Sunday when I grew up was the day Catholics went to church. Masses started early around 6:00 a.m. and ended around 11:00 a.m. They were in Latin. The priest prayed facing the crucifix behind the altar leading the people. Mostly we prayed in silence. We dressed properly and the girls and women covered their heads when entering and while in church.
Communion was sacred. It was after all the body and blood of Jesus. It was handled only by the consecrated fingers of a priest. When he handed out communion to ensure no speck of Jesus’s body and blood would fall on the floor, the host went directly into a person’s mouth. As a precaution an altar boy holding a paten would follow the movement of the priest’s hand. In the sacristry after the Mass there were two stainless steel sinks; one was used for the purpose of cleaning the chalice that carried the blood of Christ and the paten. It drained into the soil unlike the other sink that drained as every other sink.
When we went to church we carried our missals. These had the liturgy in both Latin and English for those who wished to follow it. As altar boys we would have memorized the Latin responses to the priest’s statements in Latin. For the most part we had no idea what they meant but we uttered them almost correctly and in the proper order. The response to “Judica me, Deus, et diserne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab homine iniquo et doloso erue me” in Latin would start “Quia tu es, Deus, Fortitudo mea: . . . ” I still recall my response which was: “Quee us Two us Deus Forty- Two Dough Mea . . . ” As you can see it was pretty close but it wasn’t Latin but at least I got the word for God correct.
The beauty of having the Mass in Latin was that no matter where I went I could go into the church and hear the same words that were spoken back in my home parish. When in Japan, the Philippines, or Dominican Republic while in the marines the familiarity was comforting in churches where the people spoke languages other than English. I knew my folks at home were hearing the same prayers.
The Mass in Latin was called the Tridentine Mass. It had been in existence since 1570. Over that more than 400 year period it had served the people well. The parishioners were content. The Church seemed to be strong and thriving.
My sons went to a school whose principal was a minister. Its brochure contained words to the effect “read this carefully, these are our rules, we expect them to be followed, if you don’t like them then don’t apply here.” That was what was expected of Catholics at one time prior to 1965.
Then the Sixties came. In October 1958 a 76-year-old man who took the name of John XXIII became pope. Three months into his pontificate he called for what became known as the Second Vatican Council. That began with a first session on October 11, 1962 and ended on December 8, 1965. The result of that was a turning of the Catholic Church on its head and having the Latin Mass and much of our tradition stolen from the people.
The Pope’s idea for the Council was allegedly done to “open the windows [of the Church] and let in some fresh air” wrote Maureen Sullivan. That may be so but when you let in fresh air you don’t throw out all the furniture in the house. That is precisely what was done.
The result according to one man was some were: “allowed to invent and create some new forms of liturgical celebrations for their own enjoyment. Yet what has happened is not a rise in the number of faithful enthusiastic for these innovations. Quite the contrary, churches are more and more empty.”
How many know that three years and five months into his papacy on February 22, 1962, Pope John XXIII issued a document known as Veterum Sapientia. (Ancient Wisdom. ) This was promulgated 8 months before the opening session of the Council and 16 months prior to his death. He made it clear that the Latin Mass was be continued noting: “For these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of her teaching authority “as the splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws…”
He continued: “The employment of Latin has recently been contested in many quarters, and many are asking what the mind of the Apostolic See is in this matter. We have therefore decided to issue the timely directives…so as to ensure that the ancient and uninterrupted use of Latin be maintained and, where necessary, restored.”
Later Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Letter Sacrificium Laudis wrote in August 1966: “For while some are very faithful to the Latin language, others wish to use the vernacular within the choral office. Others, in various places, wish to exchange that chant which is called ‘Gregorian,’ for newly-minted melodies. Indeed, some even insist that Latin should be wholly suppressed. We must acknowledge that We have been somewhat disturbed and saddened by these requests. One may well wonder what the origin is of this new way of thinking and this sudden dislike for the past; one may well wonder why these things have been fostered.. . . ”
The Second Vatican Council met in four sessions between 1962 and 1963. Prior to its second session Pope John XIII died. It continued under Pope Paul VI and ended in December 1965.
An American observer of the Council Michael Novak wrote about the Council and the state of the Church in America in the 1990s in this lengthy introduction to book The Open Church. It is well worth reading. This was before the priest sexual abuse scandals rose their ugly heads.
Vatican II was the beginning of the Church’s troubles. Vocations dried up; nuns fled; and as Novak noted in 2012 that: “The years 1965-1985, give or take, were in clerical dereliction the worst in my memory (including historical memory, going back to the beginning of this Republic).”
How was it Latin despite two popes advocating that it be maintained stripped from the Mass? Novak wrote:“Paul VI, said publicly some few years afterwards that “the smoke of Satan” had filtered into the work of the Council . . . .” Was Pope Paul VI right? We’ve seen how the Church covered up the sexual abuse by priests for many years to protect it; is it also covering up what really happened at the Second Vatican Council?