For Jason King, this past week has been a long time coming. He'd spent 20 years advocating for wider use of the Roman Catholic Church's...

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For Jason King, this past week has been a long time coming.

He’d spent 20 years advocating for wider use of the Roman Catholic Church’s traditional Latin Mass. Then, in July, Pope Benedict XVI made it possible.

The Latin Mass was central to the church for centuries until the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Friday, when the pope’s July decree took effect, Holy Family Church in White Center had its first traditional Latin Mass. Starting this week, it plans to celebrate the rite each Tuesday.

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“This is what we hoped and prayed for for so many years,” said King, 58, a Mercer Island resident who co-chairs Una Voce of Western Washington, a lay Catholic group that, for six years, has sponsored the Seattle Archdiocese’s only Vatican-approved Latin Mass.

It remains to be seen how popular the Latin Mass will be.

“There really is no groundswell out there that we’re aware of,” said archdiocesan spokesman Greg Magnoni. Still, the archbishop is consulting with local priests to come up with guidelines to handle such requests.

Some dislike the decree.

“It seems a way for the church to reach back,” said Betty Hill, co-chairwoman of Call To Action Western Washington, a Catholic lay organization that advocates reforms such as ordaining women and married people as priests. “It doesn’t seem to speak to the future of the church.”

King disagrees, saying the 200 or so who attend Una Voce’s Sunday Latin Mass at the Josephinum building in downtown Seattle range in age from babies to the elderly.

And at Holy Family Church, those wanting a Latin Mass are mainly in their 20s and 30s, the pastor says.

In any case, said King, one form is no more valid than the other — they’re just different expressions of the same rite. It’s “a preference of what satisfies us spiritually. It’s the atmospherics of the traditional Latin Mass that move me and satisfy me so much more.”

Mass draws 150

At Holy Family on Friday, about 150 people, some men in suits, some women wearing white or black lace veils, listened to the Rev. Phillip Bloom’s homily comparing the Latin Mass to digging into a family chest.

Exploring either uncovers “our roots, history — some of the treasures that were there that we’d maybe forgotten about that are valuable and beautiful,” he said.

Tridentine Mass

The traditional Latin Mass — the Tridentine Mass — has its roots in the early days of the church and was codified in the 1500s. Besides celebrating the Mass in Latin, priests faced the altar, and to receive communion, people knelt at the altar rail.

As part of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, intended to open the church and update its rituals, a new Mass was made standard. Mass was in local languages, priests faced congregations, and people stood to receive communion.

Some welcomed the changes; some found them jarring.

Until Pope Benedict’s decree, priests could celebrate Latin Mass only with their bishop’s approval. The decree, seen as a move toward healing a rift with traditionalists, says parish priests no longer need that permission.

For King and others who prefer the traditional Latin Mass, the appeal is not just the language.

“The first time I went to Latin Mass, I felt it was beautiful, said Todd Aylard, 34, a member of Holy Family. “I didn’t feel like I needed to understand everything in order to appreciate it. I still feel that way. We’re dealing with God, who is pure mystery.”

Supporters of the Latin Mass say all the prescribed rituals help them focus on the sacred, on Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection, and on communion with God.

When priests face the altar, it helps him pray, Aylard said. When priests face the congregation, there’s an “informal air that can detract from keeping God as the focus of our prayers.”

King prefers communion in the Latin Mass. “The respect, contemplation, quietude of kneeling at the communion rail to receive … all those things touched me so deeply because of the reverence that I attach to receiving Christ into my body.”

Kathleen Kennedy, 44, of Arlington, has gone to Mass at the Josephinum for six years. She loves the quiet times in the Latin Mass, when the only sounds are the whispers of the priest. “It really allows a person to pray. It’s not distracting. It’s very, very focused.”

And some like the rich history.

“Something as important as your faith, your religion … it’s so beautiful and so important to retain that very core, that thing that is closest to the time of Christ,” said Emily Uhl, 43, of Seattle, who has attended Mass at the Josephinum for about four years

Pre-Vatican II

Other Catholics think the traditional Latin Mass is a relic.

The pope’s decree goes against the spirit of Vatican II, says Bev Coco, 81, of Seattle, a board member of Call To Action Western Washington. “It bothers me that there isn’t going to be any respect for the efforts being made to bring the church forward and keep more in tune with the times,” she said.

And some Jews, including the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, object to a Good Friday prayer in the traditional Latin Mass that calls for conversion of Jews. King says it’s not meant to offend. Still, “I refuse to be bashful that we attempt to evangelize and convert,” he says.

Not many priests are trained to celebrate Mass in Latin.

That’s why King is coordinating an effort between the national group Una Voce America and the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, a priests group, to hold training for priests in the Latin rite at the fraternity’s seminary in Nebraska.

Meanwhile, the archdiocese has other pressing needs.

“The most pressing demand is for parish priests who can celebrate the Mass in Spanish,” Magnoni said.

That doesn’t deter King.

“For us, this is not a matter of nostalgia,” he said. “It is, in fact, an opportunity for us to show the faith for what it is in our view, and what it can offer to the faithful.”

Janet I. Tu:

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