Liturgy at the End of an Era

Author’s note: I am away this week preaching a retreat for priests in Connecticut. I may post some new material this week but I also thought in my absence to re post some of my older articles that some newer readers may have missed. Here is one I posted back in Sept 2009:

I received my First Holy Communion in 1968 on my knees at the altar rail in our parish church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help  in a suburb North of Chicago called Glenview. I received from a very elderly pastor, Fr. Dussman, whose hands shook from Parkinson’s. It was an awesome and fearsome event. I was more nervous since Father’s hands shook and receiving communion from him could be a challenge, especially for the first time.

I remember well how seriously we took Church in those days. We had special Church clothes (always a coat and tie), special Sunday shoes and approaching the altar rail was something quite wonderful but very formal: hands folded before the chest, fingers straight, right thumb crossed over left. Kneeling and waiting for the priest and altar boy to pass by was a time of anticipation, a kind of distracted prayer, alert and ready, don’t make the priest wait! Suddenly a altar boy slid a Paten under your chin. Head back, tongue out (not too far!) just over the lower lip! The priest spoke in an ancient language (Latin). Only years later did I learn exactly what he said. I am sure the Sisters taught me but I couldn’t remember(I was only 7 going on 8): Corpus Domini Nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam (May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ guard your soul unto life eternal). And suddenly there he was, Jesus in Holy Communion. Pretty awesome, very special, beyond my comprehension but no doubt this was holy, this was serious and sacred.

But little did I know I was at the end of an era. Within a year strange things began to occur that I did not understand, things that did not comport with my training. I remember my mother telling me that we were going to a special youth mass. I had heard of a school mass, but not a youth Mass. We got there early and I noticed something that confused me. “Mom!” I whispered, (you always whispered in Church in those days), “What are those drums doing there? Right in front of the Mary Altar, behind the rail too, were electric guitars, a drum set and chairs. Then out came these guys I had never seen before, a couple of them were wearing jeans too (a major no-no in the old days). After Church my mother asked me if I liked it. I said no and she was surprised. “But Mom, I don’t know those songs and they were so loud.” I was confused. The sisters said we should dress well, be very quiet in Church so others could pray and only talk or sing when it was time to do that. It all seemed “a violation of my training.” But an era had ended. Something was taking its place. Little by little the familiar gave way to the new. The transition was at times startling, at times exciting.

I do not write this post to “bash” the liturgical changes. Just to document an experience. I have become quite accustomed to the “new” Mass. I am also privileged to say the Traditional Latin Mass. I guess I am blessed to enjoy the best of both worlds. I am proud of the glory of the new Mass as it is celebrated in my parish. We have a wonderful gospel choir which also does classical very well. There is great joy at every Mass. I am also  so happy to be able to celebrate ancient Latin Mass that reminds me of the joy of my youth (qui laetificat juventutem meam).  I merely document here, I leave the judgements to you my faithful readers.

The following video depicts a Mass in the year 1969. It is from an Elvis movie entitled “Change of Habit.”  What an amazing little video for me! It’s just as I remember it as the changes set it. Notice the still strong presence of traditions: people all dressed up for Church, nuns in traditional habits, the priest at the high altar facing east. But notice too the guitars and “informality”  of the musicians. The music is up front not back in the choir loft. And many struggle to understand the new lay of the land. It was 1969. It was the end of an era.

10 Replies to “Liturgy at the End of an Era”

  1. For Communion at my Lutheran church, the wafer is dipped into the wine, then placed on the communicant’s tongue.

    This past Sunday morning we went to a service earlier than the one we usually attend. The assisting minister didn’t know my 9-yo daughter, c, and asked whether she took Communion.

    When we returned to our pew, c was glowering.

    Me: What’s up, honey?
    c: I did NOT get BOTH kinds of Communion!
    Me: Oh? I saw him dip it.
    c: HARDLY at all. Only a TEENY bit. I might have to get water because the wafer is STICKING.
    Me: um…well, wait until everyone else is done with Communion.

