ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
23. That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimate progress (,) careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral. Also, the general laws governing the structure and meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults conceded to various places. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.
As far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent regions must be carefully avoided.
The opening sentence is poorly translated, so I added a comma in parenthesis for better understanding. Section 23 attempts to maintain the tradition strengths of the liturgy of the Mass and other sacraments while not hindering “legitimate” progress. Although Sacrosanctum Concilium was approved overwhelmingly by the Church fathers of the Council, it would be a serious mistake to think that all 2500 bishops stood in perfect agreement on the meanings of “sound tradition” and “legitimate progress.” Not for nothing did the Cardinal Ottaviani coat of arms read “Always the Same.” The spirit of this section was overlooked immediately after the Council. One of the biggest complaints of many Catholics when the new rites of the Mass were gradually promulgated was the degree of change. I knew a Protestant who converted to Catholicism just before the changes, and he lamented that “if I knew that the Catholic Church was turning Protestant, I would never have changed.”
This is an extreme reaction, of course, and probably not the majority reception, but it is worth noting that Section 23 envisioned a rather cautious and lengthy examination of three distinct branches of theology—the theological, the historical, and the pastoral. The “theological” study would address such matters as the Biblical roots of worship, the philosophical meaning of signs, and the various metaphors used for the Mass over the centuries, such as “the unbloody reenactment of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary” or the Church’s offering of the perfect gift—the Eucharist itself—as the perfect offering to God the Father, in that portion of the Mass we still call the Doxology (“through Him, with Him, and in Him….”). To these metaphors of faith can be added the Eucharist as “banquet of the faithful” and/or reenactment of the Last Supper.
The authors of the text make a point to address historical study, in a process known as Ressourcement, “return to the authoritative sources of Christian faith, for the purpose of rediscovering their truth and meaning in order to meet the critical challenges of our time.” There is an immense body of literature on the way the Church has celebrated Eucharist over two millennia, particularly the actual rites themselves and how the Mass varied across the known world. When Pius V established the Tridentine Latin rite of the Mass in the late 1500’s, he did not impose it on diocese/cities/regions whose local rites could be traced back two hundred years or further. The best one-volume English study of the question remains Joseph Martos’ Doors to the Sacred (2014).
Section 23 goes on to speak about the pastoral implications of the liturgy, specifically an assessment of “recent liturgical reforms and from indults granted to various places.” Liturgical reform did not begin with John XXIII and the Council. As early as 1910 Pope Pius X famously changed the order of Confirmation and Eucharist, placing the age of First Communion at the age of reason (or about 7 years old) so that the young ones would be protected from the evils of the world. Pius XII reformed the Holy Week services, beginning in 1951, returning the rites to their proper places in the afternoon or late evening. Under Pius XII parishes were permitted to celebrate an evening Mass on Holy Days, with an easing of the communion fast which had begun at midnight. Wikipedia’s entry on Pius XII’s reforms is rather extensive and interesting. The Council wanted to assess the impact of these changes before moving into something more radical.
One would think that such study would consider a considerable amount of time, and an even greater time for implementation. Moreover, Section 23’s insistence that any new rites have a consistency with the old, or recognizable from the old, was concern for the faith sensitivities of the Catholic public. My impression of the time is that the catechesis or teaching explanations were often piecemeal from the pulpit. I had the good and bad luck to be in several churches when the “Kiss of Peace” was introduced. The Kiss of Peace was a feature of the older Tridentine Mass, exchanged among celebrant, deacon, and sub-deacon, in a solemn high Mass; today’s Kiss of Peace is an extension of an older traditional rite, though catechistically and visually it is hard to make the connection. I don’t recall much catechesis about the Kiss of Peace when it was introduced, and I recall that a number of people in the pews did not offer the greeting.
Father John O’Malley. S.J., in his What Happened at Vatican II? concludes that the Council made one serious error; “They [the bishops] assumed an easier transition from ideas of the scholars’ study to the social reality of the church than proved to be the case.” [p. 292] If this can be said for the Council, it would be equally true for the lieutenants after the Council in rolling out the finished products. To paraphrase O’Malley, the Council did not recognize what a significant paradigm shift it had put in place. Section of 23 is an attempt, and I say this respectfully, to square a circle. The Kiss of Peace is as good example as any. If there was one profound paradigm for the Tridentine Mass, it was reverence for the sacred host, a profound inner sense that accounted for all the visuals of the Mass—from genuflection to church silence to receiving on the tongue.
Then, out of the blue, a pastor announces that from now on, just before approaching the communion rail to receive the sacred communion host, it is now OK to turn around and shake hands and—Lord help us—talk in church! Before holy communion! You do not need an M.A. in sociology to recognize this drastic change as a paradigm shift—from a Mass of awed silence to a breaking of bread with fellow believers. The Council was asking Catholics to change their orientation to the signal moment of religious identity. As the French would say, “C’est une event psychologique.”
The “rush to rites” after the Council is an issue that needs continued research and certainly better adult catechesis if Catholic unity is to be maintained. For today, in 2017, the divide in paradigms remains as strong as ever: The Mass as sacred act of worship, and the Mass as fellowship. One example is a 2007 statement from Pope Benedict XVI [para. 49] on the current manner of exchanging the Kiss of Peace: “We can thus understand the emotion so often felt during the sign of peace at a liturgical celebration. Even so, during the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration, as, for example, when it is restricted to one's immediate neighbours.” [During the bishops’ synod of 2007 a proposal had been made to move the Kiss of Peace to just before the Offertory.]
The authors of section 23 recognized there might be strains in the development of the new rites of the Eucharist; “As far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent regions must be carefully avoided.” The obvious concern here is confusion. I think this final sentence is the tip of the iceberg in assessing future challenges.