ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
22. (1.) Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
(2.) In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
(3.) Therefore, no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.
In 2003 Francis Cardinal Arinze (Prefect, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) addressed a convention in San Antonio, Texas, and in his own way provides a commentary on Section 22: “At the beginning of Mass the priest can trivialize by amusing the people on the weather, by saying "Good morning everybody" instead of "The Lord be with you" or "The grace of Our Lord... ", which are the proper liturgical opening greetings. He can banalize by an exaggerated autobiographical introduction and trite jokes in his misguided effort to warm the people up for worship!” The Cardinal continues “The Roman liturgy is not a free-for-all experimentation field where each celebrant has the option to tag on his cherished accretions. Repeated and laid-down action is part of ritual. The people are not tired of it, as long as the celebrant is full of faith and devotion and has the proper ars celebrandi (art of how to celebrate).”
Ten years earlier Pope John Paul II lamented “It cannot be tolerated…that certain priests should take upon themselves the right to compose Eucharistic Prayers or to substitute profane readings for texts from Sacred Scripture. Initiatives of this sort, far from being linked with the liturgical reform as such, or with the books which have issued from it, are in direct contradiction to it, disfigure it and deprive the Christian people of the genuine treasures of the liturgy of the Church "
Extremes beget extremes. I do not envy the more thoughtful bishops of Vatican II who understood the necessity of a true reform of Catholic worship to its “noble simplicity”—specifically, the prayerful participation of the faithful—and yet realized that sanctioning the development of a new mindset and new rites would embody a considerable amount of Darwinian species struggle. I leave it to Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Arinze to provide the day’s example of the post-Conciliar liturgical struggles, some of which continue to this day, such as the scourge of banality. Section 22 is the effort of the Council to set some authoritative principles regarding the process of liturgical reform.
The official rites for all liturgical celebrations come from Rome. The rites are promulgated in several ways; each Sacrament, for example, has its official bound ritual. When you attend Mass, the (usually) red prayer book used by the celebrant is the official rite text of the universal Church, with the accompanying Lectionary of assigned readings for the liturgical calendar and special observances. If you wandered into the sacristy you would find a book shelf of much smaller hard cover books, the official rituals for all the other sacraments, though I suspect that only the cathedral has the hard cover ritual for ordinations. (Come to think of it, though, my own diaconate ordination took place in my major seminary/friary chapel, and priest ordination at St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, to accommodate family and guests—there were nine of us ordained together in 1974.)
Section 22 goes on to say that the authority guiding the sacraments and rites is delegated in certain matters to bishops, and then specifically to “various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.” This is a reference to national bishops’ conferences, such as our USCCB. When Sacrosanctum Concilium was promulgated in 1963, the Council had not yet finalized the organization and full scope of authority of bishops. In the post-Council years, the immediate responsibility of bishops’ conferences was translations of the released Latin texts. Many English-speaking bishops’ conferences banded together to form the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, or ICEL. The current U.S. representative is Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Patterson, New Jersey. ICEL submits its drafts to the Vatican for approval. Thus, the Vatican owns the Latin rituals, ICEL’s members own the translations.
Rome has liturgical authority over many matters: these are spelled out from time to time by letter to bishops’ conferences from the Vatican, which continues to specify certain liturgical details, such as policy regarding the use of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, or the material of chalices (gold, silver). The USCCB, on the other hand, can request or initiate an exception to general liturgical law. The best example is the American practice of kneeling during the entire Eucharistic prayer. The USCCB years ago requested and received an indult or special permission for Catholics to kneel; the ICEL translation states that “the posture of the people during the Eucharistic Prayer is different in various countries and regions; in the United States, the people normally stand until the "Holy, Holy", and then kneel until after the "Great Amen." Mass posture was hotly debated at USCCB meetings years ago, until Bishop Francis O’Keefe of New York famously declared that “our biggest posture problem in the Church is that too many Catholics are reclining on Sunday mornings.”
There is no doubt that in the two decades of so after the Council many priests—this one included—took liberties with the rites. In our defense, our professors had stressed to us that among the primary purposes of Sacrosanctum Concilium was the importance of bringing people back to Church and bringing all Catholics closer to the Eucharistic celebration, figuratively and literally. I would point out, though, that my bishops rarely if ever gave me any grief. If a complaint was made to the chancery, it was brought to my attention but as more of a heads up than anything else. I know that some Catholics went to neighboring parishes because I was too “progressive,” but the reverse was true, too.
Section 22 states that no one, not even a priest, can change the rites of the liturgy. However, the rite of the Mass, for example, during my years in ministry (1974-94) contained multiple options throughout, and actually called for the celebrant to compose his own words at certain points. This is still true in the ICEL 2011 English translation. After the formal greeting at the beginning of Mass, the Missal states: “The priest or another minister may then briefly introduce the Mass of the day, saying something about the readings, the feast, and/or the special occasion being celebrated.” Similarly, the Missal does not provide a strict formula for the Prayer of the Faithful.
In short, there were several generations of young priests ordained to view the Roman Missal as the official text of the universal Church while enjoying a measure of artistic and pastoral responsibility to make local changes as we saw fit.
Looking back from the vantage point of seniority, I can see that there is much to be said for common ritual in terms of Church unity. Moreover, I can honestly say that I am not the artist or liturgist I fancied myself in my 30’s, and I probably subjected my congregations to celebrations that cannot fall under the umbrella of ‘noble simplicity.” Although the Church is more buttoned-down liturgically than in my day, it is regrettable that some of the less helpful innovations of days’ past have become incorporated into the “new normal:” really bad music, banality, and the cult of priestly personality. We have a ways to go to reach noble simplicity.