Saturday, June 28, 2014


Because I'm 60 years old and also have a great memory of my life starting around 1956 for some odd reason (I can pinpoint that date to early July 1956 when we moved into our apartment in East Point, GA (Atlanta) when I was almost 3 years old, because we had just driven down from New York where I became ill and my parents made a bed for me on the floor of my bedroom as we awaited our furniture. I just remember being sick, sleeping on the floor, which I thought was cool, in a strange house that was really hot (no air-conditioner) waiting for the moving van. I also remember seeing the blue flame of our gas hot water heater and being enthralled by it. But I digress.

I remember almost every Sunday Mass since that time and also Christmas Midnight Masses, all in the only Mass the Church had, the Mass prior to Vatican II. We normally went to Low Masses on Sunday but would go to a High Mass for Christmas and some other occasions.

The Liturgy and the popular devotions of the Church were a given. No one criticized the Mass or the priest celebrating the Mass. Few people went to Holy Communion and children remained in their pew when their parents did go. No one was compelled to go to Holy Communion and no one felt left out if they didn't go to Holy Communion.

But what I remember of that period was that Catholics were different than other Christians and proud of the difference. It stemmed from the Latin Mass, to celibate priests and nuns in schools and hospitals who worn funny looking clothes.

But more importantly, Catholics tried not to wear their religion on their sleeve but to be good people at  home, work and play. We were not to proselytize and our faith was a bit of a private matter but at the foundation of who we were.

If people were drawn to the Catholic Church, it was by the example of our lives that did not wreak with a pungent religiosity. We tried to be normal people who enjoyed life but not to excess. We like to eat, drink, smoke, dance and have fun, clean fun. But we were expected to be married in the Church, remain married when we got married, to have children, to support our Catholic schools. We were expected to go to Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation, observe the days of fast and abstinence, especially on Fridays, support the Church and attend popular devotions such as the Holy Rosary and the Stations of the Cross and novenas. 40 Hours devotions were very popular too.

At home we were expected to say grace before meals and to pray the Holy Rosary privately or as a family.

The Bible though was not really a part of our Catholic piety--that was considered Protestant, being a Bible thumper.

We dressed in our Sunday best for Mass, carried our St. Joseph Sunday Missal to Mass, used it, had our rosaries for Mass too, to pray prior to Mass and to hold during Mass. Women covered their heads with hats, chapel veils or sometimes even Kleenex.

There were only three forms of the Mass, Low, High and Solemn High. Few parishes every had a Solemn High Mass-that was usually reserved for the Cathedral.

There was no experimentation with the Mass, you did it as it was prescribed, the laity were quiet before, during and after Mass in a hushed silence of awe. One never looked backwards in the Church except to depart! Eyes were to to fix on the tabernacle before and after Mass and on the altar and priest during!

Every parish church no matter how simple or how ornate had altars with the same configuration and an altar railing. The altar was always decorated with a nice altar cloth, the six High Mass candles, only lit for High Mass and an addition two lower ones placed somewhat close to the tabernacle for Low Mass. The tabernacle was always on the main altar. There were at least two other altars, one for the Blessed Virgin Mary and one for St. Joseph. Some churches had altars for the Sacred Heart. Other more elaborate church had additional altars, shrines and statues.

No one complained about the Mass, until about 1965. The complaints haven't stopped and I think these complaints have contributed in a large part to the decline of Catholicism in this country since that time, from a peak of about 90% of Catholics attending Mass, to less than 25% in most places today and of that 25% they still complain about this, that or the other. That is not very inviting to say the least.

Pope Francis has taken the attention off of Liturgy and more on Catholic life, especially popular devotions, but also how to live our Catholic lives outside our church buildings and obviously after Mass.

In my mind, this is a major restoration! This is very pre-Vatican II! This is the way it should be if and only if we celebrate the various options we have for the Mass by "saying the black and doing the red" and saying and doing it with reverence, awe and dignity and the laity properly disposed internally and externally.


