When a call went out for subscribers for a new Traditional Latin Mass companion publication, the publisher reached its initial goal of 5,000 in less than six weeks. And they are still four months away from mailing the first issue.
I was surprised at how quickly it took off,” said Charlie McKinney, president of Sophia Institute Press and the idea man behind Benedictus, a monthly Mass and breviary companion based on the 1962 Roman Missal. “I thought we’d hit five by August, otherwise I wouldn’t have launched the project.”
Anyone familiar with the Magnificat line of companion booklets for the Novus Ordo Mass will immediately recognize the size and focus of Benedictus. The 5″x7″ Benedictus includes all of the Mass texts for daily and Sunday Traditional Latin Masses, including the asperges, confiteor, introit, collect, Kyrie, Gloria, epistle, gradual, tract, Gospel, offertory, secret, Communion, post-Communion and prayer over the people. The prayers are set in an easy-to-read format with no flipping between sections required (as is necessary with a hand missal).
Sophia Institute Press asked readers to sign up at $5 per month, with regular distribution beginning with the August 2021 issue, scheduled for mailing in July. Early subscribers received a 120-page sample issue in March, along with a copy of The Holy Bread of Eternal Life, a new book by theologian Peter Kwasniewski. Sophia Institute Press arranged to have 80 parishes put sample copies of Benedictus out in the back of their churches in mid-March. McKinney said potential subscribers could quickly tell that Benedictus was no ordinary publication.
“We’ve been very fortunate. This thing has been so easy; maybe one of the easiest product launches we’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s just gone very smooth. Everybody’s behind it. It has been wonderful.”
The Mass guide includes side-by-side text in Latin and English, along with brief descriptions of the priest’s actions. For example, the booklet describe’s the priest’s prayers at the foot of the altar at the beginning of Mass: “Alternating with the server, the priest recites Psalm 42:1-5: Judica me, Deus, et discérne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab hómine iniquo et dolóso érue me.” (“Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy; deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.”)
The notes include explanations for when the priest makes the Sign of the Cross, bows, makes silent or audible prayers, kisses the altar and elevates the host and chalice during consecration. It also explains the major actions of the server, including prayers said on behalf of the people, ringing of bells, and moving the missal from the right side of the altar to the Gospel (left) side before reading of the Holy Gospel. Latin-English translations for Benedictus are taken from The New Roman Missal by Fr. Francis Xavier Lasance.
Benedictus has features in common with a hand missal, including beautiful printing (with gold metallic ink for decorative capital letters), and detailed wood-cut illustrations. It also includes morning and evening devotions from the Divine Office, and meditations by authors such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Thomas À Kempis, Dom Prosper Gueranger and St. Louis de Montfort. Each issue will feature beautiful works of art from across the centuries. The cover of the sample issue featured “The Annunciation” by Agostino Masucci (1686-1758).
“It’s beyond a missal,” McKinney said. “It’s daily meditations. There are all kinds of different things that are added in each month that make it go beyond what any missal can provide, so in that sense I think it is a powerful ancillary prayer book for anyone attending the Latin Mass.”
Benedictus has received endorsements from Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Bishop Athanasius Schneider of the Archdiocese of Mary Most Holy in Astana, Kazakhstan; Bishop Joseph Strickland from the Diocese of Tyler, Texas; Canon Matthew Talarico, superior of the U.S. province of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest; and Fr. Armand de Malleray, superior of the English apostolate for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP).
New Hampshire-based Sophia Institute Press hired Aaron Seng to oversee development of Benedictus. Seng is a founder of Tradivox, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and republishing classic catechetical works by the likes of St. Robert Bellarmine, Fr. Henry Turberville, Fr. Thomas Vincent Sadler and Bishop Richard Challoner. Tradivox has published three volumes of catechisms, with Vol. 4 in development.
“He knows his stuff,” McKinney said. “Peter Kwasniewski introduced me to him. He has been phenomenal. He’s the guy pulling together all the content for us.”
McKinney envisioned the idea for Benedictus over the past year. A convert from the Baptist faith, he and his family began attending the Traditional Latin Mass about a year ago. While awed by the beauty and reverence of the Tridentine Mass, McKinney said he felt he was in foreign territory and thought he could use a field guide. He had subscribed to Magnificat and used it for lectio divina. He suspected a similar type of companion publication for the Latin Mass would be popular.
