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Flourishing Latin Mass Community Targeted Outside St. Louis

Above: inside the church of St. Barnabas the Apostle. Parish Website.

In 2013, St. Barnabas the Apostle Parish in O’Fallon, MO—about 40 minutes outside of St. Louis—was dying. The pastor, Fr. Ray Hager, was told that the parish would be closed in about five years unless things turned around quickly.

In response, Fr. Hager introduced the regular celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. Over the course of the next decade, the TLM grew rapidly until a majority of the parish consisted of those who attended the old rite. In 2021, St. Barnabas received converts into the Church for the first time in five years. They were all TLM attendees.

St. Barnabas was transformed—literally—by the Latin Mass. It completed the construction of a beautiful new high altar in 2018. At the time, an official publication of the Archdiocese of St. Louis hailed the renovation as “an extraordinary work of art.” Included in the renovation was “a newly constructed wooden altar, statues, reredos, communion rail, ambo, side shrines and new marble flooring, made possible in part by help from parishioners and donations”—especially those of the burgeoning TLM community. Indeed, Fr. Hager said that the transformation was sparked by the need for a new communion rail. It was the first renovation for St. Barnabas in 37 years. The Archdiocese noted that many Sundays, “the Latin Mass is the most well-attended, with an average of 150-200 people, largely younger families.” St. Barnabas continued to offer two Novus Ordo Masses. As Fr. Hager noted, the Latin Mass, alongside the reverent celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass, had transformed the parish—just as Pope Benedict XVI intended with Summorum Pontificum.

But, alas, things changed. In March 2021, Father Hager’s renovations, hailed by the Archdiocese in 2018, came under scrutiny from the same Archdiocese. Father Hager had not sought “proper approvals,” it claimed, nor had he followed the “direction” given by his superiors. He was given a choice: transfer to another parish, away from his 94-year old mother whom he cared for, or retire. Father Hager chose retirement. In his farewell homily in late April 2021, he told his flock, “I only did what I did to glorify Our Lord, Jesus Christ,” he said. “If this is my sin, if this is my crime, I do not regret it.” He closed by telling his parishioners, “I love you” and asking them to pray for him. Understandably, his congregation was devastated. The writing was on the wall for the Latin Mass at St. Barnabas.

More bad news came. In July 2021, Pope Francis’s Traditionis Custodes targeted Latin Masses celebrated in parish churches—like that of St. Barnabas—for closure. In May 2023, Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski announced that the Archdiocese of St. Louis would close 34 parishes and reassign 155 priests in a massive downsizing, titled “All Things New.” Among those targeted for closure was St. Barnabas. Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski, installed in 2020 by Pope Francis, cited Traditionis Custodes as one of the main reasons. In his decree dissolving the parish, he noted that the majority of St. Barnabas parishioners prefer to Traditional Latin Mass, “and Pope Francis by motu proprio Traditionis Custodes art. 3 has instructed that territorial parish churches are not suitable for such celebrations.”

Since March 2023, the parishioners of St. Barnabas have been praying the rosary outside their parish church for the preservation of the Latin Mass there. But the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Barnabas will end this Sunday, on July 30. Unlike many other bishops who have curtailed the Traditional Latin Mass, Archbishop Rozanski made no provision for the Traditional Latin Mass parishioners of St. Barnabas: to continue attending the TLM, they will need to drive 40 minutes each way to St. Louis to attend one of two traditional oratories.

In the meantime, the erstwhile parishioners of St. Barnabas pray that the Archdiocese will allow one or both of the oratories to build extensions closer to the old church. But for now, they face the loss of their parish, orphaned by the Church they love so dearly.

The story of the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Barnabas is, sadly, typical these days. The mutual enrichment promised by Summorum Pontificum worked. Churches were transformed and revitalized by incorporating the Traditional Latin Mass into parish life. But in an era of decline, the too-conspicuous growth of the Traditional Latin Mass was often seen as a negative, not a positive, by those in charge of the Church. The experience of St. Barnabas perfectly illustrates Ross Douthat’s broader take on the new spate of Latin Mass restrictions:

Ideally, conditions of Catholic decline would forge greater solidarity among the Catholics who remain. But quite often the opposite happens: The fact of decline makes the stakes of debate seem desperately high. Diminishing institutional spoils are fought over more fiercely. A sense of crisis magnifies differences that in a time of optimism and plenty might be debated in an irenic and fraternal spirit. And this, of course, only makes the decline more likely to accelerate, because people outside the Church, and the marginally attached, look to whether the most fervent Catholics act like Christians, and instead see fratricide.

We must continue to resist the fratricidal tendencies of the modern Church. This includes the resisting the ghettoization of the Traditional Latin Mass and its disappearance from parish churches. The piety fostered and sustained by the Traditional Latin Mass is simply too important to the broader Church to be tucked away in an inconspicuous corner.

Of course, ghettoization is far preferable to the total loss of the Traditional Latin Mass. But the mutual enrichment between the newer and older forms of the Mass, though perhaps not always easy, has borne good fruit already, and offers much greater promise for the Church as Pope Benedict XVI recognized in Summorum Pontificum, the Traditional Latin Mass should be celebrated widely throughout the Roman Rite Church, given pride of place as a treasure of the Church, and not hidden away. It is not simply a matter of liturgy, but of respect for the tradition and for our fellow Catholics. As he commanded, “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.”

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