ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.
Yet it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realizing this unless the pastors themselves, in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it. A prime need, therefore, is that attention be directed, first of all, to the liturgical instruction of the clergy. Wherefore the sacred Council has decided to enact as follows: [Sections 15 and beyond to follow on successive Saturdays.]
There is enough material here for several books, for Section 14 embodies one of the most hotly contested doctrinal disputes of the post-Council era as well as the enormous religious and psychological toll upon many priests who, for all practical purposes, were instructed to reorient themselves to a new spirituality and a new personal style in celebrating daily Mass.
Theologically speaking, there is nothing askew in this text; the problems lie in the great distance that the Western Roman Church had drifted over the centuries from its early understandings of Baptism and Eucharist. As I have written in earlier posts here, the role of the faithful in the Tridentine Mass prior to 1970 was generally passive and, to put it crudely, unnecessary for valid celebration of the sacrament. Church Law of the time required a priest for the celebration of Mass but did not require a congregation, strange as that may seem today. An acolyte or altar boy was called upon to assist the priest and serve as “congregation,” but the absence of one did not invalidate the Mass.
The emphatic call for the “full and active” participation of the laity in the celebration of the Mass was a true paradigm shift. Looking back, it was too much too fast, and the third paragraph of today’s text concedes that the priests across the world were not prepared to lead the faithful through this process, as they themselves were trained in the Tridentine rubric and theology. Para. 15 [next week] will go into detail on the qualifications of seminary professors to teach liturgy, which suggests that the Church fathers anticipated some period of prolonged study and education. In fact, the Novus Ordo or New Rite of Paul VI went into legal effect five years after the Council, (1970) though I recall my seminaries and parishes experimenting with parts of the new Mass even while the Council was in session. In many—though not all—seminaries, professors of liturgy were already teaching the principles of section 14, and the scholarship behind the entire Constitution, through the 1960’s.
Since the Council restored the primary emphases on the participatory Mass, opposition to the “changes” has been strong and continues through this day. Thoughtful critics—cleric, lay, academic—worry that the new rite has changed the essence of the Mass from an expiatory offering for the sins of man to a kind of Christian sing-along. The early hymns (usually with guitar) produced for the new rite were written hastily and without artistic merit and theological propriety. Picture your sainted grandfather coming to church in the 1960’s to the period piece, “Here We Are,” a liturgical song we later came to call the “hymn to the obvious.” [We didn’t know that “Hear I Am, Lord” was a decade or two down the road.]
In the quiet of the Tridentine liturgical era many faithful Catholics had carved out a lifelong niche of following the Mass in quiet meditation, personal prayer, and an adoring stance toward the Eucharist; each Mass, after all, was offered facing the tabernacle on the high altar. Within a very brief time the altar was separated from the tabernacle, Latin morphed into English, and congregational interaction— “talking in Church”—was not just tolerated but legislated. The Kiss of Peace, restored in the Novus Ordo, came under particular fire. It is remarkable that many—apparently most—Catholics accepted the changes with at least moderate enthusiasm and good humor. I need to add a blunt opinion here: I have much more sympathy for those who genuinely miss the Tridentine Mass because they lived it and experienced it, than I do for newly ordained priests born three decades after Vatican II leading a present-day Restorationists Movement to reduce Catholic liturgy to a frozen moment in history—seventeenth century baroque, to be precise. This trend impresses me as an affectation without a spiritual/theological content.
The stresses over its implementation should not distract from the doctrinal integrity of para. 14 with its powerful statement on the identity of the faithful. In preparing to teach a spirituality course, I came across James Bacik’s Catholic Spirituality: Its History and Challenge (2002). Bacik makes a powerful point that Latin Western Roman Catholicism has lost its sense of the Holy Spirit to a more rational approach to anthropology and spirituality. The Eastern Church Fathers, by contrast, promoted a Trinitarian outlook which emphasizes the power of the Holy Spirit in defining the life of the believer—through Baptism and Confirmation. Worship, then, is the expression of the Spirit living in its members—we indeed celebrate Eucharist in the active voice as a manifestation of the Spirit within us.
