As a liturgical historian, I’ve spent most of my time in the first two quarters of the twentieth century-United States. And yet, of late, I’ve been doing a lot more reading about what happened in the years immediately following the Council. I must read about it, because I am one of the ever-growing pool of Catholics who has no memories, and no experiences, of the 1960s, or even the 1970s!
As a historian, however, I’m somewhat frustrated when I try to learn about this era, with respect to liturgical practice. While Worship (formerly Orate Fratres) studiously reported on the everyday goings-on of liturgical hopefuls in its three decades before the Council, by the 1960s it turns to analysis of much bigger-picture ideas, and technical liturgical-historical studies. No more delightful “Liturgical Briefs” from around the United States (and the world!). Likewise, Georgetown’s excellent Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), even with its some 2,000 studies on Roman Catholic life, vocations, and parishes, has no data regarding the reception of the liturgy and liturgical practices in the decade following the Council.
And, feel free to tell me I’m exaggerating, but when perusing the work of liturgists and professional ministers contemporary to the some 15 years following the Council, I feel I inevitably find one of two threads: 1) The post-Conciliar period was innovative, freeing, and expansive, throwing the doors open to the bright new world, and drawing the People of God to the center of the Mass in a way in which they had never been so alive. OR 2) The post-Conciliar period was a vast storm of untested, unbridled, and uninformed decisions which systematically dismantled the Church’s liturgical ritual, shattered vocations, and left a vapid shell of aesthetics in its wake.
Surely there is some middle ground between these two extremes? And, while some parishes were probably “innovative, freeing, and expansive” in their worship style, what, exactly, did it look like? And how many parishes were really making any changes? On the other extreme, who was trying to “systematically” dismantle the Church’s worship? Historical investigation into the practice of liturgical worship in the period between 1964-1979 seems to be an exercise in discovering the aesthetic preferences held by the most vocal minorities.
Before you ask, I’ve done my own informal querying of members of the faithful who have memories of this period. I have anecdotes about composing music on the fly; about a disembodied voice floating over a creaky 1960’s microphone set-up in a sacristy; about parishioners sledge-hammering apart an altar rail imported from Italy and chucking it in the parish basement (while other parishioners snuck in to take away “souvenirs” of the dismembered marble).
I’ve also done my own researching…ever hear of the Underground Mass Book , edited by Stephen W. McNierney and published in 1968? It’s fascinating, with the inclusion of “new Canons,” a set of “readings” from (male) authors of classic texts like Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and Merton’s Ode to the Present Century. A lyrics section provides words to 27 songs (all but one by male composers, and 1/3 are by Ray Repp, of blessed memory).
In this volume, McNierney describes how the “underground [Mass movement] has proliferated,” but has felt if must maintain “at least a semblance of secrecy” (McNierney 11). In editing the resource, McNierney hoped to both help “liturgies of the underground” draw on each others’ experiences, and to include some resources which were “used most widely” but had heretofore “never appeared in print” (McNierney 18, 15).
But…were people really, actually doing such things? Did Catholic folks gather together, explicitly identifying as “liturgies of the underground,” and pray “The Jesus Canon” instead of what was in the Missal-soon-to-be-Sacramentary? Did everybody play folk music with three chords on two guitars? Did the infamous “beer and pizza” Mass really happen in the vicinity of Notre Dame? Is this all just an incredibly elaborate urban legend fabricated by so-called Latin Mass Catholics seeking a return to the 1962 Missal???
And so, I ask you: What were you doing in 1964? Were you part of the “underground Mass movement”? Were you sitting upstairs in the nave, sad and disappointed about what liturgical aesthetics were unfolding as your altar rail was carted out the door? Or did the Mass simply “change” overnight, gradually, or amorphously, into some bright, new, and hopeful vision of the People of God?