ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain  . Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.
I should confess that today’s post went through several drafts before its final posting—and you may wish it had gone through a few more. Paragraph 11 can be read several different ways. One might argue that the text states the obvious about the need for proper disposition and preparation in the celebration of sacraments. I have no argument with the principle.
That said, there is an abundance of directive for the laity; the only directive here for “pastors of souls” is to make sure the laity have done their homework, so to speak. I am pleased to say that para. 14 will adjust this imbalance by addressing clerical responsibilities at some length, but para. 11 still leaves the impression that responsibility for access to God’s grace rests solely with the efforts of the faithful.
In truth, the role of the laity was only vaguely defined prior to Vatican II, and remains so after this writing. I found a statement from Pope Pius X from the introduction of a 1961 daily missal: “If you wish to hear [sic] Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, ear, and mouth all that happens at the Altar. Further, you must pray with the Priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the hold with the holy feeling which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens on the Altar. When acting in this way you have prayed Holy Mass.”
Pius X used the popular phrase of the time “hear Mass” in describing the liturgy; he stressed a mental sort of association between faithful and priest; he urged the laity to “follow with the eye, heart, and ear.” This was an optimistic directive given that Mass was celebrated with the priest facing the altar, not the congregation; the language was Latin; except in high Masses the words of the priest were not acclaimed to be audible in any language. Oral participation was limited to the altar boys trained in Latin. Again, one is left with the impression that lay participation is more thoughtful than anything else, particularly considering the church architecture of the time—which is still problematic in many places today. If participation at Mass is officially viewed as a private mental exercise, seeing the altar and the rituals was ultimately inconsequential to valid attendance at Mass.
At the time of Pius X’s teaching—and continuing into Vatican II—the catechetics of the time defined sacraments as “outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace.” The sign element in the 1900’s celebration of Mass was probably more obscure than earlier in the Church’s history, as in Henry VIII’s day when popular belief held that gazing upon the elevation of a newly consecrated host at Mass guaranteed that the attendees would not die on that day. Henry VIII always attended Mass before hunts. Both Pius X and Pius XII recognized to varying degrees that the rite of the Mass in use before Vatican II—the Roman Missal of the Council of Trent around 1570—had many deficiencies. Pius X called for more frequent reception of holy communion; Pius XII encouraged the use of a daily missal in the local language to improve understanding and participation. The daily missal—which I started using in the third or fourth grade—was a great help to me, but very few people used them; they were not available in church pews.
Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963) and many other conciliar documents call for a return to full participation of the faithful and the clearest expression of the sacramental signs. We saw in para. 7 a few weeks back, “In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy, the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.” The rites were thus renewed accordingly, with the Eucharist among the first and Penance among the last. But para. 11 muddies the waters some with its insistence that the faithful must be “saved before they are saved,” so to speak. There is slight mention of saving grace—the undeserved saving mercy of God; the idea that one receives this grace “in vain” has me scratching my head.
The hope of the Church fathers at the Council was a renewal of sacramental rites that would make them both self-explanatory and humanly stimulating. Have you attended the baptism of a child at a parish Mass where the officiating priest explains each step of the rite before he undertakes it? If there is a need for detailed celebration, the action has stopped serving as a self-explanatory sign and turned into a classroom. Para. 11, in talking about this problem, speaks of the pastor’s role of making sure that the faithful take part fully aware of what “they” [the faithful] are doing.
Certainly, another of the hopes of the Council was that better celebration of sacramental rites would not just retain the present-day Catholics of the 1960’s but energize the base toward more outreach and bring more souls to the Eucharistic banquet. Many have argued that the “new Mass” did the opposite and drove some Catholics into the arms of traditionalist or schismatic folds. I do not hold that position: I celebrate the liturgical renewal and believe that it staunched a faster decline in membership for a time.
Where I think the problem lies is in a failure of the Church to understand that the Mass is a celebration of the Holy Spirit, not a testimony to institutional loyalty and structure. So much of the legislation since the Council has been devoted to “correctness;” para. 11 itself makes mention of the “laws governing valid and licit celebration.” Research does exist (one example here) about how Catholics feel about their parish experiences, and among the most frequently cited concerns involve liturgy are preaching and church music, two areas where the faithful have little recourse but to vote with their feet.
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
10. Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time, it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.
The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with "the paschal sacraments," to be "one in holiness" ; it prays that "they may hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith" ; the renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way.
Paragraph 10 of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy contains the famous phrase that still appears in every church bulletin and religious educational endeavor: with some local variations, it appears as “the Sacred Liturgy is the source and the summit of all life in the Church.” The only phrase I can think of from the Council that rivals this one is the wording from Gaudium et Spes that “marriage is both unitive and procreative.” In the case of the Liturgy, the immediate consideration is whether the pronouncement in the first paragraph is a fact or a hope.
