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DECEMBER 2001

A REFORM OF THE REFORM?

FATHER JOHN PARSONS

Part II

As stated at the conclusion of Part I, there are three principal elements in the Second Vatican Council's proposal regarding the rite of Mass. They are given in articles 50, 51 and 54, which deal respectively with the Ordinary, the Lectionary and the use of the vernacular. Let us deal with them in turn.

I. THE ORDINARY

Article 50, in Flannery's translation, reads:

"The rite of Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as well as the connection between them, may be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved.

"For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance. Parts which with the passage of time came to be duplicated, or were added with little advantage, are to be omitted. Other parts which suffered loss through the accidents of history are to be restored to the vigour they had in the days of the Holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary."

First Part

Speaking as a priest who has celebrated Mass in a parish church almost daily in the traditional Roman rite since 1989, and the ceremonies of Holy Week since 1993, much of this paragraph seems coy and vague in meaning. First, the "intrinsic nature and purpose" of the parts of the rite become apparent to worshippers insofar as the latter have osmotically absorbed Catholic tradition, or insofar as somebody now takes the trouble to instruct them. Conversely, without instruction, the rites' "intrinsic nature and purpose" can never be made clearly manifest, no matter how much one tinkers with the traditional forms. An uninstructed stranger wandering into a Latin Mass according to the Missal of 1969 is no more spontaneously aware of the meaning of the parts of the Mass than the same uninstructed stranger would be on wandering into a celebration according to the Missal of 1962.

Second, the meaning of a desire to make "the connection between" the several parts of the Mass more manifest is, I am afraid, so unmanifest to me that I cannot see its connection with the historic Roman Rite. Has the connection been insufficiently clear for centuries? Why so, to whom, and in what respect? And how is this connection more clear in a Latin celebration of the rite of 1969? What can the article mean? What did the Council Fathers think it meant? Was it ever explained to them, or is the expression "the connection between them" just a piece of woolly drafting which, intentionally or not, invites post-conciliar committees to indulge in indefinite and unlimited experimentation?

Third, as for "devout and active participation by the faithful" in a wholly Latin liturgy (for it is a revision of the rite not the language that is under discussion in this article, as distinct from article 54) it seems that such participation had already been encouraged as fully as possible, at least from 1903 on. St Pius X in his motu proprio of that year had officially encouraged the movement towards the singing of the appropriate parts of the Ordinary by the whole congregation. The Instruction on Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy of 3 September 1958, issued one would assume with the approval of Pius XII, forms part of the rubrics of the 1962 Missal (vide No.272). It encourages and regulates both the fullest possible congregational participation in sung Masses, and also the dialogue Low Mass in its various forms. Once again, it is hard to see how the laity participate more fully in a wholly Latin celebration in the new rite of 1969, than they do when celebrating the historic rite of the City, in the ways encouraged by the Instruction of 1958.

It is interesting to note that the 1958 Instruction also provides (perhaps unwisely) for the simultaneous public proclamation, at Low Mass, of the Epistle and Gospel in the vernacular by a cleric or layman, while the celebrant is reading these texts quietly at the altar. In fact the Instruction even provides (quite unwisely I think) for that debatable creature the "liturgical commentator", who gives a commentary on events as Mass progresses. He can even talk during the first half of the Canon, and is only obliged to hold his tongue from the consecration to the Our Father!

This being the situation from 1958 onwards, one is forced to ask how Sacrosanctum Concilium and the new rite in Latin improve on such a state of affairs? What fuller manifestation of the "nature and purpose" of the rites, what fuller manifestation of the "connection between" them, what more "devout and active participation" now takes place in celebrations of the modern Roman Rite in Latin as distinct from the historic Roman Rite in the same language? Has the first half of article 50 actually been implemented by the official post-conciliar changes? Is it at all clear how it could ever have been implemented?

It has been suggested that article 50's meaning would be sufficiently grasped and expressed by celebrating the Mass of the Catechumens, or Liturgy of the Word, from the chair and from a lectern or place of reading distant from the altar, as has always happened in pontifical and abbatial Masses, and indeed in High Masses celebrated by a priest, so far as the Epistle and Gospel are concerned. This practice was in fact adopted from January 1965, in accordance with a revision of the rubrics. In Masses with a large congregation, as on Sundays or great feasts, there would be no harm in optionally extending this practice from High Mass to Low Mass. Even so, there seems little point in the change, unless the parts of the Mass in question are also put into the vernacular. At Low Mass on a weekday morning, on the other hand, when the style of celebration is more likely to be quiet and meditative, and a dialogue Mass is perhaps not being used, there seems no point in disturbing the unity and tranquillity of the ritual by turning to read texts which the people can follow in their bilingual Missals if they want to, and which most of them cannot understand in Latin anyway, irrespective of where the reader is standing. At Masses with only a server in attendance, reading the Scriptures from a lectern would be even more redundant. It is suggested that the privileged and central location of the altar as the place of sacrifice would be highlighted by proclaiming the readings at a distance from it, but the traditional rite congregations of which I have experience already possess a strong sense of the altar as the place of sacrifice, which would not be heightened in their minds if the first part of the Mass were read at the chair. Their sensibility does not operate in such narrowly spatial terms.

Second Part

The second part of article 50 says "the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance", and that things which have been "duplicated" or "added with little advantage" are to be omitted. If one is to avoid subjectivism and eclecticism at this point, one must not attempt to produce a personal list of elements one would like to retain or to change. Everybody will have his own personal preferences, and these afford no common or reliable basis for a reform. A new reform should, as I have said above, be "founded upon a careful respect for the historic Roman Rite", and therefore any simplification of the Roman Rite of Mass must respect the clear distinction between what I will call First Order and Second Order elements in it.

Speaking globally and not altogether precisely, one can say that the First Order elements are Greco-Roman in origin, classical in period, public in nature, primary in structural importance, and (excepting the Canon and Libera nos) sung at High Mass, while the Second Order elements are the reverse of all these qualities: Frankish in origin, mediaeval in period, private in nature, secondary in structural importance, and said in a low voice. This distinction is perfectly clear, and quite fundamental to any legitimate attempt at reforming the Roman Rite, as distinct from destroying it.

Applying these distinctions to a sung Sunday Mass celebrated by a priest will clarify the matter:

First Order Elements

 

Second Order Elements

The words and chant:
(of the propers) of the

 

The words of the

     

Introit

 

Prayers prior to the Introit

Kyrie

   

Gloria

   

Collect

   

Epistle

   

Gradual Psalm

   

Alleluia

 

Prayers with the incense

Gospel

 

Prayers before and after the Gospel

Creed

   

Oremus

   

Offertory Antiphon

 

Prayers with the Offertory

Secret

 

Incensation and Washing of Hands

Preface & Sanctus

   

Canon

   

Our Father

   

Libera Nos

   

Pax

 

Prayers at the Commingling

Agnus De

 

Prayers before Communion

Communion Antiphon

 

Prayers at Communion

Postcommunion

 

Prayers at Purifications

Ite Missa est

 

Placeat tibi and Last Gospel

Of course this listing leaves out some subtleties; as for example that the Gloria was primitively sung, we are told, at a bishop's Mass but not in Mass celebrated by a priest, and that the Creed was not used at Mass in Rome until the eleventh century, and other points of that sort. Nonetheless, anyone at all familiar with the history of the liturgy will immediately accept the validity of the distinction between the First Order elements, which from one source or another give us substantially the ancient rite of the City of Rome as it developed up to the seventh century, and the Second Order elements, which constitute the northern European mediaeval embroideries upon the ancient rite, which substantially originated between the eighth and twelfth centuries, and which are all said privately because they represent the personal devotion of the clergy celebrating the Mass. For my part, I welcome these mediaeval additions and see them as an enrichment.

Nonetheless, if simplification, the removal of duplication, and of elements added over time with supposedly little advantage is to be the order of the day as the Council decreed, it is from these Second Order texts that the excisions must come. If a reform is to respect the integrity of the Roman Rite, it will have to leave the First Order elements intact. Proceeding thus, one would "simplify while taking due care to preserve the substance". "Substance" here must be taken as meaning the substance of the Roman Rite, not merely the substantial shape of the eucharistic liturgy, as described by Justin Martyr in the second century, and prescinding from all the historic rites of Christendom. To interpet "substance" in the latter, broader sense, would be to open the way to a melting down of all the liturgical families, to an eclectic rifling of material from Oriental and other non-Roman sources, and to the limitless substitution of newly composed material for the genuine texts of the Roman tradition.

