ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
20. Transmissions of the sacred rites by radio and television shall be done with discretion and dignity, under the leadership and direction of a suitable person appointed for this office by the bishops. This is especially important when the service to be broadcast is the Mass.
There are 130 paragraphs in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and many of major importance to each of us in the Church. Para. 20 is not one of them. The most noteworthy points in this segment are more matters for Canon Law, that the radiocast/telecast be undertaken with the approval of an appropriate officer of the Chancery, and that the production be done reverently. This is as close to a “mom, flag, and apple pie declaration” as the Church ever makes. Such directives were in force long before Vatican II, and the Council itself would promulgate on the same day as Sacrosanctum Concilium “The Decree on the Means of Social Communications,” December 4, 1963.
“Social Communications” [SC] was such a poor document that even its English translator, Austin Flannery, O.P., devotes two lengthy footnotes to the translating problems involved. Flannery is too much the gentleman to say this, but the general dissatisfaction with this document is the text’s attempt to disseminate Catholic traditional scholastic scholarship in cinema, television, radio, and the newspapers. Para. 4 of SC sums up its agenda neatly: “If the media are to be correctly employed, it is essential that all who use them know the principles of the moral order and apply them faithfully in this domain.”
SC reflects not only the language of a 1920’s Curia, but the mindset as well. SC presupposes a power the Church does not have, to control the content of media—from films to newspapers—by clarifying the moral teachings of the Church. One wonders how the New York Times, CBS, or Warner Brothers would have reacted, had the document received much press. The progressive fathers and theologians understood correctly that SC was a Curial attempt to control “spin” on future Conciliar documents and Vatican statements, and a sizeable number of participants and even U.S. Catholic press outlets including Commonweal (national), Catholic Reporter (Kansas City), and the Boston Pilot united to critique that SC was “not an aggiornamento but a step backward….[and] reflects a hopelessly abstract view of the relationship of the Church and modern culture It deals with a press that exists only in textbooks and is unrecognizable to us.” (Xavier Rynne, p. 249) Rynne, reporting at the time, observes that the document passed a Council vote to clear the decks for more important matters and because of a general sense that the document “would be enforced loosely, if at all.”
That said, there is one interesting recommendation in SC that deserves consideration today: the promulgation of a Catholic press by dioceses (where such did not exist) or individuals. What the curial advocates of SC could not have imagined was the development of an independent Catholic media from the right (Triumph, Twin Circles, National Catholic Register, EWTN), the left (National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, Orbis Books), and the center (America and other predominantly religious order journals.) To carry forward into another generation of Catholic media, I used my Bing search engine to find “Catholic blog sites” and arrived at 26,500,000 entries this morning.
The subject of the internet as “Wild West Country” in the theological wars of the Church is the gist of many good future entries here, but I need to return to the text of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the manner of celebrating sacraments on television and radio. Given that my own diocese streams its Chrism Mass every Holy Week, I guess it is safe to include live internet streaming into television considerations. The USCCB has an exhaustive set of guidelines for televised Masses for your research library here, updated in 2014. I will comment on several key recommendations.
It is understood that watching Mass on TV is not the norm for full participation. Televised Masses—which date back to the TV boom after World War II—have been understood as a means of providing connectedness to the community liturgy for the sick, the aged, the infirm, and those in special circumstances. My mother, for example, watches Masses from EWTN and the Diocese of Buffalo, and receives the eucharist from a lay minister of her parish church on Sunday (my brother-in-law, as it turns out.) I have to include a funny anecdote here. When I was home a few years ago I happened to visit my mother as she was following the daily noon Mass on TV in Buffalo. Since I had celebrated Mass myself on TV some years back, she asked me an “insider’s” question: why does the celebrant always fuss with his handkerchief just before he gives himself communion? I had to laugh, because many years ago I had one of those ancient microphones with the on-off switch on the belt time. I explained that a priest cuts his mike so his chewing doesn’t go out over the sound system—or in this case, all Western New York. The straight dope.
The USCCB’s preference is for the televising of a live congregational Mass broadcast in real time. Thus, the home participant is engaged with a live celebration of the sacrament and celebrates the feast of the liturgical calendar. Theologically this is the most appropriate way to televise a Mass, but it presents a host of practical problems for celebrant and technicians alike. Not all churches are built for television—some are too dark. Then, there is a time constraint of, say, 57 minutes or thereabouts. TV is a tight medium. Moreover, with the elimination of the community service rules by the FCC, televising religious services on Sunday morning is more expensive because churches now must buy the time.
