By Barb Arland-Fye, editor
A woodcut print of the Risen Christ with a short haircut created by Father Ed Catich appears on The Catholic Messenger’s front page April 3, 1958, in honor of Holy Week. While doing research on our new digital archives, I couldn’t resist viewing issues with dates of personal significance. My mother said I’d been born on a stormy Tuesday during Holy Week in 1958. While the April 3, 1958, issue didn’t address the weather in St. Paul, Minn., it provided a glimpse of Catholicism at the time of my birth.
An article on The Holy Week Liturgy that accompanied Fr. Catich’s artwork eloquently explained each day’s liturgy. I was amazed to learn how many priests served at the Mass of Chrism on Holy Thursday, some in diaconal roles: seven sub-deacons of the oils; seven deacons of the oils and 12 priests of the oils. This was before restoration of the permanent diaconate and the involvement of lay men and women in roles of service during Mass.
‘“When Should a Boy Enter the Seminary?” was among the top headlines on the front page of the April 3, 1958, issue. The story, with a Chicago dateline, quoted a priest who was director of vocations for the Carmelite order. He identified three prerequisites: a strong desire, intelligence (minimum IQ of 105, he recommended), and ability to adjust to the seminary routine. The priest-recruiter, as he was called, spoke of candidates to the priesthood as boys. Older-life vocations apparently weren’t nearly as prevalent as today.
The banner headline, on the far right side of the front page, reads: “Church Has Always Protected Workers, Reminds Holy Father.” A secondary headline reads: “Legal and Extra-Legal Actions Against Priests.” The first article deals with two addresses Pope Pius XII gave in Italy. In one address he assured 400 shoe workers that the Church has always protected workers and their families. The second address dealt with the “enemies of God” who had singled out Italy for the spread of their hatred and discord.
The article beneath the banner dismayed me. It described how a priest in France had been awakened in the middle of the night in his rectory and asked to give the last sacraments to a dying person. When the priest got into a waiting car, he was driven out of town, stripped to his waist and tarred and feathered. His crime? He had participated in a protest against French policy in Algeria. Another priest, in Italy, was sentenced to eight months in jail and fined for violation of an Italian law aimed at “whoever disturbs an electoral meeting in any way.”
In still another article that spoke to conflict between the Church and various political entities, a Catholic journalist sought to defend Pope Pius and the Holy See against accusations of deliberately minimizing the danger of Communism.
Taking on Communism and defending the rights of the poor and workers seemed to be an underlying theme of The Catholic Messenger’s April 3, 1958, front page. A Spanish prelate is quoted in one story chastising rich Spaniards for failing to practice Christian charity, resulting in discontent among the country’s workers. “The wealthy go to Mass and receive Holy Communion daily. But they do not put into practice the elements of charity which the Church asks of its followers,” the prelate said.
Another article told of Radio Vatican urging formation of Christian trade unions in Asia and Africa to combat Communism. “With a Christian trade union a spiritual activity penetrates the people and leads to their development in line with the dignity of the human being, according to what has been laid down by the social doctrine of the Church.”
Much has changed in the Church and world since April 3, 1958, but what remains is liturgy that inspires Catholics to live their faith in the world, and for that I am grateful.