Latin Mass parish settles in at Risen Lord Church

Monday, September 23, 2019 - Updated: 4:45 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Nearly a half-century after its ancient liturgical rite officially was replaced following Vatican II, a devout faith community has found a new spiritual home.

Most Precious Blood of Jesus Parish, formerly St. John XXIII Quasi-Parish, now celebrates the extraordinary form of the Roman rite — the Tridentine Mass or traditional Latin Mass — at Risen Lord Church in Pittsburgh’s Marshall/Shadeland neighborhood.

Attendance at two Sunday Masses, which averaged about 600 at St. Boniface Church on the city’s North Side, is approaching 700 worshippers, according to Canon William Avis, a priest who was installed as pastor by Bishop David Zubik on Aug. 4.

“People seem to be pretty happy,” said Canon Avis, who serves through the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. “The facilities have advantages. There is a school next door.”

More than 100 children are enrolled in catechism classes, held between the 8 a.m. Low Mass and the 11 a.m. High Mass.

Confessions are heard daily. The number of ministries are growing, and include a music program, young adults group, men’s group and food collection.

“We have been very blessed and are thankful to the people of Risen Lord for a smooth transition and for the sacrifices they’ve made,” said Tom Smith, 34, parishioner of Most Precious Blood of Jesus.

In the Tridentine Mass, the priest and congregation face the same direction toward the high altar and tabernacle. Communicants kneel to receive the host at an altar rail, which separates the sanctuary (representing heaven) from the rest of the church (representing earth).

The Mass is mostly spoken in ecclesiastical Latin, except for the epistle (reading), Gospel, homily and certain prayers. The reading of Scripture and the distribution of Communion are reserved to the priest. Worshippers are largely silent, participating through prayer and following along in English-Latin missals. Many don’t speak Latin fluently.

“The liturgy itself is beautiful,” said Joe Aul, 30, who has been attending since he was a boy. “The intricacies of the Mass help preserve the mystery.”

The new order of the Mass of Pope Paul VI, now called Mass in the ordinary form, was implemented in the Diocese of Pittsburgh on Pentecost Sunday, May 17, 1970.

The Tridentine Mass continued to be celebrated without authorization of the universal church at several local sites, including a former Serbian Orthodox church on Pittsburgh’s South Side. After St. John Paul II in 1989 granted permission to offer the Tridentine Mass globally, it was celebrated twice a month in the chapel at Duquesne University and at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Beaver.

The following year, the community moved to St. Agnes Parish in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, then to St. Boniface Church in 1994, at the time part of Holy Wisdom Parish, now Christ Our Savior Parish.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI approved both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Mass.

Most Precious Blood of Jesus parishioners come from as far away as Ohio and West Virginia. Mark Sikora, wife Jennifer and their eight children travel from Greensburg every Sunday.

“The first time we attended a Latin Mass, we could see a peaceful calm come across our children,” Sikora said. “We felt the Lord’s presence and a complete, profound reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.”

The community’s new home originally was dedicated in 1927 as St. Francis Xavier Parish, renamed Risen Lord in 1993 as part of a diocesan reorganization. The church building, featuring early French Gothic architecture, was renovated in 2001-2002.

“It is my hope that the church and school buildings will fulfill the needs of your growing and vibrant community,” Bishop Zubik wrote in a letter to parishioners in May. “With your faith in Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, I invite you to warmly love and serve each other as we all seek to build up The Church Alive!”

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