ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
30. To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.
Despite the multitude of directives which issued from Sacrosanctum Concilium, including our text today, the precise shape of the reform of the Mass is a long and controversial story, and its development is still waiting for the composition of an impartial history of eloquence. Debate over the content and style of the “new Mass” (technically, the 1970 Novus Order or new rite of Pope Paul VI) continues to this day. In fact, Pope Francis made news this week with his address to the Center for Liturgical Action in Italy, where he stated, after reviewing the past century’s work in the study of liturgy and the impetus of Sacrosanctum Concilium, “after this magisterial and long journey we can affirm that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”
There is considerable consternation among conservative Catholics and Traditionalists (those who worship exclusively in the Tridentine mode of Pope Pius V, thanks to a special permission of Pope Benedict XVI) that Pope Francis will rescind the permission of Pope Benedict. Pope Francis, in fact, has commented on several occasions about his puzzlement with young people who clamor for the Mass of Pius V without ever having known it. Even in the Vatican household, there is dissent about the Mass of Pope Paul. Robert Sarah, African Cardinal, and Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has publicly and frequently called for priests to celebrate Mass facing the East, ad orientem, which in effect would return the physical organization of churches to the pre-Conciliar era. He advocates the reception of the Eucharist in a kneeling posture and via the tongue.
Having grown up in the Tridentine era, I can only share my own experience that church worship was not the grandiose experience that some believe it to be. When I look at the Tridentine Mass on YouTube, it is always the solemn high Mass of a major feast or the high Mass of Sunday. Usually overlooked are the 95% of the Masses celebrated in thirty minutes in a foreign language; most weekday Masses were Requiem Masses or Masses for the dead. The Sacred Scriptures were proclaimed in English on Sundays only, and then after the Gospel had been sung in Latin. Most people said the rosary or prayed from personal books. I was so bored that I jumped at the chance to become an altar boy, where at least I could be a part of things.
Para. 30 establishes the principle that you did not need to be an altar boy “to be a part of things.” SC cites the many ways in which the faithful would potentially become physically and mentally involved in the celebration of the Eucharist: acclamations (before the Gospel, after the Consecration, etc.), responses, psalmody [e.g., responsorial psalm), antiphons and songs, actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. There is specific mention of reverent silence. Again, I can recall that some of my family and other adults resented these intrusions into “my Mass;” the biggest source of ire coming from the Kiss of Peace. After generations of being told to be silent in church, a fair number objected to an enforced social greeting at a time of preparation for reception of the Eucharist.
I would be the first to admit that I probably annoyed a lot of people in my years as a church musician and later as a young pastor in my efforts to meet the spirit of para. 30. What my generation took from Sacrosanctum Concilium was the importance of engaging the worshippers. For example, we worked to get everybody singing, even if this meant using simple guitar ditties with the shelf life of fresh milk. A good number of the liturgical excesses of that time—even the invitations to Protestants to share Catholic Eucharist—were excesses of inclusion. I was ordained barely two months when I was the celebrant for the Halloween weekend Masses on my college campus. Most of my congregation were students, but we had frequent visitors from town. To get everyone in the mood, I tossed out Halloween candy during the sermon. After Mass, a distraught woman came up to me: “I got hit with a Tootsie Roll pop!” Not my finest hour.
The Church has certainly simmered down liturgically, at least in the sense that the rubrics are generally followed. Unfortunately, the Mass of Paul VI in 2017 has about the same impact on me today as the Mass of Pius V in 1958, before I started serving. Everything screams status quo, and in truth I wonder if this is one (by no means the only) reason that Mass attendance has fallen over the years. Cheap music, poor visibility, vanilla sermons, too much ad libbing—the Church has drifted from the principles of Aristotle’s Poetics, the ancient textbook of tragic drama. Aristotle taught that every action in a play must relate directly to the climax of the plot, to that point where everyone’s emotions are washed out, catharsis. The common style of the Mass of Paul VI, more often than not, is the observance of individual parts to be completed from a check list. The overall sweep is lost.
I do not believe that it is necessary to return to the Tridentine mode to worship compellingly. I believe that Pope Francis is on the right track with his observations about our universal rite today: “Today, too, there’s much [work] to be done in this direction, by recovering the reasons for the decisions taken through the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial receptions and practices that disfigure it….it is not a matter of rethinking the reform by revisiting the choices [made] but of knowing better the underlying reasons, also through historical documentation, so as to interiorize the principles that inspired them and to observe the discipline that regulates [the reform]…Indeed, after this magisterial and long journey we can affirm that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”
Francis, then, has set his face for the future. The “reform of the reform” calls for a return to the Council’s reasons for effecting such a major change. I believe that a wholesome examination of the full nature of the Mass—particularly its unity of action by all—will allow conservative and progressive alike to experience the Mass of Paul VI that, to paraphrase Aristotle, will affect a profound wholistic cleansing of the human spirit.
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
29. Servers, lectors, commentators, and members of the choir also exercise a genuine liturgical function. They ought, therefore, to discharge their office with the sincere piety and decorum demanded by so exalted a ministry and rightly expected of them by God's people.
Consequently, they must all be deeply imbued with the spirit of the liturgy, each in his own measure, and they must be trained to perform their functions in a correct and orderly manner.
