“You just want the 1950’s back!”

One of the things that the goulish faculty of my hellish US seminary hissed at me in my re-education sessions during my second awful year when I was under super double-top secret probation, was “You just want the 1950’s back!”


Not only was I born in 1959 and didn’t know the 50’s, I strongly want Jesus Christ to come back in the parousia.   The only way that is going to happen is for the Church to be crucified, made smaller.  I understood that even in seminary.

However, while we are waiting, why shouldn’t we do the best we can?   Why shouldn’t we strive for full schools, full seminaries, full convents, full Sunday Masses, full confessionals?

A reader sent a couple of videos of 1st Communion Masses from 1949 and 1951 at a church in Kansas.

Do I want this back. Sure! I’m a realist about the end times and the nature of the Church, which must, like her Lord, be oppressed and beaten down. But… sure!

There are lots of interesting details in these videos. How about you readers dig some of them out and comment.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I noticed in the first video they didn’t receive at the communion rail, but rather at the top step of the altar

    I was confused by the children dressed as angels sitting in the sanctuary.

  2. monscarmeli says:

    What jumped out at me was the disciplined orderliness of the children’s movements and postures. It’s painful to watch kids at our local Catholic school saunter around Church like it’s a playground, and the people laugh as though it’s “cute”; no sense of order or self-discipline.

    Oh, and while it was nice to hear “Panic Angelicus”, I could have done without the affected country-style scooping of the notes…

  3. desertcatholic says:

    How many kids are in this one class? As they filed out I thought the line would never end. It looked like the children filled half of the church. Well over a hundred kids I should think. Now parents don’t even reproduce themselves. I grew up in the fifties. Every house on my block was filled with kids. This is what Evangelism is supposed to look like. Contraception = Culture of Death.

  4. Gab says:

    Order, reverence and respect, in their manner and in their dress. You rarely see that these days in the N.O. parish.

  5. JonPatrick says:

    Reminds me of my first communion in 1956 at our church and school on Canvey Island, England. We practiced for days beforehand, the nuns putting unconsecrated hosts on our tongue so we could get used to taking it, also lessons about the different parts of the Mass. The nuns bringing out the communion vessels to show us, holding them in cloths as only the priest could touch them with his consecrated hands. I still have some old B&W photos of us dressed in white shirts and gray shorts (all boys wore shorts up to the age of 12 or so even in winter in those days) looking very pious, with our priest and nuns in full habits next to us.

  6. WmHesch says:

    I like how the genuflections at Consecration are very quick… not overly prolonged as you often see at TLM’s today

    [Yeah! Those prolonged genuflections to the Real Presence of the Creator of the Cosmos, Savior of our Souls, Eternal God made man are really too much!]

  7. Ellen says:

    I made my first communion in 1957. I dressed very much like the girls in the video and we practiced and practiced. I still remember it fondly.

  8. cengime says:

    You should be more au courant and want the 1970s back instead. It’s the only way to make the Church appealing to the kids today.

  9. Pearl says:

    The thing I noticed was that you could not tell which kids were the poor kids. In those days, everyone was able to get a solid Catholic education, regardless of income. The sisters made sure the poor kids looked just as nice as everyone else.

  10. iPadre says:

    Yes Fr. Z. — How could you dare want a First Communion Class with over 100 children? A congregation that follows their Missals and understands the Mass? A church filled to overflowing? Enough vocations to have a asolemn Mass, a Capuchin serving as MC? And Religious Sisters that look like the don’t belong to the world? The 1950’s were so terrible.

  11. Il Ratzingeriano says:

    The soundtrack for the 1949 video has a Spirit of Vatican II 1970s feel to it. It starts with Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring — very beautiful but Protestant. I don’t know who sings the balance during the Mass part of the video but the arrangements have a Karen Carpenter-like sound to them.

  12. Grant M says:

    I think most Novus Ordo parishes would like the 70’s back. I was born in 1957, and I don’t remember the 50’s, but I do remember the 70’s, and I recognise that inimitable 70’s aesthetic when I see it.

    My idea is that the EF, and for fairness and balance, the OF, should be quite frankly and up front about their devotion to the 50’s and 70’s respectively. [?!?] Those at the EF should be encouraged (if male) to wear grey suits, fedoras and polished shoes, women to wear matching jacket and skirt, a hat with a veil and gloves. At the OF, tight-fitting paisley shirts with large pointed collars, bell-bottoms, and platform shoes for him, and a collarless wide-sleeved blouse, bell-bottomed jeans,embroidered with flowers, and sandals for her.

    [You are, perhaps, being facetious. Whatever it is that people who prefer the Novus Ordo want, my experience is that people who frequent the TLM are NOT there for nostalgia, the cliché you assert. And that is exactly what it is. A cliché. A hackneyed platitude.]

  13. BrionyB says:

    I rather liked the rendition of Panis Angelicus on the first video. No, it wasn’t the classic Kings College Cambridge choirboy sound, but perfectly nicely done in its own right. But then I also like Karen Carpenter, so perhaps my taste is suspect….

