21 February 2013

Vatican II: Sacrosanctum Concilium III

After further reflection, I realized this morning that the topic/question at the end of yesterday's post is not entirely accurate.  What I intended to say was "Is the Novus Ordo Mass as it is currently celebrated in virtually all Catholic churches what the Council Fathers intended?"  I would argue that the answer is no.

In case anyone is unfamiliar with the backstory here (and this is assuming that anyone is actually reading this...), here is a brief recap.  Contrary to what many people seem to believe, the Second Vatican Council did not implement the Novus Ordo Mass.  Instead, the Council Fathers set forth a number of principles and norms to be followed in the revision of the liturgy.  The actual revision itself was carried out by a council in the late 1960s and voted on by the Synod of Bishops before being promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969.  So, even though this series of events took place in relatively short order (Sacrosanctum Concilium promulgated in 1963, Vatican II ended in 1965, Novus Ordo Mass introduced in 1969), the connection between the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo Mass is distant enough that I think it is fair to look more closely at whether the Council Fathers actually expressed a desire for some of the changes brought about in the new Mass.

Here is a brief list of what I think are the most profound changes from the 1962 Missal to the Mass of Paul VI.  This list is split into two categories.  The first consists of changes that are part of the rubrics of the new Mass (i.e., those changes that were made explicitly in the new Missal).  The second consists of further changes not included in the rubrics of the New Mass, but which have become commonplace in virtually all celebrations of it.

Changes included in the rubrics:
  • Elimination of the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar
  • Consolidation of the two recitations of the Confiteor into one by both priest and people
  • Consolidation of the ninefold Kyrie
  • Increase in the number of readings from Holy Scripture
  • Addition of the Prayers of the Faithful
  • Vast simplification of the preparatory prayers (including elimination of several Psalm passages)
  • Addition of three Eucharistic Prayers
  • Change from a silent to a spoken Canon
  • Vast increase in the number of congregational responses
  • Consolidation of the threefold "Domine, non sum dignus..."
  • Suppression of the Last Gospel
  • Greater allowance for concelebration
Changes not explicitly included in the rubrics:
  • Mass entirely in the vernacular
  • Communion received standing, largely in the hand, and from the hands of someone other than a member of the clergy
  • Priest oriented versus populum instead of versus Dominum or ad orientem
  • Replacement of the Propers of the Mass with hymns or other songs (something that will be explored in greater detail in an upcoming post on sacred music)
  • Explosion of the Sign of Peace
  • Communion under both Sacred Species on a regular basis
Now, let's explore what major principles/norms the Council Fathers included in Sacrosanctum Concilium.
  • Simplification of the liturgy -- making clearer connections between the words and what they signify (par. 21), removing "useless repetitions" (par. 34), etc.
  • Retention of tradition and careful investigation into areas that are proposed to be revised (par. 23)
  • Increased participation of the lay faithful through acclamations, responses, psalmody, etc. (par. 30)
  • More readings from Holy Scripture (par. 35)
  • Preservation of the Latin language (par. 36), while allowing for some use of the vernacular for readings, prayers, and chants
  • Addition of the Prayers of the Faithful (par. 53)
  • Modest allowance for reception of Holy Communion under both Sacred Species (par. 55) -- the Fathers suggested that this be limited to ordinations, religious professions, and the first Mass following the baptism of a layperson
  • Modest increase in concelebration opportunities (par. 57)
  • Retention of Gregorian chant (par. 116), with allowances for sacred polyphony and other appropriate music
Some of the changes mandated in the Novus Ordo rubrics (the first list above) were called for by the Council Fathers (some simplification of the rites, increased congregational participation, etc.).  However, I would argue that a large number of these changes were not explicitly contemplated by the Council Fathers -- and indeed, may have gone against their wishes to preserve tradition and not make changes without careful study of the ramifications of doing so (such as the suppression of the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar and the Last Gospel, which had been part of the Holy Mass for hundreds of years).

I would argue that all of the changes included on my second list above were not contemplated by the Council Fathers and are not found anywhere in either the Council documents or the rubrics of the Novus Ordo Mass.    Nowhere did the Council Fathers call for Masses entirely in the vernacular, for Communion in the hand, for the banalization of sacred music, and on and on.  As such, it seems that we have answered my original question in the negative -- the Mass experienced by the vast majority of Catholics on any given Sunday is not what the Council Fathers called for.

I believe that the Novus Ordo Mass can be celebrated with reverence and solemnity, as befits the sacredness of the rite, with worship ad orientem, use of Gregorian chant, wider use of Latin, reception of Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue, etc.  It is unfortunate that this almost never takes place, as a more profound sense of the sacred would do all of us a lot of good.

Next up in the Vatican II series: sacred music.  Get excited.

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