These, alas, are the precise faults into which the Consilium's "reform" fell. The result was not really a "reform" at all. It was the creation of a new rite, loosely derived from the historic Roman rite, but differing from it as much as do some of the historic non-Roman rites, and a great deal more than, for instance, the rites of the Carthusians, Cistercians and Dominicans. Monsignor Gamber's terminology of a "Roman Rite", describing the ancient tradition still maintained in the Missal of 1962, and a "Modern Rite", describing the Missal and Lectionary of 1969, is scientifically accurate and just.

Third Part

The last part of article 50 specifies the restoration of "other parts which suffered loss through the accidents of history". The Preces, intercessions or Prayer of the Faithful spring to mind at this point, but they are dealt with as a distinct question in article 53. What other element is therefore intended here? The Introit Psalm perhaps, or the responsorial form of the Gradual Psalm? The congregational reading of the responsorial psalm at a low Mass was part of no ancient liturgy and therefore did not "suffer loss through the accidents of history", but its bathetic and ragged character might lead us to conclude that if it had been part of any ancient rite, its loss would have been far from accidental.

Father Brian Harrison suggests, I suspect correctly, that an Offertory Procession of the type with which we are now familiar in the new rite, is one of the parts the drafters of the decree wished to "restore". It seems, however, that the notion of a vanished procession during the celebration of the Eucharist, in which the laity carried up from the nave of the church the bread and wine to be consecrated at that Mass, is a romantic fantasy. The idea of such a vanished rite is assiduously promoted by Jungmann in his book Missarum Solemnia. A close inspection of every piece of evidence Jungmann gives relating to offertories and processions reveals, however, that his argument is an argument from silence. Not one example of a procession of that particular kind in any rite, Latin or Greek, is produced, and they certainly would have been if Jungmann had known of any. Such silence is eloquent. This is not the place to engage in a detailed discussion of the point, but liturgical scholars have assured me that the notion of a vanished people's Offertory Procession in the Roman Rite, of the type introduced in 1969, lacks any shred of evidence in the sources. Such a procession cannot therefore now be introduced on the ground that it is being "restored".

Implementation of Article 50

In the light of these observations and criticisms, how would one implement article 50 of Sacrosanctum Concilium? The call for simplification, the removal of reduplications, and of elements added with arguably little advantage, seems to be the most coherent and intelligible part of the paragraph. It would be possible to achieve those ends, while respecting the complete integrity of the historic core of the Roman Rite, by optionalizing en bloc the Second Order elements identified above. In any one celebration of Mass, all would have to be omitted or all retained, since a piecemeal omission or retention of individual elements would be both eclectic intellectually and would create a jumbled confusion in liturgical practice. An en bloc optionalization of this sort would remove "accretions" that had occurred over time, but would remove them without doing violence to the historic core of the rite. This would provide a simplified, streamlined, rationalized and in that sense "modern" Roman Rite of Mass, which would paradoxically be at the same time wholly traditional.

Nevertheless, the optional character of this change is very important. It was high handed, unprecedentedly disrespectful to sacred tradition, and pastorally insensitive to attempt to prevent priests and people from continuing to worship using the Ordinary they and their ancestors had used from time immemorial. It is simply not possible to show, as required by article 23, that the "true and certain benefit of the Church...demanded" the mandatory abandonment of texts that had been in daily and devout use for a thousand years. It seems appropriate to record here what an Australian bishop said to me when I told him I thought it was reasonable to create a new rite of Mass, if desired, but unreasonable to forbid the celebration of the traditional form. His words were: "Oh, but if they hadn't banned the old rite, nobody would have gone to the new!"

Article 23 of the Council's own decree, in addition to the dictates of equity and common sense, forbade the binding suppression of any part of the historic Ordinary of the Mass. It is precisely that kind of violent attack on tradition that constitutes a damnatio memoriae, and it is therefore that kind of change that must be "clearly and publicly revoked", as I noted in Part I, if confidence in the Church is to be restored.

