Sepia Saturday #354: Faith and Masses

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This  card was sent to Aunt Sadie by her Grandmother Strait (Audrey) for Easter. It is a traditional religious Easter card showing a priest in the middle of a service offering the chalice up to a candlelit altar. Roses surround the vignette in the center and a close-up of the chalice is presented at the bottom right of the front of the card. The inside has an open bible with a rosary laid across it. The saying inside reads:

“One Easter prayer I make today
is that you’ll always find life’s way.
A path of beauty, joy and light,
a path that’s always in God’s sight,
a path that leads to all that’s true,
with His hand always guiding you,
– I pray this path will always be the chosen path of you and me!”

An interesting aspect of the card is that you can tell that it was produced before 1962. Even if I didn’t know that the card was from Aunt Sadie’s Shirley Temple Scrapbook (1937 t0 1943), the fact that the priest is facing the altar is a huge indication of the date. Before the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (September 1962 to December 1965) occurred, a sepia354003traditional Catholic mass (Tridentine) was performed by the priest almost exclusively with his back to the congregation. Aunt Sadie had a booklet entitled The Mass for Children published in 1925.[1] Almost all of the colored drawings in the booklet show the priest and altar boys facing the altar.

Some major changes that the Council made were that the priest could say mass versus populum, meaning the officiant could face the congregation, that the mass could be said using vernacular language instead of Latin,  and that the priest’s clothing along with religious artwork/decorations became less ornate.

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Beatrice (left), Helen (right) and Art (center)

Aunt Sadie was raised in a Catholic household. Her mother, Beatrice, and Beatrice’s siblings (all but Hank who was too young) received their First Holy Communion from St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Netcong, New Jersey, around 1922 or 1923, long before the Second Council’s changes took effect. They had their portraits taken in their Communion outfits.

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Adam Repsher

The girls are wearing all white; dresses, veils, shoes and stockings. The boys are dressed formally, although they are still wearing short pants, and each is carrying a rosary and prayer book.

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Robert Repsher

Beatrice always had signs of her faith around her home. She attended mass each Sunday until her age afforded her a special dispensation from having to go to mass. She had a pair of Sacred Heart portraits (Mary and Jesus) hanging in her living room.

When I inherited some of both Beatrice’s and Sadie’s things, there were three versions of St. Joseph “Continuous” Sunday Missal & Hymnal. The missals provide guidance on the structure of the mass, what is being celebrated based on the liturgical calendar, and just how the participants are required to respond. They are designed to encourage active participation in the mass. sepia354005

Along with some funeral cards, tucked into this particular missal were some religious cards. One relates to how a family should behave in their day-to-day interactions and was distributed by St. Joseph’s Church on Elm Street in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey. This was the church Beatrice, Sadie, and eventually, my sisters and I all attended for years.

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Two other cards are smaller versions of the Sacred Hearts. These are Roman Catholic devotions which are not part of the official liturgy but are considered to be a private practice of piety and spirituality. The Sacred Heart of Jesus shows his physical heart as a representation of his love for humanity. Mary’s heart is often referred to as the Immaculate Heart of Mary. While they both symbolize love, there are subtle differences in the two devotions.

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Since I was born in the 1960s, I had never experienced what a mass was like before the Second Council’s changes. To keep me and my sisters interested in the service, Beatrice and Sadie always sat in the very front pew with us so that we could see what the priest and attendants were doing. Modern Catholic masses are very interactive: Sit, stand, sit, respond, kneel, sing, sit, stand, etc.

I was very surprised when Bruce (then husband) took me to a pre-Council style mass around 2005 in a small church located near Sabino Canyon Road, Tucson. This style mass is not easy to find as most churches have adopted the Council’s recommendations. The women were all required to wear a head covering (usually a little lace cap pinned to the hair on the top of the head), the mass was in Latin (which I do not speak), and the priest never faced the congregation. Even though I was well aware of the order of the mass from years of attending when I was younger, I found the mass to be very confusing. While many people were extremely upset at the modern changes, when comparing the two styles, I much prefer the modern, post-Council mass. Call me silly but I like to understand the language everyone is speaking!

I’ve long since given up going to a formal mass each Sunday but Beatrice’s and Sadie’s faith have had lasting influences in my life. For example, Catholic guilt is a unique experience and that version of guilt still sneaks up on me every once in a while!

The concept behind these weekly Saturday posts can be found at Sepia Saturday Intro.
Theme taken from Sepia Saturday photo (originally #303, 31 Oct 2015): Candle

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[1] Rev. William R. Kelly, The Mass for Children: Instruction in Story Form for Use in the Primary Grades with Colored Drawings Accompanying the Text According to Modern Educational Methods (New York: Benzinger Brothers (Printers to the Holy Apostolic See), 1925).

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One thought on “Sepia Saturday #354: Faith and Masses

  1. Very interesting history about the Mass. I attended parochial school from 1960 to 1963 and from 1965 to 1967. My sister and I made our First Communion in 1961. I remember that we each had a little white missal that had the Mass in latin on the left-hand page and in English on the right-hand page. We were required to memorize the entire Mass in latin. The English was provided so we would understand what we (and the priest) were saying. I also remember having to wear something on our heads when in the church–several times our mother would forget to put a hat or mantilla on our heads before Mass so she would bobby-pin a Kleenex on top of our heads!

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