ST. LOUIS — When Pope Francis was elected, he appeared to the crowd in St. Peter's Square without the short, red velvet cape known as a mozzetta. Some Roman Catholics immediately cried foul, worried that the pope's decision to forgo the more formal wear signaled a threat to traditional Catholic worship.
Specifically, they fretted over the fate of the old Latin Mass, now in the hands of a papacy that seemed to shrug off pomp and circumstance.
But more than one year into Francis' reign, the Tridentine Mass, as it is sometimes called, appears to be alive and well. Decades after the Roman Catholic Church moved away from celebrating Mass in Latin, a throwback movement is growing, in many cases with the young leading the charge.
This week, four men were ordained into the priesthood at St. Francis de Sales Oratory, the neo-Gothic church in south St. Louis known for practicing the Latin liturgy, for its soaring 300-foot steeple and for its listing on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The Mass marked only the second time members of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest have been ordained in the United States. The religious community, founded in Africa in 1990, regularly celebrates the old-style Mass, or the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, as Pope Benedict XVI referred to it.
Slow, steady rise
Mary Kraychy, with the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei, a nonprofit group based in Glenview, Ill., that promotes the Latin Mass, says she's seen a slow but steady rise in the practice, with more than 400 churches offering the liturgy. The organization sells missals that display the Latin text of the Mass alongside the English translation.
Kraychy describes it as a "youth movement," with much of the enthusiasm for the rite espoused by those who are too young to remember the Second Vatican Council. In 1969, Pope Paul VI declared that the church should perform Mass in the native language of parishioners, which led to the Tridentine Mass being largely replaced.
Francis Altiere, 32, is from Pennsylvania and has a degree from Harvard University. He says his decision to become a priest is owed in part to his discovery of the traditional Latin Mass in a church in downtown Boston.
"At this Mass I really understood the priesthood for the first time," Altiere said. "The primary reason for the beauty of our churches and liturgical ceremonies is to give glory to God, but it is also such a powerful means of evangelization."
Those who attend St. Francis de Sales Oratory also say their faith is strengthened by the liturgy and by the feeling of solidarity experienced by those who attend the Mass.
"Everybody here believes what they're doing is true, real," said Tom Leith, 55, an engineer in St. Louis. "You're among people who believe what the church teaches."
St. Francis de Sales Oratory loyalists say a combination of pacing and visual cues allow even those with little knowledge of Latin to follow the Mass.
Jim Kahre drives 40 minutes with his nine children from High Ridge to visit the church every Sunday.
"I almost get goose bumps," said Kahre, who works in IT at an accounting firm.
In 2011, Roman Catholics in the English-speaking world were introduced to a new translation of the Mass that is said to more closely align with the original Latin.
Altiere, said he will use his new gifts as a priest to not only recite the Mass in Latin, but also to save souls.
"There is a saying that the priest does not go to heaven alone," Altiere said. "My goal as a priest is simply to lead as many souls to heaven as possible."