The “turnaround” from the passive to the active in Roman Catholic worship has been uneven, overly simplified, and even aggressively resisted. For one thing, it would be wrong to assume that the Novus Ordo is the “correct formula” for all time, any more than the Mass of the Council of Trent proved to be. As future paragraphs of this Constitution will make clearer, the formative process has really only just taken off. The full liturgy of God will come to pass only when we acknowledge the stirrings of the Holy Spirit within us.
[I realize I did not address the difficulties of priests during the years after Vatican II, as I said I would. I will incorporate that into next Saturday’s post.]
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
13. Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they are ordered by the Apostolic See.
Devotions proper to individual Churches also have a special dignity if they are undertaken by mandate of the bishops according to customs or books lawfully approved.
But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them.
It is hard to imagine today, but Paragraph 13 was both a radical departure in Church practice and a source of considerable contention in local parishes. I have not addressed the issue of “popular devotions” or “private devotions” as a blog post so far, and I am not familiar with devotional customs outside of the United States, so I will confine the discussion to American experience. However, there is an excellent commentary on para. 13, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2001, Congregation for Divine Worship) which provides a rich and surprisingly easy-to-read treatment of the history and role of prayer and piety outside of the Liturgy.
Prior to the Council the Liturgy or Mass was a cerebral event. It is true that traditionalists speak of the glories of the Tridentine Mass I grew up with, but what they recall is either the occasional solemn high Mass—in my church celebrated at 10:30 AM on Sundays with the choir—or the reflective silence of the typical Latin Mass. The “typical” Mass most likely had no music of any kind, contained no English, and was celebrated facing the altar/tabernacle. On Sunday, the Gospel might be repeated in English, but it is a strange quirk that Church law in those times defined the mortal sin of missing Sunday Mass as failure to be in attendance by the beginning of the Offertory. Put another way, missing the Liturgy of the Word (then termed the “Mass of the Catechumens”) was reckoned venially sinful.
The Liturgy of the Council of Trent, the “Latin Mass” of recent memory, had the advantage of ritual and doctrinal purity, but as a compelling affective experience it usually left much to be desired. Not surprisingly faithful Catholics turned to compelling prayers and quasi-rituals for affective engagement and enrichment of their faith. The most popular, in the best sense of that word, were devotions to the Virgin Mary that we continue to this day, notably the rosary and the Angelus. Perhaps because of the austerity of the Tridentine Mass, the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries saw the development of new devotions, often associated with a miraculous appearance. The most famous of this era is probably devotion to the Sacred Heart, sparked by a series of revelations to St. Margaret Mary in the late seventeenth century. One aspect of this devotion became the practice of receiving communion on nine successive first Fridays in reparation for the sins of mankind. Another type of popular local devotion involved saints, particularly in the regions where the saint may have brought the faith originally or successfully preached it. Think Ireland.
The above cited Vatican 2001 document calls attention to Protestant attacks upon Catholic doctrine and practices, and the response of the Church faithful to such attacks. It is probably no accident that much of the post-Reformation devotional life coincided with outside attacks against belief in Real Presence and the importance of the Virgin Mary. The document itself also admits to the increasingly “cerebral” nature of Church life and the inevitable development of popular religious movements and practices. Personally, I feel that, given the poor state of religious education today in the United States, we are drifting into that kind of division again.
The popes of the twentieth century recognized two serious problems. The first was the existence of a kind of two-track Catholic life, between personal devotion and the official Church calendar and ritual. Most personal devotions are not time-bound, having no direct relation to the Liturgical Year. The Mass might be a requirement, but it was becoming more tangential or disjointed from the inner life of the faithful, particularly considering that reception of the Eucharist was rare until well into the twentieth century and the teachings of Pius X. On the other hand, popes understood the Mass itself, as then celebrated, left much to be desired for the Catholic heart. Pius XII wrote in 1947, “those are worthy of praise who, inspired by the purpose of enabling the Christian people to take part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice more easily and fruitfully, properly try to place the Roman Missal in the hands of the people, so that the faithful, joined with the priest, may pray together [silently] with the same words as his, and with the same sentiments as those of the Church.” (Mediator Dei) I quoted this from the daily missal I used in the late 1950’s. But very few people purchased daily missals; the books were expensive for the times and no parish of my acquaintance provided any type of worship aid or hymnal.
