Before the ravages of liturgical chaos, before the degradation of our Catholic identity, there was…

cunard_shipI recently had a wonderful meal with two Good Friends close to the cusp of Midtown and Murray Hill.  We enjoyed superb Chinese and had a very Catholic reading during meal.  Rather than post a photo of the food, which I have been known to do on occasion, I’ll share the reading.  After all, for verbivores books are banquets as well.

Good Friend One shared something from an old book he found and had read: Open My Heart:  Travel Sketches By A Pilgrim Priest by Fr. Michael Andrew Chapman.  (Bruce, 1930).

Though Good Friend One read us just a couple of paragraphs, I felt a powerful bond with this priest writer, also a pilgrim in many respects.

Fr. Chapman was the author of the delightful duo – and long longed-after by me, by the way – Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy (1921) and Peregrinus Goes Abroad (1931).  The next time I am in Indianapolis, where Chapman served, I must visit Father’s grave.  He died in 1960, and so, happy, he did not witness the liturgical chaos that so ravaged the Church and the identity of millions, to the great detriment of our entire society and to the enduring degradation of our culture.

The passage that Good Friend One read follows hereafter.  I snapped photos of the pages with my phone’s camera so that I could share the passage with you.   At this point in the tale Father is on an ocean liner, which is how one crossed the Atlantic in those days.   He is about to say Mass for passengers:

I felt quite like a bishop as I vested at the little altar – a breach of ceremonial law which had only necessity to justify it. The Italian style vestments felt a bit strange, and the book and chalice looked very small. And there were no steps to go up and down. But I moved off the rug before the altar, blessed myself and began – Introibo ad altare Dei. Imagine my surprise when practically the entire congregation answered! Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam. Of course, they were Italians, and Latin is a very like their own beautiful language. Besides, practically every Italian lad learns to serve Mass, and in Italy you are more likely to have some old man from the congregation come hobbling up to answer the prayers than to find a boy in cassock and surplice to serve for you.

So the Mass went on, the people sitting or standing, kneeling at the proper time, though even the slight motion of the ship made that difficult and many quite properly excused themselves from kneeling except during the consecration. Surely it was not a distraction when I thought, during a pause in the prayers, how wonderful a creature of God is this Catholic Church of ours, spreading all over the earth, covering even the sea, bringing men and women of every land and tongue to kneel before one common altar. Here was I, an American priest, with the merest smattering of any foreign language, starting on a journey which would take me to several countries, yet quite at home at this altar in mid-ocean, as I would be at every altar in every country I would visit. The same arrangements, the same book, the same prayers, the same ceremonies everywhere, with only such minor and unessential differences as would make the study of the ecclesiastical customs of various places interesting without being distracting. Surely, I thought, no other religion can show such a proof of divinity as this.

Marvelous, no?

Some notes:

  • Priests were/are generally not to vest at an altar.  That is generally reserved for bishops.  However, in circumstances such as those described (and on my private altar, I might add), this is done without harming the cosmic order.
  • He used a Roman vestment rather than the fuller “gothic” style and he was not so familiar with it.  That’s interesting because in the 1920s the Congregation for Rites issued a decree that the fuller style wasn’t to be used except with permission.  I don’t know if, perhaps, permission had been given for these USA.  Maybe one of you readers knows this.  However, if not, then there was a widespread liturgical abuse in the 20s and 30s!  His dictis, that’s one I could live with, just as I will live with the blue vestments for Pontifical Mass we will make.  But I digress.
  • Steps: Catholic altars should have an odd number of steps.
  • He, an American, was surprised by the congregation, presumably mainly Italians responding to the prayers.  In 1930 that was not done very much.
  • Note the lack of concern about people not kneeling or standing because of the ship’s motion.  We have always been practical.
  • And, of course, the main point: universality of practice and identity.  He revels in the bond with those people on the ship.  WE, however, can revel in the same bond with THEM, our forebears.  The Mass I say, is the same as the Mass he said.  That priest and those passengers would be just as “at home” in the parish church where I said Mass on Sunday.  That isn’t the case with the Novus Ordo… anywhere.  Would that more priests would, wake up to this point and claim their patrimony for themselves and for their flocks!

Two more notes.

I think it would be a great experience to cross on a ship someday.

