glorious option.

There is one more option which was suggested by the diocese in an exquisite bit of smarmy cynicism. If we don't like the new rite, we can "always go to San Juan Capistrano". Yes, indeed, we can. How true. You may know there is an indult Mass at the Serra chapel in Capistrano. It's a magnificent setting for the old Mass. There is a glorious, gold-leaf, Spanish baroque reredos and some wonderful old Spanish statues and paintings. The chapel is over 200 years old. But here's the rub: it is also very tiny. The people who currently attend there need to arrive by 7:30 in order to get a seat for the 8:00 a.m. Mass. If you don't arrive until 8:00, you probably won't even be able to stand in the vestibule. You probably won't be able to see the Mass at all. Suggesting another 2 or 3 hundred people attend San Juan Capistrano gives you an idea of the sort of diseased humor that masquerades as pastoral care in some quarters.

Anybody know where I can get some gasoline for under $2.25 a gallon?