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Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Thursday, February 27, 2003 What you find when you do a Google search on the phrase "hootenanny Mass"
“I still get boiling mad when some timid, narrow-minded adult tries to rebuke young Catholics’ enthusiasm and scoffs at their so called “Hootenanny Mass”—I’ve stood around the altar with them in their close-knit gatherings, listening to their songs, observing a joy in their faith and a single-minded reverence in their attention that put me to shame!” Brian Keith, star of Family Affair, addressing a communion breakfast in 1967.
I'm pretty sure Mr. French would have blanched at the mere mention of the term "hootenanny Mass." (Then again, maybe not.)
Not Elvis, though. From an essay by Credo founder Rev. Jerry Pokorsky:
Several weeks ago, I had an Elvis Presley sighting in my home parish. Perhaps I should clarify: There was an Elvis movie on the American Movie Classics TV network. I happened to catch the very end of the movie. I don’t know the name of the movie. I don’t think it was comedy. [The movie to which Father Pokorsky refers is apparently Change of Habit (1969) – Ed.] All I know is that Mary Tyler Moore was very young, and Elvis Presley had not yet gained his Las Vegas weight. In any case, the movie helps illustrate how far we have come in liturgical reform and where we, please God, must go.
Here is what I saw: Mary Tyler Moore appears in the pews of a church as a nun in full habit. The church has many statues and a beautiful crucifix. A Mass is being celebrated. The priest is wearing traditional Roman vestments. The sanctuary has a spectacular Gothic design. There are no “altar servers,” there are only “altar boys” in cassock and surplice. The Mass is being celebrated ad orientem—that is, facing east—and the tabernacle is on the altar in the middle.
And Elvis Presley is banging on his guitar just outside of the sanctuary, singing, “Let us sing together to the Lord.”
You either had to laugh or cry. Elvis and his hootenanny combo are not facing the sanctuary in worship; they are facing the people, with their backs to the altar and tabernacle. The people are being entertained, while the Mass takes place in the distant sanctuary. The priest and his altar boys seem oblivious to the vulgar behavior taking place just outside the sanctuary.
Of course the producers of the movie probably didn’t have any kind of agenda. They were only representing what was taking place in many Catholic churches at the time. I’m personally grateful to Elvis for the contribution he has made in preserving our liturgical heritage.