Diocese of Lafayette Congratulates Father Christopher Roberts

The Sung Mass filled every seat

by Brian Poe

Congratulations to Father Christopher Roberts for singing his 1st Sung Traditional Latin Mass at Saint Elizabeth Seton on 1/18/09. Father Robert’s continuing devotion and spiritual dedication is to honor the wishes of the Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio. This Motu Proprio is the idea to bring back the many traditions of the Catholic Church in the form of the Traditional Latin Mass. Father Roberts also says the English Mass as well at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Indiana and is well respected among all his parishioners and fellow priests.

While working together with His Excellency, Bishop William L. Higi, Father Theodore Rothrock, and Father Roberts, the St. John Bosco’s Latin Mass Community was formed and members were elected to serve our Lafayette Diocese in the Carmel Deanery.  Since this time, over 40 Traditional Masses have been held on Sunday and the community is rapidly growing in numbers. Many youths as well as elders are coming forward with this new interest within the Church and are now serving Mass.

Father Robert's 1st Sung Mass

Who is Father Christopher Roberts?

He is young.  Too young to remember when the Extraordinary form of the Latin Rite was only known as ‘Mass’ to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. But then, most of the congregation that attends Mass each Sunday afternoon in the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s day chapel is young.  Father Christopher Roberts, of the diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana, has been saying Mass in the extraordinary form since last June for the very grateful members of the St. John Bosco Latin Mass community.  Since then, it has grown with over 100 participants at each Sunday Mass.  Extra folding chairs have to be brought in for those wishing to experience ‘the most beautiful sight this side of heaven’.

We recently posed some questions to Fr. Roberts so that all of us could better understand what drives this over-worked, over-burdened, server of souls, to strive to learn and say the extraordinary form for the edification of those seeking it. Father was born in Logansport, Indiana, the youngest in a Catholic family. He lived the American dream childhood of academic and athletic star as captain of the football team, debate team, and playing the saxophone.  He went on to Harvard where he graduated magna cum laude with degrees in history and world religions. He is fluent in English, Spanish, Italian, and now a little Latin too.

Father Roberts said he was first drawn to the priesthood because of his love of the study of theology, but later discerned a vocation to be a ‘pastor of souls’.  His formation in the seminary did little to prepare him for this current ministry of the extraordinary form.  He studied Latin for two years and sang some Gregorian chant in the choir.  The rest of his preparation he did on his own with study materials and with the priests of The Institute of Christ the Sovreign King in Chicago. Currently, there are only two priests in the diocese who are capable to saying the extraordinary form, but Fr. Roberts says many seminaries are teaching it so there will be more priests in the near future.

consecration

Below are the questions I asked Father and here are his responses:

Why did you decide to pursue this ministry?

I decided to perform this ministry out of a desire to honor the wishes of Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum. My interest in Church history made me very sympathetic to this form of the Mass, as the Extraordinary Form is more or less exactly what the Latin Church used from the early Middle Ages down to the 1960s.

What have been the rewards of this ministry thus far?

Celebrating this form of the Mass has helped me to appreciate the sacrificial character of the Mass and given me a more clear understanding of the uniqueness of my vocation to the ordained priesthood.

“Lex orandi lex credendi” (We pray as we believe). Do you believe this has any merit when comparing the ordinary and extraordinary forms?

The theology that is behind the prayers of the Extraordinary Form, as well as its gestures and ritual, represent the fruit of a centuries long development. Without a doubt, there is a richness and beauty that is present in the older form of the Missal that surpasses the newer Missal. This form of the Mass is aggressively and unapologetically Catholic. Moreover, the lack of ritual options does a great deal to safeguard the sacredness of the rite. The spiritual treasures of the older rite are truly inexhaustible. There is a considerable challenge, however, entailed in initiating one into the older rite. This was a significant pastoral problem even when the Traditional Latin Mass was the only option before the liturgical changes of the 1960s. Against this backdrop, the desire for flexibility and adaptation that brought us where we are today is quite understandable. Unfortunately, the wideness of scope has oftentimes obscured the continuity between the two forms, which, in my own experience, led was a catechetical and pastoral disaster. In a Church that reverences tradition, disparaging the past is never a healthy thing. We have gotten to the point in the celebration of the Missal of Paul VI in many parts of the Church where the use of Gregorian Chant and Latin is considered the only unacceptable option. I believe, the opportunity posed by the liberalization of the older form of the Missale Romanum of 1962 goes far beyond promotion of the this Missal; it principally lies in the chance to reclaim parts of our Catholic patrimony that have fallen into disuse and nearly have been forgotten.

Do you think future priests in our diocese will embrace the extraordinary form?

Are there currently other priests studying this form in the diocese? I am certain that the Extraordinary Form will become more common in the Diocese of Lafayette in the coming years. Whether that will be in many parishes or only a handful is hard to say. There are currently two priests who are competent in celebrating the Extraordinary Form. Since many seminaries are teaching it, I imagine this number will grow.

How have you found the reception of the extraordinary form among your parishioners at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel?

My experience is that there is great interest, especially among the young and those parishioners who are hungry to go deeper in the spiritual life. Some are genuinely confused, a very few are disappointed.

In what way would you like to see the St. John Bosco Latin Mass community grow?

I think we are getting to the point where need to have more space! We definitely need to find a site that can provide us enough seating for those who are coming. Qualitatively, I’d like to see us move toward having weekly Sung Masses, which will come as the members of our choir continue to improve in their mastery of Gregorian Chant. I hope that the congregation will grow in confidence when they are singing the ordinary of the Mass. I’m also looking forward to developing programs that go beyond the Mass, especially adult book studies. I have no idea where this will lead long term. The important thing that we discern where the Holy Spirit is leading us and take things one step at a time.

About the Author:  The beautiful gradines and canopy on the altar in the above pictures were designed and built by Mr. Brian Poe and Tito Cano.  Brian’s garage at times has been an ecclesiastical workshop, those only found at Vatican City.  When Brian isn’t building altars he’s a husband and father to three children.  Besides being one of two world reknown experts on building gradines, he is a manufacturing engineer with a major automotive manufacturer here in Indiana.  We at Una Voce Carmel think this guy is Leonardo DeVinci and all you Boilermaker fans have been done proud! 

    

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