A look back in time

| February 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

Five decades before Vatican II Mass in the cathedral’s earliest years included Latin, chant and families of new immigrants

Construction of the cathedral’s dome, pictured in 1914, relied on extensive steelwork.

Construction of the cathedral’s dome, pictured in 1914, relied on extensive steelwork.

Barren walls. A silent eucharistic prayer. Hats, lots of them.

This would have been the scene for the first Masses at the Cathedral of St. Paul starting on that Palm Sunday in 1915.

The visual changes within the cathedral — and the people who worship there — mirror the last century’s changes in the liturgy.

For the cathedral’s first Massgoers, liturgical participation was more reflective than active throughout the typical hour-plus celebration in Latin.

Father John Paul Erickson, director of worship for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, explained that a liturgical movement was just beginning in the U.S. at that time. It conveyed that the liturgy was the work of the entire body of Christ. But, he said, those ideas hadn’t yet come into the Catholic consciousness.

“The people in the pew in 1915 and those [early] years would have, I would imagine, seen the Mass as the action of the bishop and the priest up in the sanctuary,” he said.

“They were there to receive the graces of Communion, the graces of the Mass, and they came in great droves.”

Well-known hymns would have been sung during portions of the Mass, but the predominant music was Gregorian chant, sung by seminarians at the first Mass, Father Erickson said.

“The liturgy and the Latin, all of this really was kind of distant,” Father Erickson said.

“Even in looking at the cathedral itself, the sanctuary is such a vast space, it’s very big.

The altar is somewhat separate. It’s a magnificent structure, but the structure manifests a certain kind of theology, [one] that I would retain is still quite valid and good, but it does represent a particular moment within our Church’s life.”

Retired priest Father James Notebaart was director of the archdiocesan Worship Center and assisted at cathedral Masses with Archbishop John Roach. He noted the liturgical influence of Pope St. Pius X, who died in 1914. Much of his pontificate coincided with political and religious turmoil.

“The Vatican gave up its papal states, so it ceased to be a government, if you will, with land,” he said. “As a result, he [St. Pope Pius X] had to reorganize the curia. He took on this model to restore all things in Christ. He shifted focus from papal states to how to engage people in prayer.”

The cathedral in 1915, the year of its first Mass.

The cathedral in 1915, the year of its first Mass.

Sign of the times

According to Father Notebaart, St. Pius X changed liturgy in two ways: He dropped the age of receiving Communion to 7 to encourage children to practice the faith lifelong; and he supported the Solesmes monks in Belgium, who were researching music from Gregory the Great — bringing Gregorian chant to the Mass.

“The point was to return to a simple melodic line that was considered the soul music of the Church,” Father Notebaart said. “It was attainable by many people. They could sing it.”

Archbishop John Ireland commissioned the cathedral in 1904.

Archbishop John Ireland commissioned the cathedral in 1904.

Hand missals, which had Latin on the left and English on the right, were just emerging in the early 1900s.

While the cathedral parish today has many lay ministers, both male and female, seminarians would have served exclusively at early Masses, which would have included three forms: low Mass, missa cantata (sung Mass) and solemn high Mass.

As for Communion, most Catholics in 1915 received only the consecrated host, and usually only at Christmas and Easter.

“On one side, there was a great sense of unworthiness of the people,” Father Notebaart said. “On the other side, it’s that this is an awesome act to receive the body of Christ.

And fasting rules were stricter then.”

The celebrant received both the body and blood, perhaps, Father Erickson said, to differentiate between priest and the lay faithful, or for fear of spilling the precious blood.

Cathedral records indicate that Mother Seraphine Ireland, the younger sister of Archbishop John Ireland and provincial of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, was first to place her hands under the cloth covering the Communion rail to receive the holy Eucharist at the first Mass. The distribution lasted half an hour.

The faithful, far and wide

The cathedral in 1915, the year of its first Mass.

The cathedral in 1915, the year of its first Mass.

According to Celeste Raspanti, cathedral archivist, for that very first 6 a.m. Mass on March 28, 1915, Catholics gathered at the school of St. Paul’s third cathedral on Kellogg Boulevard and processed up the hill to what is now 239 Selby Ave. The standard mode of transportation to Mass would have been horse-drawn carriage.

Catholics in 1915 had similar concerns of today’s Massgoers, including the lack of bathrooms that still pose a challenge for visitors. According to Raspanti, there were no outhouses on the property.

And what of crying children?

“Because there was no sound system, the screaming child probably wouldn’t have been as welcome as it is now,” Father Erickson said.

Catholics attending Mass at the cathedral would have been merchants, laborers and servants, along with some wealthy citizens, many residing on Summit Avenue.

“Primarily, these were first-generation immigrants, many poor and struggling, raising their families,” Father Notebaart said.

“It [the cathedral] is really a testament to immigrant faith,” he added. “The people so valued their church and loved it that they wanted it to stand as a marvelous monument.”

Six shrines behind the sanctuary honor the national patron saints of many of the immigrants who settled in Minnesota in the 19th century: St. Anthony of Padua (Italy), St. John the Baptist (French Canadians), St. Patrick (Ireland), St. Boniface (Germany), Ss. Cyril and Methodius (Slavic nations), and St. Therese of Lisieux (protector of all missions). Immigrants represented by the particular saint funded each shrine.

“Because of the faith . . . whether you’re the bishop or the beggar on the street, this is your cathedral. This is your church. And it remains that,” Father Erickson said.

“The cathedral attracts the poor, it attracts the mentally ill, it attracts folks who are on the margins, on the peripheries, as Pope Francis says,” he added. “It does that because of its beauty, because of its grandeur. And that really is a gift. . . . All of the prayers that have been said in that beautiful building over the years, it’s very moving. And it began right there in 1915.”

Historic photos courtesy the Cathedral of St. Paul

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Category: Cathedral Centennial