ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
25. The liturgical books are to be revised as soon as possible; experts are to be employed on the task, and bishops are to be consulted, from various parts of the world.
I had dinner last week with one of our diocesan transitional deacons; he will complete his final year of theology starting this fall and then enter the priesthood next spring. He will be a fine addition to the presbyterate, a future priest who is spiritual and thoughtful. We compared seminary experiences. He told me that his seminary employs technology in the training of sacramental execution. He and his peers are videotaped as they practice sermons and sacramental rituals; there is evidently a doll used in practice of the administration of Baptism which has been “baptized” over a thousand times in his seminary.
I didn’t want to scandalize our guest, but I had to confess that, prior to my own ordination, I had no courses on “how to say Mass.” I had a number of excellent courses in Sacramental Theology—the internationally renowned Regis Duffy was a favorite professor of mine, but we never had a “practicum.” During the summer of 1974 at St. Bonaventure University where I was director of liturgical music for the summer school, two close friends—a friar and a Sister of Mercy working toward advanced degrees--spent an hour with me just a few weeks before ordination as I did a walk-through. I learned by “doing,” but I was not alone in that.
My deacon guest was surprised at my lack of rubrical preparation, but then he recalled hearing and reading some of the historical problems immediately after Vatican II in terms of the state of the liturgy. “We heard that back then [after the Council and before the 1970 reformed Missal] priests used to say Mass from binders, and every week or so they received another insert as soon as it was written.” That is a fairly close rendition of what happened; in fact, the new rite for the Sacrament of Penance was not implemented until after my ordination.
Paragraph 25 suffers from an unfortunate contradiction: it calls for the liturgical books, such as the Mass Missal, to be revised as soon as possible. It also calls for the best theological minds from both academia and bishops from around the world to become intimately involved in the process. In other words, complete an exquisitely delicate and professional revamping of the central rites of the Church—a project not attempted in five centuries, since the Council of Trent—and get it done as soon as possible. The result of para. 25 was an inordinate amount of haste and an inordinate lack of reflection which probably harmed the renewal process in several ways and put priests and laity through a period of constant turmoil. [What kind of “reflection,” you ask? See this analysis of the Kiss of Peace, “A Kiss Is Never Just a Kiss,” written in 1995, and not in 1965, alas.]
I have written a lot about the emotional stress on Catholics during that period, but not quite so much about the finished product, which is essentially our present-day celebration of sacraments. It is probably fair to say that the order of the Mass, for example, might have benefited from more time in its arrangement and clearer catechesis at a number of points. I can think of a few off the top of my head: (1) greater thought on the communal nature of the Mass, i.e., how we interact with each other such that our faith makes Christ present in actual experience. The post-Vatican II buzzword “participation” was not fully developed; in practice, local churches took it to mean more congregational singing and drinking from the cup, in tandem with the Roman guidelines regarding the observance of the Kiss of Peace among the faithful.
The communal nature of the Mass would have been greatly enhanced if the authors of the new Missal had (2) addressed the heart of Church architecture. As it is now—with some notable exceptions—the Mass of Vatican II is celebrated in the structures of the Council of Trent of the sixteenth century, templates of the old Roman Churches that in turn reflect pagan worship, since Constantine bequeathed the Roman worship spaces to the Church in the fourth century. Sacraments, as signs, need to be seen by all the faithful, including the seven-year-old boy in pew #21. Given that Rome did not address the actual mortar and brick question until some ways down the road, local churches built and/or renovated from the 1960’s either took the leap into circular buildings or, more commonly, fell back to the template of familiarity, the rectangular box with the tabernacle at the front. When my own church’s renovation is complete next year, the boys and girls of pew 5 and beyond will be condemned to another generation of visual exclusion.
First impressions of the new rite of worship were not only important; they also set templates for procedures to follow. A very good example of this is Church music, (3) another area where philosophical guidance on renewal was slow in coming—or just ignored, a very common circumstance in the United States—was the role and form of music in the liturgy. There was not much congregational singing at Mass prior to the Council. It was not required; parishes usually employed choirs in lofts to sing the parts of the Mass, the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei as well as assigned psalms of entrance (the Introit), the response to the Epistle (the Gradual), the offering of gifts, and the reception of communion.