The Catholic response to this new challenge is the USCCB’s second option, taping a live congregational Mass for rebroadcast later in the same day. If you check your own diocese’s TV Mass listings, you may find that Mass is spread out over the entire Sunday depending upon the cable carrier, available time slots, and commercial rates.
The least desired option permitted by the USCCB is the pre-recorded Mass taped for viewing on Sunday. I offered my diocese’s TV Mass from time to time dating back to the late 1970’s and the 1980’s, and the taping was done on Tuesday nights at WESH in Daytona Beach, in the weather studio. I taped two Masses (for two successive Sundays) back to back, with my guitar music group of teens in attendance and their parents watching from a control room. I have the impression this may still be the custom in many dioceses, though I notice in parish bulletins that the times of EWTN’s congregational Sunday (and daily) Masses are often posted.
The format I worked under left much to be desired. Our taping time—determined by the station—was 27 minutes, sermon included. Of necessity, the Mass was pared down—in my worst days my sermons could easily run 27 minutes in my own parish. And television can be unforgiving. On one occasion, using a host from the diocese’s Mass kit at the station, I was unaware of how stale the bread was. As I broke the host over the chalice at the appropriate time in the Mass, it shattered into countless pieces. I survived somehow with quick thinking, but I never got to see the tape—I was saying Mass in my own parish when my television tape was rolling out over channel 2. I was consoled to learn later that the TV ratings for the diocesan Mass had us in second place, just behind “Josie and the Pussy Cats.”
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.
Blessings to all on this Holy Saturday. The Easter Vigil begins tonight after sunset in most churches. See Tuesday's post earlier this week for information on the Gospel readings for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. There will be no formal posts today or tomorrow as my wife and I observe the vigil this evening and brunch with close friends on Easter Sunday Morning. All things being equal, our regular cycle of posts will resume Monday or Tuesday.
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
18. Priests, both secular and religious, who are already working in the Lord's vineyard are to be helped by every suitable means to understand ever more fully what it is that they are doing when they perform sacred rites; they are to be aided to live the liturgical life and to share it with the faithful entrusted to their care.
I have done considerable searching in recent years to find historical narratives or statistical research on American parish life, and specifically the priesthood, in the years during and after the Council. Section 18 of Sacrosanctum Concilium summarizes in a very few words the immense pressures facing priests, who were faced with the double whammy of coming to grips personally and intellectually with the new theological emphases of the Council and serving as conduit and support for the people in the pews. Thus, while section 18 indicates that “every suitable means” was to be put to the service of priests, several factors considerably neutered the term—some circumstantial, some accidental, and some of longstanding.
The circumstances of SC itself—its timing and implementation—led to priestly overload. SC was the first of the Council’s sixteen documents to be promulgated, in 1963, and Pope Paul VI immediately established the Vatican office to begin drawing up the revised Latin rite of the Mass and providing for vernacular translations and establishing norms for music. Consequently the “changes in the Mass” as we used to say arrived to the Catholic public and its priests like bicycle parts mailed one month at a time. One of my most prized possessions is a 1968 hybrid Missal, an English text of the old Tridentine Mass and calendar. Its historical curiosities include the hymnal section; since Catholics were not accustomed to congregational singing, liturgists went to the best source available, mainstream Protestant hymnals, for pieces like “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
Normally a bishop maintains oversight and uniformity of rites in his diocese. But consider that the bishops themselves were in Rome for four months of 1964 and 1965, after the changes in the Mass were authorized in SC. And, truth be told, many American bishops were not prepared for the scholarship they encountered at the Council; my own home bishop, as legend has it, went to the Council with ideas for better retrieval of the tiny crumbs that fell to the altar at the breaking of the consecrated host. He was also the first bishop to die during the Council. Historians are in general agreement that the contributions of U.S. bishops to the discussions on the floor were minimal, as most were practical pastoral men who were not current with theological research. Nor were they fluent in Latin, the language of discussion.
It is fair to say that a typical American bishop was preoccupied with the business of Vatican II itself during the four years of the Council, and in many cases, would be digesting the thrust of the Council themselves. This set of circumstances takes us back to the original question: Quis custodes custodiet, or “who will shepherd the shepherds?” The answer varies widely across the priestly population. In no particular order, I will give my own eccentric breakdown.