    Looking at the footage of the Mass, as someone who regularly attends the TLM, rather than being nostalgic, the main thing I was struck by was how entirely familiar it was. Despite me sitting here 70 years later and on the other side of an ocean. The Mass of Ages, truly!

  14. Mario Bird says:

    Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

  15. mysticalrose says:

    My two not very earth-shattering thoughts: 1) I have never seen so many Catholic children in one place in my life. I’m not even sure I’ve seen that many children cumulatively over the last decade. And I am a mother of young children. 2) I was impressed by the naturalness of it all. There was no pretense about the procession, no affectation of manners. These seemed to be children and adults fully comfortable in their faith. Beautiful.

    I often feel like we are the Jews in the Babylonian captivity, reliant on snatches of memory from an older, and rapidly passing away, generation.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  16. mysticalrose wrote: There was no pretense about the procession, no affectation of manners.

    I really like that observation.

    One of the things that priests who want TLM worship must get over, is the need from the pulpit, in the course of the liturgical action, to talk about how different it is. Just celebrate the sacred mysteries, with the older form, as if it is normal, without picking at the scab, as it were.

    Let it be normal, because it is normal. We must not let the word “extraordinary” buffalo us or anyone else.

    No apologies. Full bore. Straight at ’em.

  17. LeeGilbert says:

    This was like the day of my First Communion, Father, in 1950. All of us were in white. Monsignor had hired a trumpet player to announce our entrance. There were page boys. It was glorious. Moreover, we knew what we were about, for we had been instructed by the excellent Sr. Amadeo, O.S.F. From her I learned that one day I would die, that there was a Heaven and Hell, that we had inherited original sin, that offending an infinite God required a sacrifice of infinite worth, that God sent His only Son to die for us . . .and so much more. We understood and believed. Forty-three years later I asked her, could she not see us lighting up with the love of God as she looked out over her class, and she answered, “Of course.”
    Had this sort of life continued, we could have become saints, and great ones, but into this paradise came a serpent to speak to us and lure us away. We have not been a chaste country for a very long time, but the hyper-sexuality really kicked in in the mid-fifties when television entered our homes, the Rosary went out and Hugh Hefner started Playboy. The “spirit of Vatican II’ ( as opposed to the council itself) swept away our Lenten disciplines and meatless Fridays and with these went temperance.

    When the first generation raised on TV came of age we had the chaos of 1968, free love, a sensate generation bored with TV, but very into drugs and fornication. According to their proclivities and temptations, some became homosexuals, some addicted to pornography, some fornicators, many single mothers and fathers. Yes, I think we can trace virtually our whole situation to the mollycoddling of our bodies that goes along with sitting watching, snacking, watching, snacking, watching, but also to the powerful preaching of demons that has poured into our homes and immortal souls for decades and decades as we let down our guard ever further.
    If my experience and that of our family is any indication, many of those young innocents caught on film in the early fifties were shortly to be corrupted, and in their own homes, de-catechized as we watched TV three and four hours a night, night after night, mesmerized and undone.
    Certainly I “get” the necessity of reviving the ancient liturgy and its beauty, but what I will never understand is how bishops and priests could be so obtuse then and now as not to oppose the presence of television in the Catholic home. In an allocution on Radio and Television in 1949, Pope Pius XII saw its positive possibilities for keeping the family at home, but quoting the pagan poet Juvenal solemnly warned us, “Nothing impure in the home.” It is not much of an overstatement to say that with that the Church fell silent, ominously silent, damnably silent.

    No, wait, in the Austin [Minnesota] Daily Herald of December 10, 1951, there is this last chirp:

    Archbishop Warns on TV Programs
    ST. PAUL — In a letter read in Catholic churches of the St. Paul archdiocese. Archbishop John Gregory Murray warned that television is having “disastrous results, especially on children.?
    It is the “serious responsibility” of parents.” he wrote, “to supervise and limit the presence of children at programs presented so as to safeguard their health and morals.” The letter was read as Catholics were asked to renew the pledge of the Legion of Decency.

    Other than that, the first communicants from the fifties till now have been left largely undefended by parents, priests, or popes.

  18. Grant M says:

    “[You are, perhaps, being facetious. Whatever it is that people who prefer the Novus Ordo want, my experience is that people who frequent the TLM are NOT there for nostalgia, the cliché you assert. And that is exactly what it is. A cliché. A hackneyed platitude.]”

    Quite agree, quite agree. Forgive my facetiousness. Actually at the TLM I frequent, the congregation is quite youthful: at 62 I am usually the oldest person there. No nostalgia in our congregation.

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    mysticalrose wrote:

    “ I was impressed by the naturalness of it all. There was no pretense about the procession, no affectation of manners. These seemed to be children and adults fully comfortable in their faith. Beautiful.”