Not surprisingly, people took to praying the rosary or litanies from prayer books brought from home. Most, from my memory, brought nothing but sat blankly, either in profound meditation or what a seminary professor once described as “the martini hour of the mind.” I don’t say this in total sarcasm, as after Vatican II I celebrated an immensely popular 10:15 PM weekly Sunday Mass in today’s rite for college students; the Mass was conducted primarily in candle light and gentle instrumental music played throughout. The feedback we constantly received was that the students profited from the hour “to get their heads together.”
The Mass of Pope Paul VI we observe today was reformed to engage the total person: Scripturally, vocally, aesthetically, visually, etc., to engage the head and the heart. In Rudolf Bultmann’s memorable phrase, for example, the role of preaching is to rouse a congregation to stand as one and declare anew its original baptismal faith. Bultmann was Lutheran by profession, and perhaps his twentieth century take on the potential driving faith of public worship may seem strange to Catholic ears, but in fact we do say (but not proclaim) the Nicene Creed immediately after the homily. One would need to do considerable digging, but I suspect that in the minutes of Vatican II deliberations or committee work one would find expressed the hope that the Liturgy of the Eucharist would capture the timelessness of ritual with the human need for catharsis or engaging and purging the human spirit like an ancient Greek drama.
Para. 13, in its final sentence, speaks of a hopeful harmony between popular devotion and the Church’s official liturgy. What is not said here—though it is correctly assumed—is that popular devotion should incorporate Sacred Scripture to a greater degree than in the past. Pope John Paul II provided an excellent example of this principle in his addition of the Luminous Mysteries--Gospel scenes from Jesus' ministry--to the ritual of the rosary. Similarly, the Church has encouraged the use of the Liturgy of the Hours by Catholics. But, as I noted earlier, if the goal is greater integration with the liturgical seasons, has there been a resurgence or a renaissance of personal piety in that direction? (Put more bluntly, are many people aware of the pulse of the liturgical calendar, or its Gospel of St. Matthew?)
I look back on one devotion of my youth, reading The Imitation of Christ after communion, as a truly affective personal experience. Today, decades later, I recognize the book’s limitations as signature literature of the Via Moderna movement of the 1400’s. As age creeps along, truthfully, the Mass seems more like its predecessor: poor music, vanilla preaching, mind-numbing sameness regardless of the liturgical season. Moving personal devotions and exercises are harder to come by, too. From this seat, if para. 13 was intended as a marriage of the head and the heart, the first kiss is still a ways off.
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
12. The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren, but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father, in secret ; yet more, according to the teaching of the Apostle, he should pray without ceasing . We learn from the same Apostle that we must always bear about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodily frame . This is why we ask the Lord in the sacrifice of the Mass that, "receiving the offering of the spiritual victim," he may fashion us for himself "as an eternal gift" .
Throughout my lifetime, I have heard the phrase “one hour a week” applied to religious observance. In my childhood when I complained that Mass was boring, my mother would say something to the effect of “Jesus Christ hung on the cross for three hours for your sins, so can’t you just sacrifice one hour for Him?” This is probably not what Church theologians had in mind when they coined the phrase “the sacrifice of the Mass” but then as now the term is not without multiple meanings. Thus, I had to smile at reading the opening sentence of Paragraph 12, the Council’s way of addressing the “hour a week” attitude toward worship.
The metaphor of the hourly worship carries meaning in American culture. Civil Rights philosophers speak of the Sunday worship meeting as “the most segregated hour in America.” In catechetics it is common to hear a contrast drawn between what someone does for an hour on Sunday and what he does for the rest of the week. The nefarious Irish mobster Doyle Lonergan (portrayed masterfully by Robert Shaw) was an honored Knight of Columbus when Robert Redford and Paul Newman brought him down for his sins in The Sting. In the broader sense, the stereotype of an individual who compartmentalizes life to an hour of devotion in an otherwise relentless search of this kingdom’s riches is not an empty metaphor.
