Once upon a time: Following the Catholic Church in real time

Faithful now have almost instant access to developments as information dirt trail turns into a superhighway

My, how times have changed!” Grandmothers say this to granddaughters as a preface to negative remarks about ladies’ fashion that follow. Fathers may preface some remarks about wonderful improvements in the whole arena of hand tools, especially since the space age dawned.

And all of us can echo grandmother’s remark when we look at the post-World War II Church and compare it with today. As a newly ordained priest (May 27, 1961), I maintained more than a passing interest in the happenings at Vatican II (Oct.11, 1962-1965).

I was especially interested in the shape of a new and improved liturgy: Would the vernacular be adopted, at least for the Liturgy of the Word? Would altars be “turned around” to face the people? What new postures would be employed by a Church that had maintained basically the same worship modes for at least a millennium, especially since the Council of Trent (1545-1563)? And what about the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours? Would bishops, priests, and deacons be taught music, especially how to sing God’s praises? Would priests in the United States face economic improvement?

When I was ordained, as an assistant pastor I received room and board and $55 per month in salary plus Mass stipends. There was no health insurance, no retirement. Paying into Social Security was an option, but in the early 1960s the earnings on a Knights of Columbus insurance policy were at least as good if not better.

Because I taught school, our raise on July 1, 1962, was $10 per month (non-teachers were raised only $5 per month). In theory the additional $60 per year would cover our professional books and other needs, and granted that regular gasoline was in the low 20 cents-per-gallon range, the insecurity of having few if any of the other benefits that we take for granted was considerable.

The Fathers who gathered at Trent for that 18-year-long ecumenical council surely had their hands full. All in all great good came from their work. The celebration of the Mass was given protectivity; the sacraments were better defined; and rituals of blessings and customs were defined. Trent issued a Catechism; not the question-and-answer format, but very similar to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which flowed from Vatican II in the 20th century.

While the man or woman in the pew practically had no access to deliberations at Vatican II, those who were interested had easy access to the happenings in Rome for each session from 1962-65.

My question for this time is: What did American Catholics know about the first Vatican Council (Dec. 8, 1869-Oct 20, 1870) and how were they so informed? About 800 cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and religious superior generals participated. Only two doctrinal constitutions were promulgated: Dei Filius (April 24, 1870) on the interaction of faith and reason; and Pastor aeternus (July 18, 1870), which defined the jurisdictional primacy and the infallibility of the pope.

Actually there was no sort of pipeline to the “outside world.” Reports were gradually issued but in rather archival fashion. Granted that the definition of papal infallibility was the only real issue of consequence, and yes, we finally did get the work, Pastor aeternus; but the entire manner and method with which the post-World War II world share news is a whole new ball game in our modern world of communication. When the Code of Canon Law was issued in 1917 (Pentecost), the Church was given one whole year to implement its statutes (until Pentecost, 1918).

So, I think a fair answer to our question about news from Vatican I is that there was none (at least of the type you and I expect today.)

I’ll close with this little tidbit from Vatican I.

When the final vote was taken about the propriety of defining papal infallibility as an article of faith, only two bishops of the 435 who voted on the issue voted negatively. They were Bishop Luigi Riccio of Caiazza, Italy, and Bishop Edward Fitzgerald of Little Rock, Ark. They eventually gave their adherence. When the bishops lined up to congratulate Pope Pius IX upon the definition, Bishop Fitzgerald is said to have quipped, “Well, Holy Father, Little Rock gives in to Big Rock!”

If you haven’t registered for the Eucharistic Congress in Sevierville Sept. 13-14, there still is time. Go to the Diocese of Knoxville website, www.dioknox.org/ec/. The congress will be held at the Sevierville Convention Center, 202 Gists Creek Road in Sevierville, just off Highway 66.

Monsignor Mankel is a vicar general of the diocese and the pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville.