Tuesday, November 3, 2009

St. Francis de Sales - St. Louis

Today is neither a Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation.  However, I had the opportunity to go to a Solemn High Requiem Mass to remember the Souls in Purgatory, as November 2 is the Feast of All Souls.

St. Francis de Sales is not a regular parish of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, but rather it is an oratory staffed by priests (and soon to be nuns) from the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.  What makes the St. Francis de Sales different from every other church in the Archdiocese is that Masses and other devotional practices, like Benediction, are conducted according to the 1962 Roman Missal.  This is the Mass that was used before Vatican II (read the documents)

St. Francis de Sales is a very old, very Gothic cathedral like Church.  Comparing it to St. Anthony of Padua, it seems shorter, but much taller.  Many of the interior elements of St. Francis de Sales, such as the wall paintings and the stained glass windows resembled St. Anthony of Padua and St. Boniface, all of which were founded by German immigrants in the mid to late 1800s.  St. Francis de Sales is in dire need of restoration (or a good cleaning...white paint would be so much better than grey..) and they have started a campaign to raise the funds.  The biggest issue is that the beautiful bell tower, which can be seen for miles, is separating from the main church.

Because it was a weekday Mass, I assumed most people would be in more casual clothing.  There were somewhere between 75-100 people of various ages.  All of the women wore long skirts and all but one had head coverings, such as mantillas, of some kind.  I was rather shocked about how nicely dressed everyone was.  Even the men who wore jeans wore button down shirts.  There were no flip-flops.  No dresses so tight and/or short you wondered how the wearer genuflected or kneeled.

This was the quietest church I have ever been in.  I was taken back to grade school, when Mrs K and Sister Mary Anne, insisted on absolute silence in Church, it was that kind of quiet.  It stayed that quiet pretty much throughout the entire Mass and after Mass.  There was no mad rush out after Communion.  As whole, the people in Mass knelt right after Mass to pray private prayers.  I thought maybe there was a devotional or something, but was informed it was just private prayer of thanksgiving.

I didn't have a missal, so I couldn't really follow along.  I could have swiped my friend's but then I wouldn't be able to see what was going on.

The priest, deacon, and subdeacon all wore black vestments.  There were 9 altar boys of various types, a couple seminarians and a master of ceremonies, who directed everyone on where to go..sometimes by clapping, sometimes by pulling on surplices.  Because it was a Requiem Mass, which is a Mass for the Dead, there was a coffin-like structure (called a catafalque) in the center, surrounded by unbleached candles.  The entire Mass was in Latin.  I only knew exactly what was going on at five points during the roughly 90 minute Mass:  the Kyrie Eleison (or here for the current use), when everyone made the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads, lips and chest at the Gospel (or at least I hope it was the Gospel) when the priest washed his hands at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist (for the current Mass),  at the elevation at the Consecration, and at the end when the catafalque was being incensed and sprinkled with holy water.  Because it was a Requiem, there was no Gloria and there was no homily for some reason.  My friend insisted the Our Father was said, but I totally missed it.  The Mass itself was said with Father having his back to the congregation, so that both he and the people were both facing God.  It's called ad orientem worship as opposed to what occurs in a current Mass, which is versus populum, or towards the people.  Father chanted whenever he spoke loud enough for people to hear.  It seemed to me that the congregation spoke only two lines multiple times: amen and "Et cum Spiritu Tuo" which means "And with Your Spirit" as an answer to "The Lord Be With You"(Dominus vobiscum) My friend said there were actually more parts for the people (like a piece of the Our Father)...but I missed those too.  This was a very reverent and holy (and quiet!) Mass.  There was incense during the Mass.

The music was chanted and was absolutely lovely.

My thoughts are conflicted.  I think Latin is necessary for a universal, Catholic church.  It would be nice to know that no matter where I go or what happens to me, the Mass is constant, if not reassuring in its routine.  However, I feel betrayed at some level.  It was my understanding that the only major changes made to the Mass after Vatican II were to have Mass in the vernacular and to allow Communion to be received in the hand.  This is so not the case.  For the majority of the Mass, I had no idea what was going on.  I'm having a hard time reconciling that the Masses that I have described so far in this blog and have attended my entire life originated from the Mass I attended tonight.  I have no clue as to how what I witnessed tonight morphed into what I witness on Sunday everywhere else.  It seems to me that the Mass I witnessed tonight was akin to the Old Testament God, distant and remote, whereas the Mass I attended every Sunday, is more like the New Testament God, approachable and friendly.  This is an inaccurate analogy, as I have been in some Masses that were so cold, God needed a hoodie.  But I am so conflicted...


View from the Back Pew!
I actually didn't sit in the back pew this time.
I sat at the second column from the front and
still couldn't see everything.

This is sometime in the beginning.
Maybe around the Kyrie..
(Almost all of the pictures are blurry...God is telling me no take pictures during Mass...)

No clue what is going on.
I think it might be the reading because a book had been walked around right before.

Back in front of the Tabernacle.
No clue what is going on.

In the current Mass, this would be the Final Commendation.

Incensing the Catafalque.
The priest is about to bow to the Crucifix.

The Gospel Book is resting on the deacon's head.
I do hope he doesn't use hair products...

St. Francis de Sales Website
From the Rome of the West Site (I get the feeling he really likes it :) ):
Interior Set #1
Interior Set #2
Interior Set #3
During Holy Week
From Flickr (exterior shots and night shots)


  1. As this was a weekday Solemn High Mass, Father did not repeat the readings in English nor give a homily; most likely this was out of charity to those who needed to get to bed early. A normal Sunday homily here will usually include an overall description of the particular theme of the liturgy for the day.

    Attending a Mass in the this form does require preparation ahead of time in order to have some intellectual understanding. But throughout the history of the Church, little children would have been brought up in this liturgy, and so it would quickly have become 'second nature' to them. Childrens' Missals had pictures showing what was happening in each part of the Mass. But even without intellectual understanding, certainly this form of the Mass inspires our love for beauty and helps us be more reverent.

    I was fortunate enough to have my first experience at this form of the Mass with a friend who was very careful to point out where we were in the missal throughout the Mass. My immediate reaction was that the Mass 'made sense' much more than the vernacular liturgies I'd participated in before.

  2. Thank you for attending! Please visit again soon! May I suggest that you come for Solemn Midnight Mass? The choir will be singing Mozart with orchestra. The Oratory also has a relic of the Crib of Christ to venerate after the Mass. This is the service to be at on Christmas Eve.

  3. Tina, nice post. I will try to post on it on my blog and give some answers to the questions you have, which I believe are fairly representative of first time TLM-ers.

  4. Awesome. I have been advised that I should go to a Low Mass as well.

  5. Tina,

    Thanks for coming to the Oratory!

    I know what you mean about being confused at first. When my family and I decided to come to the Latin Mass, it took a month's worth of Sundays or so (plus the help of a good friend) to get a real feel for it.

    There are many of us who would be happy to help, including myself, to help follow along if you opt to return. The High Mass on Sundays at 1000 is the highlight of the week.

    Look for me. Big & tall dude with chatty baby girl with really frizzy blonde hair, often in the back of church :)


  6. Hello from Ireland. Thanks for this post.