The beginnings of the reform of the Catholic Sacraments that many of us have experienced in our lifetime dates back to at least a century before Vatican II. In the mid-1800’s one could say that the sacramental rites—most notably the Mass but all seven of the rituals—were written and celebrated correctly but emotionlessly. The Roman Missal of 1570 had been prompted by both a desire for unity and rebuttal of Protestant claims. Although some Catholics speak of the timelessness of the 1570 Latin rite, in fact the Mass I grew up with was a late Renaissance, baroque ritual that remained fixed while culture, knowledge, and general religious life changed with the passing centuries.
Catholics who would have been most attuned to the need for a reexamination of Catholic sacraments were the ones closest to the daily rites, specifically monks, who daily celebrated Mass, followed the official calendar, and prayed the Breviary or the multiple hours of psalm-prayers. The breviary itself (now called “The Liturgy of the Hours”) was the center of clerical and religious prayer life, and for all practical purposes served as an eighth sacrament in vowed life.
Dating as far back as Benedict in the sixth century, a daily portion of a monk’s life was devoted to study. This included the copying of the great books of Church antiquity. [By the way, if you are planning a trip to EPCOT at the Orlando Disneyworld park, you will see an animated exhibit of monks copying texts in the Dark Ages on the Spaceship Earth ride.] Joseph Martos in Doors to the Sacred (see home page) writes that in the nineteenth century monks turned to intensive study of the Eucharist in order to celebrate the sacrament more fruitfully. (p. 116) This trend picked up steam both in monasteries and universities by 1900. Among those at the cutting edge of the movement were historians who traced the development of the 1570 Mass of Pius V. What they discovered were a wide range of both rites and underlying theologies of sacraments dating back to Apostolic times.
Among the greatest names in the modern era of liturgical studies was one such quiet and unassuming monk, Odo Casel (1886-1948). His life, thoughts, and writings on the sacraments are so rich and complex that on tomorrow’s (Sunday’s) post I will link to a remarkable biographical piece by the Catholic Canon Lawyer Dr. Edmund Peters of the Catholic Seminary in Detroit, Sacred Heart. For our purposes today I will borrow lavishly from Father Martos, who explains that Casel’s historical study of the sacraments took him back to the ancient Greek Fathers of the Church. For Greek churchmen, sacraments were referred to as mysteries, rites in which the saving activity of the risen Christ became present to those who participated in them. For Casel, this Eastern tendency placed more emphasis upon the experiential participation in the Christian mysteries rather than a reverent attention to the rituals. (Martos, p. 117) Casel never denied the Western Roman Church discipline of correct observance, but he and others agreed that correctness was the lowest common denominator of sacramental Church unity.
It did not hurt the efforts of liturgical reform that Catholic study of the Scriptures was coming into full bloom. Prior to 1943 Catholic scholars were not permitted to collaborate with Protestant biblical scholars or to employ the tools of the craft that mainstream Protestant scholars had employed as early as the 1800’s. Finally, in 1943 Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, gave Catholic scholars much more latitude in Biblical study. A simple example of a biblical advance will demonstrate how Pius XII’s instruction would benefit the worship pf the Catholic Church down the road.
Three of the four Gospels—St. John is the exception—identify Jesus’ last supper with his disciples as a Passover meal, a memorial of the deliverance of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, thus freeing them to proceed toward the revelation of the Law and the possession of the sacred land of Israel. Study of Jewish history and the Hebrew Scriptures allowed modern scholars to understand the full definition of the term “memorial,” which is much more powerful than the traditional English (or Latin) suggests. Biblically speaking, a memorial is making the past come into the present. When Jews celebrate Passover, they are not commemorating the 3000th anniversary of an event long ago. Rather, they are experiencing the first Passover in the present moment—time itself becomes a sacrament of profound experience.
The Church has always spoken of the Mass as a reenactment of Calvary, but the liturgical reform, coupled with scriptural insight, has put new emphasis upon Christ’s command to eat the sacramental meal “in my memory” or “in remembrance of me.” While the Church doctrine of Real Presence remained unchanged, Odo Casel and generations who followed emphasized the need for personal and communal experience of the saving event. A static ritual of sacrament did not do justice to either the words of Scripture themselves or the teachings of the Church Fathers. It was from this generation of reformers that the importance of “participation” in every sense of the word was gradually restored to sacramental celebration. Such changes did not occur overnight, nor did a number of Church leaders agree with this direction in sacramental theology, as our old friend Xavier Rynne reminded us in his reporting of the debates of Vatican II on the subject of liturgy.
I am not unaware that many Catholic observers and bloggers blame the “changes” in the Mass and other sacraments for a dramatic decline in church attendance and decline in vocations. For the moment I have two immediate responses. First, having lived through the firestorm of liturgical change as a seminarian, young priest pastor, and church musician, I would admit that many of us embraced liturgical change without fully understanding the spadework that had gone before. In the seminary, for example, we never read Odo Casel, or the other scholars who would have provided us with a depth and a caution that we rarely practiced.
