SEATTLE – Incense wafted and babies cooed while the full-to-capacity congregation of North American Martyrs Parish celebrated its 10th anniversary September 30 with a solemn high Mass in Latin.
The Mass began with Knights of Columbus members flanking the nave at St. Alphonsus Church in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood as 22 altar boys and acolytes, seven priests and Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain processed into the church.
“I’m honored to be with you today as you celebrate three important graces: first, your parish patronal feast of the North American Martyrs; second, the 10th anniversary of the establishment of your parish; and third, the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter,” Archbishop Sartain said in his homily.
Priests from the fraternity, known as FSSP, serve North American Martyrs Parish as well as St. Joseph Parish in Tacoma. All Masses and sacraments at the parishes follow the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.
The archbishop related the story of the North American Martyrs — six French priests and two associates — who served in northern New York and Canada and who all died for their faith between 1642 and 1649.
For their feast day, Archbishop Sartain said, “The church gives us a beautiful liturgy, with fitting prayers and readings, to remind us that each of us is called to be a witness — literally a martyr, in Greek — by steadfastly holding on to our faith in Jesus in his holy church.”
FFSP Father Gerard Saguto chants the Gospel reading, while FSSP Deacon Ralph Oballo holds the book called the evangelarium during the North American Martyrs Parish 10th anniversary Mass September 30. Photo: Michael Curtis Photography
Return of the Latin Mass here
The Mass also celebrated the 10th anniversary of a parish community dedicated to the traditional Latin (or Tridentine) Mass for Catholics in Western Washington.
“I love everything about it,” said parishioner Sheila Clausen, a mother of five young children, who has been attending the Latin Mass for years. “It’s so steeped in history and tradition,” she said, helping her feel connected to the saints of the past.
When Mass is over, “there’s no doubt in your mind that you’ve been somewhere holy,” Clausen added.
Local Catholics began requesting regular access to the Latin Mass in 1984, according to parishioner Jason King. He has been involved in promoting the Latin Mass locally and nationally since 1989 (he is a longtime board member of Una Voce America). By 2001, Archbishop Alexander J. Brunett had granted permission for Father James Reichmann to offer the Latin Mass every Sunday at St. Joseph Chapel in downtown Seattle (now the site of Christ Our Hope Parish).
The first Mass drew 150 people, and attendance grew in the following years, King said.
In 2008, Archbishop Brunett established the community as a quasi-parish and invited FSSP to bring priests to Seattle to lead it. Some 500 people attended the first anniversary Mass in 2009, according to Alex Sheng, who joined North American Martyrs that year, not long after becoming Catholic. In 2015, Archbishop Sartain declared North American Martyrs a parish, said Father Joseph Heffernan, the current pastor.
Parishioners come from far and wide
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain gives the homily during the September 30 Mass celebrating the 10th anniversary of North American Martyrs Parish. Photo: Michael Curtis Photography
North American Martyrs does not have its own church building and was established without geographical boundaries. Parishioners come from communities around the region, including Bellingham, Federal Way, North Bend and Whidbey Island.
“I am constantly edified by the dedication people have to come down and drive so far to Mass,” Father Heffernan said.
Sunday high Mass and weekday Masses are celebrated at St. Alphonsus Church. A Sunday low Mass at 8 a.m. is celebrated in the chapel at Holyrood Cemetery in Shoreline, because no other churches were available during that time slot, Father Heffernan explained.
The cemetery chapel contains the tombs of most of the archdiocese’s bishops and archbishops. ”It’s very humbling to say Mass under their watchful eyes,” Father Heffernan said.
Parish offerings include catechism classes for children, Bible study, seminars on the Mass and the faith, and groups for men and women. Some events are held at St. Alphonsus, while others are hosted in parishioners’ homes or at community halls and parks.
The archdiocese has been helping NAM in its efforts to find a permanent location along the Interstate 5 corridor in King County, Father Heffernan said, but it’s not an easy task.
“Having a building will increase what we can do as a parish, with our parish life,” he said, “and we can give St. Alphonsus their church back. They’ve been very patient and generous.”
Latin Mass is like ‘sacred art’
King said he often hears criticisms that Catholics who love the Latin Mass are stuck in the past, or that it only appeals to older people. “I see, instead, a surge of youthful participation,” he said, adding that people are attracted not because of nostalgia, “but out of a true belief that it gives true sustenance.”
Sheng, whose seven children have grown up attending Latin Mass, agrees with King. “The liturgy itself, and the music, are there to appeal to the depth of our soul rather than the external of our senses,” he said. “My kids may not understand everything [during Mass], but they understand beauty when they see it.”
“It’s like sacred art,” Sheng added. “We sense it’s something sacred — beyond words — but our souls gravitate to it.”
History of the Latin Mass
1570 – The Roman Missal is published with revisions made during the Council of Trent, standardizing the liturgy of the Mass. The city of Trent is called Tridentum in Latin, so the liturgy becomes known as the Tridentine Mass.
1962 – The last revision of the Tridentine (Latin) Mass is completed by Pope John XXIII.
1969–70 – The Latin Mass is replaced by the Mass of Pope Paul VI, which is said in the local language.
1988 – Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei allows bishops to grant permission for a wider celebration of the traditional Latin Mass. The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) is established to celebrate the Mass and sacraments in the extraordinary form. (Today, nearly 300 FSSP priests serve in over 100 dioceses around the world.)
2007 – Pope Benedict XVI issues Summorum Pontificum, allowing priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass without requiring permission from the local bishop. The Latin Mass becomes known as the extraordinary form; the 1970 missal is called the ordinary form.