In the first instance, I would venture a guess that priests in academia—particularly religious order priests—found the new atmosphere to be energizing, without the anxiety that plagued other clergy. I am a little biased here, as my experience of these years was living with doctoral theologians, some of them published. Their research took nearly all of them overseas and brought them into intimate contact with churches, universities, and theologians particularly in Europe. For the priests I lived with, new efforts on behalf of ecumenism or freedom of conscience, for example, were not only untroubling but long overdue. Religious order priests also had the advantage of international membership and less vulnerability to local bishops or disgruntled
The next instance would be the self-motivated priest who read widely, possibly traveled, and availed himself of works on various aspects of theology such as Scripture or Morality. He may have read Bernard Haring’s The Law of Christ or The Council: Reform and Reunion, written a few years before Vatican II by a young Swiss theologian, Hans Kung. Kung’s projection of possibilities was widely read by such priests as Thomas Merton and Pope John XXIII himself; perceptive readers, certainly priests among them, took him seriously enough. The Curia took him seriously enough to open a file on young Father Kung. A well-informed priest may have subscribed to Commonweal as well as the more in-house Homiletic and Pastoral Review.
The third group would be reasonably happy parish priests who, whatever the personal opinions, understood their critical roles as catechetical leaders for the Church and mustered enthusiasm to study the Council and its changes and introduce them to their congregations with sensitivity, background, and thoughtfulness.
The fourth group consisted of priests who, in good conscience, believed the New Mass or Novus Ordo of Pope Paul VI was doctrinally deficient or woefully off the mark vis-à-vis the Mass of Pius V from the Council of Trent (the Latin Mass rite at the opening of the 1962 Council.) I know of some priests who discontinued offering public Masses after the Council. A few went into schism or separation from Rome. I think that some precision should have been made by SC or its immediate follow-up to address the conscience crisis suffered by these priests and the laity who were similarly distressed. Fortunately, Rome has shown greater understanding of this population in recent decades.
The final group is priests for whom the era of change in the 1960’s was psychologically devastating to the point of near incapacitation. Again, in looking for hard data here, a telling indicator of the health of the clergy in 1962 became known in the 2004 John Jay Study on the nature and study of minors abused by priests. The Jay study found that almost 70% of the abusive priests were ordained before 1970, after attending pre-Vatican II seminaries or seminaries that had had little time to adapt to the reforms of Vatican II.” Specifically, the Jay study is calling attention to the poor screening of candidates for the priesthood in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
If the Jay study is correct, and it has not been refuted in thirteen years, many men were ordained with developmental or psychological impairments. Only the tiniest percentage of these abused minors, of course, but a fair number were holding themselves together with the predictability of church life, alcohol, eating, gambling, prescription medications, or some other means. As une event psychologique as the French would say, a priest’s life during Vatican II was turned upside down, and for some, it proved to be the last straw.
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
17. In seminaries and houses of religious, clerics shall be given a liturgical formation in their spiritual life. For this they will need proper direction, so that they may be able to understand the sacred rites and take part in them wholeheartedly; and they will also need personally to celebrate the sacred mysteries, as well as popular devotions which are imbued with the spirit of the liturgy. In addition, they must learn how to observe the liturgical laws, so that life in seminaries and houses of religious may be thoroughly influenced by the spirit of the liturgy.
Looking back 54 years since this Constitution was promulgated, Section 17 would seem like stating the obvious, i.e., that a candidate for the priesthood ought to know how to say Mass. But in fact, this text is directed toward two populations: students in diocesan seminaries or religious order houses of formation (my case, with the Franciscans), and those who were already priests who needed an orientation to the theological understanding of the new Mass and other sacraments, and who had to learn an entirely different set of rites with new emphases.
It is hard to overstate the difference between the rite of the Mass before Vatican II and the Mass of Pope Paul VI (1970) that we celebrate today. It occurred to me this morning that YouTube might have a good film or taping of the Tridentine Mass, or “the old Latin Mass” as folks of my generation are wont to say. Indeed, I did find an excellent quality link to the celebration of a Tridentine Mass, evidently taped recently in a parish where the local bishop permits the Tridentine rite. This video reflects the Mass exactly as I would have served it as a fifth grader in 1958—we servers had to learn a bucket of Latin as the tape shows. In reliving that experience I noted that it is not until several moments into the tape that the camera pans to the congregation—it is a visual shock to see that there is one, as the Tridentine rite does not incorporate actual congregational involvement aside from approaching the altar for holy communion. If you have a little time, I suggest you view at least some of the tape, for it will help explain why the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has been the source of dispute and controversy that continues to this day.
