Monday, November 21, 2011

Local Vocals

Excerpted from ‘Name That Sound’ a biographical essay:
During the week we’d often see a funeral, and sometimes on Saturday or Sunday a wedding. One of the joys of being an altar boy was being called to serve at a funeral during school hours. I don’t mean the funeral was a joy---we were properly respectful. We were just happy to feel important enough to be called from class and spend a few hours away from education and the nuns. The weekend wedding was a real perk, and living across street led to my being called for the services quite often. A wedding [one server,] unless it was a mass [two servers,] didn’t take long, and the best man usually paid us altar boys a stipend. That extra cash meant a lot to us kids of the cloth.
With a Catholic bride and a Catholic groom, we opened the altar gates and the service was performed at the foot of the altar. With the Mass, the bride and groom had prie-dieus to kneel on also at the foot of the altar.

For a mixed marriage---Catholic and non-Catholic---the service was performed at the altar rail. It was just as solemn and joyous for the participants. Sometimes, the bride went over to the side altar to pray to Mary while ‘Panis Angelicus’ [Food of the Angels] or ‘Ave Maria’ [Hail Mary] was played by the organist.

In the 1960s we had a fifth Mass early Sunday afternoon [about 1 pm or 2 pm.] It was for the Spanish-speaking parishioners, with the homily in their language. Since I never attended one, I don’t know whether the Mass was conducted in Latin or Spanish---probably the latter.

On holydays, such as Easter and Christmas, the traffic near our house was unbelievable. I watched the action for each Mass: Chevy Bel Air and Coupe, Chevrolet Styleline Sedan; Ford Edsel, Ford Custom, high-flowered hats; compact hats; Ford Crown Victoria, Ford Fairlane 500; Fedora; Packard Clipper, Packard Hawk; Easter dress with a fancy hat; Nash Metropolitan, Nash Ambassador, Nash Statesman; billowing scarves; Plymouth Belvedere, Plymouth Suburban; Dodge Coronet, Dodge Regent, Dodge Sierra; lush overcoats and wind-blown faces; Oldsmobile Super 88, Oldsmobile Firestar; Pontiac Starchief; Studebaker Champion, Studebaker Commander, Studebaker Golden Hawk, Studebaker Lark; laughing families; Buick Roadmaster, Buick Special, Buick Riviera; Hudson Jet, Hudson Commodore, Hudson Hornet; Mercury Sun Valley, Mercury Monterey, Mercury Voyager; DeSoto Adventurer, DeSoto Power Master; Caddie, or Lincoln; Frazer Manhattan; Kaiser-Frazer Henry J---but rarely a foreign car.

We were a hard-working parish. The really rich people, except for the Nowns Sisters must have gone to Church somewhere else. Some people who kept away from Sunday Mass all year showed up on Easter and Christmas. Services during Holy Week were also well attended. We had lengthy services on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I remember attending everything, even when I wasn’t serving as an altar boy.

Holy Week started on Palm Sunday. We had the passing out of blessed and dried palm fronds as a symbol of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. We were also read the Passion from the gospel. I didn’t like this as a kid because it was so long and only a repetition from the previous year. In the early fifties, everyone had to stand during the reading. Later on, the parishioners could sit---a deterrent to fainting spells.

We saw the reverence of Holy Thursday and the black sadness of Good Friday. And the anticipation and joy of Holy Saturday. These feelings led to the majesty of Easter Sunday. That morning with the lilies and other flowers represented the glorious feeling among us all, though I know as a little kid, I was more interested in the various treats of the day. The wafty flower aroma from the Easter Lilies was all about the church and added to the freshness of the Mass and ceremonies. We celebrated the rising from the dead of Jesus over two thousand years ago.

All through the fifties we had the same three elderly women as our church choir. [They may not have been elderly in the 1950s, but they sounded like it.] Mrs. Hallinan, Mrs. Hegewald, and another whose name I’m sorry to say I don’t remember. The third also played the organ. They sang in tune, but their assumed ages showed in their voices. They sounded dark and ominous and were well suited for funerals. I only wish we had had some younger singers to brighten the wedding and other joyous ceremonies, or some sinners of any age to appreciate the dark singing.

But there in the fifties, the ‘triumvirate’ had a stranglehold on the Church singing rights. I doubt anyone could have joined or replaced them. It would have been a heresy. No singers need apply. Perhaps their most annoying moments were their cranking out litanies during high Mass. As is often quoted: ‘A voice which could shatter glass!’

To be perfectly honest, I preferred and still prefer the old Latin, or Tridentine, Mass to the modern one in the vernacular of the parishioners. I go to a Latin Mass whenever and wherever I can find one, and I watch Midnight Mass from the Vatican every Christmas Eve instead of watching another version of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Neither one however, is like the Masses I remember---although the St Peter’s mass comes close. By using the vernacular as mandated by the Vatican II council, a lot of mystery and ceremony seems lost.

The ‘numinous’ [inborn religious sense] has to fight an uphill battle to remain on an even keel. Protestant theologian, Rudolf Otto in his 1923 book ‘The Idea of the Holy’, discussed this concept. He has good, if somewhat dense, arguments and discussions of the presence of God and holiness. A mysterious aura is very important to a person’s belief. Take it away, as with the demise of the Latin Mass, and you create Catholics of convenience and the modern day, certainly not with the same devoutness as in the past.

In the Latin Mass, we didn’t shake hands and wish each other peace as we do in the vernacular Mass. After the service [or prayer; Mass is actually considered a prayer,] we made the effort to treat our neighbors with respect and courtesy every day. That’s what we were taught, and that was a most important attitude. ‘Love thy neighbor as t

1 comment:

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