Deja Vu All Over
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.
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