Knoxville's First Solemn Latin Mass in Decades


On Sunday, April 20, 2008, area Catholics gathered in joy and thanksgiving at Knoxville's beautiful Holy Ghost Catholic Church -- currently celebrating its centennial year -- to attend the city's first traditional solemn Latin Mass in the four decades since the newer vernacular Mass was introduced in the years following the Second Vatican Council.


This historic Mass was sponsored by the Knoxville Latin Mass community whose weekly Masses are celebrated by Fr. John Arthur Orr each Sunday at St. Therese Catholic Church in Clinton. Fr. Orr, spiritual director at Knoxville Catholic High School and St. Therese pastor, has served the Latin Mass community since his 2005 appointment as its chaplain by then Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz.


In addition to Fr. Orr as celebrant, diocesan priests Fr. David Carter and Fr. Patrick Resen served as deacon and subdeacon for the Mass, and venerable Holy Ghost pastor Msgr. Xavier Mankel attended in choir. The sacred ministers at Holy Ghost's beautiful old high altar wore new cloth of gold vestments of the classical Roman style so rarely seen in recent years, and were assisted in the sanctuary by master of ceremonies Michael Garner, thurifer Joshua Jakubowski, three acolytes, and six torch bearers from the Latin Mass community's enthusiastic corps of altar servers, which includes essentially every boy of appropriate age among the community's families. A dozen 4th degree Knights of Columbus from two local assemblies provided a color guard for a truly colorful as well as holy occasion.


"Today we celebrate not only the Sabbath of the Lord's Resurrection, as we do each Sunday. Today we celebrate not only the first hundred years of this Holy Ghost Catholic Church. Today we sing a new song to the Lord even as we use the ancient words, the songs of the holy angels sanctus, sanctus, sanctus and gloria in excelsis Deo. Even with settings centuries old, they are new for we sing them today to the eternal Triune God: Father, Son and Spirit. Over the years in this holy place, the Sacrifice of the Mass has been offered more than 36,500 times. For sixty-two of these hundred years the solemn rites -- basically as we today are observing them and participating with heart, and hand, and voice -- were celebrated."


So began Fr. John Arthur Orr's homily of a grace and power that is too seldom heard from today's pulpits.


A standing room only congregation filled the Holy Ghost church pews which seat a maximum of 450 and over-flowed into temporary seating in the two transepts before the St. Joseph and Blessed Virgin side altars, as well as into the basement where some late arrivals resorted to viewing the Mass on closed circuit TV in preference to standing in the church above with others unable to find seats.


In addition, the choir loft at the rear of the nave was filled to capacity with a combined diocesan orchestra and choir of 50 members that was directed by Mary Frazier Garner and sang the principal choral parts of the Mass -- the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei -- in the famous "Coronation Mass" setting composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Members of the choir, as well as those in the congregation, represented most of the Catholic churches in the Knoxville area, as well as parishes as far away as Chattanooga and Johnson City, a hundred miles distant from Knoxville in opposite directions. It seemed auspicious that, on this final day of Pope Benedict XVI's first U.S. visit, this solemn Mass in the extraordinary form that he has restored to the liturgical heart of the Church was accompanied by the sacred music of Mozart that he is said to love most.


A truly special occasion was signaled by a church already beginning to fill over an 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. But at the beginning of the prelude "Ye watchers and ye holy ones" by organ, choir, and orchestra, a number of heads turned back toward the choir loft to see the source of the cascading sounds of such unaccustomed fullness and magnificence.


Especially printed Latin-English Mass booklets including both the complete order of Mass and the readings and propers for the 4th Sunday after Easter were provided, though the supply of 360 booklets failed to anticipate a crowd that far exceeded the expectations of those who had worked and prayed for months in preparation for the occasion. Fortunately, however, many carried into church worn old missals that they evidently had kept and treasured over the decades. But in addition to the expected adults old enough to remember the Latin Mass, young families with a half dozen or more children were also conspicuous among those in attendance.


One of the community's members reported a week ago a nightmare in which so many showed up that people had to be turned away and so many approached the altar rail that Holy Communion took over an hour. But with three priests distributing, there was just about enough time for the choir to sang their prepared Latin selections including Adoro te devote, Ave Verum Corpus,  Panis angelicus, and O salutaris Hostia.  The entire Mass itself was sung by the ministers, choir, and men's schola, but following the Regina coeli at the end of Mass, the whole congregation virtually raised the roof with the recessional "Holy God, we praise thy name", the anthem of traditional Catholics which is a vernacular paraphrase of the great Te Deum that is the Church's official Latin hymn of thanksgiving.


Instead of rushing to their cars in typical parish Sunday Mass fashion, many lingered for joyous and thankful celebration and fellowship long after the Mass had ended. They spoke of the moving beauty and reverence of this first solemn traditional Latin Mass here in so long, of how the elaborate actions of the ministers at the altar and the fragrance of incense had combined with sight and sound to provide an enveloping atmosphere of reverence that lifted them up to heaven in adoration and worship. Some spoke of the rare opportunity to hear some of the Church's greatest sacred music presented not merely in concert but in active support of the liturgy that had inspired it, and of their pride that our city and diocese had been capable of such an impressive liturgical offering to the greater glory of God.


Click here for photos of the Mass provided by Roy Ehman who has so faithfully and superbly documented the progress of the Knoxville Latin Mass community since our first traditional Latin Mass at the beginning of Lent in 2005.