Friday, November 23, 2018


I was only a month away from being 10 years old when my 5th grade teacher, Miss Casey (still living, btw) informed the class in my public school that morning that President Kennedy, the first Catholic President, was shot in Dallas, Texas! From that point forward until the funeral, it is as though it was yesterday as it is indelibly marked in my memory.

I remember her pulling out her blue crystal rosary and holding it for the rest of the day. She was a Catholic in our predominantly Protestant school and faculty, and the few Catholics in our class understood the gravity of this gesture!

And when we heard over the intercom at about 2 pm our time that President Kennedy had just died, I saw my teacher cry!

Later than day at home I saw images on the news with President Johnson being sworn in, with his wife next to him and Mrs. Kennedy on his other side still wearing her blood drenched dress. There was something about how Lady Bird looked at her husband which gave me the creeps. I actually thought Johnson did it!

But I digress, President Johnson placed his hand on a black book as he was sworn in as President on Air Force 1 as it was flying back to Washington. I thought it was a Bible. But it wasn't!

What was it? Praytell has the rest of the story!

Here it is:

Exactly 55 years ago today, November 22, 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson was inaugurated as the 36th President of the United States. Did you know that the oath was upon a Catholic hand missal? This would have been a pre-Vatican II missal in 1963 – the Catholic bishops of the world were in Rome at the time in the second session of the council, but they had not yet approved the liturgy constitution which set in motion the liturgical reform.
President John F. Kennedy was shot at 12:30 pm in Dallas. Johnson was with him at the hospital when he was advised by Secret Service agents to return to Washington in case he too was an assassination target. Kennedy died at 1:20 and Johnson left immediately. On the plane with him was the body of the deceased president, and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy. The swearing-in of LBJ took place on the Air Force One plane before it took off. Twenty-seven people squeezed into the sixteen-foot square stateroom of the plane for it.
Instead of the usual Bible, they found a Catholic missal on a side table in JFK’s bedroom on the plane. The new president chose Judge Sarah Hughes to swear him in – the first time a woman administered the presidential oath.


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Btw, I had the exact same version of that hand Missal back then to help me in my actual participation in the Latin Mass. I still have it! And it is no longer out of date!

TJM said...

Father McDonald,

I have that same version as well. My parents gave it to me as a birthday present. I still have it and use it to this day. Everything old becomes new again!

Richard M. Sawicki said...


I am surprised you didn't know that. I thought it was one of those not well known little bits of American Catholic history we love to hold in reserve to shock our Protestant friends with at parties. :-)

Then again, I learned it when I was 13 or 14 when I read LBJ's memoirs.

It may be worth noting that President Johnson describes the Missal as being "unopened, still in it's original box", suggesting to me that it didn't get much use. Make of that what you will.

Have a Blessed Advent!

Gaudete in Domino Semper!

Anonymous said...

Bee here:

I use the exact version of that Missal (pictured) for Mass on Sundays. It was one my mom kept all these years since the 1960's. It belonged to one of my older brothers. His signature is on the second page, in the handwriting of a grade school kid. Anyway, it's still in good shape, but I did have to replace the ribbons. Other than that, it works just fine.... :-)

So...President Johnson swore upon a Catholic Missal???? That is really weird, and raises all kinds of questions in my mind about his oath. I wonder if he ever knew.

God bless.

John Nolan said...

At the request of the family Cardinal Cushing celebrated a Low Mass. There are portents of things to come - the Cardinal says the Canon aloud and the burial service is mostly in English.

They say everyone knows where they were when they heard the news of JFK's shooting. In Britain most people were in front of the TV waiting for the first ever episode of Doctor Who (it's still running).

There were only two channels then, and both pulled all the rest of their evening schedules and played solemn music.

Mark Thomas said...


The audio of the LBJ swearing-in ceremony begins at the 2:36 mark:


Mark Thomas

TJM said...

John Nolan,

The attendees at Kennedy's funeral were sparred by the choice of a low Mass. Cardinal Cushing had a terrible singing voice and his knowledge of Latin and ceremony was bare bones. He did not understand the Latin speeches at the Vatican Council. I also suspect the Kennedy's did not want to alienate non-Catholic voters with the ceremonial of a Requiem High Mass. Other than Kennedy's mother, Rose, most of the Kennedy clan were cultural Catholics.

Tony V said...

You just have to laugh--the way PrayTell stubbornly insists on calling the Novus Ordo a "reform".
Like Rome, they just don't get it.

Anonymous said...

Jack here...

I have that exact missal which I bought for myself in 1964. I was a Junior in high school, and studying to become a Catholic. Back then a converts was instructed personally by the parish priest. I love that old missal, but we have no local EF masses here so I can’t use it, more’s the pity. It still also contains many holy cards from that era...they are so much better than the modern ones.

Anonymous 2 said...

John Nolan:

I too saw the very first episode of Dr. Who at 17:16:20 GMT on Saturday, November 23, 1963 (I was eleven years old at the time), and I remain a fan to this day. You may recall that the following Saturday the BBC replayed the first episode before airing the second one. I wondered whether I was remembering correctly or instead had dreamt it, but Wikipedia verifies the accuracy of the memory. It seems that the repeat was partly due to the launch of the series being overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy the previous day (the airing had also been delayed by 80 seconds).

Anonymous said...

For all practical purposes, Kennedy was "gone" the minute the final shot entered his head, which was at or about 1230 that day...1 pm central time is often given as the time he actually "died", but that may have been so that no one would have questioned the validity of the last rites given to him by Father Oscar Huber of the Diocese of Dallas. Of course you can't give last rites to a dead person. Most likely, if it had been anyone else, the doctors would have stated "DOA" upon seeing Kennedy---there was simply no way he could have survived with such a massive head wound.

The tragedy is that there were plenty of warnings that Dallas could be a dangerous place to visit---just 4 weeks earlier, Adlai Stevenson had gotten a rude reception there. Back then it was also the home of the very anti-Catholic W.A. Criswell of the Dallas First Baptist Church, and there was a lot of anti-Semeitism in those days there.

When we think of how bad the 60s were, really there were 2 parts. The 1960-1964 era was more peaceful and relatively tranquil, almost an extension of the Eisenhower era. But 1965-1969 was a whole different story, the combination of Vietnam and riots in the ghettoes and college campuses leaving a bad aftertaste to that decade.