At the back of a pocket-sized missal distributed by the National Catholic Community Service (NCCS), U.S. military personnel serving in World War II could find a particularly useful wartime device. The two-page spread centered on an image that would have been vaguely familiar to most U.S. Catholics. The largest feature was a sun-like circle rising and radiating out from a smaller ciborium beneath. In more familiar Catholic imagery the circle appeared sometimes as the sun, sometimes as the Eucharistic host itself. It was typically embossed with the letters "IHS," a Greek-derived abbreviation of the Holy Name of Jesus, or with the Greek letters A[Omega], representing Jesus as Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all. In these familiar forms, the image signaled the centrality and efficacy of the sacrament of communion in the religious life of Catholics. Through communion, received in the form of the Eucharistic bread consecrated and delivered by the hands of an ordained priest, Catholics united themselves with Christ, whose very name was woven into the fabric of the universe. Participation in Holy Communion, which for the properly scrupulous was preceded always by the sacrament of confession, united Catholics with Christ, activated the flow of grace into their lives, and ensured their eternal proximity to God.Read more. Much, much more >>
Global warfare pressed this imagery into new realms. Instead of a host or the sun rising up, the circular form here took the shape of a clock face. Inside the clock face, instead of the letters "IHS," readers found a world map, including the six inhabited continents viewed from a point high above the North Pole. In each hour segment of the clock face, the names of two different regions were listed. Text below and on the facing page offered instructions if one was "unable to attend Mass because of military service or the absence of a chaplain." Using this "World-Mass-Clock" and the accompanying "Mass-Clock-Prayer" Catholics could join themselves spiritually with the sacrifice of the Mass as it was happening at any given moment, somewhere in the world. "No matter when you look at your clock," the pages explained, "it is early morning somewhere ... and some Priest is offering Mass!" With these pages at hand, Catholics could discover where in the world, at that precise moment, the church was uniting itself with Christ's original sacrifice. In addition to studying the catechism assigned to that week's Mass (found earlier in the booklet), servicemen could recite the "Mass-Clock-Prayer" which began:
Eternal Father, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I wish to unite myself with Jesus, now offering His Precious Blood in [mention name of country] in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
... But Catholics did not rest solely on the assurances provided by these powerful prayers, objects, and actions. Alongside the heavy traffic of sacramentals and stories about their potency, Catholics eagerly disseminated separatist narratives of U.S. Catholic triumph. "Mack," a "twentieth-century G.I.," offered one of these stories for the editors of the NCCS's wartime newsletter entitled Contact....
Well-versed in Catholic expectations for the lay apostolate, Mack riffed on the motto of Catholic Action--a very twentieth century plan for extending Catholic influence in secular democracies--to describe his role as a Catholic in the U.S. military. The main fruit of this experience, he averred, would be relatively slow to develop. Military service was a time to "OBSERVE and JUDGE," a chance for "sizing up what is pagan in our environment." Armed with "a knowledge of what this environment should be," "Contact men"--those lined up with the Catholic approach to the war--could also use their time in the service to forge plans "to change what is into what should be ." "ACT," the implementation phase of the Catholic Action mandate, would have to wait until later, when the hindrances of military life--"army discipline and organization, schedules, breaking up of outfits, fatigue, discouragement"--had been left behind.
In the meantime, "day-to-day living in the midst of the men," what Mack described as life in a "pagan" environment, could be a kind of religious ordeal. Military life, he wrote, is "unconsciously sounding our spiritual depths and ploughing furrows in the very fibers of our being." With war's end, the "days of reconstruction " would begin, and tested and focused Catholics would manifest "a spiritual ripeness hitherto unknown to us" in the form of Catholic Action. Catholics in the military should understand themselves as spies behind enemy lines, immersed in a trying reconnaissance mission on behalf of the church. The enemy was not Germany or Japan, not Nazism or totalitarianism, nor even the lurking menace of communism. The enemy was a wayward America. Catholicism, mobilized through informed and eager lay Catholics, could be America's only hope in a future clouded by indifference, immorality, and paganism.
[Hat tip to Sir A.S.]