Memories of Vatican II’s halcyon days. Who could have predicted that things would fall apart?

Over at Crisis there is a great piece recounting memories of Vatican II times… those spirit-filled, halcyon days!

I particularly enjoyed this paragraph about the writer’s days in a Catholic girls school:

We attended Mass in Latin, sang hymns in Latin and studied Latin. Our quietly spoken, yet determined teacher Mother Conleth, managed to convey to us that conjugating verbs in Latin and translation, was essential to any kind of semi-decent life on earth. She would begin each class with Salve puellae (“Hello girls”) and then get down to business. Not to do one’s Latin homework was simply human perfidy and would produce abject horror on her face. I am amazed my school retained large Latin classes despite the anti-Latin forces beyond but Mother Conleth, of blessed memory, was a supernatural tour de force.

And there is this cringeworthy description of the shift from decent music to schlock.

This was the era of confident banners at feast day marches, the Children of Mary and their Aspirants, Sodalities and St Vincent de Paul. We sang the school song to St Brigid, Far away enthroned in glory, sweetest saint of Erin’s Isle and of course to St Patrick. We sang Soul of My Savior, Hail Queen of Heaven, the Pange Lingua and that triumphalist Catholic hymn which would make feminists blanche—Faith of Our Fathers Living Still with its words: “Our fathers chained in prisons dark, Were still in heart and conscience free, How Sweet would be their children’s fate, if they like them could die for Thee.”

[…]

It was only in my senior year that a general sense of something strange, new, even “revolutionary” began wafting through the corridors. We sang Spirit of God in the Clear Running Water in the local church as this is “what the Bishops want now.” Mother Conleth, however, loathed such changes and showed it in her “non verbals.”

She also makes serious points in her piece, as if that weren’t serious enough.

I imagine that many of you readers had similar experiences of those “halcyon days”.

As you contemplate them, many of you younger readers here haven’t had the joys of Joy Is Like The Rain, or the ditty the writer mentioned above. Here it is:

BTW… the writer asks some questions at the end, such as, “Who could’ve predicted what happened?”

Well… how about the people engineered it?

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27 Responses to Memories of Vatican II’s halcyon days. Who could have predicted that things would fall apart?

  1. Chrissin says:

    I remember some changes in Catholic school in the suburbs. Circa 1963. We learned new songs- Michael Row the Boat Ashore, Heart & Soul. Don’t remember much else except sometime in there I stopped going to Mass. I would go with my brother & sisters instead to the laundromat where we would hangout until it was time to go back home. I’m not proud of that…and I’m not saying the changes MADE me leave. I don’t know. I’m just grateful that some 35 years I made my way back through a chance visit to a Latin Mass. Changed my life.

  2. Eliane says:

    “BTW… the writer asks some questions at the end, such as, “Who could’ve predicted what happened?”

    Well… how about the people engineered it?”

    The people who engineered it indeed, but also the prophetic voice of AB Lefebvre.

  3. gracie says:

    The revolutionaries did what all revolutionaries do – begin with the youth. In the Fall of 1966 I entered my junior year at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, Mich. They had a pretty little chapel for the Masses each class attended. The tabernacle was no longer behind a veil. In fact, it wasn’t there at all. Oh yes – there it was , off to the side on a small table. In its place in the center was a new, bigger table with a crucifix on it. The nun told us nothing had changed, but the altar was now going to be the focal point. Then she passed out sheets of paper with songs on them. The Sister called them “hootenanny songs” because they were like the folk songs that were popular at the time. “Here I am, Lord” was one of them. “Kumbaya” was another one. It was explained to us that these songs had been written for students and this would make the Mass more fun for us. I remember asking the nun if this altar arrangement and music was going to be taking place at our parish churches and she told us it wasn’t. It was just for school kids – we would still be having our regular Masses in our churches.

