October 22, 2012

Glen Argan Western Catholic Reporter

All of the preliminaries were now over and the Second Vatican Council got down to business. But what business would that be? Of the 70 schema (proposed documents), the council fathers had seen only seven. Of those seven, by far the most important were those on divine revelation and on the liturgy.

Theologians who had seen the schema on revelation had raised major objections to that document. So, on Oct. 22, 1962, the council began to discuss the schema on the liturgy.

However, the young Joseph Ratzinger saw the decision to begin discussions with the liturgy document as a matter of more than mere convenience.

The liturgy, Ratzinger wrote, is what is most central to the Church. The liturgy is "the ever-renewed marriage of the Church with the Lord, actualized in the Eucharistic mystery where the Church . . . fulfills its innermost mission."

The liturgy, he continued, is "the true source of the Church's life and the proper point of departure for all renewal."

The liturgy schema made it to the council floor without having to receive the approval of the Holy Office. The document was written by a commission led by Father Annibale Bugnini, a respected liturgist.

To get the schema before the council, Bugnini needed approval from the dying Cardinal Gaetano Cicognani, who was cool to Bugnini and his schema.

However, other Vatican officials got the pope to lean on Gaetano's brother, Amleto, the secretary of state, who persuaded his reluctant brother to sign the document four days before he died.

For most Catholics, the changes Vatican II made to the liturgy were straightforward - in 1962, the Mass was all in Latin; over the course of a few years, it was all translated into the vernacular.

The priest now faced the people and the people were expected to respond aloud to many of the prayers. Indeed, sometimes they even sang their responses as well as contemporary hymns.

Liturgical change had been brewing for more than a century. The roots of the liturgical movement can be traced back to the foundation of the Benedictine monastery in Solesmes, France, in 1833. The monastery had been founded on the premise that the life of the Church community should be centred around the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours.

If that seems obvious to us, it wasn't in the mid-19th century. The faithful attended Mass in Latin read by priests who had their backs to the people and lacked the assistance of a sound system. There was no such thing as a missal that would help the faithful Catholic follow the Mass from his or her pew.


It was little wonder that people prayed their rosaries or other devotions while the priest "said" Mass almost in a separate world.

This photo, taken in 1930, shows the layout of a pre-Vatican II sanctuary.


This photo, taken in 1930, shows the layout of a pre-Vatican II sanctuary.

Indeed, one key feature of the pre-Vatican II Church was the sharp split between a rule-bound morality, on one hand, and, on the other hand, a sentimental devotional life that was largely disconnected from the liturgy. The life of a Catholic was an odd mixture of harshness and sentimentality.

One goal of the liturgical movement, then, was to foster a unity of liturgy and life. The liturgy was seen as the source for the renewal of the whole society, a notion foreign to the neo-scholastic theologians who dominated the seminaries.

This emphasis led in turn to movements such as that of the worker-priests in France - priests who, after the Second World War, saw it as part of their ministry to work in the factories alongside the common people.


Another aspect of the liturgical movement was the attempt to recover the purity of the worship of the early Church. Accomplishing this, of course, required historical research. It also called for a greater appreciation of Scripture and the Fathers of the Church.

From the perspective of pre-Vatican II priests, the word "liturgy" meant rubrics. Seminarians, prior to the council, received hours of training on how to hold their hands, to bow and to make other gestures deemed crucial to the proper celebration of the Mass.

Although the dam broke on these and other issues at Vatican II, the cracks had been apparent for awhile. A crucial milestone was Pope Pius XII's 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei. In that encyclical, despite the opposition of some in the Vatican, the pope gave a qualified endorsement to the liturgical movement.

Mediator Dei strongly defended the use of Latin in the liturgy and said it was wrong to return to liturgical practices of the early Church. It also left no room for local innovations by individual bishops or conferences of bishops.


However, Pope Pius rejected the notion that the ceremonial and rubrics aspects of the Mass were the most important part. "The chief element of divine worship must be interior," he said.

Further, while the sacraments possess objective power to enable their recipients to participate in divine life, the pope said it is wrong to conclude that the recipients' interior disposition in receiving a sacrament is irrelevant. To overlook or reject the importance of such dispositions is "false, insidious and quite pernicious."

The schema that was presented at Vatican II went a good deal further than did Mediator Dei and the vast majority of the fathers received it enthusiastically. The schema emphasized the need for liturgical renewal and that the liturgy should be adaptable to local needs with some scope for local decision-making. It also called for the full, conscious and active participation of the laity.

On this last point, the final document approved by the council clearly meant the type of interior participation Pius XII had recommended in Mediator Dei. However, it went beyond that and also made room for the "external participation" that we now see reflected in the myriad of liturgical ministries.


Diocesan bishops, especially those from mission dioceses in the developing world, were most pleased with the schema. African and Asian bishops saw the ban on the use of vernacular languages and the highly ceremonial nature of the Mass as the biggest obstacles to evangelization.

The first speaker on the council floor was Germany's Cardinal Josef Frings who praised the liturgy schema for building on the good work of Pope Pius XII. "The schema is to be commended for its modest and truly pastoral literary style full of Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church."

The council fathers now had something meaty to discuss. With the liturgy schema, they were most pleased with the dish they had been served.