A seminarian prior to Vatican II would certainly have received a significant spiritual formation to his future priesthood. He was a candidate for a sacrament that by definition set him apart from other people (a priest was and is defined as “ontologically changed” or “changed in his being”). One cannot be “un-ordained” any more than one can be unbaptized. I can still hear a dying person’s confession despite my laicization. The reason for this radical shift in identity is the function of the priest, who at the moment of the consecration of the Mass becomes an alter Christus or “another Christ” when he says “This is my body.”
This sacramental understanding of the priesthood, defined at the Council of Trent, was at the heart of priestly training until well into the twentieth century, and the present Code of Canon Law (1983) still embodies this understanding of priesthood. To understand this theology of priesthood is to understand the Church’s teaching on priestly celibacy, for example, as a man who is consecrated as an alter Christus must be virginally pure, his heart focused on Christ and the higher things. The Tridentine rite Mass, in its rites, vestments, and even architecture, is arranged to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the man who is empowered sacramentally to bring this about.
It is a remarkable vision of the Mass and the Eucharist—and strangely enough, it was the first matter of business of Vatican II to reexamine the theology and rites of the Tridentine way. In his excellent What Happened at Vatican II (2008, pp. 129-141) John O’Malley describes how Sacrosanctum Concilium was written. While the committee work was contentious, there was one matter that troubled nearly all its participants—the absence of participation by the general faithful at Mass, their right by Baptism. This worry over the Tridentine rite was not new to Vatican II; O’Malley outlines the concerns of popes dating back to Pius X and the reforms of Pius XII (r. 1939-1958) concerning Holy Week, evening Masses, and the advocacy of the use of congregational missals, among other things.
SC did not undo or change the central role of the priest in the Eucharist, but it emphasized the proper communal nature of the Eucharistic celebration itself as the central event of Church life, the “source and summit” as we teach today. And in doing so, SC created a moment of significant reorientation for every ordained priest—an opportunity long-welcomed my many but virtually devastating to others. Section 18 [next week’s entry] addresses the personal circumstances of ordained priests, but I can say now from my own experience that the Council, while doing what needed to be done theologically, did not adequately understand or address in its documents the realities of the transitions it was calling for. In one respect Sections 17-19 [the nineteenth dealing with formation of the laity] resemble the dogmatic style of previous councils with emphasis upon the procedural and the legal without much thought to the pastoral and practical.
Sacrosanctum Concilium might have been better accepted and more influential today had it considered the “rollout phase” more directly. Section 17 makes clear that, in terms of theology and personal spirituality, the reforms of the liturgy would have profound consequences calling for significant preparation. And yet, as I was reminded by O’Malley’s text, the first temporary drafts of a vernacular Mass were available for wholesale use on the First Sunday in Advent, 1964, while the Council was still in progress and would be for another year. The rationale for such changes would have been available to an educated American Catholic public only through the reports of our chatty friend Xavier Rynne to New Yorker Magazine or eventually by secular observers for the New York Times. Diocesan papers were limited to what their bishops could officially make public in terms of rubrics and directives.
Later in SC the document will speak of the role of bishops in the teaching and explanation of the Council to the priests and faithful of their dioceses. Ironically, the directives of SC were coming into use while the world’s bishops were away from home, at the Council, particularly at the time of the introduction of Mass in the vernacular. SC is one of the “big four” documents of the Council, and its impact upon every Catholic is immense. But, alas, “opening night” did not come off without its hitches.
A regular reader informed me, good-naturedly, that I have a tendency on this stream (and others) to “leave you hanging.” In my good-natured defense, I call it “leaving you hungry for more” and I encourage you to run ahead as the spirit moves you. This is why I use the links to books, and in our present stream I highly recommend the O’Malley text for a full picture of what I have only lightly covered here; it is available instantly on Kindle for $9.00 at last check, as well in as other formats. I added a link today to the entire SC document as well.