    Well, that was a big lie. I’m sure the powers that be knew it but they were smart – get the kids thinking this is cool – singing “our” type of songs. Get the youth on their side. Looking back, this probably was happening at all grade level down to kindergarten, but nobody was connecting any dots. The Fall of 1968 I went to Loyola and found that the Jesuits had just forbidden the Tridentine Mass being said on campus – it was all Novus Ordo, with the banners and guitar playing and the priest facing the people. I asked a young Jesuit if any of them were still saying the TM anywhere. He said a few priests still wanted to say the TM but were told that was no longer permitted. However, a few of the Jesuits – mostly “older ones” – were so vociferous in their objections that finally they were allowed to say the TM but only privately and students weren’t allowed to attend. I remember thinking there was something not quite right about the whole thing but I still had the option of attending the TM off campus in Rogers Park. I thought it would continue like that – being a school thing. (BTW – folk music was no longer in style and the hootenanny songs were becoming very stale – like songs from an oldies’ station.) Two years go by and – bam – the announcement from the parish altars that from now on NO all the time. Song sheets were passed out to us and – oh no! – there were the same songs I was stuck hearing at the campus Masses. Why did we all go along? Because we had been taught to obey the bishops without question – after all, they’re Christ’s representatives on earth! To question them is to question Christ Himself! That’s something only Protestants do! It was the one weakness of the pre-Vatican II era, as Michael Davies so perceptively points out.

  4. Thomas Sweeney says:

    My memories of those years is comparable to being in Paris during the French Revolution, of course without the bloodshed. Or another analogy would be like living in Ireland as Cromwell stabled his horses in the churches.
    The Priests, Bishops and Sisters who administered our schools and churches in those days were not perfect, but they did strive for perfection. The belief that Jesus was present in the Blessed Sacrament was palpable. One example would be, that when our pastor was bringing Holy Viaticum to a dying parishioner, everyone in the schoolyard would kneel, until he drove off and was out of sight.
    To emphasize the way it was accepted, one of my friends, when he heard it was no longer a mortal sin to eat meat on Friday, asked if that edict was retroactive.

  5. majuscule says:

    We stopped going to Mass sometime after I was confirmed. I had been educated K through 2nd grade at a Catholic school and attended Catechism class (Baltimore Catechism) until confirmation. I think we just got busy. We missed a few Masses due to a backpack trip and that may have been it… I don’t remember there being changes yet. This would have been around 1963.

    When I finally woke up, the Mass had changed. Since I knew it was a mortal sin to miss Mass–and I was already there–I waited until I knew I could commit to Mass every Sunday, sad as that is. Thank God I did not die before making my way back. (Thank you Our Lady of Fatima!)

    The one good thing to come out of this is that I completely “missed” those “halcyon days” and I came back to a fairly orthodox parish. (Modern music, more EMHCs than necessary but nothing too jarring.)

    My church still has a communion rail, although it was unused until we got a priest who offered some of his private EF Masses there. It was truly like going home to attend those Masses! Now this priest is in charge and we are having EF Missa Cantatas on certain feast days when no special Mass is celebrated–such as our recent Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

  6. Mike of Arkansas says:

    I hated…absolutely hated and despised…every one of the changes that began in my Arkansas parish in 1965 when I was 14. I could not imagine any healthy organization just overnight trashing 1500 years of its most important and character-defining traditions. The exchange of Gregorian Chant for the most extraordinarily artless, simpleminded, and banal vernacular musical clap-trap cut deeply. Even though the changes made were the most radical in all of the Church’s history, there were no “pastoral” periods of adjustment to the new liturgy, nor negotiations of its extent, nor tolerance of any resistance to any aspect of it.

    I wondered back then if there might still be some way of at least having a proper Requiem High Mass with the chant for a solemn, traditional, and inevitable last service…but I despaired of that. But, thanks to the heroic resistance of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, tradition did not proceed to extinction everywhere. Without his service, there would be no priestly societies like the FSSP nor directives like Summorum Pontificum today.

    So…in 1965 there was a 14-year-old kid in Arkansas who accurately predicted the Spirit of Vatican II legacy, who then escaped from it as quickly as was possible.

