From the Catholic Northwest Progress, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Seattle, August 31, 1962:
By Rev. Walfred Erickson, Clyde Hill Baptist Church
Seattle’s salute to the 21st Century by means of a World’s Fair has brought to the area this summer a large number of VIP’s, top-level conferences, and renowned entertainers and entertainments. The religious emphasis has not been absent, as witness the appearance of Billy Graham (who won the respect of fair officials by drawing a record Sunday crowd through the turnstiles), William Pollard, Oswald C. J. Hoffmann, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Billy Hargis.
But it may be that the Liturgical Week of August 20-23, sponsored by Roman Catholics, evinced a development of more significance for the 21st Century, and perhaps for eternity, than anything else.
This Protestant writer is convinced that the Liturgical movement is a genuine working of the Spirit of God within Roman Catholicism, and that it is more than a rustling in the tops of the mulberry trees. Let us pray that it does not wear itself out in trying to reshape so vast a monolith.
Let us pray for its prosperity, for it bears many of the marks of authentic New Testament Christianity, and it is hard to see how anything but good can come of it.
The Liturgical Conference, the organization behind the Liturgical Week, seeks to promote the understanding and intelligent participation of the laity in the worship of the church, which takes many forms, but centers in the observance of the Mass.
Its proponents feel that the laity’s role in the Mass has been too much of a spectator affair, wherein great stress has been laid upon physical attendance, but too little stress upon participation. The liturgical movement is strongly doctrinal and educational, and seeks to have the lay people follow the ritual with a lively appreciation of the gospel truths which it symbolizes and makes efficacious.
With Rev. Paul Purta S.S., of nearby St. Thomas Seminary as mentor this writer witnessed a celebration of the Mass which reflected the accents of the liturgical movement.
The altar was moved away from the wall out toward the midst of the congregation; the priest officiated facing the congregation; to one side was a well-trained layman at a lectern who cued the people with a commentary in English; to the other side was a large choir (not in the rear as is customary in Catholic services); the congregation shared in the proceedings with hymns and responses. The service began with an offertory procession, a restoration of an ancient custom whereby people brought gifts of bread and wine to the altar.
Luther Would Approve
As one moved about in the Arena where the conference was held, looking over the exhibits and literature and people, he felt that there was much of which Martin Luther himself would approve:
- The consistent emphasis upon the intelligent participation of the laity, to which every Protestant must say “amen.”
- The Christ-centeredness of the movement, resulting in diminution of stress upon the institutional Church, Mary, and the saints.
- The Biblical orientation, which is enhanced by the employment of English.
- The sincere devotion and zeal of the young priests and nuns who feel a definite burden for the success of the movement. (I gained the impression that this is a “youth movement” within the church.)
- The vitality demonstrated in the art exhibits, the book displays, the intellectual alertness of the leaders.
- The petitions at hand asking the church leaders for permission to have the Mass said in English, at least in the United States.
- The atmosphere of reverence for supernatural realities, which contrasted with the this-wordliness of the Fair Grounds.
The petitions mentioned were being circulated by the Vernacular Society, which is a separate organization within Catholicism from the Liturgical Conference. Obviously, the two are kindred spirits. Along this line, the writer witnessed an impressive and instructive “dry Mass,” put on by two young priests from Kansas, the Rev. Joseph Nolan, and the Rev. William Carr.
Explanation of Mass
Step by step they took their audience through the Mass. One stood at a lectern and carefully and eloquently explained each step. The other at an improvised altar performed the steps, using only English in his utterances. The audience used English in their responses.
Seattle Catholics take pride in having been hosts to the Liturgical Week. They feel they are somewhat slighted or looked down upon officially in comparison with the immense Catholic centers of the east like Boston, Baltimore, and Chicago. But during Liturgical Week Catholics from all over the United States came to Seattle, and with good reason, for the Archdiocese has been one of the foremost in the United States in its espousal of the liturgical cause.
For more than two years priests and people have been receiving encouragement along these lines from Archbishop Thomas Connolly. “Thought starters” for sermons have gone out to priests, with a special view to stimulating those who thought they were too busy to prepare sermons educating people in the emphasis of the liturgical movement.
The Archdiocesan newspaper has featured numerous articles. Workshops were held for Sisters and lay people to prepare them for the Liturgical Week. A majority of parishes now have one or more “dialogue Masses” each Sunday. Despite the Archbishop’s positive stand the program has not taken root with uniform results throughout the Archdiocese.
Laity Pushing Clergy
Leaders feel that this is due mainly to foot-dragging by individual priests who are unresponsive to the times. On the other hand, the laity seems to be enthusiastic, in many ways pushing the clergy.
In these days one naturally speculates on what influence the liturgical movement will have on ecumenical developments. This is a subject that Catholic lay people of the Seattle area watch with interest and hope, more so than Protestants. Leaders of the movement are justifiably confident that the changes for which they work will make the Church much more attractive to non-Catholics. It can certainly be affirmed that if the spirit of Liturgical Week makes headway in Roman Catholicism it will soften the features in the Church objectionable to Protestants and highlight the Christian area common to both.
On the other hand there is much in Catholicism that is not only unpalatable but plain indigestible for Protestants, and it remains to be seen how far the new movement will stretch the venerable wineskin.
Treat Protestants “Liberally”
Although one sometimes detects in the younger priests a kind of wistful longing to treat Protestants as “liberally” as Protestants can treat Catholics, they have no intention of breaking with the authority that says they must look to the church for all truth including the truth about Protestantism. Unless the day comes when Protestants can enter into dialogue with their Catholic brothers as speakers and not merely as listeners, unity between Catholics and Protestants will not get much further than it is now.
The Liturgical Week drew 5,000 registrants from all parts of the United States and Canada. A sudden increase in the number of clerical collars was noticeable on the streets of the city and at the Fair. More than 30 orders of nuns added the color of their different habits to the crowds and choirs at the Arena. The Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer upheld their reputation for superior religious news coverage. Those responsible for arrangements and hospitality did superb jobs. Seattle Catholics may well be proud of the way they entertained the 1962 Liturgical Week. They made a notable contribution to the Kingdom of God.
The Rev. Walfred Erickson, minister at Clyde Hill Baptist Church in Bellevue, is also dean of the lay school of theology for the Greater Seattle Council of Churches. He received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota and his theology degree at the Northern Baptist Seminary in Chicago.
Reverend Erickson has been pastor in Mobridge, S.D., Lawton, Mich., And from 1952-1958 was pastor in Portland, Ore. He was a member of the board of managers for the board of education and publication at the American Baptist Convention.