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Pope Paul VI: An Historic Journey to the Holy Land, January 1964

Twentieth Century-Fox TFM 3129 (1964)

It’s something of a departure from our usual offerings, but this is a vinyl phonograph documentary of Pope Paul VI’s visit to the Holy Land at the time of the Epiphany in January 1964.  First, however, some explanation of the medium is in order.

Until the advent of video disks and ultimately the VCR, there was no convenient way outside of a television studio for people to do “video on demand,” and thus phono documentaries like this one were very common in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  It was the best way that people could relive events like this one.

Paul’s visit to the Holy Land was described as historic, and in the context of the time it certainly was.  To begin with, none of the occupants of the See of Peter had come back to the homeland of the first one until that time.  (Kind of reminds you of Brother Andrew’s remark that Jesus told his followers to go, he didn’t tell them to come back!)  It was also the first time in 150 years that a Pope had left Italy, the result in part of the Vatican’s sixty year “imprisonment.”  To visit the Holy Land then and now required that the Holy Father visit the State of Israel, something dicey given Roman Catholicism’s penchant for replacement theology.  Last but not least the Pope met with the Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras; a Pope and Patriarch hadn’t met since the two branches of Apostolic Christianity angrily parted company in 1054.

The centrepiece of the recording at least is the Pope’s Mass in Nazareth.  Although Vatican II had been recently concluded, it wasn’t until 1970 that the Novus Ordo Missae was promulgated.  The Mass was thus conducted both in Latin and in what is now called the “Extraordinary Form” but was then the ordinary one.  That should warm the hearts of Trads who usually use this pontiff’s picture as a dart board, but this Mass was not elaborate.  Then as now media types didn’t understand religion very well; the narrator proclaims the conclusion of the Mass only to have the Pope begin his recitation of the Creed.  (I’ve been to Masses like that, but…)

Outside of the Mass, the Pope addresses the President of Israel, the crowd at Nazareth, and the Patriarch in French.  At the time French was the language of diplomacy; our world has come a long way since then.  He also invited the Patriarch to recite the Lord’s Prayer; good thing he didn’t use the Creed, with the still-ongoing “filioque” controversy, that would have blown things up again for another 910 years.  It wasn’t until he returned to Rome that he addressed the crowd in his native Italian.

The world has changed a great deal in the nearly seventy years since this visit and recording, but the historic nature of the visit–and the way it was disseminated–are both worth remembering.


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