General and Introductory Materials
Part 2 History of the Liturgy

Chapter d28 Before Vatican II [1900-1959 CE]

Life in the USA in 1900

Preliminary Questions



Liturgical Movement

Fears in 1942

Pius XII


Sacramental Theology during Period 8 of the Historical Grid

To Think About

Life in the USA in 1900

What a difference a century makes: 100 years ago in 1900 only 14 Percent of the homes in the US had a bathtub.  Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.  A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.  There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads.  The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.  Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. With a mere 1.4 million residents, California was only the 21st most populous state in the Union.  The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.  The average wage in the US was 22 cents an hour. The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.  A competent accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.  More the 95 percent of all births in the US took place at home.  Ninety percent of all US physicians had no college education; instead they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as "substandard".

Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee cost fifteen cents a pound. Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.  The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska hadn't been admitted to the Union yet.  The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30. The remote desert community was inhabited by only a handful of ranchers and their families. Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at corner drugstores. According to one pharmacist, "Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health."  Punch-card data processing had recently been developed, and early predecessors of the modern computer were used for the first time by the government to help compile the 1900 census.

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Preliminary Questions

How old were you in 1965 as the Mass began to be celebrated in the vernacular? What do you remember of the liturgy before the Second Vatican Council? With what feelings do you remember those rites?

Have you ever read the documents of the Second Vatican Council? Have you studied the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy?  What importance do you place on this type of document for your study of theology? For your spiritual life?

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Kenan Osborne. The Christian Sacraments of Initiation (New York: Paulist Press, 1987).

Robert CabiƩ. The Eucharist, New Edition 1986. Vol II of The Church at Prayer, G. Martimort editor. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986, pp 187-220.

Nathan Mitchell. Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press [A Pueblo Book], 1982, pp 201-215.

Bernard Botte. From Silence to Participation: An Insider's View of Liturgical Renewal, Washington, DC: The Pastoral Press, 1988.  [TRR:  I highly recommend this book.]

Annibale Bugnini. The Reform of the Liturgy (1948-1975), Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1571-6. Hardcover, 1000 pp. $59.50. [Publisher's description:  Here is the definitive work on the Second Vatican Council as described by one who participated in it from its inception. As secretary of the preparatory commission on the liturgy (1960-1962), peritus of the Second Vatican Council and its commission on the liturgy, secretary of the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy (1964-1969), and secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship (1969-1975), Bugnini is in the unique position to tell the complete story of the reform of the Roman liturgy. His careful account of the development of the rites illuminates the meanings and purposes behind the reforms, as well as the compromises that were made for the sake of reform.]  [TRR:  I highly recommend this book.]

Peter Hebblethwaite. Paul VI: The First Modern Pope. New York: Paulist Press, 1993. [TRR:  I highly recommend this book.]

Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. Liturgical Law Today: New Style, New Spirit. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977.

History of Vatican II, Vol I: Announcing and Preparing Vatican Council II, Toward a New Era in Catholicism, edited by Giuseppe Alberigo. English version edited by Joseph A. Komonchak. Orbis Books.  544 pp. $80.00. is the link to the  copy of the Latin text of Tra le Sollecitudini. The original was in Latin.

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Liturgical Movement (1900-1960)

1.  The early 1900's saw the beginning of a revival of interest in the liturgy.  This "liturgical movement" prepared the way for the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  

2.  Some of the great leaders and centers of the movement were Dom Gueranger in France, Dom Beauduin in Belgium, Odo Casel, Jungmann, and Pius Parch.

3.  They found the origins of the liturgy in oral tradition and discovered that there was no one liturgical source and that uniformity had been forged from diversity.  Rediscovering the principle Lex Orandi they found that the liturgy influenced even the Christian Scriptures.  They began to study the liturgical hymns found in the scriptures, etc.

4.  They began to study the classical Sacramentaries e.g. The Leonine Sacramentary, The Gelasian Sacramentary,  The Gregorian Sacramentary.