    That was because there was a near universal belief in a transcendent God (so the kids really believed that their worship was related to God and not about themselves), but, more importantly, the children and the parents (to a large degree) were innocents – untouched by the appeals to a false hedonism disguised as worship.
    If only time travel were possible. It would be lovely to transport these children of 1950 to today to try to have a five minute conversation with children of the same age from 2019. One can only imagine the culture shock and, yet, if we put the 1950’s children together with children from 1850, the difference would be not nearly as much.
    We live in the most documented period in all of history – every second of our existence, it seems, is photographed, recorded, and commented on, but we also live in the period most intent on destroying or denying that the concept of a continuity of culture even exists.
    Finally, of course, what one sees are intact families. It is hard to have a corporate Church if the domestic Church is being eaten away at, from within.

    The Chicken

  20. Ad Orientem says:

    I can’t tell. Are the boys wearing white and black two tone shoes, or black shoes with white spats?

  21. P. N says:

    Beautiful – yes! But what happened then? Ten-twenty years after and later? How could these priests (and their bishops) and, yes, all or at least many of these cute kids destroy and desacralize the Church?

    Everything that happened in 60s and 70s was somehow there already in 50s.

    These videos are a strong warning – as St. Cyril of Jerusalem would put it, “make you ready, and equip yourselves, by putting on I mean, not bright apparel, but piety of soul with a good conscience”.

  22. PTK_70 says:

    The background choir and unseen orchestra back then were phenomenal.

    Ok, a little more seriously…part of what happened, I am convinced, is that Billy Graham came along and told us that the ceremony was just so much window dressing. And we believed him, apparently.

  23. Ultrarunner says:

    Two historic themes stand out in these movies: the post-war Baby Boom and racial segregation. Brown v Board of Education of Topeka was filed in 1952, a year after the 1951 film was made. Topeka is situated about 200 miles east of Hays.

  24. TonyO says:

    part of what happened, I am convinced, is that Billy Graham came along and told us that the ceremony was just so much window dressing. And we believed him, apparently.

    But why did we believe him? We had every bit as good a public speaker in Bishop Fulton Sheen, and plenty of support in the media with lovable and believable priests and nuns in movies. There was, in the early 1950’s, no public or private reason to give one inch of ground to those who would nay-say the Catholic Church.

  25. PTK_70 says:

    @TonyO….I’m glad you mention Bishop Sheen. The sooner that New York relents and allows for the transfer of his remains to Peoria, the better….in order that the canonization process not be delayed any longer.

    But the answer to your question, I propose, is right there in P. N’s super insightful comment.

    A few weeks ago I saw someone post on Twitter an image of a group of young-looking sisters in an infirmary praying around a table, at the beginning of their shift I suppose. All wearing habits. Early 1950s maybe. I want to say it was in England. Beautiful picture. And the question was: What happened to us Catholics?!?

    Well, I sort of think we could get a really good idea of what happened by following the lives of each individual sister in that photo. What happened, I wonder, with each of them?

  26. Adeo3 says:

    Oh my! So many beautiful children! So focused and so disciplined

  27. Kukla65th says:

    At risk of being told later that I didn’t read all the earlier comments closely enough, everyone realizes, don’t they, that the music in both films is not music from these actual Masses? The music is clearly dubbed in and from later years.

    Beautiful images, to be sure; thankfully in some places we do see things like this, perhaps on a much smaller scale, but at least it does exist in some places. I don’t think I’ll ever get over what it must have been like to see sisters with active apostolates in full habits and not think it remarkable. It’s fascinating and I wish we had more of that today. Makes me reflect on how sad it is that the major orders of sisters so ubiquitous in our schools are so diminished today in numbers and charism, etc.

  28. Uxixu says:

    First impression from first video:

    So many children! Love sisters in full habit. White pants on the boys…

    Genuflection and elevations much quicker than the TLM norm today (no time for adoration of the raised species), as well as distribution. Wonder if the priest was reciting the full formula or just “Corpus Christi.” The FSSP always do a sign of the cross over the ciborium but with diocesan it seems to be about half and half.

    Children receiving in the sanctuary, instead of at the rail, was definitely interesting. Probably the only time many of them were in the sanctuary (seems more common than I imagined in preconciliar nuptial Mass, as well).

  29. Gab says:

    Remarkable. All the children received their Holy Communion on the tongue whilst kneeling and then genuflected after moving away.

    You don’t see that these days.

  30. hwriggles4 says:

    Another detail:

    I bet none of the congregation present left the sanctuary before the priest said “ite misa est” (I can’t remember the correct spelling, but I am sure those reading this understand). Today, several present at Mass leave right after communion. I usher sometimes, and we like to keep the bulletins out of sight until the closing song begins. It helps a little, since the bulletins aren’t available earlier. It also keeps people from reading the bulletin during the homily (my mother always said that irritated her when we were kids).

  31. hwriggles4 says:

    Someone commented about young people. Young people today (I grew up in the 1980s, and we got too much huggy kissy, and feel good pop psychology in youth group) mostly friends kids, tell me they prefer church reverence, and not a “let’s try to be cool.” The last 15 years I have noticed Catholic priests of all ages doing away with things like dance and gathering on the altar. My Protestant brethren (i.e. Baptists, Methodists) tell me they prefer reverent worship too.

  32. Nan says:

    Saddle shoes

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