The Traditional Latin Mass Returns to Knoxville
On the first Sunday of Advent, approximately 275 Catholics gathered at St. John Neumann Church to attend Knoxville's first traditional Latin Mass in almost forty years. It seemed especially appropriate that November 27, 2005 was also Thanksgiving Sunday this year. Indeed, the entrance hall outside rang afterwards with expressions of joyous gratitude -- to Bishop Joseph Kurtz for his approval of this new indult Mass, to Fr. John Dowling for welcoming the Latin Mass as pastor of SJN, and to Fr. John Arthur Orr for celebrating this special old Mass that marked the biweekly renewal here of the ancient Latin liturgy of the Church.
A truly special occasion was signaled by a church already beginning to fill a half hour before the Mass was scheduled to begin, and by the palpable atmosphere of silent anticipation and reverence that all displayed prior to the beginning of Mass. Although new Latin-English missalettes were provided, many carried into church worn old missals that they had kept and treasured over the years, and no one (child or adult) entering the church failed to genuflect and reverence the tabernacle behind the altar, which was adorned with the candles, missal stand, and altar cards that are infrequently seen nowadays. In addition to the expected adults old enough to remember the Latin Mass, numerous young families with children were also conspicuous among those in attendance.
During most of the liturgy Fr. Orr faced the altar -- rather than facing the people in new Mass style -- wearing ornate new Roman-style violet vestments acquired especially for celebration of the old Mass. Kenny Jacobs and Michael Hendershott, veteran altar servers at St. John Neumann, had, in a few brief weeks of practice, mastered the intricate movements and responses of Latin Mass servers. Fr. Dowling assisted Fr. Orr in distributing Holy Communion to the multitude of communicants who knelt in the front pews for communion on the tongue (in the manner that is customary at traditional Latin Masses).
The congregation seemed also to speak with one voice as they joined the altar servers in making the Latin responses and in the Kyrie Eleison, Credo, Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy), Pater Noster (Our Father) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). This full and active participation in post-Vatican II style might seem surprising to some attending a contemporary traditional Latin Mass for the first time. During holy communion, the Schola Cantorum sang Latin motets -- Rorate caeli ("Drop, you heavens, dew from above") by Christopher Tye and Alma Redemptoris Mater ("Hail Mother of the Redeemer") by Palestrina -- and offered an inspirational performance of sacred polyphony that might well have been worthy of a great cathedral.
Instead of rushing to their cars in typical Sunday Mass fashion, Catholics from across East Tennessee lingered for joyous and thankful celebration and fellowship long after the Mass had ended. Many spoke of the moving beauty and reverence of this first modern traditional Latin Mass in the city of Knoxville, of the way it had lifted them up in adoration and worship, and of their pride that our city and diocese is capable of such an impressive liturgical event.