By Oleg-Michael Martynov
Russia’s second largest city of Saint Petersburg is now also the second place in the country to have a regularly scheduled traditional Latin Mass under the provisions of Summorum Pontificum. The Mass in Saint Petersburg joins the one already offered in Moscow, where it is celebrated on all Sundays and major feasts. For now, the TLM in Saint Petersburg will be a monthly event held on last Sunday of every month at 2 P.M. Its new home is the chapel at Our Lady of Lourdes, located at 7 Kovenski Pereulok.
Catholics are a tiny minority in Russia, numbering at most half a million people out of a national population of 144 million. Of course, those attached to the traditional liturgy of the Roman Church are a “minority within a minority,” just like those who belong to the Eastern (Slavo-Byzantine, Ukrainian and Armenian, etc.) rites. However, their existence cannot be denied. Soon after Summorum Pontificum was promulgated, Fr. Augustyn Dziędziel, SDB – ordained years before the liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council – was asked by the faithful (with full support from Archbishop Paolo Pezzi) to start celebrating the Mass of his youth in Moscow. There were a number of priests, both young and old, celebrating the Mass of All Ages in St. Petersburg as well; however, for various reasons, all of them had to leave the city – and Russia itself.
It took about five years to find a priest to replace them. On Sunday, January 27, 2019 – which happened also to be the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the horrible 900-day siege of the city during World War II – Una Voce Russia arranged the arrival of Fr. Michal Yermashkevich, a Dominican, from Belarus. Fr. Michal, born in 1966 and ordained in 1998, was the first priest in Belarus to make use of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum (there are more now) and also travels to Moscow to preach retreats, etc. That is why from now on and until a local priest volunteers to take things over, the St. Petersburg chapter of Una Voce Russia has arranged monthly visits from Belarus.
It might be worth mentioning that the Mass that has been “nunquam abrogatam” (never abrogated) will now be celebrated in one of only two Catholic churches in all Russia that was never closed down under the Soviet regime. The church of Our Lady of Lourdes, previously known as Our Lady of France, was built in the early 20th century, when the Catholic community in St. Petersburg, which was Russia’s capital at the time, was considerable. Soon thereafter, the Bolshevik Revolution forced many to leave. Archbishop Jan Feliks Cieplak, who consecrated the church in 1909, was arrested and put on show trial in 1923, together with 13 priests and one layman, and sentenced to death. He was later freed in exchange for some Polish communists and died in Passaic, New Jersey during his visit to the U.S. in 1926. (The process of his beatification was initiated in 1952 but halted in line with the Vatican’s Ostpolitik under Paul VI.) Following Archbishop Cieplak’s death, Bishop Antoni Malecki was clandestinely consecrated at Our Lady of Lourdes by Monsignor Michel d’Herbigny, S.J. in an attempt to restore Catholic hierarchy in the USSR in 1926. D’Herbigny was himself made a bishop “in secret and behind closed doors” by Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli – the future Pope Pius XII – who was then serving as the papal nuncio in Berlin. Bishop Malecki was, however, arrested in 1930 and exiled to Siberia. His process of beatification was begun in 2003. In spite of all the persecutions, the faithful never stopped coming to the church of Our Lady of Lourdes, even during the years from 1941 to 1945, when there was no priest there to administer sacraments.
They came last Sunday, too – for the traditional Latin Mass. The small chapel on the right side of the main altar could hardly accommodate all who wanted to assist in the perennial rite of the Roman Church, some of them knowing and loving it for years and some for the first time in their life.
It is truly a beautiful thing to see a Mass that has endured the great turmoil and struggle return to a city and parish that has done the same.
Oleg-Michael Martynov (b. 1977) was baptized into the Catholic Church as an adult and soon realized the advantages of Traditional Catholicism. A founding member of Una Voce Russia in 2005, he currently serves as its chairman as well as a Councilor of the Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce (FIUV). He lives in Moscow, Russia.