After I was appointed the Rector of Saint Mary Cathedral and Chancellor of the Diocese, the editor of The Miami Herald sent a reporter to interview me.  The paper wanted to publish a profile of me in the paper.   In talking with the reporter I said that my vocation to the priesthood did not come to me from a voice from heaven as happened to many of the prophets in Israel.  When the profile was published it quoted me as saying, “My vocation to the priesthood did not come from God.”  Needless to say I was very upset.  I could well imagine the bafflement of Catholics who read that.  I was also concerned about what Bishop Carroll might think.  At the first opportunity I explained to him that I had gone on to say to the reporter that it was the Liturgy of the Catholic Church that made me think about the priesthood.  I was relieved when the Bishop laughed and said in effect, “Welcome to the club” since he had been misquoted so many times in the Miami Herald.  That paper was hostile to the Catholic religion and used every opportunity to put the Church in a negative light.

The Liturgy was, and still is the focal point of my spiritual life.  When I became an altar boy in the fourth grade of school I studied hard to memorize the Latin responses of the Mass, I played at celebrating Mass in a makeshift altar in my bedroom at home.  My love affair with the Liturgy has begun and would last all my life.

As I wrote earlier, when I returned to Houston at the end of the Second World War I became involved in liturgical conferences and workshops of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston.  I joined the Liturgical Conference, a national organization dedicated to liturgical reform. The Liturgical Conference began in 1940 under the sponsorship of all the Benedictine abbots in the U.S.  It became an independent organization in 1943.  The purpose of the Liturgical Weeks sponsored by the Liturgical Conference was to bring together priests, religious, and lay people to worship and grow in their understanding of the Liturgy.  The Weeks grew and grew in attendance and reached their zenith in attendance with 20,000 people participating.  The liturgical reform focused on education to bring people to a greater understanding of what they were doing when they participated in any liturgical celebration, especially the Sunday Mass they were obligated to attend.  At the same time that I joined the Liturgical Conference I joined the Liturgical Arts Society and began to think in terms of focusing my architectural practice after I graduated from the University of Houston on ecclesiastical architecture.

When the Archabbot asked me to remodel the Archabbey church I recognized that I needed to do a lot of research on the subject of the Liturgy and how it is celebrated in the great and ancient monasteries of Europe.  I spent hours in the monastery library reading about the Liturgy starting with Pope Pius X and the Congres National des Oeuvres Catholiques he convened in Belgium and the writings of Dom Lambert Beauduin.  I studied the writings of Abbot Ildefons Herwegen of the Abbey of Maria Laach. That abbey become the famous for the leadership it provided in the renewal of the Liturgy.  Then I read the works of Pius Parsch  Romano Guardini, Louis Bouyer, and of course I studied the 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei of Pope Pius XII.

I had always been struck by the cultural difference in the way different peoples participated in the Mass.  I am not thinking of the way African Catholics participate in the celebration of Mass with dancing and a great deal of vocalization during the celebration.  Rather, I am thinking of the relative silence that was characteristic of most American congregations as contrasted with the tradition of singing that was so common in German and even German-American parishes.

When I read about Monsignor Martin B. Hellriegel’s wonderful liturgies at his Parish, Holy Cross in Saint Louis, I was inspired to make a pilgrimage to Saint Louis and  experience first hand what he was doing.  It was awesome.  I had never heard congregations sing like the congregation of Holy Cross parish.   Monsignor Hellriegel was the composer of one of my favorite entrance hymn in those days, To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King.  In an essay he published in 1956 in Caecilia he described how he began to teach his people to sing chant:


With the exception of the Requiem our people had practically done no chant, which, in a way, was a blessing. It is easier to start from scratch than to re-build. I bought the Solesmes chant records and was determined to sing, at least with the children and choir, the Lux et Origo Mass for my first Easter at Holy Cross (1941). I told the children: “The Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent are the greater Lenten days when the people of old fasted more strictly. Now, you don’t have to fast as yet, but how would it be, if on these days during Lent we would assemble in church from 11:15 till 11:45 to learn the Easter Mass”?

They were quite enthusiastic. We supplied them with Kyriales . During the first week of Lent they merely listened to the monks, following the music in their booklets. During the second week I permitted them to hum along, but very quietly. During the third they hummed again, but with more rhythm. During the fourth they sang, but lightly. During the fifth they sang with more expression, and during the sixth they did it “without the monks”. Easter morning they sang the ” Lux et Origo ” Mass without books.

In 1960 I attended the Liturgical Week in Pittsburgh.  The Week opened with a Mass celebrated outdoors in the Golden Triangle, the park at the meeting of the Ohio and Monongahela rivers.  The Mass was memorable for me because the celebrant/homilist was Bishop John Wright, then Bishop of Pittsburgh and in his memorable homily Bishop Wright built on the word sperabamus (“we used to hope”)describing the dejected state of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and how the breaking of the bread by Jesus opened their eyes to see Christ.  He was drawing the analogy that it would be through the Eucharist that we liturgists would gain courage to push for liturgical reform.  I have preached many homilies based on the sperabamus theme.

