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Originally published Monday, October 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle's first parish centered on traditional Latin Mass

The Seattle Archdiocese has established its first parish — called North American Martyrs — centered on the traditional Latin Mass.

Seattle Times religion reporter

It was a big day Sunday for the couple of hundred devout Catholics gathered at the Josephinum building in downtown Seattle for the traditional Latin Mass.

For the first time in seven years, they were together as a parish, not just as a group that gathers weekly for Mass. And for the first time, they had a priest whose job was to look after them full time.

The parish, called the North American Martyrs, is the first one in the Seattle Archdiocese centered on the Roman Catholic Church's traditional Latin Mass. And it's one of the few that's been established nationwide since Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree last year making possible the wider use of the Latin Mass.

"I'm overjoyed," said Jason King, 59, of Mercer Island, who has hoped for such a parish for decades. "My dreams are realized."

The traditional Latin Mass — or Tridentine Mass — has its roots in the early days of the church. It was codified in the 1500s, and the most recent version was authorized in 1962.

Besides celebrating the Mass in Latin, priests faced the altar, and to receive communion, people knelt at the altar rail.

After the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council, intended to open the church and update its rituals, a new Mass was made standard in 1970. Mass was in local languages, priests faced congregations, and people stood to receive communion.

Until Pope Benedict's decree, priests could celebrate the Latin Mass only with their bishops' approval. The decree said parish priests no longer needed that permission.

Traditionalists embraced the decree, hoping it would lead to wider use of a form of Mass that to them seems richer. Others disliked the decree, seeing it as a sign that the church is looking backward, not moving forward with the times.

Since then, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a priests group, has trained about 150 diocesan priests nationwide on how to celebrate the Latin Mass. It's opened five parishes and chaplaincies in North America, including the one in Seattle, which will be under the care of one of its priests.

In Seattle, the pope's decree led to at least one other parish — Holy Family Church in White Center — adding a Latin Mass. And about two dozen more people have come to the weekly Sunday Latin Mass at the Josephinum building sponsored by the group Una Voce of Western Washington, said King, who co-chairs the group.

For Peter Uhl, 44, the local Una Voce's other co-chair, "the sense of the sacred is most profound for me in the Latin Mass."

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Uhl agreed with Sunday morning's homily by the parish's newly arrived priest, the Rev. Gerard Saguto, who likened the use of Latin to the black or white lace veils worn by some of the women at Mass. The language, like the veil, conveys a sense of mystery and of the sacred, the priest said.

"As the veil is removed, it becomes more profane, and a sense of sacredness is lost," Uhl agreed.

While the overall numbers of those who prefer the traditional Latin Mass still are relatively small, those who favor it need a priest who can provide pastoral care and perform baptisms, marriages and other sacraments, said archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni. That led Seattle Archbishop Alex Brunett last week to approve the formation of the parish.

There's been a flurry of activity already. The parish is looking for a more permanent home. And starting today, Saguto is celebrating Latin Mass at 7 a.m. almost every day at St. Joseph Chapel in the Josephinum, and Tuesday evenings at Holy Family Church through mid-November.

"My heart is brimming," said Elena Bresee, 35, of Kenmore, who has attended Una Voce's Latin Mass for seven years. "I hoped it would happen. But there were some long days of waiting."

Bresee has not always loved the Latin Mass, finding it hard at first to remain still during the long quiet moments and feeling left out by the lack of English spoken.

But over the years, because her husband loved it, she continued to go to Latin Mass and study it. Now, it's something she treasures.

"This rite is greater than all of us," Bresee said. "It was the rite for centuries and centuries. Because it remained substantially unchanged, there is a security I derive from it. ... It's a beautiful thing."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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