On the other hand, a return to the Tridentine Mass of Pius V runs the risk of canonizing a time piece, a baroque one at that. Formularies of 1570 or 2016 are both ineffectual without a profound sense of the saving work of Jesus Christ captured in the fullness of our humanity, mind and emotions. Sunday’s post, a biography of Odo Casel, may better flesh out the kind of faith and understanding needed in every age, to a degree much better than I can express today.
I honestly could not remember where we were in our historical narrative of Catholic Sacraments here on Saturdays. I had to go back and look, and I discovered that early this month we did talk about the “Roman Missal” of Pope Pius V after the Council of Trent, which concluded in 1563. Pius V’s Mass is the one that Catholic old timers still remember as the “Latin Mass,” and it endured until the late 1960’s. Similarly, there was a post in August about the generic Protestant stance toward sacraments, but as one might expect, there are so many divisions among Protestant Christians that speaking of any aspect of Protestant life and worship becomes too complicated for us to do a decent job of it here.
The Mass of Pope Pius V was the singular ritual for the Eucharistic sacrament for four hundred years. It is very surprising, then, that even before Vatican II was called into session in 1962, there was considerable pressure and expectation that the Mass would be reformed—most notably, that it would be celebrated in the language of the population, the vernacular—but the entire list of desired changes was lengthy and exhaustive. Underlying a call for changes in the Mass was a sweeping renewal of sacramental theology, a return to the practices of the ancient Church and the writings of the Church Fathers. It does come as a surprise to many Catholics that such studies were well underway by 1900, and that liturgical theology, along with Scripture study, were perhaps the two most thriving, academically speaking, of all the sacred sciences when Vatican II did its work from 1962 through 1965.
I am indebted to Doors of the Sacred (2014), which I highly recommend, for much of the historical data regarding the studies of the sacraments in the twentieth century. The rites and style of the Mass of Pius V were drawn from the late Renaissance period, and as DOS author Father Joseph Martos observes, the ritual was passed along untouched and largely ahistorical despite the massive changes in human history between 1600 and 1960. (p. 115ff) It would never have occurred to me when I made my first communion in 1956 that the Mass was celebrated in any fashion different from what Jesus had done at the Last Supper. It is interesting that the historical optic of my youth, the Last Supper of DaVinci, was in fact quite different from the 1956 Mass celebrated by Monsignor Schreckenberger on the East Side of Buffalo when little Tommy here labored to make his first communion correctly. I was too busy following the correct reception etiquette—e.g., do not chew the host—to be concerned about historical dissonance.
As it turned out, though, 1956 was pretty late in the game. By that late date even popes were pondering the results of the past century or more of scholarship. The ritual of the Mass of Pius V was not drawn from any specific document of Scripture or early Church Father, although this would not be general knowledge. The earliest non-Biblical document to address the Eucharistic celebration, the Didache, is in fact remarkably sparse on details. Something to remember about the Tridentine (i.e., post-Trent) Mass ritual of 1570 is that for its day it was a modern document, written in a language (Latin) that educated men and women of letters would use for the next several centuries. The overarching concerns of the composition of the 1570 rite were doctrinal correctness, particularly in matters dealing with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and Catholic unity in the face of what were now three major divisions within the European Protestant household.
It is common to read and hear the argument that the Mass of Pius V is the only true Mass today, that the present-day Mass of Pope Paul VI (1969) is at the least a grave mistake foisted by Vatican II; a few hold that the post-Vatican II Mass is even invalid. Pius V probably would not have gone this far regarding the rite he composed, as he did give permission to several dioceses and cities to keep their old rites if they were older than two-hundred years old. Again, the unchanging nature of the Tridentine Mass as we were instructed as youngsters derives from the desire to preserve the core of Catholic belief from Protestant assault or misunderstanding. In addition, theologians after Trent emphasized the principle of ex opere operato (“by the work of the work”) when speaking of sacraments in general. Specifically, the correctness of the sacramental rite—using the proper words, substances, and gestures—assured the validity or saving nature of the sacrament. The 1570 Mass rite became the official “work of the work” where the sacrament of the Eucharist was concerned.
There were pressures for changes in the 1570 rite when missionaries brought the faith to China and the Malabar Coast of India. Specifically, the Jesuits, who were both innovative and energetic, hoped to celebrate sacraments in some form of harmony with centuries-old customs of other cults, notably Buddhists. These requests were not granted, and in fact as the Church progressed into the nineteenth century some popes encouraged scholars to engage in research of the sacraments, notably from the thirteenth century writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, who in 1879 was singled out by Pope Leo XIII as the official philosopher/theologian of the Church, most notably in seminaries and the training of priests. The hope appears to have been the buttressing of Catholic belief and practices against the trends of what we would call the Modern West.
As Joseph Martos observes, this resurgence into the works and times of St. Thomas led Church scholars into both areas of Aquinas’s thought that were more complex than first believed, and then into the entire medieval world of thought, which again in matters of theology proved to be much more complex than accepted at that time. Scholars began to examine the early Eastern Christian writings on sacraments, which placed much more emphasis upon experience and less upon legal precision.
Some popes were dismayed by what scholars and churchmen were discovering. Others were not, and next Saturday we will try to focus on the twentieth century renewal of theological thinking regarding sacraments, which in many cases turned out to be very ancient as well.
Because of scheduling difficulties, I was unable to post on Thursday or Friday. So the next installment of the Catechism analysis is posted here today as well as at last Thursday's site. Sorry for the inconvenience.
56 After the unity of the human race was shattered by sin God at once sought to save humanity part by part. The covenant with Noah after the flood gives expression to the principle of the divine economy toward the "nations", in other words, towards men grouped "in their lands, each with [its] own language, by their families, in their nations".9
Having established the consequences of Adam’s fall and God’s earliest works of saving redemption, the Catechism progresses its exposition of God’s saving work, and here the emphasis is upon the long and multi-faceted nature of Redemption, as God works to save “part by part.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary 1990 points out an important truth about the early Genesis texts, which the Adam and Eve and the Noah narratives partly comprise. Genesis Chapters 1-11 focus upon the nations of the earth; Chapter 12 begins the story of God’s relationship with one special nation, Israel; Chapter 12 introduces Abraham and the patriarchs.
Since the advent of modern biblical scholarship in the nineteenth century, the historicity of Genesis 1-11 has been severely questioned for multiple reasons. The theory of my training emphasized the philosophical nature of these texts. The creators and authors of these popular stories were attempting to answer very basic questions about human life (as the nature of sin and suffering in the Adam and Eve account) or about the pervasiveness of sin (Noah) or the disunity of the human species (the Tower of Babel). Noah is of particular interest to us today, cited as it is in para. 56.
The Noah Story is lengthy, beginning long before the deluge and concluding long after it. After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, the couple begins to populate the earth. Some of their offspring were decent enough, while many others were violent and ruthless, most famously Cain. This post-Adam period, in the Genesis narrative, lasted hundreds of years, long enough for God to regret that he had ever created the human species. (Genesis 6: 5-6) It is here that God decides to rid the world of sinful man, “all life on earth.” (6:13) Noah is cited as a “good man and blameless in that age, for he walked with God….” (6:9-10) Noah and his kin will be spared, and thus proceeds the building of the Ark.
In my lifetime a number of famous persons have sought to find the Ark, notably the Apollo astronaut and moon-explorer James Irwin. (Irwin suffered a heart attack during his moon mission in 1971.) Irwin, like many Christians, believed in a literal reading of the Bible on matters of creation. However, there are a number of similar stories to the Ark found in other surviving early religious texts. Back in the 1970’s we studied the exploits of Akk Utnapishtim, a famous parallel figure to Noah in Babylonian tales, though in looking at the material available today I see that other ancient flood stories and rescues are more numerous and available today than in the 1970’s.
This should not disturb faith in the Bible, since the intent of the editors of Genesis appears to be theological, not meteorological. The Noah narrative demonstrates the great disappointment of God with the general wickedness of the human race, moving the Lord to the drastic step of killing off the species and then rebuilding from the seed of another good man, Noah, the “second Adam” if you will. When the flood subsides, God gives him and his family a covenant or contract that is remarkably similar to the one put forward by God at the very opening of Genesis.
Many catechists end their treatments of the Noah narrative at this juncture, but in fact the story continues as Noah establishes a vineyard and proceeds to get severely drunk from the first fermentation of the grapes. He passes out naked in his tent. His son Ham, identified in the text as the future father of the Canaanites, laughs at his father’s nakedness and gathers his brothers to enjoy the spectacle. The older brothers are aghast at this sin against their father’s dignity and rush to cover him. Noah, having eventually recovered himself, curses his young son and the race he would father. What we have, then, is lasting proof that as long as there are humans there will be sin, and the revelation of salvation, renewal of the covenant, will need to occur over and over, as in fact it does throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
Para. 56, by invoking the Noah narrative, illustrates that God’s will to save extends backward to the beginning of humanity, and the use of the word “humanity” in the first sentence is deliberate. So too is the intriguing phrase “part by part.” Genesis’ description of the multiplication of peoples and tongues after the flood sets the table for the beginning of true history as we know it, Genesis 12 and the designation of Israel as God’s chosen people from among all of the tribes and nations that dotted the known world. God will, of course, reveal his love and his law to Israel for two millennia.
God’s plan for salvation, known technically as the “economy of salvation,” was the development of Israel as the holy nation, the famous “city on a hill” to which all the nations of the world would stream. Para. 56 underscores the unity of God’s saving intent for all of humanity through the holiness of Israel. Next week’s entry will continue to explore the pre-Abraham state of man, notably in the episode of the Tower of Babel.