WHERE FAITH IS ALIVE IN EUROPE
"This weekend’s annual three-day pilgrimage through northern France, which is in its 26th year, illustrates the appeal that the Tridentine Mass has for some young Catholics disenchanted with what they say is the lack of mystery, beauty and sacredness in the revised Mass.
Gregory Flash, 28, an investment banker from London, explains why he is taking part in the pilgrimage for the second year running: “The pilgrimage is a time of prayer, penance and fellowship. It’s great to be surrounded by thousands of Catholics around the same age who, despite their different nationalities, can sing and pray in the same language and in the same way.”
The pilgrims come from several countries, including Poland, Germany, Italy and the US, and include seminarians. Some bishops and even cardinals have joined them in previous years.
They begin their pilgrimage at 6am on Saturday at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, where a priest will bless them. Carrying banners and flags, they then snake their way through the south-western suburbs of the city and out into the countryside.
“At mid-morning we attend the first Mass of the pilgrimage. A priest sets up an altar in a forest and will celebrate a full sung Mass with a choir singing Gregorian chant,” Mr Flash says.
The pilgrims follow part of one of the ancient routes to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. They walk in small groups. Some sing the rosary in Latin; others make their confession to one of the traditionalist priests who accompany them. On Saturday and Sunday nights they camp in fields.
“When we arrive at Chartres Cathedral, the local bishop usually greets us. We then have a solemn Mass. Those who can’t fit inside watch it on TV screens outside. Priests hear confessions in the side chapels or on plastic chairs in the cathedral square.”
Grace Readings, 23, who works as a PA to an MP, will be making her 13th pilgrimage. She first went as a pupil at St Michael’s School in Berkshire, which is run by the Society of St Pius X, a breakaway traditionalist group which the Pope is trying to lure back to Rome.
Abount 90 per cent of those making the pilgrimage are between 19 and 25, Ms Readings says. “You don’t meet many young practising Catholics nowadays, so it’s a great opportunity to encourage each other. When I come back, I feel, yes, it is possible to live out your faith in the modern world.
“I find the Tridentine rite more beautiful and reverent. A lot of the new Masses are happy-clappy. The Tridentine Mass is geared towards God more than the congregation,” she said.
She dismisses those who argue that the Latin language is a barrier to understanding the Mass. “Latin isn’t a problem. You follow the Mass in a missal that has the words in Latin and English. Latin is a universal language and it is very ancient. I like that.”
This youthful enthusiasm for the tradition is not restricted to the Chartres marchers. For example, members of Juventutem International Federation, a network of young traditionalist Catholics founded in 2006, will attend the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in June and World Youth Day in Sydney in July. The group has the support of Cardinal Dario Castrillo Hoyos, president of the Vatican’s commission set up by Pope John Paul II to reunite traditionalist groups, such as the Society of St Pius X.
John Medlin, of the Latin Mass Society, reckons that about 20 per cent of those attending traditional-rite Masses are young or have young families. “When young people who have had no prior experience of the traditional rite come along to one of our Masses only a handful go away thinking well, I found that pretty off-putting. Some think, fair enough, but not a lot happened for me. But a surprisingly large number go away thinking, I’ve just come into contact with Catholic worship for the first time. I really felt something objective was going on.”
In July, at Merton College, Oxford, the Latin Mass Society is holding its second residential training course for priests wishing to learn how to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. It includes talks on the Latin language, the rubrics of the Mass and singing, along with opportunities for priests to have a dummy run at saying the traditional Mass. Last year nearly 50 priests turned up.
Father Stephen Langridge, parish priest of the Church of the Holy Ghost, Balham, South London, and vocations director for the archdiocese of Southwark, believes that those young Catholics who are drawn to the Tridentine Mass should be seen in the context of a search for a more meaningful spirituality.
“Some young Catholics might turn to the Tridentine Mass as a way of deepening their relationship with God,” Father Langridge says.
“They find it offers them a deeper spiritual experience than perhaps they have found at their parish Mass. In my experience others find something similar attending Youth 2000 retreats or becoming involved with some of the new movements.”