Monday, July 6, 2009

Looking Back at 1962: Pre-Vatican Council

I have a stack of old Catholic periodicals and came across this fascinating issue of VIEW: Catholic Comment on the News which is buzzing with talk of a possible change to using the vernacular in the Mass and speculating about other things which may come from the upcoming Vatican Council. Much of what is discussed continues to be discussed nearly fifty years later. New translation of the Mass, hints at ecumenism, Latin v. English -- it is all there. Following are letters of opinion sent to VIEW: Catholic Comment on the News by individuals representing other Catholic publications:

THE MASS IN ENGLISH: A Digest of Catholic Opinion

The Holy See is being petitioned from many quarters to allow greater use of the vernacular in the Mass. The obvious advantage of such a change would be a better understanding of the Liturgy. the whole idea is strongly opposed by some authorities on practical grounds. But polls show that a majority would welcome the change. The question is sure to receive attention of the coming Vatican Council. What the Council decides will be the Council's best judgment of what is best for the faithful.


What is the case for the use of the vernacular -- English for us -- in the sacred ceremonies and liturgy of the Church?
I feel that the main point in any discussion of replacing Latin with the common tongue of the country involved is this: God understands any language, but His people do not.
Prayer should be a lifting of the mind and heart to God, not a mechanical recitation. How can prayers said in a foreign language, learned by rote, be meaningful?
Our liturgy is not only the praise of God but out most important time of public worship and instruction. It is, moreover, a corporate action in which the people are to unite with the priest. This being true, the use of Latin in our parish liturgy is a considerable stumbling block. The blunt fact is that the overwhelming majority in the ordinary American parish do not know Latin and never will. Our Catholic family is not an educated elite. It is a vast number that includes millions of people who read very little -- certainly not Latin -- and whose principal contact with religion is the Sunday Mass.
Dare we close off that contact , dry up that instruction, make worship a difficult and remote business of fulfilling an obligation, instead of a vigorous, joyful experience, engaging the mind and heart and eye and ear -- the whole man caught up in the whole Christ, praising and adoring Father?

Rev. Joseph T. Nolan
New York, N.Y.


Certainly the congregation no less than the altar boys can learn to make the responses. They could also learn to respond in Chinese in the same fashion and understand the responses no better. Granted that people can get 'some general notions' about what they say or sing, our prayer-life ought not to be something general or vague, something 'seen under water' as one man puts it. Every bit of it should flow from the heart and mind alike.

John L. Murphy
Homiletic and Pastoral Review
New York, N.Y.


Why all the pros and cons on changing our Latin Mass to English? Let's face the facts. The Church began to use the Latin language at a time when it was practically the only language spoken. They were a lot more reasonable than we are today. Now what language is spoken throughout America? English. I firmly believe every country should change their Mass to whatever language is spoken throughout that country.
Let's not think of ourselves -- born Catholics or converted Catholics. That is selfish. Let's think of our non-Catholic friends who attend Catholic weddings, funerals, dedications and Sunday Masses. They come away from the Church very confused. How many of us can actually come in contact with every one of these people to explain everything? The Mass can be a lesson or instruction to these non-Catholic friends who cannot come or do not want to come to instructions on Catholic religion.
To you who want to stick to the old Latin language: do you drive a chariot? Ninety-nine percent of you are driving new cars, keeping up with the latest styles, modern appliances.
How much unity do we have in our Church when the leader finishes the Gospel in English and the priest is still saying it in Latin? Often, when using the missal, seven or eight pages of silence pass by. For the ones without a missal, a million and one thoughts can go through a person's mind. Some of the time the priest is at the Lord's Prayer, and I've got a couple more pages to go, or some priests read slower, and I'm waiting for the Lord's Prayer. Is that praying in unity? Why have a leader who is the middle man between us and the priest. Let's only have the priest and us, worshipping God together.

Mrs. C. J. Ellsworth
The Oklahoma Courier
Oklahoma City, Okla.


Latin is the liturgical language of the Latin Rite of the Universal Church. It is not the liturgical language of the Greek Rite, or the Coptic Rite, or the Rumanian Rite.
There are about a dozen tongues used in the liturgy in the various rites of the Church. In every case, those tongues were selected, in the beginning, because they were the tongues of the people in one area or another.
The liturgy in the Western Church, originally Greek, was translated into Latin because the people spoke Latin. It remained in Latin long after the people had ceased to speak Latin and were speaking other tongues.