5.  They began to see their own context as being in the (First) Great Liturgical Consolidation, where the Roman books serve the whole (or nearly the whole) of the Known World  [i.e. Europe] following the unification of Trent which issued 1) The Missal of the Council of Trent; 2) The Ritual of the Council of Trent; and 3) The Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566).  NOTE: The Ritual was not universal but only for those places that did not have a ritual book.

1905 Pius X encourages frequent Communion

 In 1905 Pope St. Pius X (1835-1914) encourages the frequent reception of Holy Communion.   Since the early middle ages, the "good" Christians went to Communion at most, four times a year.  Ordinary Christians went once a year for their Easter Duty [note the theology expressed in the phrases  "Easter Duty" and "go to" Communion].  Some Christians received once a year; others did not receive Communion at all.   [St. Clare of Assisi, in her Holy Rule of 1250, instructs her sisters to receive Holy Communion seven times a year!  This was exceptionally frequent for her time, nearly twice what good people did!] 

In the early 1960's, the 1905 papal directive begins to take effect. The Church waited about 50 years after the pope said to do it see if he really meant it; but actually 50 years is not all that long.   Benedict XIV in Certiores effecti (promulgated from Saint Mary Major in Rome on November 13, 1742)  directed that the faithful "be nourished by hosts consecrated during the Mass" and not from previously consecrated hosts taken from the tabernacle.  Today, over 250 years later, many pastors are still waiting to see if he meant it!   "There is no mention made in post-Conciliar liturgical norms of reservation of the eucharist for distribution at later Masses."  BCL Newsletter XXV (May 1989) p 19 [corrected by rk 10/1002].

1910 Pius X lowered age for first Communion

 In 1910 Pope St. Pius X (1835-1914) lowered the age for First Communion.  Children can henceforth receive communion at the age of reason when they can tell the eucharist is not "ordinary bread" (Note the emphasis on the "object" In 1910 we are on the Noun Island, not the Verb Island.)  

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (First Confession) tags along and is moved earlier also. (Note: the amount and kind of sinning one might do between Baptism and 21 years of age is perhaps different from the amount and kind of sinning one might do between Baptism and 7 years of age.) 

Confirmation stays in the same place (i.e. as soon as the bishop comes to the parish after baptism.) However, this now means that it might be after First Eucharist.  Eucharist had always followed Confirmation and was seen as the completion and culmination of Christian Initiation.  This is once again the position of the current Catechism of the Catholic Church:  "The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation" (CCC 1322).  The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life" (SC 47, CCC 1324). 

Following the lowering of the age for First Communion in 1910 we now have children being fully initiated and admitted to Table Fellowship whose Baptism is not yet confirmed.  This was a major change in the initiatory process.  Pius X's compassion to let the little innocent children receive the Love of God in the Spotless Host is great for the little children but doesn't do much for the sequence of the rites of initiation.  Confirmation is left behind, searching for a theology for itself.  Confirmation grows and becomes more of a parish event than Baptism.  Following the principle Lex Orandi we will probably never understand Baptism well until the celebration of Baptism regains its due solemnity; e.g. a person's Baptism Day is a bigger day than his or her Confirmation Day, Ordination Day, Wedding Day, etc.  This should be clear from the liturgies on the two occasions.

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Fears in 1942

The following is a summary of the Memorandum of Archbishop Groeber of Freiburg circulated among the German speaking bishops toward the end of 1942 which appeals to the bishops and the Holy See to do something about the disturbing elements in the Liturgical Movement in France, Belgium, and Germany.  The encyclical Mediator Dei, (On the Sacred Liturgy, November 20, 1947) is the response of Pope Pius XII to Groeber's memorandum. (See: Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. Liturgical Law Today: New Style, New Spirit. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977, pp 2-4.) 

