On the Outskirts of Finland: An Extraordinary Priest
Letter 54
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For the Church, Finland is something of a terra incognita, one of those outskirts the New Evangelization has to go through.

For this reason Father Anders Hamberg’s ordination to the priesthood on June 7, 2014 is in itself extraordinary since it was only the sixth ordination of a Catholic priest in Finland since the Reformation! But it is liturgically extraordinary as well since on the following day (June 8, 2014) Fr. Hamberg chose to celebrate his first Mass—again in the Cathedral of Saint Henry—with the traditional Missal in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. . . . This month, we are proposing one of the articles that gave an account of this event, followed by a few of our reflections.


Alberto Carosa’s article for Catholic World Report, June 23, 2014

Among the recent positive developments of Catholicism in the Northern countries, Deacon Anders Hamberg was ordained a priest on Saturday, June 7th, as only the sixth Finnish-born Catholic priest since the Reformation. The ordination took place in Saint Henry’s Cathedral in Helsinki, in both Swedish, the mother tongue of Fr. Hamberg, and Latin, and was celebrated by the Bishop of Helsinki, Msgr. Teemu Sippo S.C.I. Father Hamberg had been ordained a deacon by Bishop Sippo on September 28, 2013, again in Saint Henry's Cathedral.

I was well aware of this and other developments in Finnish Catholicism, including the opening of its first Catholic church last May in Kuopio, the capital of the Savo region in central Finland. But what I was not aware of until recently was that the newly ordained priest, Father Hamberg, would celebrate his first Mass on the day following his ordination, June 8, Pentecost Sunday, in the old rite—as a Missa Cantata according to the Missale Romanum of 1962. And that celebration also took place in the cathedral in Helsinki, with the blessing of Bishop Sippo. A Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is already celebrated in the cathedral at least once a month, whenever a priest is available.

It ought to be kept in mind that this celebration is a direct result of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which in 2007 liberalized the celebration of the old Latin rite (that traditional liturgy being called a “treasure for the Church” by Pope Francis), as well as his decision to establish in 2008 a personal parish church in Rome specifically for the tradition-minded community in the Eternal City. This church, Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini (Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims), is operated by the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). It is located in the old city center right across the Tiber in an area facing the world-renowned ancient district of Trastevere (lit. “across the Tiber”), and was originally inspired, built, and directed by St. Philip Neri to accommodate the pilgrims flocking to the city.

If its specific mission was to “bring back the faithful to a real and zealous practice of the faith through liturgy, processions, devotions,” as it says on the church's website, then it remains all the more relevant today under the aegis of the FSSP, which seeks to revive those practices which have fallen into oblivion and/or were all too hastily sidelined, the old rite in Latin first and foremost.

Thus the ordination of June 7 and the subsequent celebration of Father Hamberg’s first Mass on June 8 may well be seen as a fruit of this mission. In fact, a few years ago I met for the first time Anders Hamberg, when he was studying in Rome as a seminarian, during a function at the nearby Casa di Santa Brigida, the headquarters of the Bridgettine Order. On that occasion, I was stunned to hear from the seminarian that he used to go to the church of Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini on Sundays, as I did. But we hadn't met before for the simple reason that we were going to different Masses.

The fact that Father Hamberg’s mother tongue is Swedish is a further asset, in the sense that this puts him in the position to cater to the spiritual needs of both the Finnish and Swedish-speaking communities. In fact it already seems that he will continue to give pastoral and liturgical care to both of these groups in the Diocese of Helsinki.

Meanwhile, his most immediate commitment was to co-ordinate the yearly traditional summer pilgrimage to Köyliö on June 15. Köyliö is a small island in a lake in south-western Finland and the place where, according to tradition, Saint Henry, the patron saint of Helsinki cathedral, the diocese, and all of Finland, was martyred around the middle of the 12th century.


1) Finland barely has 2 Catholics out of 1000 (10,000 for 5 million) inhabitants. It goes to show what a land of evangelization it is, and what a great event the ordination of Father Hamberg is for this micro community! For the brand-new priest to choose the traditional liturgy for his first Mass is a new proof of the universality of the liturgical, doctrinal, and spiritual treasure that Benedict XVI put within the reach of every priest and therefore of the faithful.

2) The traditional rite is eternally youthful and fruitful in vocations: Father’s Hamberg’s choice to celebrate his first Mass in the traditional rite illustrates the correctness of Cardinal Cañizares’s insight(*): “The Motu Proprio . . . has produced a sign that has surprised many and represents a true ‘sign of the times’: the interest that the extraordinary form of the Roman rite has sparked among the young who never knew it as the ordinary form. This interest manifests a thirst for ‘languages’ that are out of the ordinary and that draw us to new frontiers—frontiers that many pastors had never considered. Opening the Church’s liturgical treasure to all the faithful has made it possible for those who did not know them to rediscover the riches of our heritage, even as this liturgical form encourages many priestly and religious vocations throughout the world that are ready to give their life to serve evangelization.

3) Fr. Hamberg, who took part in the 2014 Populus Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage in Rome, told us that he shares his time between the Turku parish (150 km or 93 miles West of Helsinki) and Helsinki itself, where he is in charge of the Swedish Masses as well as the monthly Mass in the extraordinary form. The small number of available priests and the long distances make it difficult to give the faithful all the pastoral support they would like. Nevertheless, over fifty people attend the traditional Mass in Helsinki regularly: indeed, thanks to Fraternity of Saint Peter priests coming in from Poland, it can be celebrated every single Sunday. In addition to the nucleus of regular faithful made up of young adults and families, other people also occasionally join from far away; they are attracted by a liturgy that is more prayerful than what they usually attend, and by the music.

4) There is what might be termed a “High Church” strain in Lutheranism. It is mindful of the dignity and solemnity of the liturgy as well as of rigor in doctrine. Within the Swedish Lutheran Church, which is the mother of the Finnish Church, there has been a steady stream of conversions to Catholicism for the past few years, including among well-known pastors (most recently Ulf Ekman, read his story here). While it is a matter of common observation that Lutheranism’s headlong rush forward in moral and political matters (since 2009 the Bishop of Stockholm is a female bishop in a Lesbian partnership) feeds this trend, the traditional liturgy’s restored standing in the Catholic Church (and all that it represents in terms of sound doctrine and morals) may well also act as a magnet. In this sense, Fr. Hamberg’s vocation appears as an asset in the service of a true “ecumenism.”

(*) In a preface to a Spanish book on the principles governing the application of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.