The Corner

Save the Tridentine Mass, or, ‘These Little-Town Blues’

Living in a global metropolis such as New York has its drawbacks, to be sure. But one of the key reasons so many of us choose to do it anyway is that we love being in a place where so many cultural riches are so readily available. Everyone knows about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera, and the plethora of arthouse movie theaters where films from the whole world are on display (I would contend that for cinema lovers — as opposed to people in the movie business — Manhattan is better than Los Angeles).

But what few people from outside of New York realize is that this city also has an amazing diversity when it comes to the religious aspect of culture. For pretty much whatever religion you want to practice, you can find a house of worship here. And when it comes to Christianity specifically, just about every branch of every denomination has an outpost. It will comes as a further surprise to many that, within Protestantism, it is the conservative NYC churches that attract the largest crowds on Sunday. In many ways, the city conforms to its stereotype of Babylon-on-the-Hudson; but that’s far from the whole story of what goes on here.

This, as I said, is an important part of what makes many of us want to live here. So it was with a heavy heart that I learned that the Roman Catholic archdiocese of New York is considering going “small-time” — and closing one of the few parishes in the world that offers the pre-Vatican II Catholic Mass every day. According to this report, the archdiocese is considering closing Holy Innocents Church on West 37th Street.

I am — as NRO comboxers would hasten to point out — the farthest thing imaginable from a “Traditionalist Catholic.” But I have been been enriched by the Tridentine Mass at Holy Innocents — a Mass that, not incidentally, attracts an appreciable number of worshipers for a weekday service. But whether you are a Traditionalist Catholic, or a Catholic of any sort, or just someone who believes in the culturally conservative project of preserving one of mankind’s richest spiritual traditions, I urge you to contact the archdiocese at Let them know you oppose this parish closure — and that, at the very least, if the parish closure turns out to be unavoidable, whatever local parish Holy Innocents is folded into should continue offering the daily Tridentine Mass. It’s a beautiful thing, and there’s support for it, and if it doesn’t exist in what St. John Paul II called the Capital of the World, where can it exist?

NB: I did not know, before reading this report, that Eugene O’Neill, probably America’s greatest playwright, was baptized at Holy Innocents. He, too, was far from being a Traditionalist Catholic. One writer described O’Neill’s approach to faith as follows:

In Long Day’s Journey, Tyrone tells Edmund that he has the makings of a poet. “No, I’m afraid I’m like the guy who is always panhandling for a smoke,” the son replies. “He hasn’t even got the makings. He’s only got the habit.” The same could be said about O’Neill’s Catholicism. He turned his back on it as a creed and practice, but its habits of mind and thought stayed with him. His is a Christianity for a post-religious age. The human condition of sinfulness still applies, and man must still pass through the cross if he hopes to reach the resurrection. 

In other words, he was a rebellious son of Holy Innocents, but no less a son for that. St. Eugene, help us keep the Iceman away from this priceless Manhattan institution. 


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