The Extraordinary Form in Atlantic City, New Jersey

I want to emphasize something. It’s really, really important. What I want to emphasize is a sentence from an article on the EF (“the Latin Mass”) at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, Atlantic City (contact info below), in an article from the Press of Atlantic City, here. What I want to emphasize is not a sentence about how beautiful the music is, or how the young people are stepping up to learn this challenging but profoundly moving music: “What the minimum requirements are for the Mass, compared to what these students are making, it’s like the difference between a Big Mac and caviar in terms of (their) skill and technique as musicians…”. I don’t want to emphasize (although these things are important) how “… This space is incredibly beautiful, and the acoustics are amazing…”, or even how “… It’s just as much an opportunity for the people coming in (off the street). Where else can you come to experience this anywhere?”  There are many good sentences in the article along those lines, and they are worth your taking a few moments to read them. But, they are not what struck me. 

Here is the sentence which struck me:

“When the Rev. Thanh Pham brought back Masses in the Latin language to the church a year ago, Steven Ball, organist and director of outreach for Boardwalk Hall, said he jumped at the opportunity to work with the church to provide a more robust musical experience with classic hymns to accompany the Mass in Latin.”

Here is the link for the video of the entire 2 November, 2017 All Soul’s Day Mass.

Fr. Pham is one of the priests at the Atlantic City cluster parish of which St. Nicholas is a part. His bio is here. It is not long. Please go and read it, it is interesting.

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Why do I think this is so important?

Here’s why: a cliché criticisms one hears regarding the EF, invariably from bishops and priests who are opposed to it for their own murky reasons, is some variant of the “it’s Eurocentric/doesn’t ‘engage’ people of other cultures/ages/backgrounds” meme. I can’t speak for Fr. Pham, of course, I’ve never met him and probably never will, so I don’t know why he went to the trouble to learn the EF, request permission to offer it, organize it (including the choir, the central theme of the article I’ve cited), and then proceed to offer it. But the simple fact is that something about the Rite induced this 37 year old, Vietnam-born priest to take it upon himself to learn it, and go to the trouble of offering it.

I can, however, tell you what that something is for me: the EF is not beholden to a particular place or moment in time (granted, the EF uses the 1962 Missal, as that was the last one published prior to the rupture); is timeless, and it diverts my gaze, at least for a moment, away from the historic time and geographic space in which I exist, and refocuses it, even if only for a moment, on the transcendent nature of God.

Happy Easter! 

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Contact information:

St. Nicholas of Tolentine Catholic Church, 1409 Pacific Ave, Atlantic City, NJ 08401 (609) 344-1040