Archbishop Groeber calls seventeen issues to the attention of the Pope:

1.  The Liturgical Movement is causing divisions in the ranks of the German clergy. The "kerygmatics" are calling the rest of us ignorant, lazy and disobedient.

2.  They are causing dogmatic and systematic theology to be neglected.

3.  They give a new definition to "Faith." Faith is no longer belief in revealed truths, but an experience, and emotion.

4.  They neglect scholastic philosophy and theology and prefer modern systems, Hegel, etc.

5.  They criticize contemporary institutions and contemporary forms of religious life because of the undue importance they place on the forms found in the primitive church.

6.  They give too much attention to the Oriental Liturgies.

7.  There is a growing influence of protestant dogma on the way in which we present the faith.

8.  The limits of the Church are so extended as to included even the protestants. The heretical churches are sometimes considered a part of the total Church.

9.  They give a new definition of the Church. The Church is no longer the "perfect society," but some type of biological organism [i.e. "Body of Christ"].

10.  There is a supernaturalism and a mysticism raging in theology and even in pastoral practice.

11.  There is a surprising and terrifying growth of the emphasis placed on the Mystical Christ to the neglect of the Historical Christ. They affirm a mystical union between Christ and the Christian which can have disastrous consequences for the doctrine of grace and the sacraments.

12.  An exaggerated importance is given to the Mystical Body of Christ.

13.  The priesthood of the laity is exaggerated and emphasized at the expense of the functional priesthood. Some even say that the laity ratify the sacrifice by their "Amen." Others say that people must be present for Mass and disparaging things are being said about private Masses.

14.  Some are saying that the communion of the faithful is an integral part of the Mass. Others say that Communion should not be distributed except during the sacrifice.  Romano Guardini even thinks we ought to allow Communion with both bread and wine.

15.  They give an exaggerated importance to the liturgy and tend to identify it with the life of the Church. In apostolic times private prayer held first place, not the liturgy, and we must be careful not to be taken in by contemporary liturgists who play down private prayers: the rosary, the way of the cross, the month of Mary. We have even heard them say "a parish which lives only by these popular devotions is religiously anemic." Nothing in history justifies this statement. After all, things weren't so bad before there ever was a Liturgical Movement.

If things are to be changed, this must be done only by the Holy See. There are those who are changing things on their own authority. Never have rubrics been treated so arbitrarily. New forms of vestments . . . Some have even asked publicly to replace black vestments by dark green ones.

16.  They would like to have the bishops declare that the community Mass is the obligatory way of celebrating. They put too much emphasis on the "strict right" of the laity to participate. They say that the priest speaks in the name of the parish and that it is the community which celebrates. They change the whole ideal of Catholic priesthood because the Catholic priest is not merely a servant as is the protestant minister. The true and unique priest is Christ. His priesthood is entrusted to the ordained priest. The priest is sent to the community by the bishop, he is not called by the parish. He celebrates Mass for the parish, but he is not delegated by the parish to celebrate Mass.

17.  They are attempting to introduce the German language not only into the administration of the sacraments as is already allowed by the Congregation of Rites, but they even want to use German at Mass. A vernacular liturgy has often served the forces of error as a weapon in the arsenal of heresy.

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Pius XII

1939 March 2 Pius XII   Eugenio Maria a Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli (2 March 1876 -- 9 October 1958) Pope Pius XII has the vision of being Pope as Vicar of Christ.  He did not make cardinals or consult with them.  He never called them together.  Consequently they had little knowledge of one another when Pius XII died and they needed to work together to elect a successor.

[1939 October 14   Thomas Richstatter born]

1943 June 29   Mystici Corporis   "On the Mystical Body,"   The Body of Christ becomes dominant metaphor for the Church until Vatican II at which time "People of God" becomes dominant metaphor.  The Council is to give new vigor to the Church.  "People of God" is a more reformable metaphor than "Body of Christ."