“I’m going to daily Mass and the readings are different than those I meditated on in the morning. I wanted to be in sync,” McKinney said. “I talked to some folks I know and said, ‘Hey, do you think this (Benedictus) would be of interest?’ Everybody said yes. That doesn’t mean something will succeed; I’ve done that before and it didn’t work. But I felt there was enough demand there that we started putting together some pricing, and felt that 5,000 subscribers was our break-even point.”
Those new to the Latin Mass often feel intimidated when making the transition from the Novus Ordo Missae first promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969. The growth of the TLM in the United States since Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum means there are more people who are new to the TLM. Summorum Pontificum allows any priest in the Latin Rite to offer the Latin Mass without permission from his bishop.
“Once you get in there and you’re meeting these people face to face, you realize they are welcoming you,” McKinney said. “The first time you attend, if your wife doesn’t have a veil, they’re not going to be kicking you out. None of that stuff is going to happen. So the experience is really quite pleasant. Benedictus can help a lot because it does remove one area of concern: ‘What the heck is going on and how do I use a missal?’ It’s an easy solution. That just knocks that out.”
McKinney said Benedictus subscriptions were designed to be flexible and convenient at $5 per month, lessening the up-front cost compared to a hand missal. “What’s great is it’s a monthly subscription, so if you’re going to try it out for a couple months and you decide the Latin Mass is not your thing, the you just cancel the subscription—you didn’t buy a whole year’s worth—and you move on,” he said. “You’re not committing to a $60 missal. You’re just committing to $5 a month that’s cancellable any time.”
Attendance numbers for the Traditional Latin Mass in the United States are hard to come by. The online Latin Mass Directory lists 653 venues in the U.S. that offer the Latin Mass. The Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei lists 566 U.S. Latin Mass venues. Fr. Donald L. Kloster of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Catholic Church in Brookfield, Conn., estimates that on any given Sunday, 250,000 people in the U.S. attend a Latin Mass, up from 100,000 in 2018. “The growth rate had been about 23 percent yearly prior to 2018, but that has accelerated due to COVID and the flood of younger adults entering TLM Masses around the country,” Fr. Kloster told Catholic World Report.
The FSSP is active in 39 U.S. dioceses and Christ the King Sovereign Priest has 19 apostolates, Fr. Kloster said. The more than 600 venues listed in online directories average 250-300 Latin Mass attendees per site, he said.
Fr. Kloster’s 2019-2020 survey of 18-39 year old Latin Mass attendees showed 98 percent of respondents go to Mass every Sunday, a stark contrast to declining Mass attendance and cratering belief in the Real Presence of Christ overall among U.S. Catholics. The most common reasons cited in the Kloster survey for being drawn to the Latin Mass were reverence (35 percent), parents (16 percent), friends (13 percent) and curiosity (12 percent).
From 2018 to 2020, the 18-39 year old age group found the Mass due to word of mouth,” Fr. Kloster said. “There was a large group of converts and reverts who discovered the Mass and had not previously been attending Sunday Mass.”
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, a columnist and blogger who has advocated for the Traditional Latin Mass for more than 15 years, said the TLM landscape has changed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My sense is that the number and places of TLMs has grown by quite a bit in the last year and that the stats we have are now way out of date,” said Zuhlsdorf, who has also served as president of the Tridentine Mass Society of Madison, Wis. “Also, more people who were going to the Novus Ordo have started to go to the TLM as they became available during COVID-1984.” The TLM, Zuhlsdorf said, “is growing, under the radar.”
McKinney agreed. “At my parish, our priest told me they’ve grown by 30 percent in the past year,” he said. “In talking with some of the leaders in the FSSP, almost every parish is having to add Masses because more and more people come in. It seems to me that everywhere the Latin Mass is available, it’s growing.”
Nearly half of the staff members at Sophia Institute Press attend a Latin Mass, McKinney said. “Our desire is that more people attend the Traditional Latin Mass. Benedictus was created out of love for the Latin Mass and to help people develop their spiritual lives in conformity with the traditional breviary and Mass,” he said. “This is not a product that was done because we though it was a side market. This was a product that was done as a mission to bring value to people who are thinking of attending the Latin Mass and those who are regulars.”
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