Catholic Universe Bulletin
Cleveland, Ohio


A reader informs me that he will 'begin to have serious doubts about my intelligence' if I do not agree with an article opposing English in the dialog Mass written by Father R. F. Venti and published in the Northern Ontario Register.
Of course, I do not agree with Father Venti, because I think that more use of native tongues in the liturgy would help to bring millions back to the practice of the Faith, and to give the Faith to other millions.
As to having my intelligence doubted, I haven't the slightest objection to that. I hold it in low esteem myself. But my intelligence is not the point at issue; we are discussing English in the Mass.
I disagree with Father Venti on that; but I disagree much more with what he has to say about those who favor English, and with what he reads into what I have written on the subject.
He says that 'one gets the idea' from my columns that 'all Catholics are disgruntled, dissatisfied and disobedient, and that the Mass in Latin as we recite it in our churches is a batch of confusion.'
Never once have I said or suggested that anybody (much less "all Catholics") are disgruntled or disobedient. I have said that many Catholics would prefer English to Latin; if that is being 'dissatisfied,' then they are dissatisfied.
It is sometimes better to be dissatisfied than complacent. but I reject the terms 'disgruntled' and disobedient.' Nobody is disgruntled; and I assert that to ask for English in the Mass is not disobedience. It is obedience.
Pope John has urged us to ask for what we want. He went out of his way to tell lay people to voice their 'expectations and suggestions' for his coming world council, and 'not to doubt that they will find in us a benevolent hearing.'

Joseph Breig
Hawaii Catholic Herald


I know that a translation of our English Bible into Latin would exhilarate those who want to retain Latin in our Roman Catholic liturgy. Some of my priest friends who are Latinists have informed me that Latin is God's own language and, they are shocked if you suggest that the Apostles might have spoken Greek or Hebrew.
Let me tell you (with tongue securely in cheek) some of the wonderful ramifications that would develop from this project for the Bible in Latin. The daily missal for the laity would no longer be published in English but in Latin. The pamphlets on the rack in the rear of the church would be sold neatly packaged -- each pamphlet with its interliner trot in cellophane wrapper.
Latinists claim that Latin gives an air of mystery to the liturgy, so the Sunday sermon likewise, in Latin, could mystify the congregation. In some of our New York parishes it is said that Latin Americans feel ill at ease during the English sermons. So here we would have Latin sermons made-to-order for the latin Americans.
Buried forever would be the controversy over who first gave the Bible to the people in the vernacular -- the Catholics or Luther. The whole concept of a Bible in the vernacular would be a thing of the past. The Word of God would rest undisturbed by the prying eyes of readers who would dare to try to understand God's message to the world.

Rev. John B. Sheerin, C.S.P.
The Catholic Light
Scranton, Pa.


How would the Mass sound in English? You can find out if you live in the Cincinati area. Father Theodore H. Rolfes, S.J., an assistant at St. Xavier's Church, offers a demonstration of the Mass in English and he's looking for opportunities to bring it before parish societies and other Catholic organizations.
Father Rolfes doesn't present his program as a novelty, though it is novel. His primary interest is to stiumlate interest in the true meaning of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He is convinced, moreover, that if the Holy See extends permission for use fo the language of the people in the Mass, their understanding will be enlarged considerably. But how will ordinary people form intelligent opinion of the worth of English in the liturgy without hearing it?
As Father Rolfes prepares the chalice and its coverings he outlines their uses. An acolyte, meanwhile, puts on cassock and surplice; on the occasion when I was present the acolyte was Charles Brosey, an A. T. and T. supervisor who resides in the St. Vivian's Parish.
Forth they went together, Father Rolfes and Mr. Brosey. After the priest made the sign of the cross in English he began the prayers at the foot of the 'altar.'
"I will go unto the alter of God."
"To God, who gives joy to my youth."
They spoke the words in loud clear tones, and it was something of a shock to hear them. The wrong notion that the language is essential to the Mass dies hard, even after you know it is wrong.
On through the Mass of the Feast of Corpus Christi they continued. (Father Rolfes should have referred to it as the Feast fo the Body of Christ, it occurred to me later.) All the words of the magnificent prayer, for example, came through in the beauty of their sense as well as of their sound -- O God, who has left us a memorial of Thy Passion...
Sure, you can read them in your Missal, but it is curious, isn't it, that we read when we're supposed to be listening? Why would the Church order the priest to say the prayer in an audible voice if no one were expected to listen to him?

