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Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Second Vatican Two talk: Sacrosanctum Concilium
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 Last Thursday, 21 November the second in the series of Advent Talks on 'Vatican II: Forty Years On', took place at Holy Apostles, Pimlico. The speaker was Rev'd Nicholas Schofield, from Our Lady of Willesden, who spoke on: 'Sacrosanctum Concillium - Why did the Mass change?' The text follows below: I was delighted to be invited to give this reflection on Sacrosanctum Concilium this evening. I feel, however, that I must begin this talk with an apology. Over the next few weeks you'll be hearing a star-studded selection of speakers: a renowned theologian Newman scholar, a Benedictine Abbot, an internationally renowned journalist. And then, tonight, you have me! I'm not an expert on the liturgy; I'm not even a theologian (if anything, my penchant would be for Church History). My only qualifications for standing before you tonight is a certain experiential knowledge of the liturgy, gained from over 25 years of going to Mass! So, my presentation should be seen as food for thought rather than the final word on the subject. The Second Vatican Council met over four years and produced sixteen key documents, covering a wide range of topics and issues. But hardly anyone has heard of Christus Dominus, Apostolicam Actuositatem or Gravissimum Educationis, the documents concerning respectively bishops, the laity and education. Many Catholics are only really aware of the 'big four': the Dogmatic Constitutions on the Church (Lumen Gentium), Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) and the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes). And it is these four important documents that your series of talks are focussing on. However for most people, Vatican II boils down to one thing: the changes in the liturgy and most especially the Mass. And this is hardly surprising. Vatican decrees concerning episcopal collegiality, the 'two sources' of Revelation or systematic atheism don't exactly capture the popular imagination. But the liturgy is something very different. It's the 'source and summit' of every Christian's life. For most believers, it's the main contact they have with the institutional Church 'that great community spread across the ages and across continents, trying to follow Christ Jesus, trying to become saints'. Indeed the very word 'liturgy' comes from the Greek 'leitourgia', meaning 'public work' or 'service in the interest of the people'. So, for an ancient Greek, 'liturgy' might have involved putting on a public entertainment or providing equipment for a warship in the interests of the people. Later it's meaning became increasingly linked to Divine Worship and it thus entered the Church's vocabulary. Liturgy was something done in the public domain for the glorification of God and the sanctification of the people in Christ. And since it's in the public domain, Christian liturgy has affected the lives of countless millions down the ages. You can see this by the way worship and the liturgical year saturated everyday life in the past and the way words, metaphors and images passed from the liturgy into the languages of even the lowest classes. Because it's in the public domain, the exact 'how' and 'what' of the liturgy has always been controversial. Preparing a talk on Sacrosanctum Concilium [hereafter SC] is like entering a minefield! If you criticise it too freely, people will brand you a backward looking 'traditionalist'. If you go to the opposite extreme, others will label you as a progressive 'liberal'. This evening there are probably as many different views of how the Mass should be celebrated as there are individuals in this room - we all have our pet hates and our hobbyhorses whether it's Gregorian chant or the location of the Tabernacle. So, in this brief talk I'll try to be as objective and as honest as possible. We'll be reflecting on what SC said and what has been done in the past forty years, rather than pushing any particular theory or agenda. And that reflection, I hope, will be continued in the time for discussion afterwards. A LITTLE BIT OF BACKGROUND SC was issued on 4 December 1963, together with Inter Mirifica (a document on social communication). Essentially, SC was really a synthesis of the so-called 'liturgical movement', which had been growing within the Church since the early nineteenth century, particularly in monasteries and other 'centres' dotted around Germany, France and the Low Countries. SC drew on the pioneering attempts by the likes of Dom Prosper Gueranger to increase the understanding of the liturgy, improve the 'active participation' of the people and to restore the full riches of the Roman liturgical tradition, especially by drawing on the writings of the Fathers of the Church. Pre-conciliar papal champions of this 'movement', included St Pius X, who encouraged regular Communions and high standards of Church music (so that the congregation could sing the Mass), and those of Pope Pius XII, who issued an important encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei (1947), and made some changes to the ceremonies of Holy Week, including the restoration of the great Easter Vigil. SC was seen as the next step, picking up on many of the great threads of this scholarship. BASIC PRINCIPLES (SC#1-13) So, what does SC say? It's interesting that SC never actually proposes a definition of the liturgy. Perhaps this is to avoid an overly simplistic definition and to keep a sense of mystery. Certainly, through the document there are a number of beautiful descriptions of what the liturgy involves, drawn from early liturgical and patristic sources. Liturgy is § 'the work of our redemption' (#2) § 'an action of Christ the priest and of His Body, the Church' (#7) § 'a share in that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims' (#8) § 