The two main objections to what I have just proposed regarding the Ordinary will be that the penitential rite at the foot of the altar and the offertory prayers over the gifts would no longer be obligatory.

It should be remembered in reply that from the time of the Apostles right up until the present century, the celebration of the Mass of the Roman Rite had never begun with a public and corporate act of confession and repentance by the congregation. One should have done one's penance before coming to join in the essentially post-penitential celebration of the Eucharist. Of course even the just man sins seven times a day, and a personal spirit of repentance is always in place, but the apologiae of the priests and ministers have never traditionally been said by the congregation, or been said so loudly as to be heard throughout the Church. Again, there is no objection to beginning this practice in the dialogue Mass. I regularly celebrate Mass in a dialogue form with a Sunday congregation and can see a value in this novel communal way of reciting these ancient private prayers, but it is not possible to argue on the grounds of preserving or restoring ancient tradition that such communal recitation is an essential practice proper to any rite of Mass or to the Roman Rite in particular. Monsignor Gamber records that it dates in his view from the German youth Masses of the 1920s. It is in any case no more ancient than Dom Lambert Beauduin's phase of the liturgical movement in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

As to the mediaeval offertory prayers, some people have called for their retention as an assertion of the sacrificial character of the Mass, but their desire to retain them is largely motivated by the elision of the idea of sacrifice in many of the variants possible under the new liturgical regime. Since in the version of the reform here proposed, the Roman Canon, with its very explicit sacrificial language, is retained as the sole eucharistic prayer, there is no danger of the notion of sacrifice being played down, and it would be quite safe, though not my own preference, to revert to the practice of the pre-Carolingian period and to perform the action of the offertory with only a silent personal prayer of the celebrant accompanying it.

II. THE LECTIONARY

Let us proceed to Article 51. It reads:

"The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's word. In this way a more representative part of the Sacred Scriptures will be read to the people in a prescribed number of years."

"Representative" Readings?

We should note that upon being opened up, the Scriptures proved to contain such "rich fare" that parts of the banquet were removed at once from the "table of God's word", lest they should prove indigestible to liberal stomachs. In twenty-two places the new lectionary expunges whole verses from the text of the Gospels used at Mass in order to remove references to the Last Judgment, the condemnation of the world, and sin (See R. Kashewsky, in Una Voce Korrespondenz 1982 Nos. 2/3). A reform of this particular reform would obviously be in order.

The idea of reading "representative parts" of the whole of Scripture at Mass is untraditional. The hour of Matins is the proper liturgical vehicle for reading the Scriptures through in the course of a year. Remember the Cluniac monks getting through the whole of Isaiah in one week of Advent: sixty-six chapters chanted in an icy church during the small hours of a winter's night in Burgundy; rich fare indeed! The readings at Mass, on the other hand, have always been chosen to illustrate the doctrine or sentiment appropriate to the liturgical day. Even in the time after Pentecost, which has the least pronounced character, a course of moral instruction flowing as a kind of post-baptimal catechesis is discernable in the historic Roman lectionary. As the event has shown, the attempt to impose representative parts of the whole of Scripture upon the rite of Mass simply leads to incongruous Old Testament readings being proclaimed to a bemused congregation.

It has been alleged that the discrepancy in the conjunction of Sunday epistles and gospels in the ancient lectionaries of the Roman rite means that the themes of the readings of each Sunday have been obscured in the traditional Roman Missal. This hypothesis presupposes a very precise, rather than a general, thematic correspondence. To demonstrate that the obvious general thematic correspondence which exists in the traditional lectionary is botched, one would have to reverse the alleged dislocation and show that epistles and gospels were manifestly more connected in that "reconstructed" order. I am not aware that anybody has attempted this demonstration, still less succeeded in making it.

Cycle of Readings: Theories and Fantasies

The words "in a prescribed number of years" are also ominous. The liturgy, like the natural cycle of spring, summer, autumn and winter, goes in an annual cycle, not a biennial or triennial one. So far as I am aware, all the liturgical rites of Christendom, both East and West, have always done the same. To break with this instinct and this tradition, is to go against the poetry of nature as well as the consent of the ages. Only an insensitive rationalism, an obsessive didacticism, could produce such a proposal.

