In Your Midst

The Church of the Future

May 2012

Liturgical Week at the Seattle World's Fair, 1962

This year Seattle marks fifty years since Century 21, the 1962 World’s Fair which in so many ways put our city on the map.  The Fair was not about the world as it was, but about the world as it might be:  it celebrated an imagined future where people dined in the sky at the top of a futuristic “Space Needle,” zipped from here to there aboard a “Monorail,” and marveled at inventions yet to come (such as a phone with buttons instead of a dial!).

As the city geared up for the Fair, Seattle’s forward thinking Archbishop Connolly was determined that the Church would not be left behind.  He built a new church for Sacred Heart parish in Seattle, at the prime location of 2nd and John, practically inside the fairgrounds.  And he urged the National Liturgical Week, an annual gathering of priests, religious, and laity around issues of liturgy, to hold the 1962 meeting in Seattle.  Thus it was that for four days in August, Catholics took over Century 21—and caught a glimpse of the future of liturgy.
The Liturgical Week was one of the fruits of what is called the “Liturgical Movement.”  The Liturgical Movement was not an organization with members and meetings, but a worldwide resurgence of interest in the liturgy which began at the end of the 19th century, and gathered momentum in the decades that followed.  The Liturgical Week was a major event for the Church in the United States, with thousands of participants – not only priests and religious, but laity as well.  Seattle’s Liturgical Week was one of the largest ever, with nearly 7,000 participants.

Part of the success of Seattle’s Liturgical Week was surely owing to Archbishop Connolly and the local priests who helped organize this vast event.  There were committees for everything from music to art and architecture to housing and transportation.  Archbishop Connolly urged priests and people alike to participate.  In a letter read at all parishes of the Archdiocese, he described the Liturgical Week as “a golden opportunity to enrich your knowledge and appreciation of our Catholic faith…. to refresh your mind and spirit with a few days of prayer and study, shared in common with people from all over the country.”
In those days before the concelebrated Mass, arrangements for the priests to say their private Masses each morning were among the primary considerations.  More than 100 of the priests said their Masses at the various altars of St. James Cathedral, literally standing in line with their chalices, waiting for an altar to open up!  Additional altars were set up in Cathedral Hall, and in several hotels.  Father Ryan was a young seminarian at St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore at the time, and recalls being charged with assisting the priests staying at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Seattle, where a hotel meeting room had been transformed into a chapel with temporary altars placed side by side.  “We were thrilled because some of the big names that we only knew from books and magazine articles were there—Godfrey Diekmann, Frederick McManus, Gerard Sloyan.  They were heroes to us and we felt very privileged to serve Mass for them, little knowing that within a few years no one of them would think of attending a conference in that way, offering private individual Masses.  I’m sure even then they had their hearts and their hopes fixed on the concelebrated Mass, but as for us, we’d never even heard the word ‘concelebration.’”

The theme for the 1962 Liturgical Week was “Thy Kingdom Come: Christian Hope in the Modern World.”  In the greeting he sent to the participants in the Liturgical Week, Pope John XXIII pointed out how well this theme resonated with the goals of the Second Vatican Council:  “It is appropriate at this present time, as all Christians look forward to the sacred assembly of the Bishops in the Second Vatican Council.”  He urged priests and people alike to participate in the Liturgical Week:  “May their close participation in the liturgy, which is devotion of mind and heart, be expressed publicly in word, response and sacred song, rising to heaven like the bursting of a thunderous sea.”

The historic week opened on August 20, 1962, with the celebration of Mass.  But this was a Mass unlike anything those present had experienced before.  When they arrived, they were invited to take a host from bowls at the entrances and place it in a ciborium, a sign of their personal involvement in the Eucharistic celebration.  During the Mass, these ciboria were brought to the altar in procession by the seminarians—a reminder of the practice of the early Church, when the faithful processed to the altar with their gifts at the offertory time.  Throughout the Mass, the people participated in the singing and in the Latin responses.  Dialogues which were normally spoken in low voices between the priest and the acolytes thundered out in the voice of the full assembly.  The 300-voice choir was not far away in a gallery, but near the free-standing altar, which was situated in the midst of the arena, with the people gathered on three sides.  And, most dramatic of all, the celebrant of the Mass – Father Frederick McManus, later one of the leading figures in the renewal of the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council – faced the people during the celebration of the Mass.  For the first time, people saw clearly the gestures of the priest and were drawn into the Mass in a new way:  “together,” wrote Father Donald Conger, a Seattle priest who served as local chair of the Liturgical Week, they “offer the Sacrifice as the one People of God.”  Throughout the Mass, a layman stood at a lectern in the sanctuary, serving as “commentator,” offering brief explanations of the various parts of the Mass, and helping to lead the assembly’s responses.  For the thousands who were present for the historic beginning of the Liturgical Week, it was a dazzling glimpse of things to come.

The days unfolded with Mass and other prayer opportunities, including “Bible Vigils,” a new devotion that had been steadily growing in popularity.  It followed a simple format:  three readings – an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, a Gospel reading; a homily, which consisted of a “brief opening up of the reading for better understanding by the people,” a psalm, with a sung refrain for the people; and prayers by the entire assembly.  (If this pattern sounds familiar, it’s because it later became the shape of the Liturgy of the Word at Sunday Mass!).  The Bible Vigil concluded with an incensation of the Bible, bringing new importance to the Word of God.  There were also “demonstrations,” in which the Mass was recited – in English translation! – while each part and gesture was explained to the people.

All of this was experienced not only by Catholics, but by non-Catholics as well.  Seattle’s Father William Treacy, who was already leading the way in ecumenical and interfaith efforts, arranged for and hosted Protestant and Jewish “observers” who attended a number of the events of the Liturgical Week.   Rev. Walfred Erickson of Clyde Hill Baptist Church recounted his experiences in the Progress.  He noted with some pride that appearances by Billy Graham and other prominent Protestant clergy had brought record numbers of people to the World’s Fair; “but,” he added, “it may be that the Liturgical Week… 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 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 Week concluded with a Mass offered by Archbishop Connolly, his first facing the people.  Father Ryan recalls, “I remember Father Diekmann served as the Archpriest of the Mass.  Each time the Archbishop said ‘Dominus vobiscum’ he would kiss the altar, and then the automatic move was to turn around and face the people.  But because he was already facing the people, Diekmann would catch him each time and turn him back around.  But Connolly was a good sport about it.  I’m not sure he thought facing the people was a good idea for everyone in the future, but he thought it was keen that he was doing it in his diocese!”

For Seattle, the Liturgical Week was a taste of things to come.   Within two years, the Second Vatican Council would call for reforms of the liturgy that emphasized above all else the full, conscious, and active participation of the assembly in the Mass, the source and summit of the Church’s life.

Corinna Laughlin is the Director of Liturgy at St. James Cathedral.


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