    So, while the rest of the parishioners were receiving Communion, c watched resentfully to see how much other people’s wafers were dipped. Apparently, somewhere along the line c had decided that the standard for wafer-dipping is that it has to go at least a third of the way into the wine. The assisting minister failed to meet her standards.

    c told her tale of woe to my husband C, who is Catholic and was not in church with us that morning:

    c: … and I had to get WATER to wash it down!
    C: If you were Catholic, you could take a BIG gulp of wine at Mass if you wanted to.
    c: blech! I don’t really LIKE wine.
    C: So why are you complaining?
    c: Because you’re SUPPOSED to have BOTH KINDS.
    C: Technically, at Mass you DO get both kinds if you just have the bread.
    c: *blink* Nuh-UH. If you only have bread you’re just getting the BODY, not BLOOD.
    C: You can ask Fr A about it on Saturday.

    So, Fr A may find himself explaining transubstantiation to a nine-year-old this weekend.

      1. If he’s lucky, she’ll first ask him Why Are the Bells Rung After “…given for you” and forget to ask him How Can the Blood of Christ Be Present When There Isn’t Any Wine on the Bread.

  2. “Notice the still strong presence of traditions: people all dressed up for Church, nuns in traditional habits …”

    But I rather suspect that the nuns in traditional habits weren’t wearing that much eye makeup! 😉

    Anyway, thanks, Monsignor, for sharing your memories. And you’ve provided some practical help for this new Catholic: I’ve been trying to figure out on my own exactly the right way to receive Communion on the tongue.

  3. Growing up in this Era of secular humanism, moral relativism and heretical modernism that has so geatly attacked, wounded and influenced our Church and Liturgy, I just came across this article that gave me great joy and hope. It’s references to Liturgy struck me as relevant to this topic and I hope it can shared on this website. Nothing in recent memory has given me such renewed hope and joy regarding true Christian Ecumenism and reunification. In a time of such great suffering for our Church, I hope other readers with find renewed hope and joy as well:

    1. Yes, I agree that there are many blessings for the Church if a substantial number of Anglicans are restpred to unity with the Church. We offer them much and they bring many gifts for us, aming them, liturgical gifts.

  4. For those of us born after 1970 we have had the exact opposite experience. Let me share with you mine:

    I’m 23 years old and attended the Novus Ordo from the time I was born through my first year of college. During that first summer of college I was driving from Syracuse, NY to Pittsburgh, PA on a Sunday. I looked at masstimes to see when there would be a Mass I could attend on the drive. There was a 1 p.m. Mass at a church right next to the interstate so I stopped and went to Mass. I didn’t understand some things. Why wasn’t the priest facing me? Why couldn’t I understand him? etc. But one thing I did realize was that true worship was going on. The people were all focused on God, and not on the priest. There was also time for quiet reflection and prayer. In other words, I really liked it. When I got home I did more research on the TLM to answer the questions above. Then when I went back to school I got up early every Sunday to drive an hour each way to the “local” TLM. Now I have the opportunity to say “Et introibo ad altare dei, ad deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” on a regular basis for Msgr.

    1. Yes, thanks for this expereince. I found myself at my first TLM in 1984 when the indult came out and I have celebrated it monthly since my ordination in 1989.

  5. Wow, Monsignor … I, too went from Latin and organs to English and tambourines practically overnight in 1969-1970. It was confusing, and I seemed to feel that something “just wasn’t right” about Mass anymore. I can remember planning a Liturgy when I was in 8th grade … the sisters actually allowed us to sing “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night as the recessional hymn. (I think we modified the lyrics a bit, though!) I also remember being upset that I couldn’t wear my chapel veil anymore. But on the flip side, just a couple of years ago, I attended a TLM, and found that although I truly love the TLM and all its reverence and mystery, I actually prefer the Novus Ordo (when done beautifully, correctly and according to all norms). However, I eagerly look forward to the new English translation, and can’t wait to answer “The Lord be with you” with “And with your spirit.”

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