Latin masses ended in the 1960s in OTC

Contributed photo
The priest and altar boys faced the altar in the days of Latin Masses, until the early 1960s.

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

Many older Catholics throughout Otter Tail County recall the days of Latin Masses. This changed for Catholic churches from 1962 to 1964, coinciding with the Second Vatican Council when there was a switch from Latin to English in the United States. 

This newspaper reporter is among thousands of former altar boys, baby boomers, who served during the years of those Latin Masses in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Here in Fergus Falls, at Our Lady of Victory parish, several of us learned the duties of being an altar boy. This was during the noon hour, with instruction from our fourth-grade teacher Sister Mary Christine. The year was 1958.

There were several weeks of training. Looking back, it seems somewhat amazing what we learned in a relatively short period of time. This included Latin responses, the correct times in which to genuflect, kneel, stand and sit, as well as learning how to properly light candles, handle incense and carry the cross.

In the early 1960s Holy Week was a busy time for altar boys, with Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Back then St. Leonard’s Catholic Church of Pelican Rapids was a satellite parish of OLV in Fergus Falls. 

There was an Easter Vigil and Saturday Mass starting about 7 p.m. in Pelican Rapids. After we returned to Fergus Falls, we altar boys were servers for the 11 p.m. Easter Vigil at OLV, followed by the Midnight Mass. Thus double duty, so to speak.

A server had to time the ringing of the bell just right during the consecration, when the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ. An altar boy had to hold the communion plate just right when members of the congregation came to the communion rail to receive the holy communion wafers from the priest.

When entering the sacristy before Mass, each of us felt it was an honor to put on our cassocks and surplices. Entering the sanctuary at the start of the Mass was always an exciting time.

The priest and altar boys faced the altar in those days of Latin Masses. Priests have faced the congregation since the early 1960s. Altar girls joined the ranks of Mass servers starting in 1983.

Some parishes still offer Latin Masses, on occasion. But Catholics in the United States, for the most part, prefer Masses in English. Happily, altar boys and altar girls continue to perform their duties very well.