ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.
Yet it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realizing this unless the pastors themselves, in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it. A prime need, therefore, is that attention be directed, first of all, to the liturgical instruction of the clergy. Wherefore the sacred Council has decided to enact as follows: [Sections 15 and beyond to follow on successive Saturdays.]
There is enough material here for several books, for Section 14 embodies one of the most hotly contested doctrinal disputes of the post-Council era as well as the enormous religious and psychological toll upon many priests who, for all practical purposes, were instructed to reorient themselves to a new spirituality and a new personal style in celebrating daily Mass.
Theologically speaking, there is nothing askew in this text; the problems lie in the great distance that the Western Roman Church had drifted over the centuries from its early understandings of Baptism and Eucharist. As I have written in earlier posts here, the role of the faithful in the Tridentine Mass prior to 1970 was generally passive and, to put it crudely, unnecessary for valid celebration of the sacrament. Church Law of the time required a priest for the celebration of Mass but did not require a congregation, strange as that may seem today. An acolyte or altar boy was called upon to assist the priest and serve as “congregation,” but the absence of one did not invalidate the Mass.
The emphatic call for the “full and active” participation of the laity in the celebration of the Mass was a true paradigm shift. Looking back, it was too much too fast, and the third paragraph of today’s text concedes that the priests across the world were not prepared to lead the faithful through this process, as they themselves were trained in the Tridentine rubric and theology. Para. 15 [next week] will go into detail on the qualifications of seminary professors to teach liturgy, which suggests that the Church fathers anticipated some period of prolonged study and education. In fact, the Novus Ordo or New Rite of Paul VI went into legal effect five years after the Council, (1970) though I recall my seminaries and parishes experimenting with parts of the new Mass even while the Council was in session. In many—though not all—seminaries, professors of liturgy were already teaching the principles of section 14, and the scholarship behind the entire Constitution, through the 1960’s.
Since the Council restored the primary emphases on the participatory Mass, opposition to the “changes” has been strong and continues through this day. Thoughtful critics—cleric, lay, academic—worry that the new rite has changed the essence of the Mass from an expiatory offering for the sins of man to a kind of Christian sing-along. The early hymns (usually with guitar) produced for the new rite were written hastily and without artistic merit and theological propriety. Picture your sainted grandfather coming to church in the 1960’s to the period piece, “Here We Are,” a liturgical song we later came to call the “hymn to the obvious.” [We didn’t know that “Hear I Am, Lord” was a decade or two down the road.]
In the quiet of the Tridentine liturgical era many faithful Catholics had carved out a lifelong niche of following the Mass in quiet meditation, personal prayer, and an adoring stance toward the Eucharist; each Mass, after all, was offered facing the tabernacle on the high altar. Within a very brief time the altar was separated from the tabernacle, Latin morphed into English, and congregational interaction— “talking in Church”—was not just tolerated but legislated. The Kiss of Peace, restored in the Novus Ordo, came under particular fire. It is remarkable that many—apparently most—Catholics accepted the changes with at least moderate enthusiasm and good humor. I need to add a blunt opinion here: I have much more sympathy for those who genuinely miss the Tridentine Mass because they lived it and experienced it, than I do for newly ordained priests born three decades after Vatican II leading a present-day Restorationists Movement to reduce Catholic liturgy to a frozen moment in history—seventeenth century baroque, to be precise. This trend impresses me as an affectation without a spiritual/theological content.
The stresses over its implementation should not distract from the doctrinal integrity of para. 14 with its powerful statement on the identity of the faithful. In preparing to teach a spirituality course, I came across James Bacik’s Catholic Spirituality: Its History and Challenge (2002). Bacik makes a powerful point that Latin Western Roman Catholicism has lost its sense of the Holy Spirit to a more rational approach to anthropology and spirituality. The Eastern Church Fathers, by contrast, promoted a Trinitarian outlook which emphasizes the power of the Holy Spirit in defining the life of the believer—through Baptism and Confirmation. Worship, then, is the expression of the Spirit living in its members—we indeed celebrate Eucharist in the active voice as a manifestation of the Spirit within us.
The “turnaround” from the passive to the active in Roman Catholic worship has been uneven, overly simplified, and even aggressively resisted. For one thing, it would be wrong to assume that the Novus Ordo is the “correct formula” for all time, any more than the Mass of the Council of Trent proved to be. As future paragraphs of this Constitution will make clearer, the formative process has really only just taken off. The full liturgy of God will come to pass only when we acknowledge the stirrings of the Holy Spirit within us.
[I realize I did not address the difficulties of priests during the years after Vatican II, as I said I would. I will incorporate that into next Saturday’s post.]