In a previous blog, it was mentioned that Korea has not been as polarized on this issue as many others in the Catholic world. The Society of Saint Pius X in Korea (a traditionalist order of priests founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre), with its strong desire to return to the pre-Vatican II days, has also been a deterrent which keeps the bishops from implementing the 'motu proprio' of Pope Benedict on this issue.
However, the Catholic Times covered on its front page the first public Latin Mass by a Korean bishop, with a congregation in the Cathedral parish in Kwangju. This Mass will be celebrated once a month in the Cathedral, accompanied by Gregorian chant. The first Mass was celebrated on April 2nd with priests, religious and about 250 Catholics attending.
We have had other Latin Masses celebrated in Korean over the years but they have been without publicity or officially recognized. This is the first such Mass accepted by a bishop of a diocese and celebrated in the Cathedral Parish with priests religious and congregation.
The diocese of Kwangju has made the liturgy the theme of its pastoral plan for the year, and this Mass was in line with the plans to help Catholics appreciate the place of the liturgy in our lives. In his pastoral letter after becoming bishop, he wrote, "The liturgy is the life and mission, source and summit of Church life; our hope is that through the liturgy we will come to know in what direction the diocese should go."
In the sermon Bishop Lee said he wanted to bring to mind the history of the liturgy and the values associated with the Latin Mass of the past. He reflected on the Korean Catholics who were nurtured on the Latin Mass and attended a Mass in a language they did not understand and wondered whether our present faith-life is deeper and stronger than that of our ancestors in the faith. He hopes this will allow the Catholics to appreciate the liturgy more. The present and former bishop and priests will take responsibility for celebrating the Latin Mass.
Will this be a sign of where the Church In Korea will be going in the future? There are many areas of our liturgical life that would be helped by remembering the 'two tables': as a meal and as a remembrance of Jesus' love, as shown by the sacrifice on the Cross. The Latin liturgy could probably focus the congregations' attention on Christ to a greater degree than the present liturgy because the words would not be as important as the actions of the Mass itself and its overall meaning.
The Church of Korea will have to consider the pros and cons of whether the introduction of the Latin Mass and Gregorian chant will be good for the Church or not. The Catholic population of Korea in 1965 was about half a million so the numbers of Catholics who felt a desire for the days before Vatican II are few. The inauguration of the old liturgy with the blessing of the ordinary of a diocese will be an interesting matter to watch.