Monday, December 26, 2016

A Blast from the Past: The 1926 Eucharistic Congress in Chicago

People who read NLM and therefore take a keen interest in the use and abuse of the sacred liturgy are probably aware that the concept of the Eucharistic Congress, while noble and excellent in itself, has fallen in recent decades on very hard times. I won't go through the horror stories (there's enough bad news already), but anyone with a strong stomach can find photos and videos for themselves, which exhibit all the progressive liturgists' worst tendencies, so frequently and justly skewered by the theological pen of Joseph Ratzinger. Whether it be dancing or balloons, ridiculous vestments or happy-clappy music, space-age arena sanctuaries or brutherly luv, it's all there. The only thing lacking is . . . well, an appropriately reverent and beautiful celebration of that most profound mystery of the faith, the Most Holy Eucharist, the true Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Sacrifice by which He works out our salvation.

But it wasn't always this way -- far from it. Not long ago I had the opportunity to linger lovingly over a splendid book produced in commemoration of the 1926 Eucharistic Congress in Chicago, which was in so many ways a land of thick Catholicism, before the postconciliar collapse. This volume had such treasures, both historical and liturgical, that I wished to share photos of it with the readership. It's also just a marvelous example of publishing, back when ecclesiastical publishers knew what a "commemorative volume" of this sort should look like. One of the things I find most striking is the extravagant welcome extended to the papal legate, who was honored, feasted, coddled, and exalted much more than even a pope is today when he visits the USA. These pictures speak a thousand words about the massive post-1960s collapse of societal dignity, formal respect, and veneration for religious authority. Plus, things like the Gregorian Children's Choir of 62,000 (I'm not kidding) point up the absurdity of saying that the Church "was in desperate need of renewal." In one sense, she always does; but never more so than after the Council that was called for that purpose.

For me, the most remarkable thing of all is the outdoor Mass. A noble baldachin modeled after that of St. Paul's-Outside-the Walls in Rome was constructed for the occasion, and a massive pipe organ was installed. While one may reasonably question (as did Ratzinger) the trend towards ever-larger outdoor liturgical events, it seems to me that the Chicago Congress proved that it could be carried out well -- something we have rarely seen at World Youth Days.

One of many "chapel train cars" that traveled around the USA bringing the Mass to Catholics in remote places
A view of the baldachin and sanctuary erected for the main Pontifical Mass
Vestments from China!
Oceans of nuns
Back when a priest's private Mass was a non-negotiable priority

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