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Latin Mass Not Popular in Diocese

By Debra Dominguez-Lund
Journal Staff Writer
    Although Pope Benedict XVI recently resurrected the Catholic celebration of the Latin Mass, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan says that probably will have little impact on the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
    "I don't see it as huge thing here in New Mexico, because people are pretty well settled with Mass in English and like Mass in English," Sheehan said Wednesday during his program, "The Archbishop's Hour," on 98.9 FM, the Immaculate Heart Radio Network.
    The archbishop, however, added that he's certain the pope's endorsement of the Latin Mass will bear fruit elsewhere.
    Benedict issued a document July 7 authorizing priests to celebrate the Latin Mass, known as the Tridentine Mass, beginning Sept. 14 if a "stable group of faithful" parishioners requests it.
    Currently, the local bishop must approve such requests— an obstacle that supporters of the rite say has greatly limited its availability.
    Sheehan said that the diocese has very few priests who know Latin, and that those few who know it well enough "don't have the knees to make the 18 genuflections"— an act of reverence usually consisting of falling onto one knee— that the Mass requires.
    "I think there would be maybe one or two priests who might want to study Latin (to conduct the Masses), but I think most of the priests feel like they already have more than they can handle," Sheehan said. "And if they need another language— Spanish is more important than Latin as far as (meeting the) spiritual needs of more people."
    The archbishop said that of the diocese's 300,000 Catholics, only 150— at most— attend the diocese's one Latin Mass that's been offered for more than a decade, at noon Sundays at San Ignacio Catholic Church on Walter NE.
    "That's a pretty small percentage, but at the same time I wanted to make it available to the people who did find it to be spiritually helpful to them," Sheehan said. "People come from as far as Los Alamos to go to Tridentine Mass there.
    "(San Ignacio's) holy father wanted to reach out to Catholics who have attachment to the old Mass," he said.
    San Ignacio Deacon Charles Johnson said the Mass does draw high attendance, but no higher than the 9:30 a.m. English Mass.
    "Like me, I think people enjoy the Latin Mass because it gives them a feeling of security because it's a tradition of the church— one that's been with us since the time of the apostles," Johnson said.
    In reviving the rite, Benedict was reaching out to the followers of an excommunicated ultratraditionalist, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who split with the Vatican over Vatican II, particularly the introduction of the new Mass celebrated in the vernacular.
    "It's not going back to pre-Vatican II days as much as it's just recognizing there's this one same Mass," Sheehan said, "whether it's in the extraordinary or ordinary form as the pope points out."

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.