1947 November 20  Mediator Dei    "On the Sacred Liturgy" , November 20, 1947, is the first encyclical in history specifically on the liturgy.  The Church begins to be seen as "us" rather than "it" and the movement toward "participation" begins to gather momentum.  There is talk of the dialogue Mass and participation in the Eucharist by eating  and even eating frequently (that is, more than once or four  times a year).  Rome was hesitant to approve the dialogue Mass and warned that  "all that noise will be a terrible distraction for the priests saying their private Masses at the side altars."

1950 August 12  Humani Generis Encyclical  "Concerning Some False Opinions Threatening to Undermine The Foundations Of Catholic Doctrine".

1. Disagreement and error among men on moral and religious matters have always been a cause of profound sorrow to all ...

26. Disregarding the Council of Trent, some pervert the very concept of original sin ... as well as the idea of satisfaction performed for us by Christ. Some even say that the doctrine of transubstantiation, based on an antiquated philosophic notion of substance, should be so modified ...

27. Some say they are not bound by the doctrine ... which teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing.

31. ... future priests [are to] be instructed in philosophy according to the method, doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor ...

36. ...The Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that ... research and discussions ... take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution ...

37. ... [but with regard to] polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. ... The Teaching Authority of the Church proposes with regard to original sin [that it] proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own. [Rom 5: 12-19; Trent, session 5, can. 1-4]

38. [It] must be deplored a certain too free interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament [because] ... the first eleven chapters of Genesis ... pertain to history in a true sense.

41. We charge the Bishops and the Superiors General of Religious Orders, binding them most seriously in conscience, to take most diligent care that such opinions be not advanced in schools, in conferences or in writings of any kind, and that they be not taught in any manner whatsoever to the clergy or the faithful.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, 12 August 1950, the twelfth ye

1950 November 1 Munificentissimus Deus   (Latin: The most bountiful God) Apostolic constitution defined ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was the first ex-cathedra infallible statement since the official ruling on papal infallibility was made at the First Vatican Council (1869-1870).    [Former infallible statement:  1854 - Pope Pius IX Ineffabilis Deus defined Mary's Immaculate Conception.]

1958  Instruction on Sacred Music    Pius XII's "last will and testament" with regard to the liturgy. 

1958 October 9  Pius XII dies.   [Personal note:  The death of the pope came as something of a "shock"  to me.  He had been pope my entire life and I had no idea that a pope would ever die!  It was like waking up one day and finding out there would be no more Thursdays!      How different today, when I have lived during the reign of 7 popes and will probably see a couple more.]

[sede vacante - 19 days]

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1958 October 28.  John XXIII elected pope.  "The question remains. Why was Roncalli chosen for a diplomatic post in Bulgaria, a job for which he had no experience, in a place of which he had no special knowledge?  The circumstances and timing of the unexpected appointment strongly suggest that certain negative reasons may have played a part." Biography of John XXIII.)

1959 January 15.  Council announced.  Only two months after becoming pope, John XXIII announces the council. "Almost everyone was hostile to the Council." (Botte, pp 117-118.)  For example Cardinal Francis Spellman declared that the Pope's decision to call a Council was "destined for certain failure." (See Komonchak.)   Letters were sent to the bishops of the world  asking for topics to be discussed.  The liturgical topics suggested are organized by Fr. Annibale Bugnini, C.M.  The opposition to the Council starts almost immediately and grows.

1962 February 22:    Veterum sapientiae    Encyclical letter which decreed that Latin and Greek had always been and would always be the language of the liturgy, and forbad anyone to discuss the possibility of a vernacular liturgy.  Fr. Bugnini C.M. - who advocated the vernacular - is fired and replaced by Fr. Antonelli, O.F.M.  of the Congregation of Rites.    But in spite of the opposition to the Council, the Pope persists and the Council opens.  "I believe that the liturgists were the happiest over the sweet obstinacy of the pope, since the Council came at just the right time for the liturgical movement.  Fifty years of study and experience had prepared for a reform." (Botte p. 112)

[1962 September  Thomas Richstatter begins the study of theology at St. Leonard College [OFM major seminary], Dayton OH.  Ordination, June 9, 1966.]

