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J.P. Sonnen – Global Pilgrim

East Van parish celebrates 10 years of 'Quiet Mass'

Voices July 31, 2018

Archbishop Miller greets parishioners after Sunday Mass while on a pastoral visit to Holy Family parish in East Van. (Photo by JP Sonnen / OC-Travel)

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the establishment of Vancouver’s “Latin Mass” parish: Holy Family in East Vancouver.

The Latin Mass has been available at Holy Family since it was formally erected in July 2008 as a personal parish dedicated to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The idea was to provide one convenient location for the Catholics of the Archdiocese to come for all the sacraments made available according to the Extraordinary Form.

It was a pastoral response in accordance with the provisions of the historic 2007 Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict XVI. In his Motu Proprio, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the erection of personal parishes for Catholics who desire to worship according to the older liturgical forms of the Roman Rite while integrated fully into the life of the local Church.

He mentioned that even young people have felt an attraction to the Extraordinary Form and “found in it a form of encounter with the mystery of the Eucharist particularly suited to them.”

For those who ask if Latin is a dead language, they may hear a seminarian or priest from the Holy Family community jokingly respond in Latin: “Ne nugas dicas! Multi adhuc sumus qui latine loquimur.” (Balderdash! There is a bunch of us that still speak Latin).

The establishment of this unique parish in East Van has represented an inner-city renewal bringing together Catholics of different ages, backgrounds and ethnic communities.

The original East Van church that is now home to Holy Family was founded in 1948, initially serving Vancouver’s German-speaking Catholics, and was handed over to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in 2008.

That society was created in 1988 with a special charism to offer Mass and the sacraments according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. It operates in over 120 dioceses worldwide and celebrates Mass exclusively in Latin.

There is a rich tradition of liturgical music and singing in the community. Holy Family choir leader Mark Donnelly (also known as “Mr. O Canada”), is famous for singing the national anthem at the NHL's Vancouver home games.

And yet, devoted followers of the Extraordinary Form sometimes affectionately refer to it as the “Quiet Mass.” This is due to the prolonged periods of silence and near inaudibility of the Extraordinary Form.

For many, the Extraordinary Form has all the pleasures of a puzzle, including silence. It is a bit of a time capsule with a secret message: silence is good for you. 

For example, the Roman Canon (the Eucharistic Prayer) is whispered silently by the priest at the altar, while he speaks in mostly hushed tones audible only to himself.

Silence is proving one of the strongest selling points of the Latin Mass, especially in a world of increased static noise. For many youth today, daily life is filled with earbuds or headphones and constant noise. Silence is a welcome reprieve and a break especially for those growing up with constant media.

Liturgical silence is not empty, it is full of answers. 

Research tells us silence is much more important to our brains than we first imagined. Its role is being acknowledged and re-purposed by many educators and physicians.

The effect noise can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied and documented. Cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, concentration, memory and problem solving.

Of course, this includes the ability to pray. Noise can harm prayer and it can even be the cause of decreased motivation for mental prayer.

Scientists tell us that while silence replenishes cognitive resources, it can also have a pronounced physical effect on people, resulting in lowered levels of stress hormones. 

When a silent environment is fostered in church, the brain is able to recover some of its cognitive abilities, letting down its sensory guard and restoring some of what has been lost through excess of noise in daily life. While noise may cause stress, silence releases tension in the brain and body.

Occasional silence is attractive in the liturgy. It calms the soul and body. In the act of prayer, the brain is resting while perpetually internalizing and evaluating information.

Silence allows the brain's work space to rest and process information and emotions.  During periods of silence in the liturgical texts, the brain has the freedom it craves, allowing it to discover its place in the internal and external world.

This welcome silence helps young people think about profound things in an imaginative way. As the American Renaissance writer Herman Melville once wrote: "All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

J.P. Sonnen is a tour operator and history docent with Vancouver-based Orbis Catholicus Travel.