Sometimes, when I have to transcribe longer passages, I use a program called Dragon Naturally Speaking.  US HERE – UK HERE  It is of enormous help when I am dealing with long passages or I am translating on the fly.  I’ve learned to regulate my speech so that it picks up and recognizes what I say with very few errors.  That works, of course, until I have to read something in another language embedded in the English text.  When I came to the moment the priest in the story spoke the Latin of the prayers at the foot of the altar, the program heard me say:

Intro evil on alt.a day odd dayroom belatedly cut you’ve into 10 Mayon.

I wonder if that’s how ICEL did some of their work?  In conjunction with Google Translate, perhaps?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. majuscule says:

    I stumbled upon some of Fr. Chapman’s engaging stories at the Romanitas Press website a while back.

    They certainly hark back to bygone times! There’s other interesting stuff at the website, too.

    (If you took a photo of the page in order to dictate it to your Dragon program I was wondering if you have ever tried running the photo through an OCR program. I have one on my phone that does a fairly good job.)

  2. Ad Orientem says:

    Hi Father. If you are interested in crossing by ship, sadly your options are rather limited these days. The good news however, is that the one and only purpose built ocean liner, vice cruise ship, that still makes regularly scheduled crossing between New York and Europe is the Queen Mary 2 run by Cunard. A quick search on YouTube should provide much information along with a look inside the grande dame of the North Atlantic.

  3. Sieber says:

    I crossed the Atlantic twice in the 50s. We scraped through an ice floe & passed several icebergs.
    But, to your question. While travelling in the USA I came across several churches where the priest wore a gothic style chasuble. They also used recorded music and in one instance the server, instead of ringing a bell, stuck a gong….sounding like a call to dinner.
    I asked my Jesuit pastor about this & he told me such vestments were non canonical.(His term)

  4. polycarped says:

    “Intro evil on alt.a day odd dayroom belatedly cut you’ve into 10 Mayon.”

    This made me smile! As a Dragon user (which I also thoroughly recommend, it’s light years from the ropey voice recognition systems from even a few years ago) this is the kind of wacky stuff that I inadvertently send to friends and colleagues from time to time when Dragon or I are not quite on the ball (usually me, it is excellent). Always gets a laugh. As for the passage from Fr Chapman, great stuff. On a vaguely related note, this is fun: You can search, locate and track the current position of almost 1000 cruise ships and liners at any given time, including the Queen Mary 2 (just leaving Shanghai as I post). I had no idea there were so many!

  5. Former Altar Boy says:

    LOL punch line, Father! When I was a kid in the pre-Vat2 Church, our family often took trips across country. My parents never exercised (took advantage of) the traveling dispensation for Sunday Mass. But no matter wherever we were on Sunday, the Mass was always the same. There was no “local custom” for posture, we knew when to sit, stand, kneel. The prayers were always the same with no personal input from the priest. It was on of the first things I missed with the Novus Ordo BEFORE the nonsense and novelty really starting getting out of hand.

  6. Stephen Matthew says:

    While being given a tour of the sacristy of an arch-abbatial church by a very old and kindly monk, he pulled out a number of items he thought were variously noteworthy due to either artistic or historic significance. One was a conical chasuble from long before the Council. He mentioned that special permission had been obtained before the abbey had commissioned a set of conical vestments, that it was generally not permitted at the time. I had the impression the dispensation was granted by the diocesan bishop. Also, they still to this day have a drawer full of silk slippers in the sacristy, haven’t been used in decades, but they keep them just in case…

    Also, in the Byzantine tradition the priest vests at an altar, but not the main altar. Rather there are 3 altars, the main one for the Eucharistic liturgy, one for vesting, and one for preparing the “lamb” and such (the outside of Russian churches often have a golden onion dome over each). I have rather a soft spot for the Byzantine way of doing many things (somehow they have a contemporary practice that allows the congregation to have particular active/external means of participation, while also retaining the ancient liturgy essentially intact, best of both worlds it seems), including the vesting prayers. There is the “little” entrance procession to the side altar. The priest chanting a prayer for each article, incensing it, and kissing it as he is vested. Followed by the priest and servers going back out for the “great” entrance procession to the main altar. Roman vesting prayers said in the sacristy can be seen as somewhat analogous, but are rather minimalist in comparison.

