Days of change and the Mass in English
Some readers of Catholic Voice will remember those times, before the mid-1960s, when the Mass was said in Latin. Attendees at Mass across our Archdiocese in those years would hear scripture readings and the priest’s homily in English (though often delivered with an Irish accent), but the remainder of the service, including all prayers and responses, was in Latin.
This was to change with the implementation of Sancrosanctum Concilium (1963) the conciliar constitution on the liturgy – one of the early outcomes of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965.
The body of bishops and their advisers who deliberated over this document saw a need for greater involvement of the lay faithful in the celebration of the Mass. A critical way of achieving this was to have the Mass celebrated in the language that was understood by most attendees.
How the introduction of the Mass in English was achieved in our Archdiocese during the first half of 1964 is documented in the Archbishop’s Circulars – a regular information bulletin from those days issued from the Archdiocesan chancery to parish priests.
In a circular issued on 1 May 1964, Archbishop Eris O’Brien noted that Archdiocesan clergy who made up the Diocesan Liturgical Commission had met to plan the way changes would be implemented:
• Regional meetings of clergy (along Deanery lines) would be held to provide briefings and to allow discussion/resolution of any implementation concerns;
• These would be followed by a period of several weeks when priests would provide information and instruction to their parishioners;
• A printed leaflet containing the new English test would be prepared and widely distributed. It would be suitable as an insert for parishioner’s Sunday Missals.
The Archbishop offered words of encouragement: “Both priest and people should aim to say the English in a natural and meaningful way”, adding “it will be beneficial to have a priest, if possible, or a layman leading the people in the English responses” until the congregation becomes familiar with them. In a later circular Archbishop O’Brien advised his priests, “I suggest that you all study your missals, making yourselves familiar with the English text of the Mass.”
Like most of Australia’s bishops, Archbishop O’Brien participated in all sessions of the Vatican Council and voted on the recommendations for change as they came forward. His dispatches back to Canberra from Rome in those years show him to be an enthusiastic supporter of the work of the Council.
In a circular dated 22 June, he advised that the English Liturgy in the Mass would be introduced across the Archdiocese on Sunday 19 July. It was expected that by then stocks of a brochure titled English Text for use of the People at Mass would be available in parishes. This booklet sold for sixpence (5c).
At the same time as English was introduced, a number of changes were made to the sequences of sitting, standing and kneeling by the congregation during Mass (referred to as ‘Postures of the faithful at Mass’). A summary of the new order of postures was included in the Archbishop’s Circular as an aid to implementation.
In the years that followed, further changes to the Mass, as the full recommendations of Sancrosanctum Concilium were implemented, gave it a very different appearance.
Mass was offered on a table altar in the sanctuary which enabled the priest to face the congregation while leading the celebration, altar rail gates were removed to open the sanctuary to the body of the church (and in time the whole rails taken away), and hymn singing by the congregation (also in English) was introduced.
No doubt there will be readers who remember those days of change in the Mass and the difference it made to their weekly worship.