ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
56. The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship. Accordingly, this sacred Synod strongly urges pastors of souls that, when instructing the faithful, they insistently teach them to take their part in the entire Mass, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation.
It struck me today that we are into the second year of the Sacrosanctum Concilium or Saturday Sacraments stream here at the Café, and there is about one more year to go. This post and next Saturday’s are the final two on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. From there the document takes us to the other sacraments, the sacramentals, the Liturgy of the Hours, sacred music, and a number of other topics you may find fascinating. There are 130 paragraphs in the entire Constitution, and this link will take you to the full text of Sacrosanctum Concilium if you want to browse ahead to the remaining 74 items, some of which are not directly applicable to parish life and which I will pass over.
Those in my generation [70+] have experienced the liturgical reform in significantly different ways from those who were born into the Church after 1960 or thereabouts. My formative years, up through my mid-teens, were spent worshipping in the Latin Tridentine Rite. Vatican II concluded in 1965 when I was 17, and life in the seminary and many local parishes and schools gave me an excellent seat to both observe and assist in the process described in para. 56, most notably that pastors “insistently teach them [parishioners] to take their part in the entire Mass, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligations.” And, in approaching my golden years—though they sometimes feel more leaden—I see certain groups spending a great deal of time and money to restore the pre-Vatican II Mass, the Rite of Pope Pius V in 1570.
From the vantage point of the shuffleboard court, it strikes me that para. 56 attempts to do two things which no one realized might be so difficult. The first was to impart a sense of unity in the Mass which did not exist before. The missals and catechisms of my youth were careful to lay out the Mass in two distinct stages, “The Mass of the Catechumens” and the “Mass of the Faithful.” Even para. 56’s wording, “the two parts…” cannot escape the double-rite thinking. The “Catechumens’ Mass” corresponded to our Liturgy of the Word and gets its name from the ancient practice of allowing those preparing for baptism to be instructed during the Liturgy of the Word, given that the first half of the Mass was based upon the Bible only.
Catechumens were expected to leave before the Offertory when the Church got down to its serious business of consecrating and distributing the Body of Christ. The pre-Council Mass was weighted toward the Eucharistic elements, possibly at the expense of the Scripture. Subsequent directives on para. 56 attempted to unify the Mass, and architectural guidelines stated clearly that the ambo [the furniture bearing the Sacred Word, the pulpit] and the altar should dominate the visual scope of the sanctuary.
Vatican II in Sacrosanctum Concilium was proposing a change in basic assumptions for Catholics, that the Mass be understood as a celebration of Bible and Eucharistic meal. Catechisms even today still speak of the Mass as the sacrificial act of Calvary, and indeed this is true. But, like the two disciples on the Easter road to Emmaus, the ignominious death of Christ on the cross—the sacrifice which the Mass perpetuates—does not make sense until Jesus and his Church explain the entire Old Testament, as Luke 24:27 makes eminently clear. It is only after this exhaustive opening of the Scriptures that the two disciples recognize Jesus in the Eucharistic formula of the Mass, when he broke the bread for them and their eyes were opened.
There is, then, a preeminence of Word in the human sequence of time. We cannot worship the Savior in the Eucharistic bread unless we know him from revealed Scripture. I am presently reviewing Catholic Parishes of the Twenty-First Century (2017), an exhaustive study of American Catholic attitudes and practices. [It is available on Kindle as well as other formats.] In a survey of those who attend Mass and what they look for, the highest rated expectation was fellowship and warmth at 68%, a well-executed liturgical rite at 62%, a helpful homily at 60% and artistic surroundings. Far down the list, in the 30% range, do we find the kinds of things that make good liturgy possible: adult education and Scripture study. My own read on the numbers is that we approach liturgy to receive and be served, and less to engage in the work that makes this happen. The book’s chapter on Church finances adds credence to my opinion: the average Catholic household contributes 1.1% of income to the Church; this figure has enjoyed the constancy of pi for my entire adult life. The average of all other Christian households is 2.2%. Neither figure is stellar, and the permanence of the percentages suggests that many church goers are content with the performance-cost ratio.
What would rock the boat are the hard teachings of Scripture and clear-headed preaching, expounded in the Mass, parish and group adult formation, and perhaps most of all, an intimate relation between bible and reader. The reformers at the Council assumed a strong dynamic between Liturgy of Word and Liturgy of Eucharist. But even present-day Church architecture undermines the principles of para. 56; the newly consecrated $31 million cathedral in Knoxville, Tennessee, is designed as an elongated Eucharistic reservation structure, and not in an optimum way to celebrate the life-giving forces of both Word and Meal.
At least in the United States, there is still much work to do regarding the awakening of Catholics to the Word of God, and it will not be as easy as pi.