Brian Mershon
Bible Belt parish builds God's kingdom
An 'extraordinary' South Carolina parish models the New Evangelization -- by offering both forms of the Roman rite daily
By Brian Mershon
October 15, 2013

This story originally appeared in the July 31, 2013 issue of The National Catholic Register.

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Deep in the heart of the Bible Belt lies Greenville, S.C., home to Bob Jones University and many devout evangelical and fundamentalist Christians with an ingrained animus against Catholicism. So that makes it even more interesting that a Catholic parish, led by a former Baptist from Greenville who converted to Catholicism as a teenager, may serve as one model example of the New Evangelization down South.

Home to two full-time priests with advanced degrees in dogmatic theology who both ably offer both forms of the Roman rite and sacraments, Prince of Peace Catholic Church has nearly 2,000 households on its parish roster. The church is attracting families from diverse ethnic and language (Spanish, Vietnamese, French, German) backgrounds, as well as some of those evangelical and fundamentalist Christians yearning for the true Faith.

The parish – with a profound and deep love for the liturgy, solid catechesis, an active apostolate to the poor through its St. Vincent de Paul Society, as well as a burgeoning Catholic school – is a beacon in this mid-size Southern city, neatly tucked between Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.

Parishioners are engaged to the fullness of Catholic Tradition through celebration of both the ordinary and the extraordinary forms of the Mass. Both forms have been offered daily at Prince of Peace since Father Christopher Smith took the helm in late 2011.

Christie Mauritz, a wife and mother, is a recent convert who was first struck by the majesty of the liturgy.

"In January 2008, I attended a Catholic Mass for the first time at Prince of Peace," she said. "After witnessing the beautiful reverence of the priest and parishioners in this special place, I began to thirst for the real truth of Christ and the Church he said he would build through St. Peter," Mauritz said.

"During my first Mass, I immediately felt the presence of Jesus in my heart."

Liturgy-Evangelism Link

As a Baptist member of the same church for 43 years, Mauritz said that not only was she attracted by the liturgy and the absolute truth she found in the Catholic faith, but that the helpful and kind parishioners showed true charity to her, her husband and family as they became actively involved in the life of the parish.

"As Baptists, we were taught to really go out and evangelize others about Jesus," Mauritz added, so she was pleased to see this zeal at Prince of Peace.

The connection between a profound awe and participation in the sacred liturgy and then going forth to live lives as evangelical Christians is a familiar one to Father Smith. He notes that Pope Francis has said that the Church cannot simply be shut up in the sacristy.

"Some people take that as some type of implicit criticism of traditional liturgy, but it really is not at all, when it is properly understood," said Father Smith.

"The beauty of the liturgy is not just something that 'people in the know' do as a hobby, but it is something that is to be a school of Christian service, so that we can go out and evangelize and perform acts of service and charity in the world," he said.

"If that doesn't happen in the life of the faithful, it is not the fault of the liturgy, but it is the fault of the Christian world not making that link between liturgy and life that is the essence of Christianity," he said.

Home-Schooling Families

In addition to the daily celebration of both forms of the Roman rite, Prince of Peace has a growing Catholic school, a perpetual adoration chapel, a girls' guild headed up by Mauritz, and numerous home-school families with an active co-op following noon Mass in the extraordinary form on Fridays during the school year.

Originally from Long Island, Tom and Donna Kelly and their six children moved to Greenville via North Carolina eight years ago principally because of the attraction of the weekly celebration of the Mass in the extraordinary form and Prince of Peace's reputation of openness to home-schooling families. They had originally moved to North Carolina from New York 14 years ago due to the prospects, which never materialized at the time, of finding the same type of parish.

"This is the first parish that we have belonged to that recognizes and appreciates the value of home schooling and those families' contributions to parish life," Donna Kelly said. "We are grateful that not only are we provided with a place to meet, but also our children are taught Latin, the language of the Church."

Father Richard Tomlinson, parochial vicar, provides Latin instruction for families during the school year. Kelly said her family also appreciates the generous opportunities offered for confession, numerous guilds and traditional devotions and processions that help parish families live an integrated Catholic life.

Prince of Peace has been home to a stable and growing group of Catholics attached to the ancient Mass rite for more than 10 years, but the last 18 months have been a special blessing to parishioners. In fact, the daily extraordinary form Mass averages more than 40 attendees on weekdays and has regularly had more than 200 for holy days and Sundays.

Unity, in Two Forms

Both pastors attempt to provide a consistent liturgical praxis according to the mind of the Church, for every celebration of the liturgy in both forms. All four Sunday Masses, as well as the daily Masses, are offered ad orientem. The norm for all Masses is to receive holy Communion kneeling at the altar rail, and numerous altar boys dominate the sacred space.

Propers (the parts of the Mass that are usually spoken or sung by a choir or the people) were gradually introduced for the ordinary-form liturgy, and both Latin and English chant are the norm for the sung ordinaries.

"I believe you have to create a consistent way of worshipping in the parish, rather than catering to everyone's individual taste," said Father Smith. "But I also think it is important that the people don't feel that it is being forced upon them in any way."

Father Smith said that, in his two years at Prince of Peace, he was pleasantly surprised by the harmony that now exists in the parish, centered around and emanating from the sacred liturgy.

"What I didn't expect – but which has been very, very wonderful in our parish – is that a lot of people who swore two years ago they would never darken the doors of the Latin Mass now go every day because it is a Latin Mass at noon, and they have grown to respect it, appreciate it and love it."

"Also, we have members of the Latin Mass community who would never go to an English Mass, and they now periodically attend because it is celebrated according to the mind of the Church and consistent with the extraordinary form, while respecting the differences," Father Smith added.

Youth Participation

Prince of Peace also has a lot of young boys who ably serve both Masses, as well as children who sing in choirs for both forms of the Mass.

"So we have children growing up in our school, our home-schooling community and religious-education program who are essentially bi-formal," Father Smith said. "They go back and forth between the both forms as if it is the most natural thing in the world."

© Brian Mershon


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Brian Mershon

Brian Mershon is a commentator on cultural issues from a classical Catholic perspective... (more)


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