Jim Shea
Catholic Telegraph-Register
Cincinnati, Ohio


But one feels that it ought to be recognized now, after four centuries, that the 'rigor mortis' is at least beginning to pass off. A reform of rubrics in the light of subsequent liturgical research is urgently needed. For, as they are, they constitute of the major problems of the practical liturgist who is working to restore active participation of the people. These rubrics were made in the days of the deepest liturgical decadence when there were no participation of the people whatever. And as their purpose was to keep the Mass as it then was, they tend to keep it such that the people cannot participate actively. Any suggestion that the people should now do something is likely to run up against some rubrics.
Until Rome carries through a reform of the rubrics, we have to resort to all sorts of partial expedients which are liturgically unsatisfactory, such as making somebody read the epistle and the gospel in English while the priest reads them in Latin. These expedients are not 'the real thing'; they are efficacious activities in the nave which merely run parallel with the inefficacious activities in the sanctuary -- they are not integrated into the liturgy itself. It is not one thing which is going on, but two.
However, there is hope. the new Holy Saturday rubrics, for instance, do give us 'the real thing' in the congregational candle-lighting and in the vernacular renewal of the baptismal vows. We need many more such reforms. In time, please God, we shall have them. But until we do have them, we have to admit that there is plenty of excuse for the people behaving as 'silent and detached spectators.'

Clifford Howell, S.J.
Collegeville, Minn.


Your comments and opinions are always appreciated at +Ponderings+, Dear Reader. I found it very helpful to read the views prior to the violent pendulum swing that came after the Vatican Council. I'll be pondering it for a while.


David Murdoch said...

I agree with the people who write that the vernacular liturgy is better.

I wonder why it was not considered to say the old style tridentine mass (eg. where the priest faces the altar as opposed to the congregation) in the vernacular, as opposed to changing the entire thing?

Most of the people who are writing these messages don't seem to say anything about a wish to have the priest face the congregation and the mass to change, but they simply want it in their own language.

At the end of the day, it is more important that we remember to love each other as christians than it is to have an effective liturgy. I don't say this becausee it isn't important to have a good liturgy, but because there seem to be harsh divisions that have developed in the church over this and other issues which sometimes are sinful in the unkind manner that either side will treat each other. Disunity in the church that lacks christian love is ultimately a far more serious problem in our Lord's eyes than the style of the mass.

God Bless,

Anonymous said...

"I wonder why it was not considered to say the old style tridentine mass (eg. where the priest faces the altar as opposed to the congregation) in the vernacular, as opposed to changing the entire thing?"

I believe that is actually how it was during the transition period before the Novus Ordo was instated as the ordinary form. I don't understand what is so terrible about this.

Kelly said...

I think this is a classic example of 'throwing out the baby with the bathwater.' I believe that it is very helpful to have a basic knowledge of Latin as it is still the universal language of the Latin Rite. I also believe that the vernacular is important during the Liturgy. Following along with your missalette is not necessarily participating.

The English translation was 'dumbed' down so absurdly that in my opinion, it ripped much of the intended meaning from the Liturgy. It is my hope that with the upcoming new English translation, some wrongs will stand corrected.

I also think that those who refuse to attend anything but a Mass celebrated in Latin are cleaving for the wrong reasons and because of it, there are many rifts.

Ad orientum is a good thing and viewed as rude only by someone who does not understand the Mass. I wish that Mass in the vernacular was the only thing that changed.

I don't think that anyone who wrote the comments in the blog entry would have imagined the changes that were to come.

I do recall, hopefully correctly, that when Mother Angelica (EWTN) began having televised Mass, the local Bishop threw a fit because she wanted it celebrated ad orientum. It caused quite a scandal at the time.

There are plenty of other excellent articles in my old periodicals, and it is true: the more things change, the more the DO stay the same.

Thanks for your comments.

Bryan Dunne said...

Thank you including the letter by RP Clifford Howell SJ.

He was a member of the American vernacular Society which pressed for the vernacular in the Mass.

It is interesting to note that the Synod of Pistoia whose articles were condemned by Pope Puis VI in Auctorem Fidei of 1794 proposed the use of the Vernacular in the Mass. This Synod was heavily influenced by Jansenist ideas.