November 1, 2011

Some more Requiem Masses for JFK (I know you've been waiting for this)

Today we’ve got some new and interesting footage of Requiem Masses from the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Granted, as a primary document this may be mostly of interest to Catholics and/or liturgical scholars, but from a television viewpoint there’s something very interesting as well.

The first one is from the night of the assassination, and was held at Our Lady Chapel in Los Angeles, which closed just a few years ago.  Charles Kuralt (perhaps taking time out from one of his two families?) is the correspondent, and the coverage begins just before the reading of the Gospel. I don't know about you, but that boychoir kind of gives me the creeps (but then I'm not a big fan of children's choirs anyway). Maybe it's just the tempo they use. Interesting that the closing hymn is the National Anthem - I think I have seen it in hymnals before, but from a religious standpoint "America the Beautiful" might have been better. Of course, people weren't seeing America as quite so beautiful that night, so we can probably give this a pass. The celebrant clearly appears to have been influenced in his speaking style by Bishop Sheen. His comments about JFK's personal life, in retrospect, are rather ironic. Also, is it just me or does he give more or less the same talk after the Mass as he does at the homily? Kuralt gives a dignified commentary. The Mass is on parts 39 and 40 of this series.

This second Mass is from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York on Saturday morning.(interestingly enough, this segment of the broadcast begins outside St. Francis Xavier church in Hyannis Port, where Rose Kennedy is attending yet another memorial Mass, although the network does not provide coverage of that.) I know from reading NBC's transcript of their assassination coverage that they also broadcast the Mass (this coverage, like all that we're linking to, comes from CBS). The Mass coverage from St. Patrick's begins at 4:14 on part 46 and continues on part 47.  We don't get the entire Mass here, but beginning a little over 7 minutes in, we hear a magnificent rendition of the stately Dias Irae. Notable also is that the Cathedral is using a symbolic catafalque, representing the deceased.

Of course, the coverage of various Masses makes perfect sense.  President Kennedy was the first (and so far only) Catholic president.  Catholics offer Mass daily.  Catholic churches, reeling with grief at Kennedy's death, were offering Requiem Masses (for the soul of the departed) everywhere. The networks were bound to gravitate toward them as an expression of Catholic mourning.  All well and good.

But I just find this whole religion angle fascinating.  Perhaps it's because I grew up in a time when religion wasn't verbotten on TV, or maybe it's from my research in old TV Guides and the like where I've seen that religious programming steadily decrease over the years.  On the other hand, there was a certain amount of religious programming shown in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, so it could be that we're simply seeing how a culture reacts to tragedy.

My own opinion is that there is still something unique about what we see here, the idea that religion is more a part of the mainstream broadcast culture, and that broadcasting these Masses is more organic than it would be today, but again, that's just me.  Watch it and see what you think. TV  

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