Bishop Hallinan: a man at the forefront of his time



June: To discover the Eucharist as source and summit of my life
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) C.1:10


As members of the Roman Catholic Church we realize that the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, which we honor especially on the feast of Corpus Christi this month, is very much our own source of spiritual life. Belief in the Eucharist has been an integral and explicit part of the Catholic faith since the earliest centuries and was reaffirmed and reemphasized by the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first of the 16 documents prepared by that council to help guide the church in the modern world. In that constitution the fathers of the council remind us that “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows …. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain, and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God to which all other activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, are achieved with maximum effectiveness.”3

In the history of our own Diocese of Charleston we may look to the example set by one of our former bishops to see how we recognize the importance of the Eucharist in our lives and in the life of the church as a whole. The movement toward liturgical reform in our century was in full swing when a new bishop of Charleston was appointed in September 1958. Only one month later Pope Pius XII died and John XXIII was elected. The new bishop of Charleston, Msgr. Paul Hallinan, was originally from Ohio and a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland. The new bishop had a genuine concern for the Catholics of his new diocese and played an important part in the promotion of peaceful relationships in a difficult time. In January 1961, he celebrated a special Mass at the cathedral to commemorate the Civil War, and the following month he issued a Lenten pastoral letter in which he addressed the problem of mounting racial tensions and the need for the church to speak clearly on the issues raised. “In justice to our people, we cannot abandon leadership to the extremists whose only creed is fear and hatred.” He promised that all children regardless of race would be admitted to Catholic schools “as soon as this can be done with safety to the children and the schools. Certainly this will be done not later than the public schools are opened to all pupils.” When integration of the public schools came in August of 1963 Bishop Francis Reh announced that all Catholic schools in the diocese would also be integrated in accordance with the policy laid down by Bishop Hallinan two years before.

Bishop Hallinan realized that true social justice is based not on political opinion or conviction, but on God whom we encounter most intimately in the liturgical life of the church. He had a deep interest in the liturgy of the church and understood well the old maxim lex orandi, lex credendi, ‘the law of prayer is the law of belief.’ He could see the connection between what we are doing when we pray and how this effects what we believe not only about God but about each other as well. As members of the church we not only draw our life from the Eucharist but our unity as well. Bishop Hallinan had been quite impressed by the liturgical reforms instituted by Pope Pius XII for Holy Week services in 1955 and wanted to promote a continued reform of the liturgy.

While bishop of Charleston he formed a diocesan Liturgical Commission to promote a reverent and informed celebration of the liturgy by his clergy and participation by the faithful. One of the highlights of this emphasis on liturgical life was a celebration of a diocesan liturgical week in late April 1960. The weekend concluded on May 1, with the celebration of a Solemn High Mass with all of the proper Latin chants sung aloud for 8,000 Catholics gathered at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston. The celebration with the apostolic delegate to the United States, Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, and to our own day it is the largest single congregation of Catholics gathered to celebrate the Mass in the history of the diocese. The Mass was televised and reached an estimated minimum 500,000 people and a maximum of 1 million.

In February 1962, only three and a half years after his arrival in Charleston, Bishop Hallinan was transferred to the newly created Archdiocese of Atlanta as the first archbishop. As archbishop he attended the Second Vatican Council and was the only American on the liturgical commission responsible for preparing the drafts of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. In October 1962, shortly after his transfer from Charleston to Atlanta, the new archbishop participated in the council’s debates on the reform of the liturgy and promoted the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy when he opposed Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York by saying to the assembled fathers of the council that “The liturgy of the Church must be public, but this can have real meaning for our people only if they understand enough of it to be a part of it. They must be united to God not alone as in private prayer, but together with the whole Church in her Head who is Christ …. The more that we can do to render the Mass intelligible to all, not just those equipped by learning or formed by habit, the more we open new avenues to the minds and hearts of Christians who are not Catholic.”4 Archbishop Hallinan’s proposal apparently convinced the fathers that a limited use of the vernacular would be welcome and the final form of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy provided for the use of both the Latin as well as the vernacular languages.

When the council came to a close, Archbishop Hallinan continued to promote the reformed liturgy in the United States as a member of the newly formed bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy. This task was more difficult than the work of the council had been because the archbishop saw how little many at home understood the work of the council. Some were reluctant to allow any alterations in the liturgy while others wanted nothing but change. One group demanded endless new experiments in the liturgy while others simply wanted it to all remain just as it had been. Archbishop Hallinan had the near impossible task of reconciling the two groups and promoting the liturgical reform that the council had formulated rather than what particular groups interpreted the council as having said or not said without reference as to what the council actually said.

“Confronted with the threat of liturgical anarchy in the American Church, Archbishop Hallinan blamed extremists on both the right and the left for the situation. At the meeting of the U.S. bishops in April 1967 he obtained their overwhelming approval for an evenhanded statement to this effect. In a letter sent to every priest in the United States, the bishops declared that “unauthorized liturgical innovations are not genuine innovations at all. They are diversionary.” Archbishop Hallinan attempted to bring some compromise to the situation by asking permission for further experimentation, but the permission was not granted for fear it would make an already difficult situation worse. Archbishop Hallinan expressed the fear that the liturgy, which should be the source of the unity of the church was instead being turned into a source of division by various factions. He lamented the divisions appearing due to unauthorized experiments that turned the liturgy from a public action of the church as a whole into the private enclave of the individual priest or congregation. Only two months before his death in March 1968, only 57 years old, he said that in doing this “we are creating a generation of disobedient priests.”

Despite the difficulties encountered by Bishop Hallinan and the church as a whole in implementing liturgical reform, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy is a source of unity for the church. It is only after taking an active interest in the liturgy ourselves, celebrating it reverently and according to the proper rites, that the reforms of the Second Vatican Council so actively promoted by Archbishop Hallinan will lead us to truly discover the Eucharist as the source and summit of our lives.


3 Second Vatican Council; Sacrosanctum concilium, 1, 10. 4 December, 1963.

4 Vincent A. Yzermans, ed., American Participation in the Second Vatican Council. Sheed and Ward, 1967. p. 157.

5 Thomas J. Shelley, “Slouching Toward the Center: Cardinal Francis Spellman, Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan and American Catholicism in the 1960s.” U.S. Catholic Historian, Vol. 17, nr. 4. Fall, 1999. pp. 38-39.

6 Hallinan as quoted in Shelley, “Slouching Toward the Center.” p. 39.