A PrayTell reader shares a memory of liturgy in the good ol’ days – back when priests preached the Catholic faith, bishops were in agreement on moral questions, and following of the rubrics made for reverent liturgies. – Ed.
When I was a kid back in the 40s and 50s, the curate at my home parish on the East Coast was a priest named Fr. X. Now Fr. X was what you might call a Catholic McCarthyite. After the bishop got tired of moving him around, Fr. X finally accepted early retirement and became the National Treasurer of the John Birch Society. Even in the late 40s and early 50s, Fr. X saw a clear and causal connection between teenagers necking at the drive-in on Saturday night and the Advancing Godless Yellow Horde of Chinese Communism. Exposés of this evil conspiracy were deftly woven into all his sermons. No Gospel or Epistle reading was so extraneous that Fr. X couldn’t extract from it some fuel for his fury. He could reach an emotional pitch in the pulpit that those Pentecostal televangelists can only hope to mimic.
For some reason Fr. X always gave the sermon at the 9:00 AM Children’s Mass, even though he rarely celebrated it and his tirades certainly did not serve the edification of the children. One Sunday his topic was a movie that Cardinal Spellman had just condemned, saying that it would be a mortal sin for anyone in the Archdiocese of New York to see it. The trouble was that we weren’t in the Archdiocese of New York, and our bishop had declined to endorse the Cardinal’s review of the film. Adding to Fr. X’s consternation in the pulpit that morning, he couldn’t remember the name of the movie. But with scarlet face and purple veins bulging in his throat, he shook his fist at us and hollered sternly, “But you all know which one it is!!”
The celebrant then resumed Mass. This was the old Latin rite, so the celebrant’s back was turned to the pulpit. A couple of minutes into the Offertory, Fr. X strode back out to pulpit, shook his fist once again, and hollered out the name of the movie – “BABY DOLL!!” The celebrant jumped and dropped the paten. It rolled down the altar steps, struck the Communion rail, and spun like a saucer until it dropped. I must tell you, that was one very quiet church as Fr. X retreated back to the sacristy while the altar boy retrieved the runaway paten. And Mass continued.