Even overlooking these objections and accepting a two or three year lectionary, the Conciliar decree does not in the least require the abandonment of the extremely ancient annual Roman cycle of Sunday epistles and gospels, which dates back to an unknown period prior to the seventh century. In his account, Archbishop Bugnini gives no weight at all to the argument from tradition. He tells us: "Some members (of the Consilium) suggested that the lectionary be kept intact and serve as one of the cycles, out of respect for tradition and for ecumenical reasons, since most of the churches issuing from the Reformation use the traditional lectionary. The ecumenical argument was given great weight in the discussion, but Father Vagaggini demonstrated, ably and skillfully, that it was in fact weak." Vagaggini, who was one of the key figures in the Consilium and the principal enemy and critic of the Roman Canon, pointed out that most of the Protestants had abandoned or were on the point of abandoning the ancient Roman cycle of readings. On 8 October 1966 it was arranged that the Protestant observers attached to the committee should "read a statement in the public assembly in which they asked the Roman Church not to consider itself obliged for ecumenical reasons to abstain from revising the lectionary." Once it was clear that Protestant support, which was paradoxically deemed to be the only serious reason for saving the ancient Roman cycle, did not exist, the members of the Consilium voted for its extirpation, with only one dissentient voice. (Vide Bugnini, op. cit., p.417).

If antiquity had really been the criterion for the reform, that is, in the Council's words, the restoration of "parts which have been lost through the accidents of history", then the Consilium would not only have retained the Sunday cycle, but would have restored the ancient ferial readings for Wednesdays which are found in our earliest detailed sources, the eighth century manuscripts of Wurzburg and Murbach which record the Roman practice of the seventh century and earlier. The Friday readings given in one or other of these documents could also have been used with the Wednesday ones to create one of the two new weekday ferial lectionaries. A three year Sunday cycle could have been formed, as Archbishop Bugnini says was suggested at the time, by declaring the traditional epistles and gospels those of year A, and forming complementary years B and C from a wider range of Scripture in accordance with the conciliar injunction. As is in fact the case with the Sundays of Lent in the 1969 Missal, a rubric should have been inserted stating that the readings of year A could be used in any year. This would allow those who were perfectly happy with the historic one year cycle to retain it.

As regards the Old Testament, we are repeatedly assured that there was an Old Testament reading each Sunday morning at Mass, but that quite mysteriously these all vanished by the seventh century, and vanished leaving no memory that they had ever existed: no homilies on them by Leo or Gregory, no inadvertent cross references to them in any surviving source, not one palimpsest listing one pericope and the Sunday to which it was assigned, no tradition as to what Pope suppressed them or why; just an a priori assertion that there is a reading missing between the Gradual and the Alleluia, which would, incidentally, place the Old Testament reading after the New, contrary to practice elsewhere in the traditional Missal. This argument from silence is wildly improbable. There are indeed Old Testament lessons on penitential days in the traditional Roman lectionary, but these are quite a different matter. The alleged set of vanished Old Testament readings are, I fear, a romantic fantasy like the vanished peoples' offertory procession. They are only a theory on the lips of a liturgist, like the smile on the face of the Cheshire cat that isn't really there. If it is now thought desirable to introduce Old Testament readings, let a new three year cycle of them be drawn up and introduced, but on an optional basis, and not on the specious ground that some element due in the liturgy had disappeared.

Extend Commons, Prefaces & Apologies!

After a decade or so of celebrating the traditional Roman Rite, I can see that a broadened choice of readings for the Commons might be desirable, and that a wider selection of prefaces could be introduced without damage to the integrity of the historic rite. We note in passing that a still unpublished report on the Roman Rite made by a committee of eight cardinals in 1986 at the request of the Pope, encouraged adaptations of this kind. We note too that the cardinals also found, by a majority of seven to one, that in law the Roman Rite had never been suppressed and that every priest of the Latin Rite is, and has always been, entitled to use the historic liturgy. In the now flowing spate of papal apologies, and admissions of truths supposedly long denied, might not the current Roman authorities admit the truth about the legal status of the Roman Rite, and apologise for that truth's confused suppression since 1974, and for its studious suppression since 1986?

