Peter FeuerherdJuly 23, 2021
Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, N.C., blesses the chapel inside the new St. Joseph College Seminary near Mount Holly, N.C., Sept. 15, 2020. Bishop Jugis has been a supporter of the Latin Mass in his diocese (CNS photo/SueAnn Howell, Catholic News Herald)Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, N.C., blesses the chapel inside the new St. Joseph College Seminary near Mount Holly, N.C., Sept. 15, 2020. Bishop Jugis has been a supporter of the Latin Mass in his diocese (CNS photo/SueAnn Howell, Catholic News Herald)

It was the motu proprio heard around the Catholic world, but perhaps nowhere more loudly than in Boone, N.C.

For most American Catholics, Pope Francis’ July 16 document “Traditionis Custodes,” which restricted the use of the 1962 Latin Missal for the sake of church unity, will have little impact.

Most American Catholics attend Mass where the traditional Latin Mass (also known as the Tridentine Rite, or the extraordinary form of the Mass) has not been celebrated for more than 50 years. They live in dioceses where those attracted to its rituals have been directed to specialized communities, set apart from the mainstream of parish life.

But that is not the case in Boone, a small city (population 17,000) nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians, with relatively few Catholics; it has seen an influx of retirees in recent years, many of whom are Catholics from the Northeast and Midwest. Among the Catholics of Boone, the pope’s statement is seen as either a call for liberation or a sign that the church is destined for decline. There is little middle ground. (I wrote about Catholics in Boone in January for the National Catholic Reporter.)

It was the motu proprio heard around the Catholic world, but perhaps nowhere more loudly than in Boone, N.C.

The Diocese of Charlotte, in which Boone is located, has over the last decade incorporated the Tridentine Rite into local parish life. The movement toward Latin and the celebration of the Mass according to rubrics in place before the Second Vatican Council has been spurred by younger clergy who believe that evangelization calls for it, pointing to a new generation of Catholics whom they say are drawn to the old liturgy. In Bishop Peter Jugis, the diocesan bishop, they have a supporter.

St. Elizabeth of the Hill Country, the Catholic parish in Boone, now offers the Tridentine Mass as its major Sunday liturgy. Some parishioners objected and now attend Mass in a local garage. They are a community in exile, waiting for their local parish to abolish the Tridentine Rite, whose adherents they view as usurpers.

“Does this mean we get our church back?” asked one parishioner, now a part of the garage Mass community, commenting on Pope Francis’ statement. “The Holy Father has heard our cry,” said the Rev. John Hoover, a retired priest of the Charlotte diocese who sometimes celebrates Mass with the garage community in Boone.

Opponents of the Tridentine Rite at St. Elizabeth’s express objections that go beyond the use of Latin. They also oppose changes in the church architecture. Windows in the church built as a showcase of the nearby mountains, reflecting God’s creation, are now to be covered over with stained glass, a change implemented by the pastor, the Rev. Brendan Buckler. They also cite the end of contemporary music in the liturgy. Some complain that the homilies have become overly absorbed with discussions of sin and condemnations of liberal politics and social mores.

“Does this mean we get our church back?” asked one parishioner, commenting on Pope Francis’ statement.

The group said they never asked for the Tridentine Rite, and it was imposed on the parish when Father Buckler arrived two years ago. They claim that roughly half the parish has left, either to join the garage community or local Protestant congregations, and they have been replaced by another group, many from outside of Boone, who are Traditional Mass adherents.

Hoover, like many older Diocese of Charlotte priests, came to North Carolina from the North and ministered in the diocese for many years before beginning a monastic center. Now he sees a diocesan clergy divided between Vatican II priests and those, mostly younger, who reject the council, at least in its liturgical changes. The two groups rarely interact, he said.

The Tridentine Mass community has also expanded in recent years in Charlotte and its suburbs.

Parishes in the Charlotte area have experienced enormous growth over the past few decades, in large part because the region itself continues to expand. The population increased 20 percent over the past decade. The city now has a larger population than San Francisco, and an estimated 121 people move in every day.

The growing numbers of Catholics in the Charlotte region have a wide assortment of liturgical styles to choose from.

The growing numbers of Catholics in the Charlotte region have a wide assortment of liturgical styles to choose from.

At St. Thomas Aquinas Church the Tridentine Rite Sunday Mass includes elaborate vestments, with a few dozen participants at the altar, all male. The women in the congregation often wear head coverings. Communion is on the tongue, even during the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic last winter.

St. Matthew’s Church outside of Charlotte boasts more than 10,000 registered parish families. It grew over the past two decades as the outer ring suburbs around Charlottes also grew. St. Matthew’s, under the leadership of now-retired pastor Msgr. John McSweeney, forged a post-Vatican II megachurch featuring scores of ministries, small communities and upbeat liturgical music much akin to evangelical Christian rock.

Assumption Church saw its base of Anglo parishioners decline in numbers. It now boasts a multiethnic immigrant outreach, including a Saturday night Spanish Mass that fills the church, largely with Latino families with roots in Mexico and Central America. Its website also notes outreach to both the Vietnamese and Burmese communities, an indication of the growing ethnic diversity of the region.

Bishop Jugis, in a statement on July 17, said that the Tridentine Mass will remain for now where it is currently celebrated “as we move together as a diocese in a smooth and orderly transition to the new course charted by ‘Traditionis Custodes.’”

Bishop Jugis, in a statement on July 17, said that the Tridentine Mass will remain for now where it is currently celebrated.

While the bishop urged obedience, some Latin Mass followers in the diocese are more critical of Pope Francis.

An online newsletter posted by the Charlotte Latin Mass Community argued, “When one hears or sees a Pope do something quite inimical to Christ’s teaching and causing scandal, a few may be tempted to despair.” The posting urged Latin Mass followers in the Diocese of Charlotte to “turn off the ‘ecclesiastical filth’” if it results in a loss of “interior peace.”

Tridentine Rite supporters see the liturgy divisions in the church growing out of the decline in Mass attendance, and that the post-Vatican II liturgy is largely the province of aging baby boomers. They say that the Tridentine Rite has a special appeal to younger Catholics.

One of those is Chase Jackson, 27, a member of the Tridentine Rite community at Our Lady of Grace Church in Greensboro, also in the Diocese of Charlotte..

“I feel misunderstood by our Holy Father,” Mr. Jackson said by email on July 20.

“I don’t believe that the Latin Mass caused the disunity. It is simply filling the void that the church has created by watering down the faith to accommodate the world. Christ’s cup was bitter and we want to drink from that cup. Young people don’t want to be catered to, we want to be called to mission,” he said.

Anthony Ruff, O.S.B., a liturgist and theology professor at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., said that Pope Francis had little choice.

“The bottom line is that Pope Francis is resolutely following the Second Vatican Council in letter and in spirit. It was never going to work to have two parallel liturgies with differing ecclesiologies and sacramental theologies, one originally released to replace the other, one following the Council and one not,” he said.

There will be a need for pastoral sensitivity as the church moves to heal divisions, Father Ruff said.

“I feel great sympathy for those who have become part of the traditionalist liturgical world. They have been cruelly misled into thinking that the Council was optional and would eventually be rolled back. Bringing about liturgical unity as Francis desires will require from the bishops, and from all of us, much forbearance and patience,” he said.

Mr. Jackson said that unity sought by Pope Francis is also a goal for the Tridentine Mass community.

“We need encouragement and loving correction, not condemnation. I hope he will have the same compassion and mercy on us as he does the rest of the world. We are not the enemy, but family,” he said.

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