Published: March 22, 2007 California Catholic Daily
Nothing Greater Than the Mass
Priest-champion of traditional liturgy dies.
“I’m quite traditional,” Father Daniel Johnson told the Los Angeles Times in 2004. And, he added, "the greatest thing that a priest can do is the celebration of the holy Mass.”
Johnson then said, “maybe the modern way isn’t the only way."
Father Johnson, who in 1984 began saying the Mass according to the Missal of Pius V (the “Tridentine Mass”) at St. Mary’s by the Sea in Huntington Beach, died Sunday, March 18 in Duarte. He was 77.
Johnson became pastor of St. Mary’s by the Sea in 1978. With only 400-500 families, the parish was in danger of closing; but Johnson went door to door inviting people to church. He also went to the Huntington Beach pier for conversations. Over the years, St. Mary’s grew to about 1,600 families, drawing people from Los Angeles and Orange counties, drawn by the traditional liturgy Johnson offered. In 1992, Johnson began saying a weekly Tridentine Mass at St. Mary’s.
Johnson encouraged traditional devotion in his parish, in particular, requesting women to wear veils during Mass. At every Mass, both traditional and new rite, Johnson had an announcement read telling congregants that only those properly disposed should receive communion. The announcement directed those who wanted to receive communion in the hand to receive at the left side of the altar. Father Johnson himself would not give communion in the hand. He discouraged photography at weddings and baptisms.
During his final years at St. Mary’s, Johnson suffered from various ailments, including cancer of the ear and Bell’s palsy, which paralyzed the right side of his face. He retired at the age of 75 in 2004, and after suffering a fall, went to live at Santa Teresita Hospital in Duarte, where he died.
After Johnson’s retirement, Orange’s Bishop Tod Brown ended the celebration of the Tridentine Mass at St. Mary’s, though another priest offered to say it. Mass in Latin according to the Missal of Paul VI continued, however, under Johnson’s successor, Father Martin Tran. Father Tran and traditionalist parishioners clashed over their practice of kneeling at parts of the Mass where Bishop Brown had ordered the congregation to stand. In Feb. 2006, Tran asked recalcitrant parishioners to leave the parish and the Orange diocese.
The Tridentine Mass will be offered again at St. Mary’s, but for one time only; at Father Johnson’s funeral Mass. The diocese has not announced the date of the funeral.