Sitting atop a hill in Denton, Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary is visible for miles around.
Passers-by sometimes confuse it with a hotel.
But in this sprawling complex of multicolored brick and glass live 72 men studying to become priests of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite — priests who perform the traditional Latin Mass.
Wednesday, the Catholic Church marks the completion of the $14 million seminary with the consecration of its newly finished Chapel of Saints Peter & Paul. It is the first U.S. chapel built for seminarians in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite in 40 years, said Father Joseph Lee, former seminarian and now ordained priest serving in Kansas City.
Lee and others refer to the chapel as “the crown jewel” of the seminary.
Designed by Thomas Gordon Smith Architects, the 10,000-square-foot chapel reflects a contemporary rebirth of classical Catholic architecture.
That includes wooden choir stalls facing the center of the chapel, rather than church pews facing the altar. The stalls seat 92 priests and seminarians. Chairs will be set in the back of the chapel for laity and visitors.
The seating, and the four-story-high ceiling, provide ideal acoustics for the awe-inspiring Gregorian chants through which seminarians present the liturgy.
An elevated white marble altar, featuring a 31-foot marble canopy or baldachin, stands at the end of the chapel. The ornately carved structure once sat in a Quebec, Canada, church that was decommissioned in 2000. Seven smaller altars named for saints are throughout the chapel. A choir loft sits in the back.
The Denton seminary is operated by the Lincoln Roman Catholic Diocese. It is one of two southeastern Nebraska seminaries overseen by the Lincoln Diocese. St. Gregory the Great Seminary opened in Seward in 1998 – the first free-standing diocesan seminary to open in the U.S. in decades. It teaches priests mainly for the Lincoln Diocese.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, which opened in 2000, teaches priests from all over the world to celebrate Mass in Latin. It is the only seminary in the United States devoted exclusively to teaching the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, Lee said.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the English-speaking seminary of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, an international community of priests dedicated to the traditional Latin Mass. The fraternity was established in 1988 by Pope John Paul II. The fraternity has two seminaries, one in Denton and the other in Bavaria, Germany.
Before 1962, Catholic Mass was always in Latin. But reforms by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) allowed priests to celebrate Mass in the language of that country.
In the early 1980s, Pope John Paul II asked bishops from around the world how this new form of liturgy was being accepted. People stood on both sides – some liked hearing Mass in their language, and others said the traditional Latin Mass was more meaningful, explained Father Calvin Goodwin, Latin instructor at Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In 1984 the pope made some initial and cautious steps toward the re-emergence of the traditional Latin Mass, he said. Four years later, he expanded permission for Catholic churches to return to the Latin Mass.
“In 1988 there were about six regular celebrants authorized for Latin Masses,” Goodwin said. “By 2005, there were around 250 Latin Mass celebrants.”
Since then, Pope Benedict XVI has made it possible for all priests to celebrate Latin Mass if they choose, and has made it obligatory for churches to provide a Latin Mass if Catholics request it.
“Weekly up to around 400 churches celebrate Latin Mass,” Goodwin said. “It has grown steadily over the past 20 years, as has our community (the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter). We started with 10 to 12 priests; now we have well over 200 priests.”
Many of those priests are younger; the average age is 36. Among other priestly fraternities, the average age is 65 to 75, Goodwin said.
Much of the demand for Latin Mass comes from younger Catholics seeking a return to the old ways of worship.
Experts may see Latin as a “dead” language, but it is ideal for the church because the meaning of the words stand the test of time, Lee said.
“Thus Latin is excellent for theology and the transmission through succeeding ages of the unchanging – and unchangeable – doctrines in which the continuity of precise meanings is necessary among different cultures and times,” he said.
“Also, one finds the sound of Latin to be sublime and lofty, devoted as it is uniquely to the worship of God.”
Catholics do not need to understand Latin to appreciate the Latin Mass, Goodwin said.
In fact, it was only when Mass was said in the language of the community that “people drifted to the idea that the primary point of Mass was to understand everything that was said and going on,” he said.
“Mass is not a lesson or a class, or a primary form for the exchange of information.
“The primary point (of Mass) is not to understand it for the information conveyed. The primary point is to be present with your heart and soul as our lady St. Mary and St. John were present at the foot of the cross,” Goodwin said.
Mass is the re-presentation, in an unbloody manner, of the sacrifice of Calvary in which Jesus offered his life to atone for the sins of all humanity, Lee said.
Catholics attend Mass to “understand the experience and the reverence and the devotion and the solemnity that are proper to the worship of God,” Goodwin said.
Reach Erin Andersen at 473-7217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.