III. THE VERNACULAR

The last of our three paragraphs from Sacrosanctum Concilium is No. 54:

"A suitable place may be allotted to the vernacular in Masses which are celebrated with the people, especially in the readings and the "common prayer", and also, as local conditions may warrant, in those parts which pertain to the people.... Nevertheless care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them. Wherever a more extended use of the vernacular in the Mass seems desirable, the regulation laid down in article 40 of this Constitution is to be observed".

Fallibility of Prudential Judgments

This is the paragraph that sank a thousand missals, and more than a thousand years of unity in the Roman Rite, which had been one of the principal factors in the emergence of a unified western civilization.

There is the famous story of how the Dominican Cardinal Browne urged the Council Fathers to beware of allowing the vernacular, lest Latin vanish from the liturgy within ten years or so. He was laughed at by the assembly, but as so often, the pessimistic reactionary proved to be more in touch with the flow of events than the optimistic progressives.

The Council Fathers' incredulous laughter at Cardinal Browne helps to remind us that a general council, like a Pope, is only infallible in its definitions of faith and morals, and not in its prudential judgements, or in matters of pastoral discipline, or in acts of state, or in supposed liturgical improvements. It is thus false to assert that a Catholic is logically bound to agree with the prudential judgments a council may make on any subject. It is still more illegitimate to extrapolate from the negative immunity from error which a general council enjoys in definitions of faith and morals, to belief in a positive inspiration of councils, as if the bishops were organs of revelation like the Apostles, and their prudential decrees inerrant like the Scriptures. It is only a false ecclesiology and a false pneumatology that can lead to the exorbitant assertion that a council is "the voice of the Holy Spirit for our age". Are we really obliged to believe that the Holy Spirit demanded the launching of a Crusade at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215? And must we hold that in 1311 the Holy Spirit dictated the Council of Vienne's rules regulating the use of torture by the Inquisition? And is it de fide that when Alexander IV ordered those suspect of heresy to be tortured to confess their guilt, this was what "the Spirit was saying to the churches" on 15 May 1252? If so, are we to condemn the Catechism of the Catholic Church of 15 August 1997, which comes to us on the same papal and episcopal authority and which condemns the use of torture to extract confessions of guilt, and openly says that "the pastors of the Church" erred on the matter?

As to the liturgy, is it mandatory to believe that in 1963 the Holy Spirit wanted the abandonment of the principle of the weekly recitation of all 150 psalms, on which the Office of the Roman Rite has been based from its very beginnings prior to Saint Benedict? And is it de fide that God wanted the Hour of Prime suppressed from January 1964? No, this doctrine of the Infallibility of the Party Line simply will not do. It is not Catholic teaching that the Church is infallible in pastoral or prudential judgements. We are therefore logically free to hold that any council can be ill-advised when making these kinds of decision, and thus ill-advised in allowing the conversion of the liturgy into the vernacular, even if that had taken the form of a direct translation of the 1962 Missal.

Liturgical Language Set Apart

For what are the facts? Historically the liturgy, like the Faith, has been received by cultures as a sacrosanct whole at the time of conversion, and has never been put into another language thereafter. Whether that language was the vernacular or not, seems to be utterly arbitrary and a matter of historical accident. In Italy, Gaul and Spain, the Latin liturgy was initially vernacular, but ceased to be so within five hundred years; the language however remained sacrosanct precisely because it was used for sacred purposes. In Russia, the liturgical language now known as Old Church Slavonic was used for the vernacular version of the Greek books; it is now old Slavonic precisely because it differs from the current language; but because it is sacred, it has been left undisturbed. In Ethiopia the liturgical language is Gheez, which centuries ago was replaced by Amharic as the vernacular; again no change was made to the liturgy. On the other hand, among the Irish, English, Dutch, Germans, Basques, Poles, Swedes, Ceylonese, Bantus, Vietnamese, Finns, Norwegians, Lithuanians, Hungarians and so many others, the liturgy had never been in the vernacular up until the 1960s. And are we to say that these great peoples and cultures were never Christian, never properly evangelized as a result? In South India the Faith had been quietly flourishing for a thousand years prior to the arrival of the Portugese in the sixteenth century, but the liturgy had never been translated and was still celebrated in the Syriac tongue in which it had arrived. English Catholics from St Augustine of Canterbury until the 1960s never used the vernacular for Mass.

