HE FOLLOWING EXCERPT was published in a Church bulletin about a month ago. What a sad testimony! And how erroneous to suggest that the “success” of a Mass is judged by how closely it resembles a Beatles concert. 1
Many good books were written by Catholic priests in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Where were these priests? Why didn’t they do anything?
Excerpt from a Parish Bulletin
— December 2014 —
T HAS BEEN MANY YEARS since a familiar cry was heard from Mass-goers at Christmas and Easter: “It’s all so different!” This came from people who hadn’t assisted at Mass for years—even 25 or 30 years. All they remembered was the Mass in Latin with the congregation singing occasional hymns.
Anyone saying that now would have to be over 55 or so … and, even then, the Latin Mass would be the vaguest of memories. I have still not quite figured out why some people seem to be eagerly desire [sic] a Latin (Tridentine) Mass. Is it nostalgia? Is it a funny little poke or protest against today’s vernacular Mass? Is it a liking for Gregorian chant? Is it a desire for a ceremony seemingly with a greater aura of mystery?
For those 70, 80, or 90 years old, I can easily comprehend a desire to worship like one did in their youth, but some Latin Mass attendees are in their 30s and 40s. It would be a rare case where they really knew Latin and understood every word of an all-Latin liturgy. [Anyone who tells you they truly understand the Trinity, the Bible, or the Mass is lying.] Very few colleges and even fewer high schools even offer a few years of Latin study any more. I studied Latin for six years, yet still much prefer the current vernacular. I also studied classic Greek, but would not want to worship in that language. I studied Spanish, too, and, though I honestly enjoy the Mass and Sacraments in that language, there still remains an internal blockage which says to me: “this isn’t your way of praying.” It is for the native Spanish speakers.
Before the Second Vatican Council gave us the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy—the outline for all post–1970 Masses in local languages—I remember participating in classes and study groups which were analyzing the history and nature of the Catholic liturgy. We could see a groundswell coming from liturgical experts, along with hot debate, pushing for the Mass and Sacraments in the vernacular. We prayed it would be so. Why? Because we saw that the liturgy (which, in translation, means “the work of the people”), over the centuries, had gradually come to be more the “work of the priest.” [That’s not what “liturgy” means. It comes from two Greek words, and the correct definition is “work done on behalf of the people.”]
There is a reason we now call the priest at Mass the “presider” and the people, the “assembly.” The priest presides over or celebrates the Mass with the people. It’s no longer “we’re going to hear the priest say Mass.” The peoples’ prayer should be in their familiar language. Never again will the Church get lost in one language – no matter how venerable. It’s no secret that originally the early Masses were in Aramaic—the language of Jesus and the Apostles. [For the record, that’s completely wrong. The First Mass was said in Hebrew, not Aramaic. The Apostles doubtless followed our Lord’s example in the beginning.] (We have some outlines of them still, however the central Eucharistic prayer was not written out yet—it was left to the preside to create.) [Again, that’s completely wrong. Except for vague hints, we don’t really begin to see what the liturgy actually looked like until around the 7th century.]
That was followed by the liturgy in Greek and we possess many of those. However, after Constantine in the 4th century, with the power of the Roman Empire, Latin held sway—and for many centuries, even when only the (few) most educated understood the language. Latin became the language of “the Church” and therefore it took on an almost “holy” aura as though God would be especially pleased or moved by people who used it.
Orics [sic] of relief were heard in Church circles around the world from the Council’s end in 1965 to the gradual practical directions for the vernacular in 1970. [The Second Vatican Council mandated that Latin be retained for Mass. This was not a suggestion.] We were finally unbound from Latin chains. We have just begun to explore and adjust to all this. “The Church moves slowly.” ¿Verdad?
The freedom felt after the Church switch to the vernacular gave us a period of exuberance in liturgy. I was there. Let’s put ourselves in the late ’60s. People sang a lot together in those days! I was there especially with youth groups. Ray Repp, one of the first on the Church’s fresh musical American Bandstand, began rolling out ditties like: “Here we are, all together as we sing our song joyfully.” It was sing-along music, but much of it was awful and unliturgical.
Guitar Masses were the specialty of the day. [For the record, Annibale Bugnini said during a 1967 press conference that guitars cannot be used at Mass.] Often, because of the lack of new, better, liturgical music, we baptized some secular, popular songs. Remember: “Come on people, now, smile on each other; everybody get together, try to love one another right now.” We were at the end of the folk song craze so we borrowed a few of these in the ’60s and early ’70s which took us once in a while to a more thoughtful place—“Where have all the Flowers Gone” and “Sounds of Silence.” Heck, I remember having a high school band at my first Mass at Holy Cross in [ name withheld ] in 1969 playing “Sounds of Silence” during the presentation of the gifts.
We were grabbing music from everywhere it seems, during those early “vernacular” years. [Except, of course, from actual valid sources.] Of course, you have to recall the times—a period of very creative, eclectic secular music which we still hear today because of its innovation and often lofty themes. You see, several sources of such thoughtfulness were converging. The Elvis phenomenon was dying down and the very creative Beatles music appeared. The hippies were talking freedom and love (with a drug culture, sadly) and Vietnam War protests were reaching a peak. Bob Dylan told us The Times are Changin’ and they certainly were.
So, anti-war songs, love songs, freedom songs, and songs searching for meaning became the context for the new freedom in Church music. [What was so horrible about Scripture? The traditional music of the Church comes directly from Scripture 99% of the time.] I remember, when leading some high school and college youth groups, coming together over cokes and pizza and—with a guitar or two and with a mandolin or banjo at times—sitting in a big circle and singing and singing into the late night: a seemingly endless repertoire of folk, pop and religious music.
No wonder some conservative folk were shocked. What happened to Dies Irae?
The corner was turned, I think, in the minds of many about youth and their church music about 1973, at least in [ name withheld ]. It was a Christmas midnight Mass. I was presider. Along with an excellent young guitarist and a few others, we put together what could only be called a youth orchestra. Friends called friends with great musical talent. They rehearsed a few times the midnight Mass was [sic] what would then have been called a “happening.” We even had a complete drum set.
These kids put together a blend of Christmas carols old and new with all the Mass responses and with various kinds of innovative beats complete with forms and solos that you would not believe possible. [Oh, I’m pretty sure I would believe it’s possible…]
The applause and cheering after Mass would not stop and they sang and played for another 40 minutes. Most of the assembly remained to hear it. What a joyful Mass! What a “thumbs up” for Vatican II. I have heard nothing like that since, but I’m still waiting. Put solid Eucharistic prayer, the exuberance and talent of youth, and the occasion of a Church festival together and the result is dynamite! Do it in Latin? No way.
For once, I have nothing to say. Reading this bizarre rant by a Catholic priest has left me speechless.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 As a man in his early thirties, I must confess that the Beatles have almost zero relevance to my life. Until I read this bulletin excerpt, I didn’t realize it’s BEATLES and not BEETLES.