Mass Public: Gods Word, the Peoples Language, and U.S. Catholic Liturgical Reform 1940-1974

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In 1964 the Second Vatican Council encouraged a switch from Latin Mass, celebrated by Roman Catholics across the globe in standardized form since the 16th century, to Mass in the languages spoken by the local people and with some adaptation to local circumstances. This event is familiar to scholars of Religion, American Religious History, and U.S. Catholicism, for all of whom it marks an important historical pivot in culture and practice. The story of the Latin Mass, and its mid-20th century exile, has subsequently come to occupy a central symbolic place in the construction of popular as well as scholarly ideas about religion, modernity, and political responsibility. The language reforms of the middle to late 1960s were opportunities for U.S. Catholics and those who studied them to emphasize certain aspects of many interwoven liturgical strategies, but the narrative that emerged surrounding these events often ignores local projects in favor of projecting a story about the obvious suitability of English for post-war U.S. Catholic practice. This dissertation explores liturgical reform projects undertaken by two urban Catholic dioceses between 1940 and 1974, a period including but not confined to the vernacular language reforms of the 1960s. I argue that liturgical reform both before and after the Second Vatican Council was a category name for efforts by liturgical activists with related but not identical agendas. They hoped to use the persons, spaces, and ambience organized within the Mass to create a common U.S. Catholic identity suitable to the range of religious and civic activities in which Catholics found, or hoped to find, themselves. This attitude would operate outside the Mass, but it would be especially legible in the bodies, faces, and voices of individuals who helped to create the experience of the Mass for each other each Sunday. In the 1940s, a limited interest in the phrase active participation inspired numerous conversations in Catholic liturgical publications. Attending to these conversations yields historically situated definition of active participation as a phrase with useful authority for inspiring liturgical campaigns and for disciplining the Catholics involved in them. In early 1950s Boston, one such campaign gave diocesan liturgical experts the opportunity to create a significant local community of liturgically expert lay Catholics simultaneously enjoined to capitalize on the growing political and cultural strength of white Catholics, especially men, after the Second World War. Both the narrative and strategies adopted by the archdiocese of Chicago for standardizing vernacular worship in the 1960s continue this pattern, simultaneously working on local Catholics as members of a religious community and as citizens in this period of relative political, economic, and cultural success for white middle class families. With the advent of the vernacular, largely English, Mass, scholars of and within Catholicism identify a tradition that has finally become a producer of American political virtues. Yet, both before and after the council, liturgical activists used Mass education programming to form Catholic parish communities. Before the Council they did so using English as an educational supplement to Latin celebration. After, they used English as both a measure of participation and a guarantee of communal modernity. To understand vernacular liturgy as a liberation of U.S. Catholics is to miss both the continuity of liturgical discipline across this period and the triumphal nationalism that is smuggled into U.S. Catholic history by uncritically accepting a uniformly English Mass as metonymy for lay freedom, maturation, and spiritual fulfillment.

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  • 11/19/2019
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