Dominican rite aims to shine from the ‘dark ages’

Dominican rite aims to shine from the ‘dark ages’


Beginning December 6, ethereal chant, incense and perhaps even an ostrich-feathered liturgical fan will waft through Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska as the archdiocese prepares for the ancient Dominican rite Mass that will be celebrated in Latin every first Saturday of the month at noon.


The Catholic Anchor reports that the successful emergence of the Dominican rite locally is keeping the tradition alive, and perhaps fueling organic development of the liturgy into the future.


By early 2009, the Anchorage Archdiocese is also hoping to provide regular celebrations of the Tridentine Latin Mass, which was the standard Roman Catholic liturgy before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).


A question of rites


Within the universal Catholic Church, there are 22 different rites, such as the Roman, Byzantine and Coptic, that incorporate different traditions into the Mass.


When it comes to forms of the Mass, “often we think of the Masses as ‘pre-Vatican II’ and ‘post-Vatican II,’ and it was more complicated than that,” said Father Vincent Kelber — a Dominican priest at Holy Family Cathedral, where he is preparing to celebrate the Dominican rite.


In 1570, the Council of Trent codified the Tridentine Mass as “the Mass for all time,” he explained. It then served as the main form of the Mass for the Latin Church until the Second Vatican Council.


The Council of Trent, however, allowed for the celebration of those rites which, at the time, had been in existence for at least 200 years, Father Kelber said.


That meant the Dominican order and others like the Carthusians, Cistercians and Carmelites could continue celebrating their own rites, alongside the principal Tridentine Mass.


Father Kelber explained that by the 1200s, it was clear that the Dominicans needed a common liturgical expression for the order’s many priests who preached and celebrated Mass in varied communities across Europe. Thus, the Dominican rite was established.


While the Tridentine Mass is sometimes criticized for being antiquated, it is actually pretty new compared to the medieval Dominican rite, noted Father Kelber. The Tridentine is really “the beginning of the modern era,” he said.


At Vatican II, the Tridentine Mass was replaced by the “Novus Ordo” or “new Ordinary of the Mass” as the principal form of the Mass. In that form, which most Catholics are accustomed to today, prayers are said in the local language.


Ancient is new again


Those familiar with the Tridentine Mass will find similarities in the Dominican rite. Both are celebrated in Latin, which for centuries was the sacred liturgical language of the Catholic Church, Father Kelber said.


Additionally, in both the Tridentine and Dominican rites, priests face the same direction as the congregation — toward the altar.


The point is to be “oriented towards the one God,” said Father Kelber. The Eucharist is always central, he added.


Priests also wear special vestments in the Dominican rite, but since the Dominicans “pre-date lace,” explained Father Kelber, they are not as ornate as those in the Tridentine rite.


Catholics may also notice that the Dominican rite contains many signs of reverence, such as bowing, Father Kelber explained.


A penitential prayer, which the priest leads at the start of the Mass, is said before he enters into the sanctuary, “the holy of holies,” Father Kelber said. Also, communicants receive Communion kneeling.


“Every movement in the Mass is purposeful and prayerful; it is embodied worship,” he said.


‘Rite’ for the times


While Vatican II ushered in many needed changes, the continued use of the Dominican rite helped provide stability amid the flux.


“We realize now and Pope Benedict realizes that some of the changes of the Second Vatican Council were good, but some of them were too fast, some weren’t explained, some were poorly implemented and some weren’t according to the documents,” Father Kelber said.


The ancient Masses “helped people to cope,” he added.


As part of the patrimony of the church, the ancient Mass is worth preserving, Father Kelber continued.


“It’s okay to have this kind of diversity,” he said.


Father Kelber said it is especially important to appreciate the “ethos” of a pre-reformation tradition, such as that of the Dominicans.


“There is a lot that the medieval times can offer,” he said. “They weren’t in the dark ages at all. They lived a life that we can see today is something worth emulating in many ways, because it was before the busy-ness of the modern world. They knew what contemplation was, they knew what silence was, and we don’t.”


An ancient rite blooms


In the 1980s interest in the Dominican rite grew among the young friars of the Dominicans’ Western Province, said Father Kelber. Interest “bloomed again in a new way” with friars, such as Father Kelber, who were ordained in the late 1990s and early 21-century.


With no formal training on how to celebrate the ancient Mass, Father Kelber said he read about the Mass and worked with other priests familiar with it.


“Preservation work is personal,” he said. “It has to be handed-down. It can’t be just gotten out of a book.”


Now, given the growing interest in the Dominican rite, the Western and Eastern Provinces of the Dominican order are planning instructive conferences for its friars. The first takes place August 2009 at St. Albert’s priory in Oakland.


Here in Anchorage, with permission from his provincial director and Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Father Kelber has been perfecting his practice of the Dominican rite on his days off.


“There are people all over the United States and the world excited about the old rite — excited about Gregorian chant,” he said. “It’s not just one person here saying ‘Well, I miss the old days.’ It’s not just something looking back, but something looking forward and a gift for these crazy times.”


Printed with permission from the Catholic Anchor, newspaper from the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.