ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
15. Professors who are appointed to teach liturgy in seminaries, religious houses of study, and theological faculties must be properly trained for their work in institutes which specialize in this subject.
Segments 15, 16, and 17 all address the nature of priestly formation or training for the celebration of sacraments in the philosophy of the Constitution’s earlier principles posted here in previous weeks. Two things appear obvious: first, the Council fathers recognized that there were in existence a number of schools renowned for their excellence in liturgical scholarship at the time of the Council. The “liturgical changes,” then, were not invented in the fall of 1963 but came about as the fruit of at least a century of theological and interdisciplinary scholarship, though virtually no inkling of this work received attention in the world of American Catholicism.
Second, this segment follows the instruction that the success or failure of worship reform would fall significantly upon priests. There is a timeline here that would prove to have significance for those of us alive and worshipping in the 1960’s, and for decades to come. In 1963 Sacrosanctum Concilium is signed by Pope Paul. Priests are instructed to become formally trained in the liturgy, also effective in December 1963. The first approved ritual for any sacrament, in this case the Eucharist, does not appear until 1970. What resulted was a seven-year (probably longer) period of learning on the fly, experimentation, and expressions of strong passions for and against the changes initiated by Sacrosanctum Concilium.
I had a front seat for this period. I lived in a major seminary where the Mass was celebrated daily by doctors of theology teaching and writing in the Washington hub of Catholic University and religious order seminaries. These men were at ease with the new rites, which were in circulation for local use and acclimation before the formal release of the Mass of Paul VI in 1970. They were also at ease with themselves, steeped in the underlying history and theology of the changes, and used to the pressure of public scrutiny. I cannot recall many major difficulties in my own major seminary regarding Sacrosanctum Concilium.
However, as a musician I always had weekend work. For five years, I was part of a combo that provided the folk music for the Saturday Vigil Mass at the church for Arlington National Cemetery (Fort Myer). Nothing phases the military, and the chaplain/officers I worked with over the years had Viet Nam War experience and were able to make the liturgical adaptations for base Catholics in a genteel fashion as befitted the atmosphere of that base. (I am grateful to those chaplains for five years of Saturday night dinners at the officers’ club, too.)
On the other extreme, I worked in two parishes during that time span—one in old downtown Alexandria, VA, and the other out near Andrews Air Force Base. In both cases I got more than a taste of liturgical upheaval. In Alexandria, my tenure coincided with the most intense years of the Viet Nam War protests, and once a protester did take my mike. In reply, a man’s voice from a pew rang out, “Go to hell, you commie bastard.” (The first PG-13 Mass, on my watch.) My impression of most of the celebrants I worked with during those two years was of men on the edge of nervous exhaustion. Alexandria was an interesting if bipolar placement: a highly-educated constituency demanding challenging preaching and faster liturgical implementation, coupled with the old Southern traditional resistance to change.
I suspect that books have been written about the sufferings and accounts of priests during the years immediately following the Council. It is hard to describe the adjustments they had to make. In 1960 a priest could be categorized as “fast” or “slow” in terms of the length of time he took in saying Mass. Today, the personality of the priest celebrant matters a great deal, perhaps too much. The new rites of 1970 required eye contact with the congregation, an engaging body language, greater attention to voice modulation, and maybe hardest of all, an engaging, imaginative, and thoughtful sermon every Sunday.
Put another way, the priest who for years devoted his Mass to rites of the altar and reverence of the Eucharist was now told, in Sacrosanctum Concilium, that his personality was key to the sacramental experience. The introvert priest, for example, would need become an actor. Some priests stopped saying Mass publicly; many more pushed manfully through the mother of all midlife crises. It would be interesting to know why so many priests left the priesthood after Vatican II. The common assumption is that most were liberal in terms of theological persuasion and left the priesthood (and sometimes the Church) to marry and/or engage in more innovative forms of Christian work. One should wonder, though, if at least some priests despaired of living up to their new sacramental identities.
I don’t want to leave a skewed memory of history. Many priests of my acquaintance welcomed the sacramental and disciplinary changes of the Council. For them, Vatican II vindicated what their pastoral hearts had been telling them for years. For several decades after the Council these priests attended countless summer school or institute programs for renewal of their seminary theology, particularly in the area of liturgy and worship. Through the 1980’s, the Diocese of Orlando where I worked would offer a very healthy continuing education stipend as part of its compensation package.
As early as the 1990’s discussion of the shortage of priests to teach in Catholic seminaries was appearing in public, even from the USCCB itself. Such a shortage would frustrate the directives of Section 15. One easy explanation is the declining number of U.S. priests, period. But beyond that, since the Council, large numbers of lay men and women have received advanced degrees in all branches of theology, including liturgy and worship. Many of the experts in Catholic theology today are lay, and this includes many women theologians. Rumor has it that there is an unwritten bias against accomplished Catholic women teaching seminarians; if true, this is symptomatic of the sexism and clericalism that infect the institutional Church to this day.
I looked up the liturgy courses available today to seminarians and others at our Florida regional seminary. I have listed the three I could identify by code:
THY 610 LITURGICAL THEOLOGY CREDIT HOURS 3: “The study of the liturgy from a theological, historical and anthropological dimension so as to give the student an appreciation of both divine revelation and mystery as expressed in the liturgy of the Roman Rite. This includes a familiarization with both historical documents and sociological contexts in light of current magisterial teaching on the sacred liturgy.”
PFS 700 LITURGICAL PRACTICUM I CREDIT HOUR 1: “An introduction to style of celebrating sacraments, respect for theology and directives contained within the ritual books: practicum for the Sacraments of Baptism and Marriage; an understanding of the ministries of lector and acolyte, practicum for the care of the sick and the dying, burial, Eucharistic devotions, and ritual of blessings. This class is scheduled to meet two hours per week, and is for one credit. Only seminarians may register for this course.” [Sic]
PFS800 LITURGICAL PRACTICUM II CREDIT HOURS 2: “This course provides lectures and practicum experiences to prepare the student for the liturgical roles proper to the priest. The course will explore the theology and directives contained within the liturgical books and will offer practicum experience in the seminary’s pastoral languages for the sacramental and liturgical responsibilities proper to the presbyter: the celebration of the Mass (including some of the special issues relating to RCIA and Holy Week) and the Sacraments of Anointing the Sick and Penance. Only seminarians may register for this course.” [Sic]
Compared to Sacrosanctum Concilium, rather thin gruel. Imagination, and women, need not apply