I recently had an interesting discussion with a traditional Catholic who questioned me about a Traditional Latin Mass Wedding I did. He seemed concerned that the couple was permitted to be married at the foot of the altar. In other words they were inside the altar rail, along with their best man and maid of honor.
He said that such a thing was not allowed, and that the presbyterium (sanctuary) was only for the clergy and servers.
I explained that it was a long practice of the Church, at least in America, that a bride and groom who were both Catholic would be married inside the rail, at the foot of the altar, and that they would kneel inside the rail for the duration of the nuptial Mass. (See photo of my parent’s 1959 wedding at upper right).
He did not seem impressed with my explanation an countered that the “problems” had begun in the 1950s and even as early as the 1940s. He further explained that the liturgical movement was already exerting influence and introducing “aberrations” into the liturgy. He thus reiterated that I had done something wrong.
Sadly our conversation ended and I didn’t get the chance to ask him the question I really wanted to ask: “What was the golden year of liturgy? When was everything, according to him, done “right?” When was the year when there were no aberrations?” When were the rubrics “pure” and when was the liturgy free of what he considers improper allowances, such as a couple being married inside the rail? Apparently the 1950s were not that time for him. Then what was?
I have been saying the Traditional Latin Mass for all 23 years of my priesthood, long before most priests were widely permitted to say it. I had permission of the Archdiocese from day one to assist with traditional Catholics in this manner, under the tutelage of the Pastor of St. Mary’s in Washington DC. In “those days” there weren’t a lot of resources and many of the rubrical books that have since come back into print were hard to find. Thus I learned a lot from Fr. Aldo Petrini and some of the other “old guys.”
Under their instruction I learned not only the rubrics, but also the customs of the “old days” wherein certain permissions existed, by way of indult or custom, to do some aspects of the Sacraments in English. Among the customs of the time was that, though the faithful were generally not allowed in the Sanctuary, weddings, confirmations, and even First Communions were conducted at times within the rails:
- Click HERE to see a mid 1950s photo of a Cardinal Archbishop confirming on the steps of the High altar.
- Click HERE to see a 1952 photo of First Communion at the altar steps.
- Click HERE to see another photo of a wedding in 1927 with the couple inside.
Were these “abuses?” I am not enough of a rubricist to know. I just know and (obviously) have evidence that they were done.
As for weddings there was the custom of doing mixed marriages only in the rectory. But somewhere in the 1950s permission was granted to move these to the Church, but outside the rail and without Mass.
Click HERE to see a photo of a 1960 Wedding conducted outside the rail since of the couple was not Catholic.
At any rate my question remains. What was the golden age of the Mass? What year did the “troubles” begin as traditional Catholics see it? Was it 1963, 1955, 1945? Perhaps even earlier?
Please understand, I ask these questions not without sympathy for the traditional view. It is clear that in the late 1960s a floodgate opened where liturgical change occurred in a way that was in no way organic and there was a great rupture of continuity. And, although I am quite comfortable with the Ordinary Form of the Mass, I also love the Extraordinary Form, and am sympathetic to the concerns of the traditional Latin Mass community.
That said, at times I wince when a kind of particularism sets up within sectors of the Traditional Mass community. And it is odd, when I, a priest who has celebrated the Latin Mass for 23 years, am dressed down by someone who is denouncing something that was clearly done long before the liturgical changes from the Council.
It is too easy for us to savage one another over such things. A layman was telling me recently how he got the evil eye from some pew mates when he made the responses to the priest along with the servers. Those sorts of changes had also come along in the 1940s when clergy started to encourage the faithful to be more involved in the Mass. But once again, it would seem changes of that sort were “too late” to be authentic for some. Hence, though we use the Missal of 1962, it would seem that 1962 is not the year for some.
It was common 25 years ago for Traditional Catholics to call the old Mass the “Immemorial Latin Mass.” And the phrase was used to suggest that the Mass had been unchanged for centuries. Of course any serious study of the Mass reveals that it had undergone not insignificant changes all along and there there were not a few local customs, especially around the reception of the Sacraments. Though, to be fair, the changes were organic, not the rupture with tradition we experienced in the late 1960s.
But again, I wonder, what was the “Golden Year” when traditional Catholics agree all was as it should be. I ask this question sincerely, not rhetorically. But I DO ask it with some sadness for there can often be what I consider an unkindness that can be exhibited by some who wish to restrict things, where freedom is allowed, even within the old norms.
I fear at times that we, who love tradition, fail to manifest the joy and glad hearts that should bespeak those who know the Lord and love the beauty of the Extraordinary Form. We should seem more as people in love with God and the beauty of God, than as technocrats arguing each point. There is a place for precision, but there is an even greater need for joy and mutual love.
How would you answer my question?
Here is a video that, while filmed in 1982, depicts a Mass from the 1940s and shows the bridal party within the sanctuary. Again illustrating the common and widespread practice.