At moments like this I sorely miss one of the majestic commentaries of the Council proceedings, the five-volume 1967 work edited by Herbert Vorgrimler. I thought this would be a helpful addition to our Saturday stream, but I discovered this morning that a new set—when you can find one--runs to $2000. This work was such a staple of seminary libraries in my school days that I shudder to think how many volumes ended up in dumpsters or obscure book stores for $9.98. However, there is advantage to allowing historians to do their work and sleuthing down all the private meeting minutes, etc. About twenty years ago, Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph A. Komonchak edited a five-volume study of the Council, which runs to about $400 in Amazon Prime currency. George Weigel, Pope John Paul II’s official biographer, has an excellent review here of Volume III, which includes discussion of our posted document on the Sacred Liturgy. Weigel also complained that the work was too expensive.
Weigel has an interesting phrase about the Council, the tendency of historians to describe the four-year conclave as “the cowboys against the Indians,” in this case the liberal academicians of Europe and friendly bishops versus the Vatican conservatives, headed by our old friend Cardinal Ottaviani. I raise this point here because the issues surrounding liturgical reform have played out with considerable acrimony since the Council, and I would certainly love to know how the Council, in its working meetings and countless tête-à-têtes at the Bar Jonah, arrived at the formulation of the Liturgy in para. 10. If memory serves correctly, only four Council fathers voted against Sacrosanctum Concilium, but subsequent history does not support that level of unity.
As para. 10 reads, the Liturgy (I believe the editorial emphasis is upon the Sunday Eucharist) is the peak moment in Catholic life toward which our personal and communal existence is focused. The word “liturgy” can be traced to the Greek for “works” or “public works.” As I read the statement, the Church is teaching a focus or centering on the Eucharist of the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection, Sunday. Presumably the document will spell out an agenda of preparation—spiritual and practical. The second paragraph describes the benefits from which the liturgy is the source.
The interesting thing here is that the second paragraph could have come from Vatican I, or the Council of Trent, or back considerably further. Prior to Vatican II’s teaching, the Liturgy was certainly the source of all good graces. Every idiom or paradigm I can recall spoke of the Eucharist as something of a one-way process in which a duly ordained priest or bishop, “another Christ” in the context of the Mass, confects or makes possible the divine presence in the consecrated bread and wine. The presiding priest or bishop was a sine qua non. Without him there could be no Mass. The language of ownership at the time was revealing. Priests spoke of “my Mass” and the privilege of offering Mass daily was at the heart and soul of priestly identity.
Today, with many fewer priests, it is hard to fathom the circumstances of my own junior seminary, for example, where perhaps 25 priests resided and each offered his private Mass at one of a series of side altars along both walls. I believe we had ten or twelve altars in addition to the high altar. The “seminarians Mass” was offered at the high altar, but eight or ten other Masses might be taking place simultaneously in the same chapel, these side altar Masses being offered sotto voce or rather quietly.
There was certainly very little talk about “the summit,” or about what we as laymen (seminarians) were expected to do personally in terms of our preparation in the “summit and source” model, which did not then exist. The clearest message to all Catholics was to seek confession of mortal sins if one wished to partake of holy communion. In fact, the seminary had a spiritual director who heard confessions seven days a week at 5:45 AM for any seminarian who wished to confess prior to the daily 6 AM Mass. (Father Eric just passed away two weeks ago, at age 93.)
Before the Council a layman attended Mass or heard Mass. Participation equaled a devoted silence. Vatican II, in Sacrosanctum Concilium, changed the thought paradigm about sacraments—notably the Eucharist—with a language that placed the Mass at the center of a dynamic process in which the preconditions of full celebration related directly to the faith, prayer, and life of the Church in which this Mass would now be “concelebrated.” The ideal paradigm of Eucharist was reworked into the ownership, so to speak, of the community of the faithful. The term “priesthood of the faithful” had always been given lip service in catechisms, but now the term carried more meat on the bones.
Vatican II never rescinded the essential role of the priest at Mass, but it certainly labored to make clear that the “other Christ” was actively presiding over a body of Baptized believers with essential roles that now belonged exclusively to them. Our practice of singing at Mass, responding to prayers, proclaiming the Creed and the Our Father, and exercising functions such as lectoring and distributing communion were either restored or instituted in SC. Many priests and many laymen found the Council’s teaching hard to absorb. A number of priests refused to celebrate Eucharist with other priests in what is commonly done today, the concelebrated Mass, and insisted upon saying daily private Masses till they died. I had a visitor to my church one day tell me that he only received communion from a priest. “I don’t receive from civilians!” [Lay Eucharistic Ministers]
Paragraph 10, with its language of inclusiveness and its new emphasis upon the work of the entire Church in the Eucharistic celebration, was a breakthrough in the Council, but one that Pope John XXIII, sadly, did not live to see promulgated universally, as he died earlier in 1963.
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
9. The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. Before men can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion: "How then are they to call upon him in whom they have not yet believed? But how are they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear if no one preaches? And how are men to preach unless they be sent?" (Rom. 10:14-15).
