Sri Lanka draws from Latin devotional experience

Demand for Latin Mass and sacred classical music soars since Colombo archbishop reintroduced it in 2016
Sri Lanka draws from Latin devotional experience

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith addresses the faithful after a Latin Mass at St. Mary's Church in Negombo on Feb. 24. He reintroduced the use of the Latin Mass in 2016 and it has become an annual event. ( photo) reporter, Negombo
Sri Lanka
March 5, 2019
Peter Ferdinando recalls a time when people in Sri Lanka viewed the use of traditional Latin rites at Mass or during other church services as “not Catholic or even anti-Catholic."

This attitude has eased, however, since Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith reintroduced Latin Mass to the country in 2016, said the 82-year-old. It has since become an annual event open to people of all denominations.

Ferdinando has attended for the last four years. He said he was thankful the Sri Lankan Church had decided to hold a Latin devotional experience once a year, replete with Latin hymns.

It was last held at St. Mary's Church at Grand Street in Negombo on Feb. 24 when hundreds of devotees thronged the building in the early evening.

"Traditional Latin Mass is respectful and solemn, and the sacred music is a part of the Church's rich heritage, relating to Catholic liturgy and classical music," said Ferdinando, who participated with 12 members of his parish from Ja-ela, a suburb of capital Colombo.

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"We love to see Latin devotional practice incorporated into the liturgy when major events are held at our church. This puts more of a focus on prayer and brings us closer to God," he said.

Anthony Martin, 78, a parishioner from St. Sebastian church in Negombo, said the Feb. 24 event took him back to when he served as a member of the Legion of Mary. "It was inspiring to hear all those beautiful hymns once again," he said.

Professional singers performed under the guidance of British conductor Gregory Rose, who attended at the invitation of Cardinal Ranjith.

The cardinal was joined by Bishop Valence Mendis of Chilaw, Bishop Maxwell Silva, Bishop J.D. Anthony Jayakody, 25 priests, nuns, parliamentarians and laymen.

The liturgy of the Latin Mass was celebrated in English, Sinhala and Tamil. These two languages have featured more prominently in church services in the country since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Prior to that, Latin was the only language used for the liturgy. But the council led to a number of changes, including Pope Paul VI granting permission for bishops to use their local languages in 1969.

Since that time, Sri Lankan Catholics have attended Mass — which became known as the Tridentine Mass — in Sinhala, Tamil or English. For it to be performed in Latin, special permission was required from a local bishop.

Years later, Pope Benedict XVI allowed priests to use the pre-Vatican II liturgy for Mass and the administration of the sacraments as "an extraordinary form of the Roman rite in 2007."

This draws on liturgical books published in 1962 that include the most recent revisions of the Roman Missal issued by Pope Pius V in 1570, following the reforms of the Council of Trent (1545-63), a.k.a. the Tridentine Council.

Suren Surwaris, 20, said the experience was strikingly different from regular Mass as hundreds of choristers and singers from various schools beautified the devotional experience using classical music.

"I experienced the beauty of worship at the highest level," said Surwaris, who is also a musician. "I wonder why our priests don't follow the traditional Latin rite." 

Archbishop Ranjith appealed to parents to encourage the younger generation to protect sacred Latin music.

"Do you love this Latin tradition?" he asked them after the Holy Eucharist. “Yes, we want it!" they replied enthusiastically.

"You can give this sacred music to your children as a gift," he added.

Colombo Archdiocese has designated this year as the Year of the Youth.

Ferdinando said there is a growing demand for the Latin Mass among Sri Lankan Catholics.

"This sacred music is a kind of 'dowry' for Catholics to protect their Christian identity," said Ferdinando, who was accompanied by his grandchildren.

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