Growing up Catholic in the 1960′s was a time of stunning revolution in the rituals and (no pun intended) habits of our very special parochial culture. In the heady days of Vatican II (aggiornamento!), Catholic schoolchildren went from watching the backs of priests muttering unintelligble Latin to holding hands around the altar while speaking in English (“the vernacular” was a phrase we tossed off with meaning as we joined in the liturgical responses). Our teachers, the nuns, went from full habits to modified habits to regular clothes over a short period of time. Sister Nadine is a redhead! We were excited by all the changes, but there were some obvious drawbacks — we could no longer tell when Sister Superior was coming around the corner — no more clicking of Rosary beads hung from those great belts!
In the late 1960′s, the coincidence of the antiwar movement, the growth of the youth counterculture, and the liturgical changes encouraged after Vatican II resulted in an even more powerful (and for our parents, disturbing) change in Catholic culture and ritual — the booming echoes of massive pipe organs gave way to the gentle strums of acoustic guitars at Mass. No longer would Dad belt out, “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” to conclude Mass; instead, he looked aghast as a band of “beatniks” strummed “If I Had A Hammer” — if he had a hammer, woe to that guitar!
An entire generation of Catholics grew up humming and strumming folk songs to praise the Lord. And, in those heady days of America’s flirtation with its own brand of liberation theology, many of those songs were NOT part of any approved canon of liturgical music, but rather, songs of struggle and liberation borrowed from the icons of the revolution going on across the land. We sang the Gospel of Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary. At student Masses in my high school, and later on here at Trinity, no liturgy was quite complete without at least two verses of “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Of course, most people probably do not associate folk music with Catholic Mass, but for some of us, the melodies of PPM and Dylan and the Weavers and others were an essential part of a decade in worship. Later on, the rules changed to require only liturgical music at Mass (though I suspect a few notes of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” may still echo through some services for today’s soldiers).
Mary Travers died yesterday, another cultural icon of the boomer generation passing on. She leaves a trove of songs that, by today’s standards, seem so simple, even innocent, yet still laden with meaning. Her clear, strong voice will continue to proclaim the “hammer of justice” and “bell of freedom” for generations to come.