ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
31. The revision of the liturgical books must carefully attend to the provision of rubrics also for the people's parts.
Those of you who have followed this Saturday stream on Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II declaration on the Sacred Liturgy, for thirty weeks now have probably come to notice that the authors of SC are capable of some inspiring and magnificent literary offerings in the process of mapping out future directives for the Church. Paragraph 31 is not one of those moments. Given that the previous paragraphs have emphasized the multiple ministerial roles in the Mass and the importance of congregational participation in word and action, one would naturally expect that the “liturgical books” would incorporate these directives, and that para. 31 states the obvious. However, in its stark housekeeping mode, para. 31 introduces us to a major challenge which began in the 1960’s and continues to this day.
Remember that in 1963, the year of SC’s promulgation, the only “liturgical book” of worship familiar to most Catholics—cleric and lay alike—would have been the Latin missal upon the altar—though each sacrament had its own official Latin rite book. The contents of the Latin Roman would have been foreign to a typical worshipper, though the “altar boy prayers” in Latin were actually the responses of the entire congregation. In reviewing Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei (1947) it is clear that the pope wished for greater spoken participation by those attending Mass. He wrote: “Therefore, they are to be praised who, with the idea of getting the Christian people to take part more easily and more fruitfully in the Mass, strive to make them familiar with the ‘Roman Missal,’ so that the faithful, united with the priest, may pray together in the very words and sentiments of the Church…when, for instance, the whole congregation, in accordance with the rules of the liturgy, either answer the priest in an orderly and fitting manner, or sing hymns suitable to the different parts of the Mass, or do both….” (para 105, Mediator Dei)
For whatever reasons, Pius’ wish did not become universal practice in the fifteen years between Mediator Dei and Vatican II. For want of more thorough analysis, I would say that throughout my youth the Tridentine Mass was celebrated in an atmosphere of “prayerful passivity.” Some Catholics—myself included—followed the Mass in an English translation, the “daily Missal.” (This was evidently more common in Europe.) But I can recall no effort on the part of my parish to put anything in our hands that might focus upon the Latin words or assist participation in the Latin rite.
Para. 31 seems to address two challenges at the same time: preparing a new ritual of the Mass and other sacraments in which congregational participation is essential, and then, by inference, providing the necessary resources to the faithful to fully exercise their roles in the Mass. Although the post-Council liturgical texts originated in Latin, bishops in each region of the world received permission to commission translations of the sacramental rites. Translations into English for the United States since the Council have been produced by ICEL or the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.
Again, this is my own impression, but the changes in the rites of the Mass were released piecemeal from the 1963 promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium to the final product of Pope Paul’s Missal, the Novus Ordo (new order). This elongated process created havoc for publishers attempting to provide provisional texts for clergy and particularly for the laity, who needed significant textual support for the first time in order to participate. And, in this process, the ideal of a unifying missal or common prayer book for the Mass for the faithful was lost, as publishers, at first from sheer editorial necessity and later from economics, began the practice of mass marketing “throw-away products.” By far the best example is the seasonal missalette.
Merriam-Webster estimates that the term “missalette” entered the English language in 1973. Slightly smaller than a comic book but materially of the same quality, the missalette contained about two months’ worth of Sunday readings and the ritual of the Mass itself with its various options (e.g., Eucharistic Prayers, Acclamations, etc.) The missalette was a tribute to American ingenuity and pragmatism. It was also an “anti-sacramental,” collecting the Word of God and the texts of the Eucharistic feast in a disposable format more suitable for the adventures of Superman or Spiderman.
Moreover, the disposable worship aid begat “disposable music.” In my own parish, where the lyrics of hymns and psalms are displayed on twin-jumbotrons, the median date of copyright for our music selections on any given Sunday is 2010 or later. Much of church music is produced in-house by the same companies that market the throw-away (or, nowadays, recycled) missalettes. It is cheaper than paying royalties for the traditional Catholic hymnody or for the few genuinely excellent English musical works produced after the Council. The downside of this approach is the flooding of parishes with mediocre to poor music (theologically and artistically) and eliminating the possibility of establishing a common Catholic anthology of song that can be passed from generation to generation. (Catechists, reflect upon this.)
We will see in later sections of Sacrosanctum Concilium that the Council had much to say about the artistic standards of sacramental celebration. But to the question of para. 31, does SC make a definitive statement about the need and type of liturgical books designed for the faithful? There are two things to keep in mind about this question. The first is that SC was composed as a statement of principles; Church fathers assumed that such questions would be worked out in a guided period of experimentation, research, and implementation. In practice, such questions as the ways and means of assisting the faithful to participate would be determined by the appropriate Vatican offices in communion with national conferences of bishops.
The second point, often forgotten, is that in 1963 the Council overall had no clear idea of what a renewed Mass rite would look like. For example, in para. 54, we read: “Steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (par. 54). Although we take for granted the use of the vernacular, the Council speaks of “extended use of the mother tongue.” It would be perfectly natural to assume that the voting bishops envisioned a form of the Tridentine Mass to which major adaptations would be made.
My guess is that the Council envisioned such practical questions as liturgical aids, if it considered them at all, as matters for future consideration when the new form of the Mass had taken shape. The Council had set forth its guiding principles for worship in 1963 and then moved on to other matters. In the years that followed, the tendency toward temporal texts like the missalette accelerated in the United States, though liturgical experts never endorsed the idea. It is possible to buy a leather-bound Missal today, and I see them in use occasionally in my church. Liturgical academic publications debate the appropriateness of their use; purists argue that the book comes between the participant and the sacramental action/sign. This is particularly an issue where the proclamation of Scripture is involved. On the other hand, the argument is made that we learn better through multiple senses, and SC is clear about the teaching element of sacraments. As more people prepare for Sunday Mass during the week at home, and this country is still groping around for liturgical music of permanence and elegance, the idea of a personal missal for Mass of Paul VI is not as far-fetched as it may seem.