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Cebu: Nurturing the Latin Mass in Asia’s Christian Cradle

In January 2016, OnePeterFive reported on the Pontifical Mass in the old rite celebrated by Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong at the Asilo dela Medalla Milagrosa Chapel, during the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Cebu City, Philippines. At that time, there was no regular Latin Mass in the Archdiocese of Cebu, the largest archdiocese in Asia. To many in the province, this was their first glimpse into the traditional liturgy. Many did not even know that it was never abrogated. This was reflected in the headlines of our local newspapers stating, “Latin Mass ‘revived’ for a day in Asilo.” 

Cardinal Zen celebrates the traditional Latin Mass during the IEC.

Fast-forward nearly two years later. The celebration of the traditional Latin Mass has gained wider attention, and, currently, there is a regular Sunday Missa Cantata at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish. This would not have been possible without the efforts of lay people devoted to the Mass of the Ages, with the assistance of faithful clerics.

The Archdiocese of Cebu is home to 4.6 million Catholics. It was on this island in March 1521 where Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, sailing under the Spanish flag, first arrived in the Philippines – and with him missionaries who would be the first to preach the Gospel to the Filipinos. The first baptism and the first celebration of the Holy Mass in the country would occur here. Pope St. John Paul II, in his visit to Cebu in 1981, called it the “cradle of Christianity in the Philippines.”

“Finding myself in this important city known as the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines, I want to express my deep joy and profound thanksgiving to the Lord of history. The thought that for 450 years the light of the Gospel has shone with undimmed brightness in this land and on its people is cause for great rejoicing.” –John Paul II, February 1981 [1]

With such a deep history and heritage of Catholicism, it is a big surprise that up until recently, there was no regular traditional Latin Mass celebrated in Cebu. Maybe it is the Filipino culture, which is so quick to respond to changes. After all, the young people here are very up-to-date when it comes to cell phones, social media, and fashion.  Being a flexible bunch, Filipino Catholics, lay and clergy alike, have embraced wholeheartedly the post-conciliar reforms. The ancient rite is extremely hard to come by in these parts, with even the Novus Ordo celebrated ad orientem or in Latin a rarity.

Even after Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007, access to the traditional Latin Mass was been realized in the archdiocese. The rise of the TLM in Cebu is due in large part to the Cebuano Summorum Pontificum Society (CSPS), which started in 2012 as a schola volunteering in a local parish. The Pontifical Mass of Cardinal Zen during the IEC was a joint venture of that society and the Latin Mass Societies of Manila and Davao City, which had flown here for the congress. Nine months after the IEC, the CSPS would organize another Mass in October 2016, this time at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish. This parish church would become the home for the traditional Mass in Cebu to this day, thanks to the gracious hospitality of its pastor, Most Rev. Dennis Villarojo, who is also the auxiliary bishop of Cebu.

The founder of the CSPS, Elmer Montejo, detailed in a local newspaper interview how the Latin Mass had helped him rediscover his faith, after spending his teenage years just “going through the motions” in church. “But then I fell in love again with God through the Traditional Latin Mass. It brought me back to the Catholic Church that I even look forward to Sundays,” he says.

Unlike Mr. Montejo, who rediscovered Catholicism through the Latin Mass, I was already a consistent Mass-going young adult. On that October night at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, my first experience with the TLM was of initial struggle with learning the flow of the Mass, but it immediately struck me to the core with its silent and prayerful atmosphere.

I had been an altar server for almost ten years in the Novus Ordo, and I had been trained well thanks to our traditional-minded pastor. We had altar rails at our church and used patens. That training was a foretaste of the beauty I would find in the Latin Mass.

As I sat there in the pew at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart’s, I had never experienced a liturgy so reverent yet so simple. I had difficulty catching up with the happenings at the altar, but I could clearly see how Christ-centered the traditional Mass is.

After several months of sporadic Masses at far-flung chapels, the CSPS started holding Sunday Masses at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel, a venue good for about 60 people, on Trinity Sunday. It also found a priest willing to take up the cudgels for the Latin Mass in Monsignor Joseph Tan, the archdiocese’s spokesperson. Msgr. Tan, who was 26 years into his priestly ministry, learned to celebrate the old rite. He said his first Low Mass on that Sunday.


Msgr. Joseph Tan, celebrating Mass for the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Excited by this new development, I brought my brother and a fellow altar server along and joined the CSPS. Now the TLM has become an integral part of our week and our spiritual lives as a whole. The CSPS currently has more than ten members, with sub-groups of schola, altar servers, and associates. Three other priests from the archdiocese have also taken turns celebrating the Sunday Mass. The congregation during the Latin Mass has slowly grown from no more than a dozen people when we began to around 45 to 50 Mass-goers each Sunday. We hope in time that more people will discover the ancient rite and be able to have a truly enriching experience when they worship on Sunday.

It is imperative that here in Cebu, the traditional Latin Mass should be given a prominent place. The 500th year of Catholicism in the Philippines will be commemorated in 2021. The first Filipinos to be baptized were natives of Cebu. The first Mass celebrated on our shores was in the ancient rite. Since Filipinos care so much about history and preserving heritage, then the celebration of Mass according to the old rubrics is part of that conservation effort. I pray that more priests will take the time to learn how to offer this Mass.

My ministry as an altar server found new life assisting at the Latin Mass. It is as if those many years of serving prepared me to discover the priceless treasure of the ancient rite.