'the singing of a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army' (#8) § 'the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows' (#10) The Liturgy is, above all, something sacred. It's not simply a celebration of the community, something man-made and man-centred. Rather, it,s the action of God, man-made, yes, but fully theo-centric. And because of this, Christ is always present in the Church's liturgical celebrations. SC teaches us that He is present in the liturgy in four different ways (#7): Christ is present in the person of the minister. That's one of the reasons why priests wear special vestments at Mass: to show that it not just Fr Dick or Fr Harry celebrating the Mass but Fr Dick or Fr Harry who is acting in the person of Christ, so that when the priest consecrates the bread and wine it is really Christ consecrating them: "This is my Body", "This is my Blood". Christ is especially, present under the Eucharistic species: the bread and the wine, which become His Body and Blood. Despite the other 'types' of Christ's presence, this has a certain primacy because of its uniqueness. Vatican II is clear about the importance of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in a worthy and dignified place. Christ is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the church. Finally, He is present in the congregation when the Church prays and sings - after all, Jesus promised: "Where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them,"(Mt 18:20) ACTIVE PARTICIPATION (SC#14-20) So far, SC has been re-iterating the traditional teaching of the Church, drawn from many of the Fathers - the footnotes allude to the likes of St Ignatius of Antioch and St Augustine - and early liturgical sources. But then, once the ground is cleared with these basic principles, we come to the very leitmotif of SC: Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people' , is their right and duty by reason of their baptism. (#14) This is the central aim of Vatican II's teaching on the liturgy - that everyone should have a "full, conscious, and active participation" (#14) in the sacred mysteries; that no-one should be there "as strangers or silent spectators" (#48). Many commentators interpret this as an attack on the Mass as it was celebrated at the time of the Council - where, they would say, people simply watched the priest say his Mass, muttering Latin with his back turned to them. Often, we like to criticise previous generations for their lack of participation in the liturgy and smile rather smugly to ourselves as we think of how much better our participation is. But we mustn't patronise our forebears. The Mass meant everything to them. You can see that in the risks that many English lay people took in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to shelter underground priests and organise secret Masses. For many it cost them their livelihoods, even their lives. Did they take such risks just because they liked sitting there in the cold and the dark, at dead of night, simply watching a priest mumble into his tatty, well-travelled Missal? Dr Eamon Duffy has convincingly shown just what participation meant for the common folk on the eve of the Reformation. They may have been divided from the altar by a rood screen, but this screen was seen not so much as a barrier but as a window into eternity. They may have had little active involvement in the ceremonies of Mass, but there was a whole array of resources to help them pray the Mass - like the rhyming Lay Folk's Mass Book of the fourteenth century. There was even the kissing of a small tablet called the pax by the priest, which was then offered to the congregation (in order of seniority, of course). If this was the case at the eve of the Reformation, it was even more impressive at the eve of the Council. In the age of mass literacy and media, there were plenty of pocket Missals and leaflets with translations of the texts, and careful instruction for children on how to follow and pray the Mass. I still have a diagram, which my Father was given at his first school in Manchester, carefully drawn by a nun and probably given to every child, showing the different sections of the Mass and where exactly the priest would be standing, at the altar. From my reading of SC, this section on 'active participation' is a statement of principle. Please make sure, it is saying, that the faithful have their parts to play in the Mass. And the best way to achieve 'full, conscious' and active participation, is not a manic burst of activity, so that everyone is doing something - but through an active participation that is spiritual (praying the Mass) and, to a degree, intellectual (understanding the Mass). SC speaks of a "needed programme of instruction" through which pastors will make sure that people understand the Mass so that they can truly participate in it. Man is body and soul. The 'whole man' needs to be involved in worship. Whereas, in the past, the danger was to concentrate on the soul, without involving our bodies, today it is the belief that the body is everything in worship. Hence we get 'busy' Masses where there is much activity but little contemplation. Of course, we can participate in a more active sense - reading or serving or taking the collection or distributing Communion - but this presupposes a spiritual participation that is always primary. SC itself says that 'in order that the sacred liturgy may produce its full effect, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their thoughts match their words, and that they co-operate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain' (#11). PROPOSALS FOR REFORM (SC#21-40) SC then goes into specific proposals for reform. Let's look at them one by one: 1. 