Faithful Catholics weary of depressing headlines highlighting the fall in Mass attendance, papal persecution of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), weak bishops, and myriad liturgical abuses within the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, take heart.
There are parishes out there that are seeing extraordinary growth by celebrating the majesty and beauty of the Mass in a reverent, joyful way. Some do so using the Ordinary Form (aka the Novus Ordo), while others celebrate using different forms of approved liturgical rites.
One such parish is Our Lady of the Atonement (OLA) in San Antonio, Texas. OLA was the first “Anglican Use” parish erected under the 1980 Pastoral Provision proclaimed by Pope John Paul II allowing former (mostly) Episcopalians to form parishes within existing U.S. dioceses. Under the care of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, OLA has gradually expanded since its founding in 1983.
In early 2017, OLA was transferred into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (POCSP), a special, non-territorial diocese based in Houston, which oversees more than 40 Ordinariate parishes in the U.S. and Canada. The POCSP was the second of three personal ordinariates to be established after the promulgation of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. The other two are the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (England, Wales, and Scotland) and the Personal Ordinate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross (Australia and Japan).
The first bishop of the POCSP is Steven J. Lopes, who also served for several years in Rome with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Ordinariate parishes celebrate Mass according to a special form of the Roman Rite (Divine Worship: The Missal or sometimes called the Ordinariate Form of the Roman Rite) that incorporates many elements of Anglican patrimony but still conforms to the Church’s liturgical standards.
Our Lady of the Atonement parish is attracting families far and wide who seek a Mass filled with solid and orthodox preaching, traditional sacred music, liberal use of incense, male altar servers, and beautiful architecture that uplifts the spirit and nurtures the soul—the “smells and bells” that so many faithful Catholics hunger for.
The ministers celebrate the Ordinariate Mass in English, but also ad orientem, that is, facing “to the east.” Only during certain prescribed moments during the Mass does the celebrating priest turn to face the congregation. It is quite amazing what a difference this makes when compared to the typical use of versus populum, where the priest faces the congregation for essentially the entire Mass. This is one of those “reforms” that became prevalent but was never actually mandated by the Second Vatican Council. Ad orientem keeps the focus of the Mass where it should be, on our Lord Jesus Christ and not on the celebrating priest.
At OLA, Sung Masses are accompanied by a 50 rank Casavant pipe organ and one of several parish choirs leading the congregation in traditional English hymns and chants. No silly guitars or Dan Schutte lyrics here.
Holy Communion is administered via intinction (where the Sacred Host is dipped into the Sacred Blood) while the recipient is kneeling at the altar rail. At any given Mass, roughly two-thirds or more of the females in attendance are wearing chapel veils. Young, growing families are abundant; crying children in the congregation are a regular feature because the two crying rooms in the rear of the church are already filled to capacity.
The two Sung Masses on Sunday mornings are often overflowing with attendees. Since the end of 2019, the number of registered families has grown impressively to over 1,000 families. Many parishioners travel long distances to attend Mass, knowing the spiritual fulfillment is well worth the drive.
Lay ministries abound. In addition to a robust Adult Inquiry program, OLA is blessed with ministries active in the pro-life movement (Culture of Life), mothers who have experienced the sorrow of miscarriage (God’s Comfort in Loss), CYO, Knights of Columbus, Women of Grace, Fulton Sheen Catechism, St. Vincent de Paul Society, and The Troops of St. George/American Heritage Girls, among many others.
OLA offers both Morning and Evening Prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, and uniquely Anglican traditions such as Choral Evensong (monthly) and Nine Lessons & Carols (during Advent).
An important ministry for OLA is the Atonement Catholic Academy, a PK3 through 12th-grade school that enrolls about 350 students. The school offers a classical curriculum with a particular strength in music. Students attend daily Mass and the faculty swear an oath of fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church.
Prominent Catholic laymen have taken note of OLA’s growth and have given presentations to packed congregations during 2021. They include theologian and apologist Dr. Scott Hahn (St. Paul Center), Johnnette Williams (Women of Grace), and Jason Evert (Chastity Project). Dr. Hahn noted that he still possesses a set of rosary beads sent to him many years ago by OLA’s founding pastor, Fr. Christopher Phillips. Dr. Hahn spoke of his visit to OLA as a “dream come true,” as he had seen the campus several times in the past but had never been inside the church itself.
Distinguished clergy who visited (and concelebrated Mass in the Ordinariate Form) in 2021 include Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio and Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas.
In addition to the POCSP website, the website Reverent Catholic Mass has a searchable map to locate the nearest Ordinariate parish. For many people, an Ordinariate parish will not be conveniently located. Fortunately, Reverent Catholic Mass also tracks parishes celebrating the Mass using other liturgical rites, as long as they meet its criteria for reverence.
Catholics who yearn to attend a reverent Mass and/or join a growing, vibrant parish have options. The Ordinariate Form celebrated by the parishes of the POCSP may just be the home they are looking for. OLA in San Antonio is proof positive that traditional Catholic worship will fill the pews. Church leaders, take note.
[Editor’s Note: The term “Anglican Use” is still sometimes used in reference to the liturgy celebrated by the Personal Ordinariates, but the official term for this liturgy is “the Ordinariate Use of the Roman Rite.”]
[Photo: Our Lady of the Atonement (credit: Brian Moran)]