Frank Chow of the Vancouver Traditional Mass Society visits the Manila Observatory’s Chapel
December 22, 2009 2 Comments
I. A Mysterious E-mail
I received an email from a certain fjch1 with a title “Best Wishes”. I thought it was a spam. But I opened it anyway. And I read:
I’m an Ateneo alumnus (BS Bio 1976) who lives in Vancouver, British
Columbia. My wife and I attend Holy Family Parish, a Traditional Mass
parish in the care of the FSSP, and I am also on the board of the
Vancouver Traditional Mass Society. We come to Manila every December and
I’m excited to learn about your efforts to bring the Traditional Mass to
the Ateneo campus. It looks like you may already have found your stable
group, if the number of members of this Yahoo Group is any indication.
I would be interested in meeting you sometime (I’ve been following your
blog for a number of months). What will your schedule be like during the
Christmas holidays? We’ll be leaving for Vancouver on January 11, so I
could also look you up on campus when classes resume in the new year.
Yesterday he gave me his phone number and I gave him mine.
II. Where Have All the Jesuits Gone?
Today, at 7:30 a.m. he texted me that he dropped off something at the Jesuit Residence. He wondered whether I am already in the office. I told him that I will be in school in an hour. I was still riding the jeepney to Guadalupe then. I thought he already left. But at about 8:30 a.m. he texted me that he is touring around grade school. He wondered if I am nearby. I informed him that I am already on in Katipunan. I shall be at the Observatory in 5 minutes.
When I arrived at the Observatory, I met Frank at the entrance door of the Observatory. We shook hands. He told me that he went to the Ateneo Grade School to visit the Chapel of the Holy Angels where he once served. He said that there was once an altar attached to the wall there aside from the new altar. The Tabernacle is still at the center, but the old altar is gone.
We went to the third floor of the Observatory to see the chapel. The third floor used to be the Residence Hall of the Manila Observatory’s Jesuit scientists. But the Jesuits are gone and the community there was dissolved. The remaining Jesuits at the Observatory is 86-year old Fr. Sergio Su, S.J. who studies the focal mechanism of earthquakes, and the 70(?)-year old Fr. David Skelsky, S.J., who made possible the transfer of many Standards equipments from the U.S. He is currently assembing and fixing them. But Fr. Skelsky is only on a loan; he will be back to the U.S. soon.
At the end of the stairs, a lattice of woodbeams barred our way. Who locked this? There is no knob. Frank suggested to look for a latch or something on the opposite side. I can find none. Hmmm… I moved the woodbeams to the side. It moved. Welcome to the mines of Moriah!
We entered the chapel and knelt. The chapel was bare. There are no pews yet. A small table served as the altar table. Behind it is a chair. On the side is the tabernacle. It was veiled.
We entered the sacristy door beside the altar. On the left are three small rooms for private masses that can accommodate only one priest and one server. Each room has an altar pushed to the wall. At the back is a small cabinet as big as two shoe boxes. The cabinet contains some small candles and others. Pasted on the cabinet door are the Latin prayers for each vestment. Beside the small cabinet is a large cabinet. It contains chasubles in different colors. But they are old and dusty. Frank took some pictures.
“It is sad that this place is dilapidated,” said Frank.
I accompanied Franck to the last room. On this room was stacked the kneelers. Each kneeler can accommodate only one priest. The kneelers are stacked neatly now, unlike before when my friend and I saw them. A week before she entered the convent, we cleaned these kneelers. We removed the dusts with a Good Morning towel soaked in soap. We cleaned each kneeler thrice. It was her first time to handwash towelettes, so I laughed when saw her did it. “What are you doing?” I asked her. And I gave her a lecture in Laundry Washing 101. I pity her sweet little hands.
III. A Frank Conversation
Frank and I left the sacristy and went back to the chapel. He took a picture of the main altar. Seen through the tall windows on the left are the Observatory’s sprawling green fields. There is the white solar building that jutted out like a rock of marble. I pointed to the Grade School buildings beyond it, covered from view by a row of mango trees. I pointed to my brick building towards the east, beside the big black sphere. A thin mist shines in the morning sun.
Frank told me that in their parish in Vancouver, they have a regular Traditional Latin Mass every Sunday. For seven years, they shared the church with a parish. They petitioned the bishop to have their own personal parish. Nothing happened until 2007, when a sympathetic auxilliary bishop came and Summorum Pontificum came out. The Bishop found a church for them. It was the parish church of a German community. But the community dwindled. They cannot anymore support the maintenance of their parish church. So their parish was fused with the other parish, and the German church was given to the TLM community.
Today, this community has two FSSP priests: during Sundays, one priest says the mass while other hears confessions. On special feast days, two FSSP seminarians goes to the parish and a high mass is celebrated. Frank hopes that we can have something similar at the Ateneo de Manila University. I agreed.
I told Frank that the new Church of the Gesu here at the Ateneo could not have masses every Sunday; it has only two Sunday masses per month. The reason for this is that there are about three churches along Katipunan Avenue: Monasterio de Sta. Clara, Our Lady of Pentecost Church, and Our Lady della Strada Church. If the Jesuits offer two more Sunday masses at the Church of the Gesu, these other churches would lose financially. On the other hand, if we offer a TLM every Sunday, I think nobody will protest. We are such a tiny group.
“Does the Director of the Manila Observatory approve the use of the chapel for the TLM?” asked Frank.
I told Frank that Mrs. Antonia Loyzaga is supportive the TLM initiative. She has heard Latin masses in her youth. She wants the chapel renovated to make it a real chapel with pews. That is why she asked me lead the design for the chapel. I submitted to her a simple design that I posted in the Ateneo Latin Mass Society Yahoo group (It is also available in my Padre Faura’s notebook blog in pdf). My next problem is to make the costing. Her problem is to find the funds for the renovation. She said that the chapel, because it is a Jesuit chapel like other chapels in Ateneo de Manila University, should have its own budget from the Jesuit community.
“But the Jesuits are having financial problems,” said Frank. “They have this property in Sta. Ana which they are thinking of selling. But they may find it difficult to do so, because the property is being considered as a historical landmark” (see Inquirer article here).
I told Frank that I envision that the TLM mass collection will go to the purchase of vestments for priests, altar servers, and vessels. I told him about the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. They make these vestments. I saw some of their chasubles–they are exquisite. The cost is about PhP 5,000 per set, because the chasubles must match in design with the coverings for the vessels, for example. I am not sure if one set means one liturgical color, and there are are about five colors–green, white, red, black, violet.
Frank said that if it is only P 5,000 per set, that is only about a $ 100, which is not big for those in Vancouver. There are also Filipinos there who may like to help, even if they cannot be here at the Ateneo. Frank ask me to canvass this soon and inform him of the amount.
We thanked each other and left the chapel.
When we closed the chapel door, we read a sign: Chapel of St. Joseph.
“Joseph is my middle name,” said Frank.
This explains the riddle: fjch1 means Frank Joseph Chow… I don’t know what h1 means. I did not anymore ask him.
Monk’s Hobbit Notes: Frank sent me the pictures of the Manila Observatory chapel. You can find them here.