'The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as also the connection between them, can be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful can be more easily accomplished'. (#50). The rite of Mass was indeed revised in the Missal of 1969. It is worth noting, briefly, that the pruning actually carried out was pretty extensive - whole sections of the Mass were cut and new texts were written - largely by a committee of liturgists that met after the Council closed, under the direction of Archbishop Annibale Bugnini. In terms of externals, the 'New Mass' was very much a 'new creation'. 2. Next, SC gets down to more practical proposals for reform. "The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly", it says, "so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's Word". (#51). This is a notable achievement of the Council: we now hear selections from every part of the Bible. The cycle of readings before the Council was chiefly drawn from the New Testament - usually an Epistle and the Gospel - with the occasional prophet getting a look-in. Now, the readings operate via a three-year cycle for Sundays and a two-year one for weekdays. For the Sundays, a different Gospel is chosen each year and read through Sunday by Sunday, with a First Reading chosen to shed light on it. This way, the people read through the Gospels over the three-year cycle. To benefit from this new lectionary, however, it is vital to come prepared: to read and reflect upon the readings before the Mass (in the same as one would prepare before Mass to receive Communion). Otherwise, it's easy to become bogged down with all the words. And here, we might add another observation on the 'new' liturgy: it can be very wordy. This is even more the case with the baptismal liturgy, where there are seemingly endless prayers, intercessions, responses and blessings, whose meaning often goes over the heads of the average family! We need more silence in our liturgy in order to afford moments of contemplation, so vital to any truly 'active' participation in the sacred mysteries. 3. Then, in order to 'open up' the treasures of the Bible, the priest preaches a homily - which SC sees as 'a highly esteemed' part of the Mass which is only omitted 'for a serious reason.' (#52). 4. SC also proposed the restoration of the ancient 'Prayer of the Faithful' or the 'Bidding Prayers' - in which - intercession will be made for holy Church, for the civil authorities, for those oppressed by various needs, for all mankind, and for the salvation of the entire world,. Again, this is a reform introduced to increase 'active participation' (i.e. praying the Mass) and to add some flexibility, especially concerning the needs of a given time. 5. Then comes the fifth proposal: one of the most talked-about changes of Vatican II - the introduction of a vernacular liturgy. But listen to the way this proposal is phrased in SC: "in Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue". However, "steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them," (#54) and "the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites" (#36). This is the teaching of Vatican II, built on both the ancient tradition of the Roman Church and the recent teachings of the Magisterium. Even Blessed John XXIII, the 'Father, of the Council' had dedicated an Encyclical Letter, Veterum Sapientia (1962), on the very subject of the preservation of Latin. John Paul II has also spoken on the subject. Only this February (21/2/02) he recommended Latin in an audience with the Salesian University, Rome, as "an indispensable condition for a proper relationship between modernity and antiquity, for dialogue among different cultures, and for reaffirming the identity of the Catholic priesthood". The introduction of a vernacular liturgy has borne much fruit over the past forty years. It has promoted an increased involvement by the faithful in the liturgy since all the texts could now be understood instantly. This is especially important in the changeable parts of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word, for example. The unfortunate thing is that the timely introduction of a vernacular liturgy has effectively rung the death knell for Latin and has accelerated the general process of de-latinisation in our culture. I think that this is a pity. Look at it on the secular level: Latin was the most widely spread 'common language' in the Western world (now replaced, it seems, by American English) and lay at the very roots of our culture. I've always resented the fact that I wasn't offered the opportunity to study Latin at school - thereby missing direct contact with much of our cultural patrimony. In the Church, this process of de-latinisation has got rid of a common language that was a further sign of our unity in Christ. Whether a priest came from Manhattan or Mongolia, up until forty years ago they could have worshipped or communicated together in Latin. When my uncle went to the English College, Rome, in 1946 his theological lectures and even his exams were in Latin - but then both he and most of his contemporaries would have been studying this language since their first days at school. The debates of Vatican II were in Latin - including those concerning the use of vernacular. And apparently Cardinal Hume stood out amongst his fellow bishops at meetings in Rome as an accomplished Latinist. But today only a handful of priests feel comfortable with Latin. Of course, it still is the 'official language' of the Church and all the important documents are published in Latin. But how long this can realistically continue, I'm not sure. Moreover, Latin was our 'sacred language'. All the great religions of the world have sacred languages - normally dead or semi-dead tongues no longer spoken but reserved for worship. The Russian Orthodox Church uses Old Church Slavonic; Jews all over the world use Hebrew; Islam has a special place for Arabic. These liturgical languages are 'timeless', (so that the words do not have to be updated every few years) and they speak of the transcendent. It is interesting to note that just as the Church was being de-latinised, increasing numbers of