  7. CJ says:

    Speaking of finding old Catholic books that are worth a read, I stumbled upon one such book a few years ago when I was an undergrad at BC; I came across it quite randomly while perusing the library stacks. The book is called “Heaven Was Not Enough” by Constance O’Hara. Published in the ’50s, it’s the author’s memoir of growing up in Philadelphia in the early 20th century in a well connected Catholic family, her subsequent loss of faith in adulthood, and her eventual return to Catholicism–a really powerful story, and one that is beautifully written. The book is rich in the everyday traditions of our past, drawing you into that world and drawing you into the inner life of the soul that’s caught between belief and unbelief.

  8. Gerhard says:

    Oh for some constancy! Whilst presently on a work stint in the Caribbean the only Masses available are abuse-addled vernacular. The local Bishop put out a pastoral letter last week to temper the excessive (and excessively embarrassing) sign of peace. Whilst requiring the Priest to remain in the sanctuary (a much needed direction), and prescribing that only the formula “The peace of Christ” may be used (also very much needed), and restricting movement only to “those nearest to you” (hopelessly ambiguous, that), he said words to the effect that “we people of the Caribbean are people of rhythm” so he is permitting a “song for peace” of one verse and one chorus. First, the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI expressly forbad songs for peace, as having no part in the Roman liturgy of the Mass. Secondly, not all of us are “people of the Caribbean” (and in the island where I am presently most Mass-goers are Philippino). Thirdly, and here is the crux, the liturgy is not about who “we” are, but Who He is. Is it so difficult to put aside the concupiscent urge to swing for a few minutes whilst contemplating the sacrifice of Calvary? Such compromises with the desire for religious entertainment masquerading as culture are the pest.

  9. TheAcolyte says:

    Fr. Z, thanks so much for posting this piece about Msgr. Chapman! He was a terrific writer!

    I have a short bio about him here on my site (where I have also been serializing both Liturgical Wandering tomes that you mentioned):

    Also, you can view his grave here: Please say a prayer for his repose!

    By coincidence, the newest chapter published from “Peregrinus Goes Abroad” — Passports and Preparations — is about the Liturgiologist and his erstwhile friend, the Antiquary (now the Pastor) getting ready to depart for Rome… and by ship!

    So the discussion revolves around the rules of saying Mass on ship, the portable altar and celebrets. I’ve also included some images of ship chapels, notably from the famous SS. Normandie. I hope that your readers will enjoy this! Louis Tofari (Romanitas Press)

    [Thanks for that. Once I finish… if I ever finish… reading the Don Camillo tales, I should start in on these. They are great.]

  10. bombcar says:

    I think if you did a translate-off between Google Translate and the 1973 ICEL, Google’d be more accurate.

  11. Monty says:

    Reminds me of stories my Grandfather told me. He joined the Cunard Line in the 1950s at the age of 15 and sailed to practically every corner of the globe. He was an altar boy and served at mass daily for whatever priest happened to be travelling on the ship at the time. They used an altar which folded up flat againt the wall when not in use. What impressed him about the Catholic mass was that wherever they were in the world on land or at sea the mass was always the same and could be followed by anyone no matter what language they spoke. The only thing that changed was the accent of the priest. He was unfortunaly one of the countless catholics who left the faith in the chaos following the second vatican council and now claims he does not believe in God. He still has a close connection to the Latin mass however and was able to attend one in Rome for his 70th birthday. I pray that he will someday return to the faith.

  12. Semper Gumby says:

    Great post and comments.  Thanks for the Fr. Chapman excerpt and links.  Classic Cunard Line poster.  Deo volente, Fr. Z will cruise the high seas someday.

    Here’s an excerpt of a WWII spy novel I’ve been tinkering with.  Not sure it works, but I’m trying a more real-life approach rather than the usual (though they can be fun sometimes) sound-the-alarm and pools-of-blood-on-the-cobblestones. Also, I’m trying characters that tend to be hard-identity Catholic, rather than immoral agnostics or atheists.

    The WWII espionage techniques are drawn from books such as H. Keith Melton’s.


    On a Sunday morning Joseph Monroe could be found at Mass, on Sunday afternoon usually at a museum. A professor of history at Fairmont College in New Hampshire,  Monroe was forty-two, a widower, and of average height and appearance- quite forgettable actually.  His interest in taking a sabbatical during 1938-39 and touring Europe to write a new history of the Roman Empire, or at least its decline, was well known at Fairmont.  Certain people at naval intelligence in Washington and at Britain’s MI-6 heard about this Professor Monroe and found him interesting.

