ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
63. Because of the use of the mother tongue in the administration of the sacraments and sacramentals can often be of considerable help to the people, this use is to be extended according to the following norms:
a) The vernacular language may be used in administering the sacraments and sacramentals, according to the norm of Art. 36.
b) In harmony with the new edition of the Roman Ritual, particular rituals shall be prepared without delay by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, of this Constitution. These rituals, which are to be adapted, also as regards the language employed, to the needs of the different regions, are to be reviewed by the Apostolic See and then introduced into the regions for which they have been prepared. But in drawing up these rituals or particular collections of rites, the instructions prefixed to the individual rites the Roman Ritual, whether they be pastoral and rubrical or whether they have special social import, shall not be omitted.
Paragraph 63 authorized one of the most significant reforms in the celebration of sacraments, the opportunity to celebrate worship in one’s mother tongue. This is the “when they changed the Mass from Latin to English” change, though the actual teaching is considerably more nuanced.
First, the Council mandated a reform of all the sacramental rites. The reason for this is given in the previous paragraph, 62, which I did not include here for reasons of brevity. A key principle of para. 62 states that “[w]ith the passage of time, however, there have crept into the rites of the sacraments and sacramentals certain features which have rendered their nature and purpose far from clear to the people of today; hence some changes have become necessary to adapt them to the needs of our own times.”
The idea that the Tridentine Mass of my youth, for example, was badly in need of overhaul was not an invention of Vatican II. As early as the 1920’s Benedictine scholarship put forward the need for a style of celebrating Mass that moved hearts. The first professional journal devoted to liturgical renewal, Orate Fratres (“Pray, Brethren’) appeared in 1926. There is a fascinating description of this early publication from the University of Notre Dame posted here. Several years before the Council opened, permission had been given by the Vatican for “dialogue Masses” in which the congregation might respond in Latin as the altar boys had done for years. Pope Pius X (r. 1903-1914) was a strong advocate of active congregational participation; the Pius X Hymnal was the song book in my pew when I arrived at the seminary in 1962.
Second, the Council did not simply allow translation of the Tridentine Mass then in use. It ruled that the rite of Mass and the sacraments be overhauled employing the best insights of liturgical scholars, historians, Scripture scholars, and artists of multiple forms. The final product of this reform would be the Novus Ordo [“New Order”] of Pope Paul VI introduced to the universal Church in 1970. As continues to be the practice, all rites and official documents released by the Church are published in Latin. Hypothetically, the Novus Ordo Mass of today could have been celebrated in Latin these last 48 years.
However, para. 63 observes that the use of the mother tongue “can be of considerable help,” and it is under this clause that the practice of celebrating Eucharist in the local language gains its legitimacy. This paragraph describes the procedure for translating the Latin text into other languages; in the United States the translation of the Novus Ordo Latin rite was undertaken by ICEL, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, under the direction of several English-speaking conferences of bishops. The end product was submitted to the Vatican for final approval, and then the English language Roman Missals could be published and sold to parishes.
[A historical sidebar: Pope John Paul II and his advisors became dissatisfied with the approved 1970 English translation and ordered a new English translation with an emphasis upon doctrinal purity and poetic stateliness. This translation went into effect in the United States in Advent, 2011.]
Third, neither the Council nor subsequent legislative documentation demanded that the Mass must be translated into a local language other than Latin. Para. 63 states that translation “can often be of considerable help to the people” but the unstated point is that Latin may be of some considerable help to the people as well. I still have a lot of thinking to do on this subject, but it has crossed my mind that in locations such as central Florida, where Masses are celebrated in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Creole, and Vietnamese, the utility of worship in a common language might be an effective sign to the Church and to society of the brotherhood that transcends ethnic divides, and it might facilitate the difficult transition of missionary priests into Florida. A controversial thought, to be sure, but there is no Church legislation that would bar such experimentation in a particular diocese. Admittedly, there is no easy way to facilitate the proclamation of the Word.in multiple language settings.
Fourth, at parties and classes I teach, I do hear from time to time that “I wish we could go back to the Latin Mass.” It did not take me long to discern, though, that these individuals are not expressing a desire for the Latin Novus Order, or today’s Mass celebrated in Latin. What they really have in mind is a return to the Latin Tridentine Mass [i.e., the reformed Mass of the Council of Trent, promulgated in 1570.] This is an entirely different question from the discussion of the previous paragraph.
I will agree that the Church’s “roll-out” of the 1970 rite was awkward and even insensitive. A lot of instructions were issued from pulpits, catechists, and church bulletins with the tone that those who venerated the Tridentine rite were “Neanderthals” who did not understand the errors of their ways nor grasp the wave of the future. In retrospect, I have often wondered why the option of worshipping in the Tridentine Rite was not continued with the new rite, at least for a generation or so. There is an old joke that goes something like this: “What is the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist? The answer: you can negotiate with a terrorist.” There was a pronounced arrogance and hubris among post-Council liturgical leaders at all levels who supported liturgical change, and almost no pastoral consideration was given to the suffering of those grieving the loss of the older Tridentine Latin rite. [Later, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI permitted use of the rite in churches and congregation in union with Rome.]
That said, the discontinuation of the Tridentine Latin Rite was generally approved in a solemn Church Council [Vatican II] because of numerous deficiencies, ranging from repetition and clutter to inadequate attention to the Scripture and the priesthood of the faithful [i.e., full participation]. The judgment of Vatican II on the Tridentine rite is still hotly debated even today. I get daily news feeds from conservative Catholic press sites, notably National Catholic Register, and it is interesting to read reports that the younger generations are fascinated with the old rite and find it more attractive than the Novus Ordo. Given the tired, vanilla celebrations of the English Novus Ordo Mass format, I can understand a young adult’s curiosity about a more compelling sacramental ceremony, though there is no serious data to suggest that 20 and 30-year-olds are stampeding the places where the Tridentine Mass is lawfully celebrated.
Unfortunately, I lost a link to an excellent essay about the Tridentine Mass as we remember or imagine it, and what it was actually like. What we remember [or have seen on YouTube] is probably the solemn high Mass, with full choir, deacon, sub deacon, and incense. Such a ceremony was rare in a Catholic parish, perhaps offered on Christmas or Easter. The typical Tridentine Mass, even on Sunday, was a flat and brief observance in Latin celebrated by one priest and two young acolytes. It would surprise me if this more normative Latin ceremonial would cause wholesale return to the liturgy of anyone at or beyond the age of puberty. [I say, and only partly tongue in cheek, that the present-day celebration of the Vatican II Mass is becoming harder to attend as I enter my eighth decade, too. “Banal” and “uninspiring” sum up my current reactions; I am moved neither intellectually nor affectively. But I am not inclined in the least to seek a Tridentine experience as a remedy, either.]
For starters, I would recommend we look at the actual directives for the celebration of the Novus Ordo, which run to several hundred paragraphs and make up the opening of the missal you see on the altar. G.K. Chesterton’s famous adage about Christianity can be applied to the Mass of the Vatican II reform: “It is not that the Novus Ordo was tried and found wanting; rather, it was found hard and not tried.”