young people were turning to the mystical traditions of the East, where they were quite happy to chant mantras in Sanskrit (the Hindu tongue) without really understanding the exact sense of the words they were uttering: all they knew was that they concerned another world, another plane of reality. And that's the whole point with Latin. Latin still has a value. A true implementation of SC would make Latin a more common part of our Church life rather than an exotic (and controversial) rarity. The vernacular liturgy is still in its early days. One problem is the quality of the English translations currently in use, although they are in the process of being revised by ICEL (International Commission of English in the Liturgy) with oversight from a new body called Vox Clara. Let's hope they do a good job because some of our prayers are pretty banal and not very accurate as translations of the Latin originals. This is a great pity since English can be a very beautiful and powerful language. We can see this clearly not only in literary giants like Shakespeare, Dryden or Wordsworth but also in The Book of Common Prayer. The English here is beautiful and also shares with Latin a certain 'timeless' quality. This whole issue is neatly summed up by the rather unlikely figure of the Leader of the Opposition, Iain Duncan Smith. He recently told the Daily Telegraph that he had strong sympathies with High Church Anglicanism. "I love the Book of Common Prayer", he said, to me, "it's the greatest liturgy in the world. The Catholic Church, by contrast, has gone for doggerel. It went from dog Latin to dog English, and it's not very uplifting". Slightly harsh, but perhaps he has a point! 6. The next proposal concerns Holy Communion and builds on the teachings of St Pius X. SC recommends that the people receive the Eucharistic elements that have been consecrated at that Mass. Of course, this isn't always possible, but it's a further emphasis on Communion as part of the Mass. We might take that for granted today but a hundred years ago things were very different: often the only person to receive Communion at Mass was the priest himself and those who were communicating would receive the Sacred Host at the altar rails in a brief ceremony outside the Mass, almost as an after thought. Moreover, until the time of Pius X, m most people received Communion occasionally - often only once a year, at Easter. In a similar vein, SC says that the Faithful can receive Communion under both kinds, 'when the bishops think fit'. This is, of course, a fuller expression of the Sacrament of the Eucharist - Christ did command us to eat this bread and drink this cup. But the occasions are limited for practical reasons: there is, for example, the danger of spilling the Precious Blood if it is given to entire congregations or the risk of consecrating too much wine. The practice has developed in the past forty years and new norms have been issued both by the Vatican and the various Bishops, Conferences of the world (#55). 7. The next proposal is very basic though very important. It describes the Mass as 'one single act of worship' despite being comprised of two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It urged pastors to remind their sheep that they should participate in the entire Mass - and not to be tempted to only arrive at the Gospel and then leave straight after Communion. Earlier we spoke about the centrality of spiritual participation in the liturgy. So, not only should people attend the whole Mass, they should spend time beforehand in preparation and afterwards in thanksgiving [in the past, many writers recommended quarter of an hour for thanksgiving, yet how many of us here - and I include myself - regularly spend any time doing this at all?]. (#56) 8. The old custom of concelebration was reintroduced. Before the Council priests concelebrated at their Ordination Mass and on Maundy Thursday, but SC recommended the practice for other large gatherings of clergy: a meeting of priests, for example, or the conventual Mass of a Religious House. Concelebration clearly expresses the unity of the Sacred Priesthood and is indeed a powerful sign - I remember going to the Chrism Mass at St Peter's and being amazed by the endless stream of concelebrants, who started processing in about an hour before the Mass started! However, SC is clear that 'each priest shall always retain his right to celebrate Mass individually'. Concelebration does not replace so-called 'private Masses'. (#57-58) Further chapters in SC deal with sacred music and art. Let's briefly look at these. The Council pays particular attention to sacred music among the arts, calling it 'a treasure of immeasurable value' and 'an integral part of the solemn liturgy' (#112). Indeed, as far as SC is concerned, the liturgy should ideally be a sung liturgy. But what sort of music? Vatican II is pretty clear: 'the treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with very great care - especially in cathedral churches' (#114). 'The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as proper to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded,' (#116). SC goes on to affirm the pipe organ as the traditional instrument for sacred music, though it allows other instruments to be used providing they 'accord with the dignity of the temple' (which would, of course, include the guitar) (#120). Moreover, the Council encourages new musical compositions, especially those to be sung by the people (#121). But what happens in our churches in reality? One side of the equation is faithfully kept - there are plenty of new compositions. Indeed many of these were made necessary by the new English liturgy - if Mass was said in the vernacular and if music was so 'integral' to the liturgy, then English Mass-settings and more hymns were needed. Many of these modern pieces are beautiful and truly adorn the liturgy, especially when they are performed by competent