ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
45. For the same reason every diocese is to have a commission on the sacred liturgy under the direction of the bishop, for promoting the liturgical apostolate.
Sometimes it may be expedient that several dioceses should form between them one single commission which will be able to promote the liturgy by common consultation.
46. Besides the commission on the sacred liturgy, every diocese, as far as possible, should have commissions for sacred music and sacred art.
These three commissions must work in closest collaboration; indeed it will often be best to fuse the three of them into one single commission.
The term was not invented back then, but Paragraphs 45 and 46 would certainly fall under the rubric of “dreamers and doers.” The Fathers of Vatican II envisioned collaborative bodies in each diocese for promoting “the liturgical apostolate.” The term liturgical apostolate has a rich history dating long before the Council, to the pontificate of Pius X (r. 1903-1914). Pius articulated a pastoral theology which centered around active faith and participation in the Eucharist; he moved the age of First Communion from adolescence to the age of seven and encouraged frequent communion, for which he was criticized as “encouraging irreverence.”
After his death in 1914 Pius became the inspiration for those who wished to foster greater understanding of the Mass and areas of active participation. In the United States, the center of liturgical renewal would become St. John’s Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. In 1926 the Abbey began publication of the liturgical journal Orate Fratres (“Pray, Brethren”) later renamed Worship, its current title. I have a link here from the University of Notre Dame from September 20, 2012 to a pair of essays on the first issue of Orate Fratres in 1926, entitled “Re-reading Orate Fratres: The American Liturgical Movement is Born (1926-27).” What may surprise you is the vision and energy of liturgical reformers which predates Vatican II by decades. The “new Mass” is not quite the break from our history that some make it out to be.
Paras. 45 and 46 are an effort to bring something of St. John’s Abbey into the future renewal of the sacraments beginning in 1963. Para. 45 calls for a diocesan commission under the direction of the bishop “for promoting the liturgical apostolate.” This was the “dream;” the “doing” was something else. For starters, in the United States there were very few “experts” on liturgy [i.e., those with advanced degrees], so few that I can probably name most of them in the 1970’s. Father Regis Duffy, my fellow friar, had just finished his studies a year or two before teaching me in 1973. [I had Regis twice—once in high school where he taught Gregorian Chant and turned down my offer to join the seminary choir, and later in graduate school as Dr. Duffy where he turned down my impoverished professional papers on liturgy. A true gentleman, Regis could say no very kindly, however.]
Some years later we looked back on those days with mirth as we shared a drink at Notre Dame. Regis was the keynote speaker at a national liturgical convention hosted by ND in the late 1970's. Although a fulltime professor at the Washington Theological Union [my school] and later Notre Dame, he was in demand across the country for his insights into the reform of the liturgy. There were simply not enough competent souls nationwide to advise and form the bishops and dioceses in an overall theology of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the history of renewal. Some dioceses sent a priest for higher studies here in the states or overseas. But for the most part, particularly by the 1970’s, dioceses depended upon its newly ordained—those of us who studied after the Council--for advice and demonstration. As my student parish at Siena went home for Holy Week, I would help at our shrine churches in New England, and at one holiday assignment the pastor/superior assigned me celebrant for the entire Triduum at his large downtown church. I was ordained about a year or two, and people gave me credit for expertise I honestly hadn’t earned yet.
When bishops established liturgical commissions per para. 45, the bodies were composed of priests with interest and perhaps some “early experimentation” with liturgical practices, which was common but surreptitious. One of the first challenges was assisting other local priests for whom the scope of the changes was overwhelming. The experience of celebrating Mass facing the people was a profound change for a priest with forty years’ experience celebrating toward the altar. The personality of the priest became a larger factor in participatory celebrations, and with the Council’s emphasis upon Scripture, the old sermon on morals gave way to a more evangelical communication of the Sunday readings. The 1960’s and 1970’s were a hard time for many priests.
Diocesan liturgical committees did as much as they could to provide information to priests and liturgical ministers on the directives issuing from Rome. Part of their agenda was overall supervision of experimentation, particularly if a complaint had come to the bishop’s attention. I was flagged a few times—and once to Rome. In that case, when I was teaching sacramental renewal in a diocesan program (as an “expert” of course), I had said that the new rite of Penance, because of its length, was probably not suitable for use five minutes before Mass. What Rome was quoted was my alleged claim that it was wrong to go to confession before Mass. I wrote my defense to the Sacred Congregation of Rites and have heard nothing about it in 32 years, but you never know.
Thus, para. 45 was implemented unevenly from diocese to diocese and even parish to parish. The general principles were “getting the people involved” and “catching up with the times.” The liturgy took on the look of a volunteer army, eager for the most part but lacking in basic military science. There was considerable opposition to the “new Mass” among those who felt the Tridentine Rite was a superior product. But it is also fair to say that the liturgical renewal in some places was undertaken in an insensitive and shoddy way, as I will discuss next Saturday.
Another issue that plagued Para. 45 was the different interpretation of the Vatican directives by neighboring bishops. The most humorous case involved Philadelphia, where the practice of the Saturday evening vigil Mass was not approved by its cardinal when other dioceses introduced the practice around 1970. (Bishops enjoyed discretionary authority.) As a result, many Philadelphia Catholics crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge into the Camden, N.J. diocese on Saturday nights, and the Jersey pastors were more than happy to receive their offerings. Collaborative regional liturgical planning was sometimes more dreamed than done; that is still true today.
Another responsibility of diocesan liturgical commissions was overseeing the renovations and constructions of new churches to the demands of the rites as mandated by the Council. I have not really talked much about para. 46, the participation of musicians and artists in liturgical planning, and there is enough to deal with in that paragraph that I will address the matter in full next Saturday.