Gene said...

"…less absorbed with liturgy and more absorbed with being good Catholics."

But, this is still a bottom up approach, which leads to dumbed down liturgy and indifferentism. Good Catholics value the Mass and the Eucharist above all else, particularly above social action and being "good" anything. The Liturgy is founded upon right BELIEF, not right action. Right belief leads to and teaches right action, but right behavior (i.e. being a "good Catholic") does not lead to right belief or right worship. There is solace and forgiveness for bad behavior and failures in Christian charity through Confession and Penance. This is all based upon our beliefs as reflected in the Liturgy and Real Presence. But heresy or apostasy…wrong belief…threaten the very foundations of all the rest. Being a "good Catholic" means treasuring and protecting the heritage of Liturgy and doctrine we have been given…not just going around being nice, helping the "mythic poor," or obligatory attendance at any Mass no matter how corrupt or banal. Fix the Liturgy, fix the Church.

JBS said...

Nicely said, Fr. McDonald, and insightful.

Anonymous said...

"No one complained about the Mass, until about 1965. The complaints haven't stopped . . ."

They have not stopped, and should not stop, until the degradation of the Mass--referring not to the Missal of Paul VI, but to the liturgy in ordinary parish practice--is reversed and proper liturgy restored.

This will not occur until the problem is faced forthrightly and publicly at the highest levels in the Church, not merely with the good example and words that Pope Benedict unsuccessfully tried to rely upon exclusively, but by effective and decisive action.

Until this happens, whatever the good intentions at whatever level in the meantime, we will continue to see that talk of being "less absorbed with liturgy and more absorbed with being good Catholics"--when the liturgy is the source and summit of Catholic life in and out of Church, is prattle that is not merely empty and misguided, but which continues the destruction of faith and practice.

John Nolan said...

I was brought up in the 1950s and the Mass was a given. No-one had a problem with Latin since no-one envisaged it in any other language. Catholics did not hanker after a vernacular Communion service like the Anglicans had down the road - they knew it was not the Mass, which the Protestant reformers had explicitly abolished in the 16th century. Where the vernacular was used, in extra-liturgical devotions like the stations of the cross, or the Rosary, or in most of the Benediction service, it was used unselfconsciously. No-one thought that the Leonine Prayers after Low Mass should be in Latin, any more than they thought that the Mass which preceded them should be in English.

Parts of the Roman Ritual (including parts of the Baptismal rite) were allowed to be said in the vernacular, but no-one muttered about this being the thin end of a wedge which would lead to the virtual abandonment of Latin by 1967. They assumed that the Mass would not be significantly changed, and if the variable parts were to be allowed in the vernacular, few would have objected.

Instead, they got a liturgical revolution in which virtually nothing was left untouched. This was unprecedented in the history of the Western Church and as far as the Mass was concerned was accomplished in little over three years. The revolutionaries themselves could hardly believe it. The 'liturgy wars' began in earnest in 1965. Before that it was a largely academic debate among liturgists. Now it hit everyone with violent force and people not unnaturally picked sides. Some were enthusiastic, some were appalled, most were simply bemused.

WSquared said...

Catholics were different than other Christians and proud of the difference.

It's odd that a great many Catholics seem unaware that it isn't necessarily a lack of charity to ask why one is Catholic and not something else. Ecumenism and guarding against triumphalism does not mean that we're "not allowed" to be ourselves.

Anonymous said...

John Nolan, you sound like a kid. How old are you?

Anonymous said...

Those headlines, Father…are you just TRYIN' to push our buttons?

William B said...

Anon @ 9:13pm...
No, John NOlan does not sound like a kid. He sounds like an educated, faithful Catholic. A "kid" would sound like "give us folk music in the mass!... give us women priests!... give us gay marriage!... be liberal and progressive!" That is the sound of immaturity and rebellion.