Rose-coloured glasses

Rose-coloured glasses

Cathy Cleary

There seems to be a view among your journalists and correspondents that pre-Vatican II Catholicism in Australia was a period of beautiful Mass celebrations with perfectly appropriate music (mainly Gregorian chant) and reverent congregations, who followed the mainly Latin Masses in their missals with rapt attention and complete understanding.

In fact like most visions of the past, these people would appear to be looking at this period through extremely rose-coloured glasses!

I am now 63 and as a child lived in Melbourne and was a parishioner at St James' Church, Gardenvale, a church which I assume would have been fairly representative of churches of its time. Most Masses were Low Masses and had very little or no singing - and in earlier memories were silent, except for the murmurings of the priest, with his back turned.

If there were hymns for the congregation to sing, they were of the ilk of "To Jesus' Heart all Burning", "Faith of Our Fathers" or "Hail Queen of Heaven" - all enjoyable to sing but with no relationship to the Mass, the Church Season, or the Gospel of the day.

Many people did not have Missals and spent their time at Mass saying the rosary or other private prayers - again worthy activities but not the participatio actuosa that is the ideal promoted by the Church.

Occasionally there were High Masses and as a member of the church choir I enjoyed singing the Gregorian chant required for these. I do not, however, remember the congregation participating in this singing to any great extent; it was really more of a performance by us: a concert with the congregation as the audience.

The only instances of appropriate congregational singing I remember were at Benediction - and even then many of the hymns like "O Salutaris Hostia" were changed from the Gregorian setting to one easier to sing!

I loved the Church of my childhood, but I do think that the music when it existed at Mass was mostly either inappropriate or elitist. I find that now at Mass the hymns are usually carefully chosen to be appropriate to the season and to the readings and, again, mostly, relatively easy for the congregation to sing.

I have seven adult children and 24 grandchildren, all thankfully, still practising their faith and I love to see them at Mass praying by singing as well as by their responses and, of course, their silent prayer.

As a child at a Low Mass in Melbourne, I was only able to do the silent prayer!

CATHY CLEARY
Surfside, NSW

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