Therefore the Church announces the good tidings of salvation to those who do not believe, so that all men may know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and may be converted from their ways, doing penance . To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance, she must prepare them for the sacraments, teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded , and invite them to all the works of charity, piety, and the apostolate. For all these works make it clear that Christ's faithful, though not of this world, are to be the light of the world and to glorify the Father before men.
The sacraments or sacred liturgy are the summit of the Church’s worship, but they are not the exclusive work of the Church. A great deal of spadework goes into the participation of just one person at Mass, and this 1963 document goes to considerable pain to describe the Church’s responsibility in making the invitation. One of the considerable strengths of this paragraph is the inclusion of two missions. The first is the necessity of introducing Christ to those who have never heard of him, as laid out in the first paragraph. The second is the inclusion of “believers” to whom the need for Penance and reform much always be preached, as cited in paragraph two. In present day parlance among Catholics—as well as other faiths—today’s discussion might be better recognized as dealing with “evangelization.”
We are getting into the area of mission or “missiology,” that branch of theology which years ago, we would have identified as “making converts.” The art of mission has a long and what I would call bipolar history in Catholicism. Some of the most courageous saints and religious communities in our history are missionaries whose feasts we celebrate in our annual liturgical calendar. St. Paul, St. Patrick, St. Francis Xavier, and St. Isaac Jogues come immediately to mind. On the other hand, the forced conversions of Jews in Spain and indigenous peoples of the Americas point to an extreme of form over matter, which in turn reflected sacramental thinking of the time.
Two millennia of “convert making” reveal a remarkable diversity of forms in preaching the person of Jesus and the importance to new hearers. In some cases, the intellectual wisdom and piety of the Church captured the heart and mind of a man—St. Augustine’s conversion certainly fits this description from the fourth century, as well as England’s Blessed Cardinal Newman in the nineteenth. The Jesuit missionaries in India attempted to merge links between the Catholic Mass and native rites of India in the early seventeenth century, an episode known today as the Malabar Rites Controversy. You may be wondering how Vatican II treated of missionary work; in 1965 Pope Paul VI promulgated Ad Gentes (“to all the peoples”). The document is probably best remembered for its insistence that missionaries live among the peoples they seek to convert and model a community of what Christ’s people ought to look like.
At the time of Vatican II the mission of preaching the Gospel and engaging new peoples was more complex than ever before. In the first instance, the Church was no longer facing just a geographic challenge but a philosophical one as well. Christianity, in the post-Enlightenment era, was now one of many religious and philosophical “idea systems” in the world market place. This had not been true in say, 1300 or 1400, when missionary outreach was, as often as not, a matter of Catholics teaching unbelievers. A second issue faced at the Council was the relationship of missionary work and imperial colonization—major issues in the Americas and Africa, to be sure. A third consideration, ironically, was the output of the Council itself, which was on record as protecting human freedom of conscience and ecumenical ventures with other Christian Churches.
At the time of Vatican II the largest concentration of truly unchurched and/or underserved indigenous people was central and south America. In this part of the world the difference between the unknowing and the non-practicing was a medieval distinction. The absence of vibrant Catholicism south of the Rio Grande was considered so serious that Pope John XXIII directed United States bishops to assign 20% of their priests to Latin America. This mandate was not warmly received or enthusiastically implemented by bishops, naturally, but enough American priests did relocate south in the 1960’s to participate in the radical developments of the Church there, including a new evangelization linked to varying degrees with Liberation Theology.
The pursuit of Church growth at Vatican II was offset to considerable degree by the deteriorating circumstances in the cradle of Western Roman Catholicism, Europe. There were a great many reasons for this—two World Wars, clerical identification with the aristocracies, etc. The situation was particularly acute in France, where publications as early as 1943 were beginning to ask if the nation was a country in need of a new Church mission to reinitiate its citizenry. One hears American Catholic thinkers on the left and the right expressing similar concerns about the Church in the United States. In the early 1950’s a number of French priests left parish work—with approval of local bishops—to work as day laborers alongside alienated blue collar workers in an effort to draw them into closer communion with the Church.
This experiment lasted several years. Pope Pius XII suppressed the movement in the later 1950’s, apparently because the priests adopted the politics of their coworkers who were sympathetic to socialists and, in some cases, communists. It is interesting that in France, Latin America, and the American Civil Rights movement, clerics who evangelized in these circumstances drew remarkably similar conclusions about the need for reform of political structures and economic inequality.
Reading over para. 9 a second time, it is clear that the essence of preaching the Gospel to the unbaptized and the fallen-away is not the fact that it happens, but how it happens. Ad gentes is specific to this point, speaking of the respect a missionary must bear to his prospective converts, a willingness to listen, and the living example of what healthy churches really look like. (In Latin America, as many as 80,000 such “base communities developed by the early 1970’s.) Francis of Assisi sent his friars out in pairs to preach to the people, adding: “When necessary, use words.”