Back to the Catacombs

The small neo-Gothic chapel in the confines of St. John’s cemetery in the New York City borough of Queens was filling up quickly on that brisk autumn Sunday.  The cemetery itself is something of a New York landmark—a resting place for the heroes and villains of its turbulent past.  The modest tombstones of firefighters killed in the collapse of the towers of the World Trade Center share the hallowed ground with the gaudy mausoleums of Italian mobsters.

The Mass that is celebrated in that small chapel every Sunday morning is the Traditional Latin Mass—the one that is exclusively in Latin and where the priest faces ad orientem, not toward the worshipers.  All of the pews were filled with worshipers—about 50 of them, largely families and older couples.  Fr. Joseph Wilson entered the chapel wearing a cassock and a biretta, garments rarely worn by most post-Vatican II clerics.

The most noticeable aspect of this Mass was the universal concentration and devotion of the worshipers.  There were no crying babies or gossiping couples, and the congregation responded uniformly in Latin at appropriate times.  The smell of incense and the sound of Gregorian chant filled the chapel.  A middle-aged worshiper in the pew behind me, deducing that I was not Catholic because I did not kneel, helpfully pointed out the relevant parts of the missal so I could follow along.


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