While this directive from SC—54 years old at this writing—might seem like stating the obvious, it is important to remember the context in which it appears, the age of the Mass of Pope Pius V, not the Mass of Pope Paul VI in which most contemporary adult Catholics were born and raised. While the Tridentine Latin Mass provided for multiple ministries, all of them were formalized under the aegis of the Sacrament of Orders, all were restricted to males, and all required formal installation by a bishop. Prior to the Vatican II reforms, the Church recognized seven “orders” to the priesthood: Porter, Reader, Exorcist, Acolyte, Sub-deacon, Deacon, and Priest. The first four were collectively termed “Minor Orders” and the last three “Major Orders.”
A young man entering a major seminary in the 1950’s would be received into these ranks successively in his formative years, along with and beginning with tonsure, the ritual of the cutting of one’s hair upon entrance into the clerical state. Some of the minor orders, by the twentieth century, were more symbolic than practical. Porters were the official guardians of the place of worship; in medieval times, this order included responsibility for the ritual ringing of the bells calling people to the Mass or to recitation of the Angelus. [Any Buffalo readers? The little rock and roll station WNIA in Cheektowaga played the recitation of the Angelus at 6 AM, Noon, and 6 PM, the customary universal times.] While an order of exorcism was conferred upon seminarians, permission for its use was not normally extended to a priest in his lifetime.
The minor orders of lector and acolyte have survived, though in revised form, in today’s reformed instructions. A lector prior to 1970 was conferred the power to read the Scripture at Mass and other rites, though not the Gospel, which was and still remains the provenance of a deacon. Recall, though, that the pre-Vatican II Mass was entirely in Latin and there was no formal “proclamation” of readings as we have today. The order of acolyte involved service at the altar during Mass, which in some circumstances could include the distribution of Holy Communion. In the United States and elsewhere, the order of acolyte morphed into the role assumed by vested young boys, our “altar boys.”
In 1972 Pope Paul VI revised the ranks of orders and renamed them “ministries.” He suppressed tonsure, porter, exorcist, and sub deacon. Today the formalized ministries of worship are acolyte and lector, and of the Sacrament of Orders, deacon, presbyter/priest, and bishop. Men in major seminaries are installed as lectors and acolytes on their progression to major orders.
Two other factors to keep in mind are the revision of the Missal itself in 1970 and the Council’s principle of lay involvement in worship wherever possible. For example, the “new Mass” features proclamation of the Scripture in the vernacular, and there are more Scripture readings in the Mass than before. The reformed rite allows for communion under both species for the laity, necessitating a larger number to distribute communion. The introduction of the laity into positions of ministry within the Mass is something we have grown accustomed to over the past 50 years, but in Church law the lay person who proclaims the first reading or distributes the Eucharist is a stand-in for a duly commissioned male, one formally designated by the bishop to undertake this ministry.
Some of you may remember the fuss created several decades ago at the introduction of “altar girls.” Opposition took several forms, but the main cause of disagreement seemed to be that in wearing altar servers’ garb, the girls were standing in as surrogates for male candidates for the priesthood, and in doing so represented the first subtle step toward women priests. A few bishops in the U.S. have a males-only policy about their young servers, their argument being that serving Mass encourages young men to consider a priestly vocation.
As it reads, however, para. 29 seems intended as a directive to the laity, since the inclusion of “choirs” and “commentators” brings into play clearly non-clerical liturgical functions. The paragraph states that they “exercise a legitimate liturgical function,” thus diminishing the attitude that they serve only as stand-ins for clerically installed males, and that they are personages of leadership whose piety and decorum is to be seen and imitated by all the faithful.
The document goes on to say that those exercising these ministries should be directed in personal spiritual development, educated in the full understanding of liturgy, and trained in their respective rubric. My own diocese, as probably most others, offers regular training for those new to the ministry. Candidates for these public ministries should be carefully vetted as living an exemplary Catholic life; they are not recruited and installed simply because “we need more people.” In the case of lectors, a skill set of public presentation is a sine qua non. All liturgical ministers should be drawn into the practice of praying the liturgical hours of the Church, such as morning prayer and evening prayer, and common spiritual resources made available on a regular basis such as Bible study, retreats, etc.
There are some liturgical ministries where training is chronically deficient. Liturgical music is a case in point. It seems to me that music directors are often hired on the grounds of their own musical expertise and enthusiasm— “get ‘em to sing.” Few music directors seem familiar with the principles of liturgical music as laid out in Church documents and academic liturgical institutions of higher learning. Consequently, in much of this country we have developed an unfortunate adherence to the “four hymn sandwich” model, as liturgists joke. Actually, the Missal calls for antiphonal singing of assigned Psalms which, aside from the responsorial psalm, we rarely do. Choirs exist to enhance congregational singing, not as entertaining entities unto themselves for our applause and adulation.
You might be confused by the inclusion of the ministry of “commentator.” I researched this rather exhaustively, and I found three definitions: (1) in the days of introduction to the new liturgy of Pope Paul VI, a trained layman introduced the changes and what the congregation was to do; the position is now obsolete; (2) in certain liturgies, such as Holy Week, a commentator may assist with instructions on such matters as how to venerate the cross on Good Friday, though many sources say that such directive should come from the celebrant; (3) a commentator reads those portions of the Mass which are non-biblical, such as the Prayer of the Faithful and the announcements. I am not familiar with this interpretation, though I found this link to Assumption Parish in Granger, Iowa, to be quite interesting. In my home parish, the lector for the second reading also reads the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful; this is what I usually see on the road as well.