Friday, November 22, 2013


It was a Friday, November 22, 1963 and I as in the 5th grade at Wheeless Road Elementary Public School in Augusta. I was 9 years old (59 now) and on December 21 would be 10 years old (soon to be 60 now). It was exactly 50 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the weather, it was cloudy but warm. It was depressing looking outside. I remember my Catholic teacher, Miss Betty Casey (who is still living in Augusta, GA) running into our classroom and saying the president had be shot in Dallas Texas. 

I remember everything stopping and teachers gathering and whispering. I remember a sense of dread, not fully comprehending what all this meant. 

I remember the principal of the school putting the radio news beamed live to us over the intercom system and hearing all the confusion. And then at about 2:00 PM our time, or 1:00 PM Dallas time, we were told the president had been assassinated. I did not know what assassinate meant or what an assassin   was, but I learned it that day and in the days to follow!

I remember Ms. Casey bursting out into tears when that announcement came through and the entire class followed her example as a contagion! 

They let us out of school early as most of us walked home or rode our bikes. I remember the feeling outside as I walked home a little less than a mile. I remember it being warm but cloudy and I remember that we had the following Monday off because of the funeral. 

I don't remember much about what I did when I got home.  I think my mother was crying and fearful. I don't remember exactly.

We know now that like all of us, President Kennedy was a great sinner but he was a Catholic and he received a Catholic funeral, a Requiem Mass to pray for his immortal soul. That Mass accomplished what it was meant to do in terms of the soul's need for the Church's prayer as one faces death, judgment, heaven or hell. 

I believe in purgatory and its purifying fires. We prayed for President John F. Kennedy that day of his death and in the days, weeks, months and years to follow. That prayer for the repose of his soul was and is critical! 

On his funeral day, all those in attendance heard the Dies Irae, all those high government officials and dignitaries   from throughout the world. I hope they had a translation of it in their own vernacular. I hope they heard this pre-Vatican II Requiem Mass and heard the prayers that were offered for the slain president that day of his funeral. I hope all took note that the prayers of the church were sober and chilling as chilling as the steel cold reality of those blasts ringing out in Dallas, Texas 50 years ago today!  Let us remember President John F. Kennedy and continue to pray for the repose of his immortal soul. 

But let us also grieve the beauty, dignity and sobriety of the Requiem Mass that John F. Kennedy had, that was taken from us too, shortly after this mournful day to be replaced by the banalities of the post Vatican II Funeral Mass and the canonizations we hear proclaimed by priests and deacons over the faithful and not so faithful departed. In canonizing them, we rob them of the prayers of the Church and the reason for praying for their immortal souls and deprive them of the assistance they need at their particular judgment and in the fires of purgatory! 

At the President's Requiem they did not sing, "Be Not Afraid" or "On Eagle's Wings" or  "Amazing Grace" or "How Great Thou Art" or "Danny Boy" or any other such nonsense that have no place in a Requiem. They sang the Requiem from the Roman Missal and the Roman Graduale including the Introit, Gradual, Sequence (Dies Irae), Offertory and Communion antiphons and the rite of purification at the end. None of these prayers canonized this dead sinner experiencing his just reward. We simply acknowledged the dread reality of this hour and in faith, hope and love, mournful and sorrowful, we commended the faithful departed to His creator and his just reward.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace! May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen!


John Nolan said...

The actual funeral Mass for JFK was in fact a Low Mass (at the family's request) and Cardinal Cushing almost bellowed the Canon. There was solemn music, but not the Requiem Mass Propers. The prayers at the graveside were in English. In January Cushing indeed celebrated a Pontifical High Mass with the family present; Mozart's Requiem was used.

I remember the funeral itself, particularly the procession, as being a bit shambolic, and looking at some of the newsreel clips confirms this impression. Just over a year later Churchill got a far more impressive send-off.

To be fair, the organizers of the JFK funeral didn't have a lot of time, whereas the detailed plans for Churchill's funeral, drawn up by the Duke of Norfolk as Earl Marshal (and a Catholic, by the way) were in place long before the old man died. Also, the Brits are better at State occasions!

Gene said...

Indeed,John,no one tops the Brits for dignity and proper form and manners on solemn or celebratory occasions...

rcg said...

My memories are almost identical to those of Fr. McDonald. I don't recall any tears, but lots very somber adult faces. That was almost worse.

I recall ignorantly asking my grandfather why Churchill was such a big deal. He pierced me with his good eye and said, "He is the reason we didn't have to learn to goose-step".

Gene said...

I was in algebra class. The Principal, Mr. Jones, announced it on the intercom, Miss Clifton started crying, and then the Principal played the National Anthem over the intercom. We were dismissed from school then. My Dad's comment when he got home from work: "Well, Hell, Johnson's the one they shoulda' shot."

Bill said...

I was in biology class. 10th grade. I was appalled that my classmates immediately began referring to JFK in the past tense as soon as we heard he'd been shot. Of course, it later became apparent that due to the lag in reporting, they were actually right.

November 24, 1963 marked our return to weekly attendance at Mass, after a long absence.

Mary Ann said...

I was 23, a young wife and mother of 3, the youngest just over a month old. President Kennedy was the first president I was old enough to vote for. I remember how, for a very long time afterward, people all walked around looking stunned, unbelieving that something this horrendous could happen in the U.S. It was mental and emotional devastation. The collective grief was profound. To this day I am brought to tears by the memories shared with my countrymen that day. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.