Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Transitional Mass (1967)

Very occasionally one can find snippets of the transitional liturgical years between the old liturgy and the novelty rite of Paul VI. As this blog has pointed out, the 1962 Missal is a definitive part of that metamorphosis, especially pertaining to the rites of Holy Week, the kalendar, and the structure of the Divine Office.

For the man in the pew, the changes seemed to have something to do with Vatican II. "The Council" met and mandated reforms and suddenly things that had been stable aspects of the Mass to laymen began to evolve by force: the orientation of the priest inverted, the vestments turned into polyester, the music followed the hippie-Protestant trends of the day, and Mrs. Johnson was required to read aloud or serve as the "narrator" of the Mass.

Above is a Mass from 1967 celebrated in then-Soviet Czechoslovakia, in a parish church in Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia. By 1967 the old Mass had been substantially altered both in law and spirit. Aside from the aforementioned changes, the entire Mass was de facto vernacular, the Last Gospel and Iudica me were gone, the silly play-acting offertory procession had been added, Communion lines of people putting their paws out had infiltrated most of the West, and the Mass seemed directionless.

By contrast, this Mass is positively traditional in many regards, some less obvious than others. First, the approach to the Mass does not seem to have changed as much here as it had in most of the world by this point. The celebrant retains the use of quality vestments rather than adopting the fashions of the day. The poor congregation looks on with the serious, loving, fearful faces that their parents probably wore to Mass 50 years earlier. They sing familiar hymns in vernacular throughout the Mass, as was also the case in Poland before "The Council". The peasants, living under the yoke of Soviet Union and before that under Tito, take their solace in the mystery of the Mass unfolding before them and do not take it for granted. At 7:55 a younger man with an afro seems unsure as to whether or not he ought still be in this church.

Then there is the elderly celebrant. I do not know if Czechoslovakia, like other Slavic territories, had pre-1964 traditions of celebrating the Mass with vernacular, but the priest is unphased and adopts no conversational tone or colloquial nonsense. He retains the Canon of the Mass in Latin using the old gestures. His ars celebrandi, otherwise known as due reverence, is both very unlike that of either progressive clergymen or traditionalists today. Both unrefined and deliberate, he says the Mass properly and without fuss, having done so many thousands of times before. Indeed, he moves like a person and not a robot. Interestingly, he gives the blessing after the Ite, missae est and with the Missal on the Gospel side.

This short documentary was part of a larger collection called A Day of Joy, illustrating cultural celebrations according to old and new values. The old world way of having and hearing Mass seems to betray something long missing, but hopefully returning, which is the heart, a love of the Mass when at the Mass, an appreciation of God's holy presence and a sense of duty to be there. Although perhaps a bit of romanticizing, this short reminds me of Joyce's description of the Church as "here comes everyone", which is really what the Church must be.


  1. Thank You, The Rad Trad, for this most pertinent Article.

    “Spot On”, in every aspect.

    I was once asked by The BBC what my thoughts were on Pope Paul VI's “Novus Ordo” Mass. I said that The Divine and Holy Mass was never instituted so that “Mrs Magillicuddy” (or, in your case, “Mrs Johnson”) had “something to do on a Sunday morning”.

    This was shortly after I was lost for words, one Sunday, when “Mrs Magillicuddy”, being too short to reach the “Big Six” Candles on The Altar, when trying to light them, suddenly decided to borrow a Chair and actually climbed ONTO THE ALTAR and proceeded to WALK ALONG THE ALTAR whilst lighting the Candles, directly in front of The Tabernacle. The Parish Priest happened to come along, and stood dumbfounded (like me), whilst observing this “Active Participation”.

    Needless to say, The BBC never published my Comments on their particular Radio Programme.

    One wonders why.

  2. I actually have a hand missal for the transitional Mass. A curious bit of historical evidence.

  3. Thank you for posting this video!!!
    I've searched long and laboriously for a video of the 65-67 Holy Missal to no avail.
    2010 began my journey to
    "Traditional Catholicism"
    (the only Catholicism before 1968) and I had no idea a
    transitional Missal existed until 2011.
    As a child in the 80's/90's,
    I thought Holy Mass was basically 1962 Holy Missal then everything changed in summer 1969.
    God bless.

  4. I believe the video captures a 1964/5 ritus celebration and does not appear to show the changes brought about by Tres abhinc annos in 1967. The celebrant genuflects after arranging the corporal for the Sign of the Cross at the foot of the altar (c.f. TAA 7a) and after the Words of Institution over the Host (c.f. 7b). He also kisses the altar before the collect and epistle (c.f. 9) and makes the Sign of the Cross with the prepared chalice at the Offertory (c.f. 8) and there are more Signs over the elements (c.f. 11b) than in 1967. As noted in the post the dismissal is also before the blessing (c.f. 16).

    However such details do not detract from the essence of the post that this is indeed celebrating the liturgy in a ‘traditional’ mode. When one considers, as an example, Mgr. J.D. Crichton in Pershore was versus populum from the 1950s no doubt his Mass in the mid-1960s would have looked very different to this video clip. During the modern transitional period 1951-70 there were both progressive and conservative interpretations of how the liturgy should be celebrated. A decade after the Pauline Missal came into force there were people who would see the celebration at Brompton and maintain it was ‘the old Mass’. If the same people had seen the celebration of private Masses they would have found it very difficult indeed to tell those apart from 1967 or even 1964/5 rite celebrations. In the early 1970s some priests such as Fr. Patrick Bushell interpreted MR1970, IG 212 Missale vero ad latus sinistrum as meaning to the left side as seen from the altar Cross and so had the book on what had been called the Epistle corner. Of course by that time Crosses on altars were becoming a rare sight anyway...