ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
19. With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally, taking into account their age and condition, their way of life, and standard of religious culture. By so doing, pastors will be fulfilling one of the chief duties of a faithful dispenser of the mysteries of God; and in this matter they must lead their flock not only in word but also by example.
I looked back in my notes and discovered that it has been a few weeks since my last entry on Sacrosanctum Concilium, and I had to scroll down a bit to get my train of thought back. The past several paragraphs of SC have dealt with the process of introducing the new rites of the sacraments—most notably the Eucharist—to the clergy, and I discussed the strain upon the priests of the 1960’s. Priests in active ministry were the conduits to the general Catholic public of the teachings and ecclesiastical changes mandated by the Council. Again, in previous posts, we discussed the degrees of excitement or angst within the clergy about the workings of the Council.
Paragraph 19 seems like stating the obvious, a timeless statement applicable today, tomorrow, and yesterday. However, the historical “hidden agenda,” so to speak, is that in 1963 the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church was celebrating the Mass in the form composed by Pope Pius V after the Council of Trent (1545-1563), what those of my generation refer to as “the old Latin Mass.” When SC calls for pastors to “promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful,” it is actually (if unknowingly) asking its pastors to assist the faithful through the same considerable paradigm shift they themselves were processing.
It occurred to me over coffee cup #3 that maybe the best way to capture Catholic clerical culture is through literature, and since this is Sunday as I write, I am going to toss out three suggestions for possible leisure time enjoyment. A few years ago, I reviewed The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor, a 1961 novel, the story of a 1950’s pastor recovering from alcoholism as he tended to the families of his aging, inner-city parish. This is a work of psychological insight by an author who understood the priesthood. In 1963 J.F. Powers’ Morte D’Urban describes a 1950’s priest administrator with a foot in three worlds, actually: a traditional aging religious order, the pleasures of secular society, and a gnawing sense that the Church of the future will make his life obsolete.
There is one work I hesitate to recommend because anything Father Andrew Greeley writes is bound to make somebody mad. But in his autobiography Confessions of a Parish Priest (1987) Father Greeley does capture the turmoil of pastoral and institutional change about as well as I have seen to date. Father Greeley somehow found a reason to be in Rome during the Council (probably doing research), and in thumbing through my old copy I came across his assessment of why the transition after the Council was difficult and frenetic: …[I]t was essentially a theologians’ Council, a battle between the theologians and the Roman Curia with the bishops, not altogether realizing what they were doing, allying themselves with the theologians.” [p. 267] Later he wrote “Hardly had they come home from the Council when the bishops were busy trying to reassure everyone that nothing had changed. In fact, everything had changed.” [p. 269]
In fact, Sacrosanctum Concilium was the first Council document to be promulgated, and as Greeley again points out, the Council was received by the Church at large in two ways: the specific texts of the documents, and what many refer to as “the Spirit of Vatican II.” If CS was a taste of things to come, then many Catholics reasoned, “why wait for the paperwork?” Nowhere was this spirit of anticipation more in evidence than in regard to artificial birth control. There was general knowledge that even before the Council Pope John XXIII had established a commission to discuss the question and Pope Paul VI had expanded it. Many Catholic couples thus assumed that a change in the Church’s teaching was inevitable and proceeded accordingly.
Father Greeley was a professional sociologist by the time of Vatican II, and as much as anyone had a statistical finger on the pulse of American Catholics, and throughout the balance of the twentieth-century his studies indicated that the majority of U.S. Catholics favored the changes put forward by the Council. (Greeley’s last study, The Catholic Revolution, was completed just weeks before his career-ending auto mishap in 2005.) Such data would have been very helpful to 1960’s bishops, who feared that changes in the Mass, for example, would alienate whole portions of the Catholic populace. Thus, the majority of dioceses offered “halting” encouragement. The biggest complaint that I personally encountered in my work in D.C. was the abrupt introduction of changes with little or no catechesis. Vatican II reform enforced by Vatican I disciple at times. I happened to be providing music at a Sunday Mass in northern Virginia when a celebrant, after the Our Father, said to the congregation, “I don’t like this any more than you do, but we have to do it, so extend the sign of peace.”
Para. 19 called (and still does call) pastors of souls to promote liturgical catechetics and the active participation in the sacraments in both external and internal fashion. It is one thing to accept a new rite; another to embrace it internally for what it stood for. The same paragraph calls for serious consideration of the subjective sensitivities of the people. Having been told for generations that the Church is an unchanging institution and that its rites and rule date back to the Last Supper, Catholics underwent a culture shock in every aspect of their religious lives, even their favorite Bible stories.
Yesterday, during a workshop on sacraments, a catechist expressed to me that the study of history—both Church and secular—had brought him a better well-rounded view of the Christian life. Regrettably, the concept of institutional immutability reigned supreme during and after Vatican II for many priests and laity. More worrisome, I see no appreciable change in catechetical comprehension of the long-view big picture. Take your highlighter to paragraph 19.