Interview With St. Peter’s Fraternity Priest Calvin Goodwin
By Traci Osuna
DENTON, Nebraska, JUNE 8, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholics have been attending Mass said in their native tongue. Today, Latin references are completely foreign to some, and lingering memories to others.
But then there are those who are dedicated to keeping the Latin liturgy alive, and included in this group is the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a growing community of priests that are devoted to celebrating the extraordinary form of the Mass.
As many religious orders are desperately praying for vocations, this community has young men waiting to get into their seminary program at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton.
This relatively new society of priests — founded in 1988 — has garnered the attention of, not only those who seek to go back to the Latin Mass, but also those who want to share in the beauty, the reverence and the piety of the traditional Latin Mass for the first time.
ZENIT: The priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is a relatively new entity — established in 1988 — that has as one of its characteristics the sole use of the liturgy of 1962. Could you explain what drew you to this traditional priestly fraternity?
Father Goodwin: We are a community completely gathered around the Church’s traditional liturgy. It really is at the heart of our vocation. As to what drew me to the fraternity, it wasn’t my idea; it was God.
I was a member of a large religious community for a number of years when I stumbled upon a church where [the Traditional] Mass was being celebrated. I don’t think I could really say that I knew in a conscious way, but something in me knew that, after this, my life was going to be different.
One day, an elderly gentleman who had been asking for permission for a [Latin Mass] in the Diocese of Portland, Maine, received a letter from the bishop, explaining why they did not offer the traditional Mass. The gentleman said to me, “I guess I have to resign myself to dying without having access to the old Mass.”
I stuck a little note on the letter that said “I’m sure your Excellency will do whatever you can for this gentleman,” and I mailed it.
About 6 months later, I received a letter from the chancellor of the diocese, explaining why they didn’t have the Latin Mass. At the end of the letter was written, “The bishop is wondering if you would be willing to do something on an ad hoc basis for some of these people.” So I called and told him I’m willing to do whatever the bishop wants me to do.
Of course, I had to learn how to say the Traditional Mass. My own spiritual director taught me how to do it over one weekend. On Sept. 16, 1991, the Diocese of Portland celebrated its first Traditional Mass in about 20 years. It just went on from there.
I was saying the Traditional Mass more and the newer form of the mass, less. After a while, I began to realize that my whole spiritual life as a priest was centered on this Mass. One of the priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter came to do a lecture on the traditional Mass and he [invited me to their] district house in Pennsylvania.
I thought, “If God has led me in this direction, then I should take responsibility for this grace.” Rather than wishing that everything around me would change, I’m the one who has to change. That’s what brought me to the Fraternity of St. Peter and I’ve been here since .
ZENIT: Why do you feel that following the traditional Roman rite is vital to “re-Christianizing” our world?
Father Goodwin: The Traditional Mass is a very important element in the re-Christianization of the world because it so clearly and fully embodies the faith of the Church. The whole notion of Christ’s sacrifice is the central point of the Mass.
Of course, the primary objection that’s most often offered to it is “Why would you want to celebrate the Mass in a language that people don’t understand?” But that makes the assumption that the relationship of people to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is primarily one of comprehension; that the Mass is a piece of information to be learned and understood.
Today, Mass is most often celebrated in the world where people can see everything that is going on and understand everything that’s said. Can we honestly say that the result of this has deepened their appreciation for what’s going on? When pollsters tell us that 80% of Catholics under the age of 59 have a non-Catholic idea of what the Blessed Sacrament is, the whole communication thing may not be so successful. That should not be the primary goal. The primary goal is the worship of God.
The Mass is not a bunch of jumbled elements that we put together or we construct in order to make something that is meaningful to us. The Mass is something that exists in itself, to which we conform ourselves, so that we can more perfectly unite with God.
I think that’s what young people find in the Traditional Mass. They’re not looking for an explanation; they’re looking for the presence of Christ. This is, in a very primary way, about reverence, piety and devotion.
ZENIT: While priestly vocations are waning in many other orders in the United States and around the world, ordinations within the Fraternity of St. Peter are increasing. What do you think draws these men to the Fraternity?
Father Goodwin: We have seminarians who have grown up with the Traditional Mass. We also have seminarians who have come to us after seeing the Traditional Mass two or three times before they entered. One found it on the Internet and said, “As soon as I saw it, I knew that it was for me.”
The vocations come from God. He is sending them to us. He picks [these men] and he points them toward that perennial treasury of the Church. Prayer and faith, having spoken to human hearts for 2,000 years, is hardly likely to become a dried-up, unusable source just over a couple of decades. The human heart does not change and God’s appeal to it does not change.
We started the seminary here about 10 years ago. We’ve had, more or less, 12 or 15 candidates a year. This year we have more than 25 coming in. We could take more if we had the room and the staff to take care of them.
ZENIT: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Benedict XVI, has been supportive of the society since the very beginning, has he not? What has this meant to the Fraternity?
Father Goodwin: There wouldn’t be any fraternity if it weren’t for the Holy Father. Our founders, and particularly Father Bisig, went to Rome without any expectations or any guarantees of help whatsoever. But when they got there, Cardinal Augustine Meyer, a Benedictine cardinal, led them to Cardinal Ratzinger.
Cardinal Ratzinger really was the lynch pin, not only in the founding of our priestly fraternity, but also in obtaining for it a papal status, which means we’re directly under the authority of the Papal See. This gave us a lot of freedom to act within certain restrictions and really established us on a good canonical foundation right at the beginning. It usually takes years to get that status of being a society of papal rite, and we got it in a matter of weeks.
The Holy Father has been incalculably helpful and supportive to us, as was his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, under whom our society was founded. Without his support, it would not have been possible.
ZENIT: In July, it will be three years since the publication of Benedict XVI’s letter “Summorum Pontificum” on the traditional form of the Mass. What effect has that letter had on the fraternity?
Father Goodwin: It has made possible a relationship between our community and other entities in the Church, such as dioceses and other religious communities. We’ve been able to conduct our training program, in which we train priests in saying the Traditional Mass.
We can pass this grace, this resource that we have, on to other priests and that’s very important in two ways. These priests will be able to offer the Traditional Mass to members of the faithful for whom it is helpful. It also reflects the fact that the Traditional Mass movement is almost principally a movement of priests rather than a movement of the faithful.
It’s true that many of the faithful have asked for the restoration of the Traditional Mass for a long time. But it’s also a very strong movement among a number of priests who have been looking for a way of entering into liturgical prayer that is more nourishing to their relationship with God and their desire for God. We’ve probably trained several hundred priests, at least, in the last three years since “Summorum Pontificum,” just in our North American district. A large number of those priests have said to us, “This mass has saved my priesthood.” When you hear something like that, you know you’re on to something good. God is making use of you.
But it also means that the Holy Father’s instinct is very soundly grounded and he has the needs of priests so profoundly at the center of his work and his service in the church. He knows that there are priests who need this Mass to nourish, and even preserve, their priesthood.
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On the Net:
Fraternity of St. Peter: http://fssp.com/press
[This article is part of the column God’s Men — a series of reflections on the priesthood that ZENIT is offering its readers during this Year for Priests, which ends Friday.]