  7. Mike says:

    I “graduated” from 6th grade parish school in 1972. Never knew “Pange Lingua” until my reverted 20s at an Opus Dei Center.
    Instead, in those days of the Apollo Program and the post-Woodstock generation we sang “To be Alive!” and “I am the Resurrection” to folk guitars.
    (Don’t mean to link the Apollo folks with the hippies! different worlds, there.)

  8. tradition4all says:

    “She would begin each class with Salve puellae (“Hello girls”) and then get down to business.”

    Salve*te* puellae?

  9. I was hoping that no one would mention a Ray Repp ditty. Oh well, thanks for the earworm now…

  10. Sword40 says:

    I became interested in the church at my very first Catholic Mass December 24th 1965. The Mass was very well done using the 1965 missal. Much Gregorian chant with a smattering of vernacular. 4 years later I entered the church, Feb.10, 1970. Right away the garbage hit the fan guitars, hippies singing “Kumbaya”. Fortunately we found a real Catholic Mass in an independent chapel 80 miles away. And I fell in love with the TLM. since then we have found the FSSP.

  11. Charles E Flynn says:

    The first indication of trouble I had was when the principal of the Christian Brothers Catholic high school I attended received a complaint from a neighbor that our “guitar mass”, held in the gymnasium, constituted a disturbance of the peace. The guitars were not acoustic. I thought the neighbor’s complaint was funny for a few seconds, and then I realized she was correct. Later, the students (all male) were assembled in the same gymnasium and were informed that the principal had eloped with the head of the ladies’ auxiliary.

    In college, I managed to get through a clown mass and a substitution of “Whinnie the Pooh” for Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. I abandoned the practice of the Catholic faith at or shortly after a midnight mass at which the priest publicly manipulated two young people into receiving Holy Communion when it was clear that they would be fornicating shortly after midnight mass. It took seventeen years for me to find my way back, aided by a few books and an icon of Christ Pantocrator displayed in the window of a chapel in a shopping mall in Boston, staffed by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. An Episcopalian friend asked me if being a “shopping mall priest” was something to which Catholic priests aspired.

  12. Charles E Flynn says:

    For those of you who were not there, one of the basic problems young people faced in the late 1960s and early 1970s was that if you tried to find an adult, rather than a person who was merely older and was envious of the “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” culture of which it was assumed you were a part, you might not be able to find one. If you did find one, he or she was likely to be bitter from being marginalized and ridiculed.

    The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America , by James T. Patterson, emeritus professor of history at Brown University.

  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    None of the events in America in the mid-1960’s would have been possible without the cover provided by the Warren Supreme Court. It was that Court that decided, in 1965, Greenwold v. Connecticut, which set the stage for Row v. Wade. It is a fascinating story of how this liberal Court came to exercise the power that it did. It cost one Justice his sanity and another his life.

    Another cultural aspect playing into Vatican II’s implementation was the rise of mass-market audio-video technology, such as the 45 rpm record, the electric guitar, the participation model of TV advertising, with its pushing of ever-more titillating shows to hook an audience. The hootenanny-Mass would never have worked in a more sober time.

    There is much to write, but that would be a book, and I would, probably duplicate a lot of what Patterson has to say.

    The Chicken

  14. gracie says:

    Charles,

    “Later . . . the students were informed that the principal had eloped with the head of the ladies’ auxiliary.”

    You reminded me that my High School chaplain and my sociology teacher eloped with each other and got married. Needless to say, he left the priesthood at the same time.

  15. robtbrown says:

    gracie says:

    “Later . . . the students were informed that the principal had eloped with the head of the ladies’ auxiliary.”

    You reminded me that my High School chaplain and my sociology teacher eloped with each other and got married. Needless to say, he left the priesthood at the same time.

    I was told that a few years ago the Trappist Abbey at Gethesemane had decided to have retreats for women. Realizing the tenuous situation, the Abbot put an older brother in charge of the ladies–but to no avail. It wasn’t long before the brother ran off with one of the widows.

  16. Simon_GNR says:

    Mike of Arkansas wrote: “the most extraordinarily artless, simpleminded, and banal vernacular musical clap-trap” – an exquisite description of the dross we have to put up with so much of the time!