Paragraph 12 highlights the importance of a full life of prayer and divine mindfulness, one that is not limited to the sacred hour, so to speak. There is an important implication here for Catholic morality as well, but Sacrosanctum Concilium limits the discussion here to public and private worship. I let off some steam last time around about the difficulty for Catholics to participate in the Mass when its actions are described in obscure language and the worshipper is left scratching his head; “what is it I’m supposed to be doing at Mass, and how do I do it?” Para. 12 carries the same drawbacks in its language describing prayer outside of Mass, which the Constitution states is where we should be doing most of our praying.
I flipped through my own parish’s bulletin, and there are no shortages of prayer-related resources, ranging from a posting of this week’s daily Scripture readings from the Mass to Eucharistic adoration to meetings of spiritual groups such as one locally inspired by the Carmelites. I am particularly happy to see clustering of laity around the various religious orders and movements of history—Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, Benedictine, etc.—which with proper guidance provide a daily spirituality of prayer, a way of religious thought or philosophy, and emphases on distinguishing lifestyle. Structure is a key to a prayerful life. (Per the infallible Facebook religious order screening posted by Mr. Zuckerberg a few years back, I am best suited toward Dominican spirituality, with its emphasis on study, contemplation, and writing—surprisingly close, to tell you the truth.)
Even with the background I enjoyed in religious life and ministry, prayer is still difficult for me, but I would be lost without the modest personal spirituality I have cobbled together over the years, thanks to a very patient God. Para. 12 draws a line between praying “with…brethren” and praying alone to God in secret. It speaks of such personal prayer as “without ceasing,” or to put it another way, a divine preoccupation. While the term “what would Jesus do?” is grossly overworked, it is a good barometer of whether one’s disposition is prayerful. Is the existence of God and the presence of Jesus of significance in all decisions I make?
I am interpreting the paragraph as advocating both social and private prayer outside of Mass. I know of businesses that begin with early morning Bible study and reflection, for example. But the most important “social prayer” outside the Mass is the family, particularly involving the spouses. Any catechism or teaching aid will speak of the values of family prayer, but not so many address the agenda of how a husband and wife pray with each other. My wife and I both progressed through religious formation programs as young postulants, so the use of the “breviary” or Liturgy of the Hours—in our case, Morning Prayer—comes rather naturally for us, nowadays laid out so easily on our Ipads. But I wonder at how hard it must be for couples without the background to establish an adult prayer rhythm that is both structured and spontaneously honest. Pastorally there is very little discussion of this in homilies or more importantly, in both general catechetics and adult education.
The matter of “prayer in secret” is more complex than it is stated here. In my own case, praying to the Father has come to mean facing my own doubts that there is a Father. Paradoxically, this kind of doubt is often the product of immersion in Scripture and the things of religion, as both St. Teresa of Avila and Mother Teresa attested in their writings. About seven years ago, I made it my spiritual (and professional) project to study each book of the Bible, using an academic commentary for each book like the commentary on St. Matthew by Dr. France that we use in Tuesday’s posts. This has been an intensely powerful experience for me—but it has had the effect of impressing upon me the shallowness of my lifelong interpretations of the Sacred Word.
One work encountered along the way was F. Charles Fensham’s The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, intriguing works about the returning Jews from the Babylonian Captivity and their struggles to rebuild the physical and the ritual Jerusalem. A deep split festered between those who were exiles and those few who had remained and intermarried with captors. In the reform of Jerusalem (post 539 B.C.) there was considerable pain—physical copies of the Law were lost and found, and in the harsh light of a puritanical backlash many families were broken up in the name of ethic/religious purity. (See my reaction here.)
I have a healthy fear of Scripture, and sometimes it all seems too much for me. And so, I wonder about the good-hearted who have been exhorted to take the Bible into their hands, to lose themselves in its narratives. Who will guide them to a Dr. Fensham, for example, and more importantly, who will mentor them into understanding a massive history in their intense prayer over God’s word?