Bishop Wright’s homily must have really hit home with me because I gathered a group of us priests who had become dispirited over the bishops’ lack of leadership in helping in the liturgical reform.  We met and decided to form a national organization of representatives from the liturgical commissions of all the dioceses in the United States.  Besides myself the group consisted of Fathers James Sullivan (later Bishop of Fargo), Daniel Coughlin, John Cunningham and Joseph Champlain.  The organization we formed that day would become the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.  Because the FDLC was independent of the bishops of the U.S. it was able to fill the vacuum of supplying assistance in liturgical reform until the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy’s Secretariat Office was opened and began to cooperate with the F.D.L.C in 1966.

In 1966 the Liturgical Conference held its 27th National Liturgical Week in Houston.  Naturally, I attended it.  The keynote speaker was a Methodist minister.  It struck me as strange and unacceptable that the keynote address given at a Catholic conference devoted to promoting the Catholic Liturgy would be given by a protestant minister of a church without a liturgical tradition.  The ‘last straw’ for me was when, during the celebration of the Mass for the Week clowns and balloons were introduced into the celebration along with secular dance.  I left, resigned from the Liturgical Conference and never attended another Week.

With the promulgation of the decree Sacrosanctum Concilium by Pope Paul VI liturgical changes began to occur rapidly in the Church, some good, some not so good and some actually bad.  Because of my extensive background in Liturgical reform Bishop Carroll appointed me Chairman of the Diocesan Liturgy Commission while remaining Chairman of the Building Commission.  When the revised rite of Extreme Unction, now called Sacrament of the Sick, was promulgated the Bishop asked me to prepare guidelines for the priests of the Diocese for the implementation of the new Rite.  I did and submitted the guidelines to the Bishop for review.  I do not believe that he ever read them, because shortly thereafter at a Clergy Conference, when I reviewed the guidelines for the priests, the Bishop, looking shocked, came to the microphone and told the priests, “I do not want you to do any of those things he just told you!”  I took my seat in a state of bewilderment shared by all the assembled priests.

On another occasion, after the Holy See authorized the use of whole wheat in the manufacture of hosts for the Mass, I asked the kitchen of the Chancery to bake a couple of unleavened whole wheat hosts about 5 inches in diameter.  Later I celebrated Mass with two priests in the Chancery Chapel and at the communion of the Mass I broke the hosts into bite size morsels and gave them to the two priests.  Unfortunately the Chancery cook had overcooked the hosts and they were hard as rock. So, as we three stood at the altar chewing the eucharist the Bishop appeared in the back of the chapel, took one look at us and left.  Later he told me that we three priests had looked to him like “three monkeys chewing on nuts” and forbade me from doing any more experimentation with the manufacture of hosts.  Needless to say, I was happy to comply with his directive having felt very foolish in consuming the Eucharist at that Mass.  In spite of such mishaps the Liturgy of the parishes of the Diocese was, I believe as good as one could expect in a time of upheaval and chaos in the universal Church.

There were other moments of liturgical mishaps that were both funny and not so funny.  On the occasion of the elevation of the Diocese to the status of Archdiocese and the promotion of Bishop Carroll to Archbishop in 1968, I was Master of Ceremonies for the Mass in the Cathedral celebrated by the Apostolic Delegate (Nuncio) Archbishop Luigi Raimondi, who was the epitome of “Romanita”, strict observance of protocol.  During the ceremony I was required to bring the Papal Bull to the throne for Archbishop Raimondi to read before leading Auxiliary Bishop John Fitzpatrick to the pulpit to read it to the conngregaton.  Bishop Carroll had directed me to prepare an English translation for Bishop Fitzpatrick to read and it was the English translation that I presented to Archbishop Raimondi at the throne.  He glanced at it and then asked soto voce but in a voice that could still be heard by the congregation, “Where is the Latin Bull?”  I asked Bishop Fitzpatrick who was standing alongside of me, “Where is the Latin Bull?”  He said, “In my briefcase!”  I asked, “Where is your briefcase?”  He answered, “In the Synod Hall where I and all the priests vested.”  I turned to the Archbishop who had been listening to my conversation with Bishop Fitzpatrick and asked, “Can Bishop Fitzpatrick read the English translation to the congregation?  The Archbishop answered in a firm voice, “Yes, but get the Latin Bull and he must read that also.”  So I led Bishop Fitzpatrick to the pulpit and told him, “Read a slowly as you possibly can.”  I am confident that the congregation must have thought Bishop Fitzpatrick was drunk because it took him almost ten minutes to read two typewritten pages.  I ran across the street to the Synod Hall, searched among all the bags and finally found Bishop Fitzpatrick’s briefcase.  I dashed back to the Cathedral, walked slowly up to Bishop Fitzpatrick who was just finishing reading the English Bull and handed him the Latin Bull which he read, which he did,  to the bewilderment of the congregation.  Thus is the Church’s Liturgy ever a human enterprise and at the same time a divine enterprise, filled with beauty, drama, tediousness  and at the same time capable of lifting men’s souls to God in ecstacy.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas