Ministry to the Dying, Dead, and Bereaved
Part 2 History

Chapter f28 Before Vatican II [1900-1959 CE]

Secular History

Church History

Ministry to the Dead and Bereaved

Secular History

Life in the USA in 1900:  What a difference a century makes: 100 years ago in 1900 only 14% 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 [According to the US Bureau of Transit Statistics for 2004 there are 243,023,485 registered passenger vehicles 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.

In the USA, various states make laws regarding funerals, burial practices, requirements for embalming, cemeteries, etc. 

As cities develop and land becomes expensive, often the cemetery is no longer next to the Church but on the outskirts of the city, at some distance from the parish church. 

As immigrants become integrated into American society and culture, their ethnic secular and religious customs brought from the "mother country" gradually die out. 

 Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Anointing Index --- Funeral Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Church History

A summary of the liturgical developments during this period can be found at Chapter d26  The Early Twentieth Century   Be familiar with the Liturgical Movement, the memorandum of Archbishop Groeber of Freiburg, and the work of Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI.

The developments in historical research, biblical studies, prepare for the reforms of Vatican II.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Anointing Index --- Funeral Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Ministry to the Dead and Bereaved

There are few developments regarding the ministry to the dead and bereaved during this period.

a.  The Ritual of 1614 continues in use, in Latin.

b.  The focus remains on the dead and not on the bereaved.

c.  The focus remains on purgatory and "temporal punishment due to sin."

d.  The liturgical color is black.  (Note:  one change during this period was allowing white vestments in those areas where the color of mourning was white rather than black.  This is not the "white of resurrection" but the white of mourning.)

e.  As the official, liturgical prayers and rites were all in Latin, non-liturgical pious devotions develop; for example during the wake the Latin ritual prayers are seldom (never?) used and are replaced by the Rosary recited in the vernacular.

A word about "popular devotions":    In the years before the Second Vatican Council there was a sharp distinction between liturgical prayer and devotional prayer. The liturgical prayer was in Latin, in the official books and one need to be deputed (by ordination or religious profession) to perform it.  Devotions were in any language, could be multiplied at will, need no approval or approval of local bishop.   The Second Vatican Council said in this regard: 

SC 13. Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they are ordered by the Apostolic See.

Devotions proper to individual Churches also have a special dignity if they are undertaken by mandate of the bishops according to customs or books lawfully approved.

But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them.

Click here to go to the next chapter of this history  Click here to return to the previous chapter

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Anointing Index --- Funeral Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

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 08/15/14.  Your comments on this site are welcome at