    At our parish church, as at most others, the congregation are pretty unenthusiastic about joining in the hymn singing – this seems to be a uniquely Catholic trait – but there is a markedly better response for traditional hymns (pre Vatican II) than for the pseudo-folk music garbage we usually get. It’s as if one is being challenged to keep one’s faith and to be faithful to weekly Mass attendance by the powers- that-be, who seemed determined to make the whole Mass-going experience as dull, uninspiring and downright infuriating as possible!! One has to be pretty committed to keep going week after disappointing week.

  17. un-ionized says:

    Re: the gethsemani anecdote, I can’t imagine how that could happen in the retreat centers where I have been, which must be more strictly controlled, for example, the monk leaves for the cloister directly after each conference. Any socializing is done more formally and in a large group.

  18. hwriggles4 says:

    I did my first confession in 1974 and then a few months later received first communion. Back then, I didn’t realize what VII was, and I was fortunate to be at a parish in the Los Angeles area that had an “old school” pastor, and a good OSB priest as a Parochial Vicar. (I don’t know what happened to the younger priest there, but I remember him and liked him – I hope he stayed in active ministry – I know quite a few young priests left the priesthood in the 60s and 70s). We were taught the Baltimore Catechism, kneeled at an altar rail, dressed decently, and were not disruptive at Mass (well, had I been disruptive, my mom would have punished me, so I behaved.)

    Later that year, my Protestant father got transferred (he was active duty military in those days) and we moved 1500 miles away. I recall going to Mass at what became our new parish (my mother is a lifelong Catholic) and as a young boy, I noticed several changes, like altar boys not wearing robes, Eucharistic Ministers (lots of women, and I think there was a hint that women’s ordination was going to be coming), some of the hymms sung that were mentioned by other posters (He is Alive, Spirit of God – which I had not heard in years), and CCD class where we did crafts. I was like, “what’s happening?”, but as a young boy, I didn’t know any better, and I didn’t want to complain. I think my mother was confused, but was thinking “oh, this is new, and it’s much friendlier”. I also think my mother wanted to attend a regular parish for personal reasons, instead of attending Mass at the base chapel (I wouldn’t of known any better, since as long I can remember, we always attended Mass off base, unless we were on vacation or something).

    Years later, I found out that my two younger brothers (who were too young to remember our old church in Los Angeles) weren’t even required to have first confession prior to receiving first communion. I also remember about 1978 when our pastor began to allow communion in the hand (something I don’t do anymore), saying it was approved around 1969. I’ve often said that I learned more catechesis from the Boy Scout Ad Altare Dei program (maybe some men reading this went through that too) in six months than I did in six years of CCD class. Today, I’ve met quite a few priests from my generation who were Scouts, some of them attained the rank of Eagle Scout too.

    A few years later, my dad retired from the military, and took a job in the same town, so we stayed in the same city through high school. There was a new parish established in the area, and it seemed that Catholics were coming out of the woodwork. I had found out that many were attending Catholic Mass at the local military base, which I think had been more reverent than the parish we attended.

  19. robtbrown says:

    un-ionized says:

    Re: the gethsemani anecdote, I can’t imagine how that could happen in the retreat centers where I have been, which must be more strictly controlled, for example, the monk leaves for the cloister directly after each conference. Any socializing is done more formally and in a large group.

    I never implied that they were sneaking off and carrying on like two rutting baboons. In such circumstances of quiet and lack of distractions, small gestures and quiet conversation can have serious consequences.

    BTW, there are no conferences at a Gethsemani retreat, which is not uncommon at houses of strict contemplatives.

  20. robtbrown says:

    C Flynn says,

    An Episcopalian friend asked me if being a “shopping mall priest” was something to which Catholic priests aspired.

    A priest I met 30 years ago (in Fatima) told me that his order had a chapel in a shopping mall. He said it was surprising how many Catholic women would time their shopping so that they could attend a weekday mass there. There was also ample opportunity for Confessions, and many were heard.

  21. un-ionized says:

    Robt, I see. It still has to do with controlling the environment.

  22. un-ionized says:

    Robt, the shopping mall was a good example of outreach to people.

