In honor of the feast of conversion of its namesake, St. Paul's celebrated a Latin Mass for the first time since Vatican II introduced the modern Mass some 40 years ago.
Many St. Paul parishioners had tears in their eyes, including the Catholic church's Business Manager Jim Capaldi. Antoine O'Karma remembers feeling swept away, almost entranced, by the chanting and singing. But perhaps Josephine Zampirro said it best, "I felt like it was a little bit of heaven on earth."
Beautiful, sacred, awe-inspiring are just some of the words parishioners used to describe Missa Cantata, one of three types of traditional Latin Mass that were celebrated Jan. 25 at the 808 Hutchinson St. church.
"It was absolutely beautiful," O'Karma, from the 500 block of Federal Street, who attended with 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth, said.
Zampirro, 67, from the 700 block of Alter Street, added, "The music, the prayers, the reverence. Every time the altar boys brought the priest something they kissed his hand. Everything was done with such reverence."
The packed house of more than 150 parishioners witnessed history in the making as the Rev. Gerald Carey celebrated traditional Latin Mass (also called Latin Mass) for his first time. For St. Paul, it was the first since Vatican II some 40 years ago introduced Novus Ordo, or the modern Mass, thereby ousting the old and bringing in the new. While the Latin Mass was not banned by Vatican II, it died a quick death -- priests embracing the new in an attempt to change with the times. While Vatican II did away with requiring women to cover their heads, often with veils, many females who attended the ceremony at St. Paul returned to tradition. For Zampirro who always wears a hat to services, it was nice to see so many embrace the past ways "in keeping with the old Catholic tradition," she said.
The decision to resurrect Mass was Carey's idea to honor the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, Capaldi said.
Carey, a former director of worship for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell did not return a call for comment on St. Paul's Latin Mass celebration.
St. Paul is the only church in the area and Center City to celebrate Latin Mass, while Overbrook's Our Lady of Lords and Tacony's Our Lady of Consolation offer it weekly.
"There's nothing in Center City or South Philadelphia on a regular basis," Capaldi said.
Three elements characterize Latin Mass: Parishioners kneel at the altar and receive communion on the tongue -- as opposed to modern Mass where people line up down the aisle, approach the altar and have the option of taking the Body of Christ via hand or tongue; the priest celebrates Mass with his back to the congregation, facing the altar, in "ad orientem" -- meaning "to the East," where all altars once faced -- as opposed to facing the congregants; and altar servers are male only, not a mix of genders. Heavy use of incense is another component.
There are three types of this service: Low Mass, which is devoid of music except for maybe an opening or closing hymn; High Mass or Missa cantata, which is Latin for "sung Mass" and celebrated with one priest and schola, or a singer or choir, who chants parts of the service; and Solemn High Mass, which is celebrated with a priest, deacon and sub-deacon and schola.
Last month's celebration at St. Paul featured its Missa Brevis, the part of the Mass comprised of the Curia, Gloria, Offertory, Communion and Sanctus, by Italian composer Giovanni Palestrinia. In need of those versed in Latin, Carey went out-of-house and hired Robert Hall, who led the 10-member schola and organist Robert Ridgella.
"During the Credo, it brought tears to my eyes. It was just beautiful. The reaction of the people was the same," Capaldi said.