Once upon a time: The liturgy is alive and well

Popularity of novenas and other private devotions attest to improvements inspired by Vatican II

By Monsignor Xavier Mankel

Many churches 75 years old and older have them, or have places where they used to be. Immaculate Conception Church in Knoxville had them, and although bricked over for many years, they still are vestiges of a number of small chimneys built within the walls of the church.

Inside were stoves used to take the chill off the empty church. Once the building filled with people, not much heat was needed. In warm weather, large windows could be opened, giving a breeze to those attending. Later on, electric fans and then refrigerated air conditioning were added.

Other ways to heat our churches included doors between the pews, which kept drafts from forming. Indentations in the pews still are apparent at Immaculate Conception, where the hinges were fastened. Another way to heat the church was to bring heated bricks wrapped in burlap or some other cloth to place at the feet of worshippers. Our Protestant brothers and sisters did more of this than we did. Non-Catholics built churches in greater numbers in East Tennessee, and they were built earlier in our history.

Participation aids were not used during this period, but some light was needed. Enormous chandeliers, either gas-fueled, electric or both, gave necessary light to the worship space. Candles were on the altars but were used for illumination.

We take for granted these days when our pipe organ has electric motor drive bellows to produce air for the organ. Before that, teams of men and boys manned the bellows. Church bells often were used to tell time, and they were mostly hand-rung. Those who had the responsibility for ringing the bells needed accurate clocks or watches.

Participation aids, except for hymnals, were not used. In fact, use of translations was forbidden until later years. The congregation listened to the sermon (in the vernacular) and other parts of the Mass in Latin. This is one reason active participation seems unnecessary to old-timers today. It will take one or two generations before old habits die out.

Yet the Mass is the Mass in any century or language. What an awesome thing our liturgy has become.

Our people must be satisfied. The popularity of novenas and other private devotions attest to this fact. To have Stations of the Cross or rosary devotions in the vernacular (hymns for Benediction remained in Latin) accounts for their popularity. The wonderful improvements coming our way as a result of Vatican II will take several more years to implement but are well worth the effort.

Since Latin was the language of the Church, a vernacular hymnal has been slow to develop. But it is beginning to and we will find many new hymns in our hymnals in centuries to come.
Once people know songs and other parts of the Mass by heart, there will be no need for participation aids. Until then, the aids have their place in vibrant worship settings. ■

Monsignor Mankel is a vicar general and the historical archivist for the Diocese of Knoxville.

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