    One day in January 1938 two naval officers in coat and tie arrived at Fairmont and asked to speak with Monroe in his office.  The shorter and grayer officer, a naval captain,  observed that Prof. Monroe was heading to Europe soon to research a new book on the Roman Empire.  Fascinating how the cities and trade routes of the Empire- the captain waved at a map on the wall-  covered most of Europe, the Levant, and North Africa.  Hitler and Mussolini were now up to something sinister in the stomping grounds of the Caesars.  U.S. intelligence was thin on the ground in 1938.  Practically non-existent.  But the British were helpful here.  A moment of awkwardness.  Of course, the younger naval officer added, the British understood that Prof. Monroe had a research schedule to maintain, and that Prof. Monroe’s WWI friend who now lived with his family in Milan was not in a position to accomadate unusual requests.  Perhaps Prof. Monroe wouldn’t mind discussing this further in Washington with a representative of the British Embassy.  Prof. Monroe, curious, decided he wouldn’t mind it at all.

    October 1938, Florence, Italy, Sunday afternoon.  Near the entrance hall of the Uffizi art gallery an exhibit of 13th-century painters such as Giotto and Cimabue heralded the transition from the Byzantine to the Rennaisance.  Monroe was intrigued by Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna, the Madonna Enthroned, a painting which according to his Baedeker guidebook dated to the start of the 14th century.

    “Excuse me, sir,” said a man’s voice with a British accent.  Monroe looked up from his guidebook.  A pleasant faced man looked at him expectantly.  The Englishman was about forty, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a grey suit, accompanied by a woman and two children.
    “Yes?” Monroe replied.
    “Would that be a Baedeker you have sir?”
    “Yes, it is, but I’m afraid that I never loan it out.”
    “Quite understandable sir.  My name is Simpson and we’re on the way to Rome.  With your permission, a brief look for the hotel recommendations in Orvieto.”  Monroe thought: that’s the phrase.  “Be my guest,” he said, handing his Baedeker to Simpson.

    Simpson began riffling through the pages.  Monroe looked at Mrs. Simpson, who also had a pleasant face, and was wearing a rather plain blouse and skirt.  Her expression gave away nothing as she held the children’s hands.  Monroe nodded politely at Mrs. Simpson and gave the children a smile.  The children smiled back.  No doubt they were promised chocolate gelato if they were quiet for Mum in the museum.

    “Right, here you go sir,” said Simpson, handing the book back to Monroe and thanking him. The family drifted off amongst the other visitors.  Monroe returned to gazing at Giotto’s Madonna.  Nice family, he thought,  well done.

    After a last look at Giotto Monroe slowly made his way toward Uccello’s Battle of San Romano, thumbing through his Baedeker.  Simpson had dogeared several specific pages.  London was making a request. Fine, after a week in Florence he was ready to return to Milan. 

    Monroe exited the Uffizi into a mild  autumn afternoon and headed toward the Arno River.  Florentine drivers were unusually patient today with their horns and the gelato men were doing a brisk business.  He crossed the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio and strolled along the Via Romana towards the Giardino Torrigiani botanical gardens.

    Approaching the entrance Monroe spotted a small X chalked on a wall near some shrubs and turned into the Gardens.  The sounds of Florence faded and the air cooled.  The path meandered under the trees, a laughing couple or a child chattering at a bird occasionally broke the silence.

    After a few minutes Monroe came upon a stone footbridge that arched over a small dry streambed.  A family continued up the path past the bridge and shortly Monroe decided he was briefly alone.  On the bridge Monroe tossed his Baedeker over the side and it fell onto the dry streambed a few feet below.  Monroe clambered down to the streambed and under the bridge he located a loose brick. He removed the brick, reached in, and retrieved a small package wrapped in butcher’s paper and twine.  Rolls of film, he guessed.  Monroe pocketed the film, replaced the brick, retrieved the Baedeker, and climbed back up to the path to find a young couple looking at him curiously.  Monroe grinned and  awkwardly hefted the book.  I’m really just a silly American- shouldn’t be trusted outdoors with books.  Monroe headed back up the path as the couple giggled behind him.  An agent will take embarrassment every time rather than explaining himself to OVRA, Mussolini’s secret police.

    Leaving the Giardino Tirrigiani Monroe headed back toward the Arno and the  Capella Brancacci.  In a small shop off the Via del Leone Monroe purchased a small box of chalk.  Two blocks from the Capella he turned down a side street of small shops and apartments. In the street a gaggle of children played soccer with determination and delight.

    Monroe stopped at a newspaper kiosk to read the bulletins, posters, and ads tacked to its side: the Cathedral in Vienna was sacked and its insolent priests pursued; the Racial Manifesto was being implemented- Jews in Italy were to lose citizenship and government positions. Monroe wondered about Hitler’s influence over Mussolini- several of the early fascists were Jews and Mussolini fulminated once on the stupidity of racism. Then again, the last of the Roman emperors were puppets of the northern barbarians. This was probably not going to end well.

    Monroe snapped out of his musings. He chalked a small x near an ad for soap.  Now, time for the Capella and its magnificent frescoes of St. Peter.


    The next day at 12.20 the afternoon train for Milan departed Florence’s Stazione Centrale.  Monroe’s car was half-empty, several businessmen and soldiers, a family, two nuns. Northern Italy rolled by Monroe’s window.  Small villages with stone houses and wooden shutters, the smokestacks and spires of Parma, a road lined with cypress trees leading to a villa atop a hill, a long line of Lancia trucks parked along a highway with soldiers milling about.

    Late afternoon the train pulled into Milan’s Stazione Centrale with a hiss of brakes and steam.  Monroe tucked his copy of The Gallic Wars into his luggage.  He made his way through the crowd and took a battered Fiat taxi to the Civico Museo Archeologico. 

    At the Museo, Violetta, the secretary, came around her desk to kiss Monroe on both cheeks and exclaim over the silk scarf that the American professor brought her from Florence. Monroe asked about his request for the archaeological survey of the camps of the Alpine regiments of the Roman army. Violetta was unsure, the director was in Rome for several days as an expedition had returned from Uweinat in Libya.  He thanked her and wrote a note for the Director, saying he’d return again tomorrow or the next.  A ten minute walk at dusk brought him to Nick Morano’s bookshop off the Via S. Agnese.

    From the sidewalk Monroe saw through the window Nick’s eldest daughter Elena preparing to lock up. She flung open the door. “Uncle Giuseppe!” A hug. The family’s dog Ambrose barked with excitement.
    “Hello, Elena. How’s business?”
    “No time for homework today.”
    Monroe chuckled. “That’s good, no? Where’s your father?”
    “He’ll be back in an hour. Then we’ll have dinner.”
    Monroe helped Elena lock up. Then he told Elena to tell her mother he was here, he had some writing to do and he’d wait for Nick in his office. Elena called to Ambrose. Lurking behind a bookshelf, Ambrose sensed food and raced past Elena up the stairs to the apartment.

    Monroe made his way through the store to Nick’s office in the back. A bookshelf with school supplies, a filing cabinet, several boxes of books on the floor, and a desk with more books and a phone.  Nick’s WWI rosary hung from a nail next to a calendar.  From the radio Puccini softly drifted across the room.

    Monroe settled in a chair, suddenly tired. His research had not yet suffered, but it soon would as his part-time assistance to London and Washington slowly took more of his time. He looked again at the Rosary. In 1918 it was he and Nick and the rest of the battalion together at Belleau Wood. Not this time. A faint bell went off in the back of his brain about something Violetta said at the Museo. Well, it’ll be there tomorrow.

    Two minutes before the top of the hour.  Night was falling on Europe and radios were turning on in government buildings and back alleys from Madrid to Warsaw, from Cairo to London. The night sky began to fill with coded messages, morse code, and messages concealed within advertisements.  Above the office, Monroe heard a burst of laughter.  A platter crashed to the kitchen floor, more laughter.  Ambrose barked, eager to participate. From upstairs wafted down the scent of spiced sausage and garlic. Things were looking up.

    Monroe waited for the BBC headlines and the ads sure to follow.  On Nick’s desk below the rosary there was a stack of new chess and math books. An idea began to form, Monroe knew there was already a problem with it, but it might be worth seeing where it went.  BBC chimed the top of the hour.

    [Keep writing!]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  13. Semper Gumby says:

    Thank you Fr. Z.

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