COTTAGE GROVE — Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish here celebrated three sung traditional Latin Masses on consecutive Sundays earlier this year. The sung Masses, or Missae Cantatae, were seen as a spiritual gift to the parish community, and were the fruit of intense preparation and planning.  

I feel an immense pride in all those who made this possible,” said Father John Boyle, the pastor. “We are a smaller parish and yet we were able to pull this off. I am immensely grateful to everyone who stepped forward.”

Father Boyle, born and raised in England, first celebrated Mass in the extraordinary form several years ago in a previous parish at the request of his parishioners.

What Pope Benedict XVI called the extraordinary form (EF) of the Roman rite goes back, in essence, to the earliest centuries of the Roman Church,” Father Boyle explained. “It developed organically to the form in which we now celebrate it, as laid down by Pope St. John XXIII in 1962. In this form of the Mass, we are very much in communion with our predecessors. The prayers that they offered, either personally or through the celebrating priest, we still use. The nature of the priesthood is more perfectly expressed, in my opinion, as one mediating between God and his people. The people, united in prayer with the priest, ‘have his back’ as it were. There is something incredibly unifying about the traditional Mass.”

Following the busy Christmas season, Jan. 31, Feb. 7 and Feb. 14 were seized as perfect dates for Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s first sung Masses on Sundays. These particular Sundays fell during the 17-day-long liturgical season of Septuagesima.

Septuagesima (meaning seventieth in Latin) was well-received at the parish. Father Boyle said the period helps the faithful prepare for Lent and begin to focus on conversion. 

“Lent can take us by surprise as we go from a Sunday in Ordinary Time to the First Sunday in Lent,” he said.  

Both the liturgical season and the extraordinary form of the Mass being unfamiliar to parishioners, a mixed-response to the Missae Cantatae was expected. However, there was significant positive feedback, especially from young families.

Those who attended were very happy and amazed at the choir and the number of servers and the beauty of the Mass,” Father Boyle said.

A group of young adults drove for more than an hour from a college Newman Center. “It seems the young really do appreciate the older ways,” said the priest. “Older members of the congregation came out beaming with joy afterward.”

Longtime parishioners Ilda and Joseluis Ochoa, parents of girls aged 17, 13, and 10, reflected after attending the Masses. “We were very impressed with the reverence with which the Masses were celebrated, reminding us of the importance of the holy Eucharist,” they wrote in their native Spanish. “Personally, we liked it very much. Our daughters liked this form of the Mass and told us they felt called to participate with more reverence. [It] was a great benefit to us and united us as a family.”

Each Mass saw 11 servers crowding the sanctuary — almost triple the usual number on Sundays. All the boys and men faithfully attended the intense rehearsals leading up to Septuagesima, and it was evident that each treasured his particular role.

“It was a challenge at first, because before, I didn’t know how to serve at all, and my first Latin Mass was kind of a challenge, but once the more experienced servers taught me a little more, I got better,” said 10-year-old Jake Schiewe, appointed captain of torchbearers. “I felt like a leader and like I know what to do and how to do everything, so I was quite happy about that. It was a memorable experience.”

The organ music, Gregorian chant, the altar, and numerous young servers were highlights of the Missae Cantatae for many. For the majority of parishioners, however, the Latin language barrier initially proved a challenge.

“As a busy mom in Mass, I … struggled to follow along with the Latin, and was even a bit frustrated at times,” said Danielle Brown, mother of five. “[But] the Latin Mass was an invitation to get out of my way … to just approach Jesus and say, ‘Lord, help me get out of the Mass what you want me to.’… With Latin, I am as a child, learning anew to follow along, to hear the Mass from a new perspective.”

Brown and 11-year-old daughter Jessica received their full measure of Latin as part of the nine-member choir. Formed for the occasion, the choir was composed of two mothers, three young women, three girls under the age of 15, and a valiant male parishioner. The choristers braved the unknowns of Latin antiphons, hymns, ordinaries, high notes, two-hour-long rehearsals, and chant notation.

“Before I joined the choir, I struggled to appreciate the sung high Latin Mass, but kept trying,” Brown said. “Singing the Latin Mass helped me to see beauty in it and to be able to follow along during it. Taking the time to learn the words, understand the tune, the changes in key, all the elements involved gave me a whole new perspective on it.”

Brown concluded that the Missa Cantata helped her view the place of music in the Mass differently.

“I felt like it was not the center of attention, like a good choir can be, but more atmosphere … that helped to direct our attention toward the sacrifice of the Mass,” she said. “Another way to describe it is like a good soundtrack in a movie. Without the soundtrack, the movie would be missing something, but also with the right soundtrack, you don't even always realize that it’s there, like the perfect background … helping you to really delve in.”

Harmony in the liturgy is characteristic of the extraordinary form. In a world of rush and complex day-to-day situations, it is understandable why many, especially the young, are fascinated by the beauty and order found in the Latin Mass.

Beauty is an attribute of God,” said Father Boyle. “Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this a lot. I believe beauty in the liturgy to be a most effective evangelizing and catechizing tool. Young people (as long as their hearts are open) immediately get this. … Nothing discordant is performed. Everything is in perfect harmony. Even when babies are heard crying, they are not perceived as a distraction but even add to the beauty of the Mass. … The music (generally Gregorian chant) and the actions on the sanctuary have a beauty and harmony that nothing can shatter.”

Father Boyle was proud to present to Our Lady of Perpetual Help what he, and now many parishioners, believe to be a treasure. “The three sung Masses provided us with an opportunity to show forth the traditional liturgy,” he said. “Spiritually, people who attended remarked on the beauty of the Masses and the prayerful and contemplative atmosphere. There was something about these Masses that was distinctive. One has to experience it to understand it.”

Padilla, a homeschooled 18-year-old, belongs to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Cottage Grove. She is a member of the Catholic Sentinel Youth Writers Corps.

View Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s livestreamed Missa Cantata for Quinquagesima: youtube.com/watch?v=ZBtZLGo-8uk