1962 October 11.  The Council opens and begins its discussions with the Constitution on the Liturgy.  "The Constitution on the Liturgy had to be the liturgical movement's harvest." (Botte p 112.)  

1963 June 3.  Pope John XXIII died on Whit Monday. His dream fulfilled in a New Pentecost. "With human power it is not possible; with God's power all things are possible."  In virtue of Article 33 of the Constitution Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, the Council is suspended. 

1963 June 21.  Cardinal Montini is elected Pope Paul VI.   

1965 December 8.  Solemn closing of the Second Vatican Council. 

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Sacramental Theology during Period 8 of the Historical Grid

(Compare what follows with my summary of the sacraments during Period 9 of the Historical Grid)

Sacraments in General

The sacramental rituals had remained unchanged since the Council of Trent. - The theology of the sacraments was based on this medieval practice.

This theology is summarized in the Baltimore Catechism (which Catholics my age know by heart). The 1941 edition is available online at


Baptism of both infants and adults used the ritual for "adult baptism in case of emergency". - The purpose of baptism was to remove original sin. - There was no catechumenate for adults; adult converts met with the priests and studied the book "Father Smith Instructs Jackson".


Confirmation is a separate sacrament from Baptism. Confirmation for both adults and children baptized as infants was reserved for the bishop. (A priest could confirm in danger of death.)

During the sacrament the bishop gives the newly confirmed the kiss of peace. When confirming infants and young children this was a "love pat on the cheek." This began to be interpreted as a slap rather than a love pat. Why would the bishops slap these children? Because they are now soldiers for Christ. (In the Gospels, I do not read much about Jesus "making soldiers .")

Note:  The Catholic News Service (as reported in The Criterion, May 3, 2013, p 1) reported that Pope Francis celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with 44 young people during Mass in St. Peter's Square on April 28, 2013.   "After making the sign of the cross with chrism oil on the foreheads of those being confirmed, Pope Francis rubbed the oil all over their foreheads, sealing them with the Holy Spirit.  After wishing them peace, he gave each a quick kiss on the cheek."


The Baltimore Catechism treats Eucharist, Mass, Holy Communion in three separate chapters as though they were three separate unrelated things or events. And in the mind of most Catholics at that time they were.

Mass was the prayer of the priest during which the laity recited devotional prayers.

Masses were categorized as "high masses" at which the ordinary parts were sung and "low masses" which were silent and private.

It was permitted to say a votive Mass on almost any day of the year. - Most weekday Masses were the votive "Daily Mass for the Dead."

There was no lectionary. The Bible was a Protestant book.

The laity begin to receive holy Communion after the rules are changed so that a person no longer needs to fast from midnight.


Scholastic confession was the only form of the Rite most people knew. Confession was a devotional practice (rather than a liturgical rite) and its frequency had fallen off considerably from about 1958 onward. (In the 1920's Catholics went to confession more frequently than they received Holy Communion!)

Extreme Unction

Extreme Unction was the sacrament for the dying (or dead). The focus of the prayers was on the forgiveness of sins and preparation for the after-life.

Holy Orders

The priest was a man set apart to act "in Persona Christi."  This is my Body....  I absolve you...


Marriage is a contract between a man and a women giving the other the right to sexual procreation. - If sexual intercourse is impossible, there can be no contract.

Marriages between Catholics were celebrated at Mass on Saturday mornings, outside of Lent and Advent. - Mixed marriages were often celebrated in the Rectory, or at least not in the sanctuary.

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To Think About

Are there sacramental rituals from this period that you would like to see restored?  Which ones?  Why?

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 05/02/17 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at