Right to left, Abbe Joel Estrada, Abbe Andrew Todd, Abbe Benjamin Coggeshall and Abbe Francis Altiere sit on the altar during their ordination at St. Francis de Sales on Tuesday (Aug. 5). The Mass was celebrated in Latin by Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former Archbishop of St. Louis. Photo by Cristina Fletes-Boutte, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Right to left, Abbe Joel Estrada, Abbe Andrew Todd, Abbe Benjamin Coggeshall and Abbe Francis Altiere sit on the altar during their ordination at St. Francis de Sales on Tuesday (Aug. 5). The Mass was celebrated in Latin by Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former Archbishop of St. Louis. Photo by Cristina Fletes-Boutte, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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ST. LOUIS (RNS) When Pope Francis first appeared to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square without the short red cape known as a mozzetta, some Roman Catholics cried foul, worried the pope’s decision to forgo the more formal wear signaled a threat to traditional worship.

Specifically, they fretted over the fate of the old Latin Mass, now in the hands of a papacy that seemed to shrug off pomp and circumstance.

But more than a year into Francis’ reign, the Tridentine Mass, as it is sometimes called, appears to be alive and well. Decades after the Catholic Church moved away from celebrating Mass in Latin, a throwback movement is growing, in many cases with young people leading the charge.

On Tuesday (Aug. 5), four men were ordained to the priesthood at St. Francis de Sales Oratory, the St. Louis church known for practicing the Latin liturgy.

The Mass marked only the second time members of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest have been ordained in the United States. The religious community, founded in Africa in 1990, regularly celebrates the old-style Mass.

The last set of U.S. ordinations to the institute was in 2007 and involved two deacons. This year’s group was larger, with four men welcomed into the priesthood. Four other men were ordained earlier this year in Italy, where the institute is based.

Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, one of the more devoted supporters of the old Latin rite among U.S. bishops, came in from Rome to lead the ordinations.

Mary Kraychy of the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei, a nonprofit based in Glenview, Ill., that promotes the Latin Mass, said she’s seen a slow but steady rise in the practice, with more than 400 churches offering the liturgy today. The organization sells missals that display the Latin text of the Mass alongside the English translation.

Kraychy described it as a “youth movement,” with much of the enthusiasm for the rite espoused by those who are too young to remember the Second Vatican Council. In 1969, Pope Paul VI declared the church should perform Mass in the native language of parishioners, which led to the Tridentine Mass’ being largely replaced.

On Tuesday (Aug. 5), Francis Altiere, 32, and three other deacons knelt before Burke, holding candles in their right hands. They prostrated themselves before the altar while Burke knelt with his back to the congregation. The cantors sang the Litany of the Saints, praying to Catholic saints, martyrs and angels for divine protection and assistance.

Altiere is originally from Pennsylvania with a degree from Harvard University. He says his decision to become a priest is owed in part to his discovery of the traditional Latin Mass in a church in downtown Boston.

“At this Mass I really understood the priesthood for the first time,” Altiere said. “The primary reason for the beauty of our churches and liturgical ceremonies is to give glory to God, but it is also such a powerful means of evangelization.”

Those who attend St. Francis de Sales Oratory say their faith is strengthened by the liturgy and by the feeling of solidarity experienced by those who attend the Mass.

“Everybody here believes what they’re doing is true, real,” said Tom Leith, 55, an engineer in St. Louis. “You’re among people who believe what the church teaches.”

St. Francis de Sales Oratory loyalists say a combination of pacing and visual cues allow even those with little knowledge of Latin to follow the Mass.

Jim Kahre drives 40 minutes with his nine children from High Ridge to visit the church every Sunday.

“I almost get goose bumps,” said Kahre, who works in IT at an accounting firm. “I’ve never seen anything like it until I came here.”

In the 1980s, after the switch to the vernacular, Pope John Paul II allowed priests to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass but only with the consent of local bishops. By 2007, however, Pope Benedict XVI had eased restrictions, giving parishes the authority to celebrate the Mass without obtaining bishops’ permissions.

In 2011, Catholics in the English-speaking world were introduced to a new translation of the Mass that is said to more closely align with the original Latin.

Altiere, for his part, said he would use his new gifts as a priest not only to celebrate Mass in Latin but also to save souls.

“There is a saying that the priest does not go to heaven alone,” Altiere said. “My goal as a priest is simply to lead as many souls to heaven as possible.”

(Lilly Fowler is the religion reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reach her on Twitter.)




  1. It’s comforting to be part of a small, non-comformist group. Presumably the conservative Catholics who will be served by these new priests already are following all the rules set down as necessary to get to heaven, so the ministry of these priests will be comforting but not evangelical much, not will it be all that important in leading souls to heaven.