musicians. However, just as the Mass has been de-latinised so it has largely lost its proper music: plainsong. It seems that you hear chant everywhere - on TV and radio, at concerts, in people's homes, in supermarkets, even in nightclubs! You may remember the CD, Canto Gregoriano, topping the pop charts a few years ago. That's because people felt that this was truly transcendent music that lifted us from the worries of this world to the heights of Heaven. Chant is hot stuff, as far as the youth are concerned, and you hear it everywhere except the Catholic Church. This is, I think, a great shame - especially since, compared to some of the music we use, chant is eminently sing-able and comparatively easy. I'm sure you could all sing the Missa de Angelis right now, if you wanted to! I must, however, in all honesty add that we are extremely lucky in England. For one thing, we have a wonderful tradition of hymns, many of which are still used, thankfully. Moreover, out of the whole Universal Church, London is probably the city that best follows SC in its guidelines on music. Where else can you hear so much fine chant or polyphony, sung by world-class choirs like those of Westminster Cathedral or the Brompton Oratory, to name but a few? Not even in Rome herself. Please God that this concern for the treasury for sacred music will spread to many more parishes, especially beyond our capital. Vatican II also shows a similar concern for the visual arts. Indeed, some of the greatest works of human genius were made for the adornment of churches: architectural gems like St Peter,s Basilica; altar-paintings like those by Caravaggio; sculptures like Michelangelo,s pieta. SC promoted the continuation of this alliance between the Church and the art of the day. But this did not mean the needless destruction of the old, as clearly happened over the subsequent years. Although it encouraged simplicity rather than extravagance, it said that Ordinaries must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or allowed to deteriorate, (#126). Moreover, SC stated that 'the practice of placing sacred images in churches so that they may be venerated by the faithful is to be firmly maintained' (#125). Thus, modern churches that look more like sport gymnasiums and contain hardly any images are as a contrary to the 'spirit' of the Council as an over-the-top church with sacred art of a doubtful taste. * * * * * SC is a beautiful document that synthesises 1900 years of Church teaching on the liturgy especially the patristic tradition rediscovered by the 'liturgical movement'. Its proposals for reform aimed to increase an active participation in the liturgy, especially on the level of the mind, heart and soul. It hoped that people would truly pray the Mass rather than simply pray at Mass, as St Pius X himself recommended. A simplified Rite, a richer tapestry of Scriptural readings, the introduction of some vernacular, bidding prayers that addressed the needs of the times, Communion under both kinds and Concelebration for special occasions these were all designed to heighten the dignity and prayerfulness of the Mass. It's important to stress that the Mass of Paul VI is the same as the Mass of the ages. At every Mass, - whether it's in Latin, English or Serbo-Croat, whether it's said by a priest on his own or by hundreds of concelebrants - we give thanks to God, we offer up with Christ the one, holy and perfect sacrifice and we receive His Sacred Body and Blood. It's crucial to understand this. The Mass has changed in many externals over the last forty years, but in one sense it has not changed at all. Much has been written on the liturgy over the years and sometimes it's hard to see the wood for the trees. The 'New Mass' with which we are all familiar is still in its infancy - Church reform never happens overnight and Council can take decades, if not centuries in being implemented. We are still waiting for the fruit of Vatican II to ripen and mature; we are still waiting for the dust to settle. Besides, much has happened in the last few decades. The liturgy took on a life of its own as soon as the Council was closed. Various customs emerged which had no basis in the texts in SC but were results of what could loosely be called the 'spirit of the Council' - for example, Communion in the Hand (eventually approved by the Church) or Mass facing the people (all the Council says on this is that any new altar should be free-standing so that Mass can be celebrated either way). There have been clarifications and re-clarifications produced by the Vatican and only in the last year, a new edition of the Missale Romanum (in Latin) has appeared and we eagerly await the English translation from the revitalised ICEL and the newly erected Vox Clara. There have been many extreme interpretations of SC. I heard of one Mass where the theme was the cure of a blind man. Just to make the liturgy more relevant, the priests walked in with brown paper bags over their heads - which were taken off at the appropriate moment in the Gospel! Or there was the Mass that celebrated the surprises of life - the priest made his entrance by jumping out of a box, dressed as a clown! It just shows that there is a thin dividing line between theatre and ritual. It just goes to show how important it is to return to the letter of SC in order to discover its true spirit, with the help of modern post-Conciliar 'exegetes' like the present Holy Father. It just goes to show that there were things done in the name of the Council that find very little justification in the proposals the Council Fathers actually put forth. Perhaps most of all, though, we need to realise that the liturgy is a means to an end: the glorification of God and the sanctification of man in Christ. And so, in this most controversial area of liturgy, we should always try to follow the old dictum: In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.
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