  23. DJAR says:

    gracie says: The nun told us nothing had changed, but the altar was now going to be the focal point. Then she passed out sheets of paper with songs on them. The Sister called them “hootenanny songs” because they were like the folk songs that were popular at the time. “Here I am, Lord” was one of them. “Kumbaya” was another one.

    For those of us who lived through those times, Kumbaya is the quintessential “thing” that designates that entire era. It was required in order to be a Catholic.

    We found this out by no less an authority than Ed Sullivan himself.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdO3R5MlbxA

    That, and having watched the movie “The Singing Nun.”

    If you didn’t see “The Singing Nun” or at least hum the tune to “Dominique,” you weren’t Catholic.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO7cD6qmydo

  24. pmullane says:

    You have to wonder, if you were the devil and you wanted to claim the souls of faithful Catholics in the 1950’s, what could you do better than to have stripped away and condemned as wrong and bad everything that they and their parents and forefathers had grown to know and love. What could you have done but take all those truths about Christ that they had known and loved and centred their lives on and said ‘well maybe it isn’t so’.

    Having taken a real spiritual hit recently after some relatively unimportant slight by a couple of ‘pastors’ I cant believe the strain on the faith of the people who had to suffer these indignities.

  25. AnnTherese says:

    It makes sense, because it was such a relief for many. But by the 80s the pendulum swung to middle ground. Now it’s swinging back again. And on and on it goes… The Holy Spirit is with us through it all– guiding, and at times giggling, I’m sure.

  26. Filipino Catholic says:

    When no less than satirist songwriter Tom Lehrer himself (The Elements, Lobachevsky, New Math, etc) writes “The Vatican Rag” as an unflattering commentary on what’s happened to the Church, then you know for sure that “Rome, we have a problem”.

  27. cl00bie says:

    As I enter my Candidate year for diaconal formation, I have finally figured out why my life took the path it did (well… besides God’s will :))

    I was 10 years old in 1969, when the Novus Ordo was promulgated. Fr. Driscoll seemed angry about the whole thing, but the way it appeared to me was: “I’m an obedient priest, and if I am asked to do this, I will do it. But I don’t have to like it!”.

    The “cornfield ditties” we had to sing didn’t affect me too badly, the English language was okay. The priest turning toward the people was not too bad. But the change that destroyed my young faith was… I bet you can guess…

    Communion in the hand.

    I had been taught for my entire young life that my Lord and Savior was real and present in that wafer. We were not allowed to touch Jesus with our hands. We were not allowed to chew Jesus. We were to let Him dissolve in our mouth and swallow him. As an altar boy, I was trained in the procedures in case of a “Eucharistic accident”. We were to drop the purifacator over Jesus immediately, and stand guard lest he be stepped on.

    We were then told that we were supposed to take the host into our hands. And lay people (even women!) began distributing the host. That first time I held the host in my hand, I understood that I had been lied to all those years. Jesus obviously wasn’t really present in that wafer. It was all a scam. And thus died my gift of Wonder and Awe in the presence of God.

    I wandered about 30 years in the desert of cultural Catholicism. At about age 40 I decided to get more information about my faith. The internet was a new thing, and I joined a “newsgroup” which was named alt.religion.christian.roman-catholic. I figured there would be a bunch of Catholics there who could help me. I found three faithful Catholics. The rest were atheists who were poking fun at my faith, and Bible Christians who were trying to convert me. It was sink or swim. I did my research and learned my doctrine.

    The turning point was when we got a new pastor. One of his first acts was moving the tabernacle out of the “eucharistic closet chapel” to the back center of the sanctuary. His handling of the Blessed Sacrament, especially his careful purifying of all the cups after communion (to the consternation of some people who couldn’t wait the extra 2 minutes and 22 seconds to leave mass), reignited my faith in the Real Presence, and my Wonder and Awe in the presence of Almighty God.

    He started me back on the path that I am now walking. I am going to follow his example in my service on the altar. I will never forget who I am serving, and who I am receiving and distributing to the faithful flock. I will never forget to remind them, to paraphrase St. Francis, and use words when necessary.