As Vatican II progressed, the first word on the streets, so to speak, was the primacy of “participation.” The easiest way to foster participation, to “get the folks at Mass involved,” proved to be music. Moreover, the composition and direction of music was a golden first opportunity for the laity to “own” the process of renewal, since there was a vacuum at the time of congregational music available. As I look back myself, I recall that our first congregational organ hymns were often Lutheran, such as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” But what old timers remember—and even millennials have heard about—was the advent of the guitar Mass or the “folk Mass.” For a decade or two, “folk Masses” were avant garde or cutting edge.
As the old comedian Jimmy Durante used to say in his routines, “Everybody’s gotta get into the act.” And in American Catholicism, they did. It was the golden age of amateurism. I taught myself to play an old World War II guitar my father gave me, and then nagged my religious superior to cough up $200 for a Martin 12-string, which I played passably, enough to receive many invitations to parishes, convents, schools, etc. For five years a group of us played for the Saturday Vigil Mass at Arlington Cemetery’s military church.
Prior to Vatican II there were no Catholic guitar hymnals, at least not until Dennis Fitzpatrick appeared on the scene. Fitzpatrick is to church folk music what Brian Epstein was to the Beatles, an individual who saw an opportunity. He sized up the market for innovative guitar music and began to collect the independent composers of music, such as Ray Repp and Gary Ault, and formed the Apple Corporation of Vatican II early liturgy, Friends of the English Liturgy, or more commonly, F.E.L. Publications. The first printed hymnal for guitar Masses, The Hymnal for Young Christians, appeared in the mid-1960’s. Given the grassroots origins, the guitar songs reflected the pop culture of the times—Peter, Paul, and Mary stand out in my mind. Today, my generation looks back on the era with amusement, nostalgia, or dismay. None of the products of that time have enjoyed survival in today’s pastoral scene. There were two unfortunate side effects of the guitar era: the parishes subconsciously absorbed the idea that mediocrity and amateurism were the new norms, and that Mass singing equaled song singing, which led to the “four hymn sandwich” you probably employ in your own parish. (Entrance, Offertory, Communion, Closing.) The early composers and publishers were not theologians, nor were they even officers of the Church. Very little of the immediate post-Council music reflected theological and historical principles regarding music and liturgy.
In summary, para. 25 tried to square the circle of urgency versus depth, and we are still paying the price for that. In a few cases, that price could be steep. I have included a portion of a circuit court’s 1990 ruling involving the Friends of the English Liturgy and the unfortunate Dennis Fitzpatrick:
Operating under the aegis of F.E.L. Publications, Ltd., Fitzpatrick was a successful publisher of religious music for Roman Catholic liturgies. In fact, Fitzpatrick was so successful that, with little regard for the copyright laws, religious groups often copied his music. Some of these groups were controlled by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, which soon found itself on the wrong end of a September 1976 lawsuit by F.E.L. Publications for copyright infringement. At the same time, F.E.L. Publications sent letters to all other Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States threatening litigation for copyright infringement.
In October 1976, Monsignor Brackin, the Vicar General of the Chicago archdiocese, sent two letters to institutions within his jurisdiction. These letters mentioned the pending litigation and asked that all use of F.E.L. materials cease immediately. Monsignor Brackin also requested that all F.E.L. materials be turned over to archdiocesan officials. In response to inquiries from other Roman Catholic clergy, Monsignor Brackin mailed copies of these letters to all dioceses in the United States. Monsignor Brackin's mailings are at the heart of this lawsuit.
After Monsignor Brackin sent his letters, F.E.L. experienced a sharp decline in sales whereas other publishers of liturgical music gained market share. Today, F.E.L. is no longer in business. Consequently, added a tortious interference with contractual relations count to its copyright suit. Specifically, F.E.L. claimed that the Chicago Archdiocese's ban on F.E.L. music interfered with actual and prospective contractual relations with Roman Catholic parishes and other institutions both within and without the Chicago Archdiocese. The focus of F.E.L.'s suit is Monsignor Brackin's letters about the ban that were mailed to third parties outside the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The court awarded Mr. Fitzpatrick $200,000 in damages, a quarter century after the first appearance of the Hymnal For Young Christians.