Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Cathedral of South St. Louis

Today felt like a day for an adventure.  At 9:00 this morning Tony came up with an idea that  had us out the door by 9:15.  Our objective was to get to St. Francis de Sales Oratory in South St. Louis for 10:00 Mass.

The church is known as "the Cathedral of South St. Louis", and the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The 300-foot spire of the Gothic revival building can be seen from quite a distance.  However, it wasn't just the beautiful building that drew us there.  We wanted to experience something different.  Since 2005 St. Francis de Sales Oratory has been has been maintained by the religious community of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, and is the center of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite for the entire archdiocese.  They say Mass using of the traditional Latin Liturgy of 1962.

I barely remember the traditional liturgy; when all of the changes of Vatican II happened I was six years old, so I was excited to participate in something old but new to me.  We had no problem finding the church or parking, then we followed some people towards the entrance.  They were dressed very formally, and the women wore head coverings.  That concerned me (I didn't want to offend anyone), but I was put at ease when I saw several women, including the one sitting directly in front of me, were bare-headed.

After we found our seats I took a look around the sanctuary.  The ornate main altar was more than 50 feet high. Every surface in the building was decorated in some way. There were beautiful stained glass windows, carved wood, and walls decorated with frescoes.  Since we attended a High Mass, the principal one of the day, the choir was singing behind us in the choir loft.  This Mass was filled with ceremony, starting with the entrance procession.  A dozen men (including six boys carrying candles), proceeded in before the priest. After they all settled in their places, the priest did something I was unfamiliar with; my missal told me it was Asperges, a penitential rite. After he sprinkled holy water on the altar, clergy and the congregation, Mass began.

My missal had Latin on one side and an English translation on the other. I tried to follow along, but soon got lost and decided to just take in the beauty of the whole thing. The parts of this Mass that are said aloud are all chanted, and the choir sang the responses to the prayers.  The priest faced the alter the entire time.  There was one welcome exception to the Latin-only language. Before he gave the sermon, the priest read the epistle and gospel in English from the pulpit. (There were only two readings, not the three I'm used to. The first reading from the Old Testament was omitted.)  The part of the Offertory that included the Consecration of the bread and wine was quite powerful. The music became louder and more dramatic, building to a crescendo.

At Communion, we knelt at the altar rail, and the priest went down the line distributing hosts on each person's tongue.  A server accompanied him with a paten in case the host dropped.  The prayers after Communion were more extensive than I'm used to, but soon the priest said the final blessing, and the exit procession was a repeat of the entrance.

At the end of this Mass, there wasn't a big exodus as there is at our church.  Many people stayed and prayed.  After a few minutes of quiet meditation, Tony and I joined the small stream headed towards the entrance.  The bright sun outside was a shock to my eyes after the dimly-lit sanctuary.


  1. Interesting. I was born after Vatican II, so I've never attended a Latin mass. I think there's a church in Ottawa that has them, though, so I might have to go one week.