    • Following rules does not get us to heaven. See Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are saved by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The Catholic Mass is a re-presentation of this Sacrifice, which is somewhat obscured in the newer form of the Mass but is much more evident in the older form. When we are present at the foot of the Cross at Calvary and realize what has been done for us in spite of our sinful nature only then do we truly understand. What could be more evangelical than that?

      • Basic Catholic teaching: The Mass isn’t a “re-presentation” of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, or a commemoration of it, or an alluding to it, or a re-enactment of it, it’s the SAME SACRIFICE, transcending time and space. The Mass in a sense completely takes us out of the here and now and connects us TO that same sacrifice, in the presence of God, angels, and every ancestor and saint who ever shared in it. Our faith is a MYSTERY religion, and the Mass embodies that. As for “following rules don’t get us into heaven”, God gave us commandments and Jesus seems to have said many things along that vein. “Ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven UNLESS…”. His sacrifice and the saving nature of it does not negate one bit the need to also live and act according to rules, guidelines, that go back to Scripture too.

        • I want to add that the following of rules and guidelines that go back to Scripture have always been tempered by the Church with reason. Luther once said that “reason and intellect are enemies of faith, to be utterly crushed and destroyed”, but that isn’t the Roman Catholic position. We no longer, per Scripture, take our disobedient sons to the village elders to be stoned to death, or tell slaves to be obedient to their masters.

  2. Chris Garton-Zavesky

    Congratulations to Fr Altiere, Fr. Todd, Fr. Estrada, and Fr. Cogeschall.

    Thank you for this article. I don’t live in St. Louis, but I do know several of the newly ordained.

    For the benefit of the naysayers: there are many ways to evangelize. Church buildings have been called “preaching, in stone”. Fr. Damien of Molokai evangelized the lepers by being amongst them. Fr. Walker F.S.S.P, God rest his soul, and Fr. Terra F.S.S.P. evangelized in their own ways, among the souls to whom they were sent. Husbands and wives evangelize both by being open to life, and by raising their children in preparation for heaven.

    Those who pray this form of the Mass are (contrary to the opinion of another poster hereabouts) sinners like the rest of humanity. If there is one thing which separates these people from others, it is that they KNOW they are sinners, and need the graces of the sacraments to live lives worthy of the kingdom. The near complete disappearance of the sacrament of penance elsewhere suggests that others don’t think they need forgiveness…. that they themselves are already so holy that they can not improve.

    Chris Garton-Zavesky

  3. Obviously those born before Vatican II have not had much exposure to what is today called the “Extraordinary Form” of the Mass. The issue is not Latin. The Vatican II Novus Ordo can be said in Latin as well. The issue is that the Tridentine and Novus Ordo rites are two different rites. Missals prior to Vatican II printed the Mass in Latin and English, side by side. It is absurd to claim that no one could understand what was going on. The reverence, sense of being in the presence of the “Other” is too often missing in the Novus Ordo. The “Extraordinary” form of the Mass was once the “ordinary” form and produced countless saints in the Church and was God-centered. Too often the Novus Ordo seems like the community is celebrating itself. For those who have never investigated the Mass of the Ages, educate yourselves. It is also worth noting that the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church celebrate the liturgy much in the same manner as Rome once did.

    • Agreed! Saint Anselm’s motto was, “Credo ut intelligium” – I believe in order to understand. Christianity is, like it or not, a mystery religion. “Understanding” is a good thing, but all of the “understanding” in the world will only take us so far: ultimately, “faith” in regards to the Mass is the bottom line. Faith transcends intellect, taking us to a place where intellect can’t. Intellectuals have become saints, yes, but so have the uneducated and dull witted. Grace flows from the Mass TO us, not the other way around. We SHOULD participate in it, but our participation isn’t what makes it what it is. Bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ whether we fully unerstand that or not. I attended Mass in Paris a few months ago. I don’t speak French and didn’t understand what was said during the Liturgy, but I STILL understood “the liturgy” and I received Christ in the Eucharist! Odd to me that the present pope (who I like on many levels) has a problem with the old Mass, sanctioned by Pope Benedict. Given that the Church allows SEVERAL rites to be used, Eastern Rite, Anglican Rite, etc. why would Francis have this attitude, to the point of forbidding the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, for example, from using it?

  4. Gunnar, thank you for your astute comments. An acquaintance of mine had the same experience. He grew up under the Tridentine Rite and had attended an Eastern Catholic liturgy. Although he didn’t understand the language the rite itself was very familiar because of his understanding of the Tridentine Mass and he was able to fully enter into the Eastern liturgy.

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