Roman Catholics filled Sacred Heart Cathedral to overflowing Sunday afternoon to celebrate Mass in a language not heard in that church in nearly 40 years: Latin.
It was a historic moment for the Raleigh church, a chance to experience the Mass as it was celebrated in Catholic churches for centuries.
Worshippers arrived appropriately attired: men in suits, women wearing lace head coverings, and many clutching dusted off missals -- prayer books containing the Latin and English texts of the Mass.
They sat in the church in silence as tradition dictates, contemplating God before the priests arrived wafting incense through the sanctuary. There were some awkward moments as worshippers fumbled, not knowing when they were supposed to rise, sit and kneel. But that was to be expected. The rhythms of the ancient rite are no longer second nature to Catholics.
Last year, Pope Benedict XVI gave permission to broaden the use of the so-called Tridentine Mass. Since then, Catholic churches across the country have been gradually adding the service alongside the now common English- and Spanish-language Masses.
"It reminds us of our roots and our tradition and where we come from," said Bishop Michael Burbidge, who delivered the homily at Sunday's Mass. Burbidge said he has received 50 to 75 requests from Catholics asking for the Mass in Latin since he arrived in Raleigh about a year and a half ago.
From now on, the Latin Mass will be provided monthly at Sacred Heart and monthly or weekly at three other churches across the diocese, which spans 54 of North Carolina's eastern counties.
To prepare for the additional services, 15 of the diocese's 115 active priests will participate in a three-day seminar, beginning Tuesday, to train them in performing the Mass in Latin.
An olive branch
The addition of the Latin Mass is aimed at ending a liturgical dispute that has alienated traditional Catholics for decades.
By allowing the old rite, the church is, in effect, extending an olive branch to people who felt left out after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 conference that deliberated how the church should function in the modern world.
"I've been waiting for the Latin Mass for more than 30 years," said Barbara Padovano, 66, as she stepped into the tiny stone cathedral on Hillsborough Street.
Fans of the Latin Mass said they appreciate the sense of solemnity and pageantry in the old rite in which the priest faces the altar and chants the prayers and Scripture readings in Latin. Since 1970, when the new Mass was published in English, many traditions associated with old rite disappeared.
Called Tridentine after the 1570 Council of Trent in which it was standardized, the Latin Mass is elaborately choreographed. The ritual includes rules called "rubrics" that call for kneeling, bowing and making the sign of the cross. To many Catholics, that careful attention to detail connects them more intimately with the purpose of the Mass, which is receiving the Eucharist, or the bread and the wine transformed into the body and blood of Christ, according to the Catholic faith.
"It makes you realize there's solemnity going on at the altar," said Stan Wesner, 61, of Raleigh, who participated Sunday.
Unlike in the modern Mass, parishioners take communion by kneeling at the altar rail and receiving the wafer on their tongue.
But traditionalists aren't the only ones who like it. Catholics too young to remember the rite were well-represented at Sunday's Mass. They are people such as 28-year-old Erich Engel of Cary, who said the English Mass is lacking in spirituality, in large part because parishioners feel obliged to hang on every word the priest says -- an experience they say places the priest rather than God at the center of the service.
The Latin Mass is not entirely new to the diocese. In 1988, Pope John Paul II gave permission for the Latin Mass to be celebrated in its traditional form with the consent of the local bishop.
Since 2004, it has been celebrated monthly, and now weekly, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Dunn. There, the Rev. Paul Parkerson was trained to celebrate the Mass in Latin after retired Bishop F. Joseph Gossman gave him permission to do it.
Last year, two churches -- one in Rocky Mount and another in Wrightsville Beach -- added a monthly Latin Mass. But there is no plan to incorporate the Latin Mass at each of the diocese churches or to substitute the Latin Mass for the regularly scheduled English- and Spanish-language Masses.
"We're already stretched thin and overworked," said the Rev. Patrick Keane, vicar to Hispanics, a large and growing group in the diocese. "In our diocese I would love to see more priests learn Spanish. I can't imagine a whole lot of us learning Latin."
Keane, like 14 other priests, signed up to learn the Latin Mass nonetheless, mostly as a way to educate himself about it.
For some priests, such as Parkerson, who celebrated the rite at Sacred Heart on Sunday, the tradition has renewed and transformed his faith.
"It is similar to discovering in your 20s and 30s who you really are," said Parkerson, 37. "You discover you're a descendant of a royal family, and there's a whole lot more to your identity than what you've been taught to believe about yourself."