One of our patron saints in Cebu is St. Pedro Calungsod, an altar server and catechist who joined the mission to the Marianas Islands in the 17th century. There he would suffer martyrdom along with his companions. As I look up to him as a role model and invoke his intercession, I imagine how much he was blessed by serving at the Latin Mass and receiving our Lord at the Altar. Strengthened by the Eucharist, he was able to face the spears and machetes of his persecutors, and chose to remain at the side of his friend and pastor, Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores.

St. Pedro Calungsod, ora pro nobis.

[1] Homily of Pope St. John Paul II during the Mass for Families in Cebu City, February 19, 1981.

20 thoughts on “Cebu: Nurturing the Latin Mass in Asia’s Christian Cradle”

  1. This is wonderful to see. It helps me to see people on the other side of the world as brothers and sisters, members of Christ’s Mystical Body in a clearer way. God bless them all, especially those hardworking, faithful priests.

  2. I’ve been to the Philippines and was surprised to find a church on the top floor of the Mall of Asia. It made me realize how private our religion has become in America. I hope the Philippines never loses its faith.

  3. And dare I presume that, after the Last Gospel, at the conclusion of Holy Mass, those in attendance do not respond with a spontaneous round of childish applause, as has become commonplace throughout the Philippines at the conclusion of the N.O. liturgy. But should this surprise us? The Novus Ordo has divested the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass of a great deal of its aura of sacred mystery. The people no longer comprehend that the altar is, in a literal sense, Mount Calvary; that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, offered in an unbloody manner; that this sacrifice is offered the Father by Christ himself, through the person of His priest, who is an “alter Christus.” We speak of the common priesthood of the people. The purpose of priesthood is to offer sacrifice, and the place of sacrifice is an altar. The Communion rail is the people’s altar, where we are fed by Christ himself with His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity through the hands of His priest. Thus it is that Christ feeds us with Himself, with His own hands, as he fed His Apostles at the Last Supper. And we unite ourselves with the priest’s sacrifice, which is Christ, and offer ourselves to the Father, since it is only when we are united with His Son that we are acceptable to the Father. This is our priestly sacrifice, and the ultimate expression of our own priesthood.
    If the people of the Philippines understood this, would they still resort to this puerile applause at the conclusion of Mass? Let’s put it another way. If they had been present of Calvary 2000 years ago, as Jesus breathed His last, and darkness descended upon the world, would they have applauded Him? Some Filipinos justify this applause on the grounds that the Mass is a celebration. And indeed it is; but it is a most solemn celebration.

    • I agree totally sir. It is a very big problem in many Masses here in the Philippines, especially in the Luzon and Metro Manila areas. Here in Cebu, not so much. There is still a lot of catechesis to be done here in the Philippines to make the churchgoers abide by liturgical rules.

      • It’s not that I “forgot” to mention it specifically. My response was directed particularly to the Philippines, where this nonsensical applause at the conclusion of Mass is becoming increasingly commonplace. My wife is Filipino, and so I have visited the Philippines on numerous occasions, but this puerile applause at the conclusion of Holy Mass is a relatively recent ‘development’ (using the term ‘development’ advisedly). The reality is that the essentially trivialized N.O. liturgy has rendered the vast majority of Mass-attending Catholics completely ignorant of the true meaning, and substance of Holy Mass. We can all point to glaring examples of this, but the problem is nowhere as severe in the Philippines as in Western Europe and the Americas.
        My wife and I recently visited a very famous, but many would argue “controversial” Marian pilgrimage site in Europe. It is a place that, very recently had very positive signals from Rome, which have further enraged certain sections of the “Traditionalist” sector who continue to belligerently demand that it is a demonic hoax. Well, so be it. But on our first morning there, at the 10:00 am Mass for English speaking pilgrims, a bunch of air-headed American ‘Kumbaya’ types broke into wild applause at the conclusion of the priest’s homily. The same was repeated the following day. And of course, it brings home to us the fact that, we no longer attend Mass in order to immerse ourselves in this most sacred mystery of our redemption, (which we no longer comprehend). We go, quite simply, to be ……. entertained.

        • You went to Medjugorje? Hahahha, fake apparition, the “seers” all drive fancy cars and live in gated homes and have disobeyed their bishop’s directions. Fake apparition.

          • Evidently you have been to Medjugorje, studied the phenomenon in great depth, and visited at least some of the seers in their homes. It is indeed tragic that at least some of the many millions of poor souls who have visited this place were unable to avail themselves of your sage advice.

          • I don’t have to go there, the local bishops in their wisdom have already decided it was not supernatural. That’s how the Church works and I trust in the Church, you have evidently decided you know better (and more) than the local bishops, good luck with that.

  4. Thank you for the great news!
    How is Cebu Abp. Palma? I understand he celebrated a Solemn Pontifical Mass five years ago in Cebu.
    In Iloilo, I recall there are 2 separate TLMs celebrated every Sunday, both in Jaro. One by the FSSPX and another one in the Jaro diocesan seminary.

    • Archbishop Palma is doing well. Yes he celebrated a Solemn Pontifical Mass here five years ago. The Archdiocese continues to grow and this is one of the fruits: A weekly Mass in the Extraordinary Form

  5. Our wedding, predating Cardinal Zen’s mass by about six month, was in the traditional rite at Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.


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