In the 1960s, when mass literacy, cheap peoples' Missals, and bilingual editions were more in evidence than ever before, and it was thus easier to follow the Mass than ever before, there was less justification than there had ever been for switching to the vernacular. Why then did it happen?

Secularising Liturgy for Secular Man

In addition to the growing awareness of historical and cultural relativism I mentioned in Part I, and the rationalist temptations to which that gives rise, I think we must add the spirit of an anthropocentric liberalism as a crucial ingredient in the mixture; after all, did not Paul VI proclaim in his speech closing the Council that the Church too had now adopted the "Cult of Man"?

The whole aggiornamentist enterprise can, in lengthening retrospect, be seen as the moment when the Church at last gave in to that rising cult of human liberty which has increasingly dominated the Western imagination since the eighteenth century. Liberal Man wants an atomistic freedom to "do his own thing". In this context, a binding, sacral, non-vernacular and theocentric liturgical ethos enshrined in ancient tradition, must be replaced by an option-filled, secularising, vernacular and anthropocentric approach, reflecting the aspirations and tastes of the human spirit in the present day. The authority of the Roman Church and its historic liturgy had to be taken out of the way as an essential precondition to the installation of the cult of freedom. It is the entry of this Zeitgeist into the temple of God, through the window thrown open by John XXIII, that is the fundamental driving force behind the liturgical revolution. The mass desertion of the liturgy among peoples of old Christian culture which began the instant the new anthropocentric rites appeared, shows not only that the renewal has been a failure de facto, but that, at the time of the changes, the bulk of the faithful felt no overwhelming attraction to the vernacular.

If it be argued that the needs of mission territories called for the abandonment of Latin, then it should be remembered that all the Christian cultures of northern Europe were once as barbaric as Ruanda, and that in the passage of centuries a Black Latin Christendom could have proved no more absurd or unattainable than a Teutonic Latin Christendom must have seemed in the age of Augustine and Boniface. The pressure for change did not in fact come from the missions but from European liturgical scholars, and European liberal Catholics who were losing confidence in their own traditions. I will never forget one Corpus Christi at Bolsena, when a sanctuary full of white priests could barely stumble through the Pange Lingua while the only black priest among us sang it perfectly from memory!

Precise Translation of '62

Now that the vernacular has triumphed, for the time being at least, it seems to me that one way towards to the recovery of the doctrinal, ritual and other values of the Roman Rite, would be a careful translation of the 1962 Missal into the vernacular, sicut jacet, with all its rubrics unchanged. This would be a legitimate reform of the reform, since it would, paradoxically, be closer to what the Council Fathers thought they were voting for in 1963 than is the neo-Roman Missal produced by the Consilium in 1969. It would obviously be closer to the Fathers' wishes than the current de facto regime of evolving options and permutations, which, by polite misnomer, is still called a Rite of Mass.

IV. SOME OTHER POSSIBLE REFORMS

Having concluded our consideration of articles 50, 51 and 54 of the conciliar decree (and setting aside a host of other issues such as the Bugninian comittees' unauthorised suppression or modification of the Sunday collects, which action constitutes an alteration of the lex credendi through a manipulation of the lex orandi) let me end by mentioning two areas in which the 1962 typical edition of the Missal does seem to stand in need of reform.

Rationalise Sanctoral Cycle

The sanctoral cycle contains some interesting personages, such as St Venantius of Camerino, St Martina and St Catherine of Alexandria, of whom St Robert Bellarmine remarked that he wished he could be certain she was more than a literary fiction. The martyr status of most of the early Popes is in the same dubious category. Common sense would dictate that the world-wide fellowship that follows the Roman Rite does not need to devote a whole liturgical day every year to the celebration of persons of whom nothing is certainly known, and whose very existence is in some cases unproven. Space also needs to be found for new saints' days as the sanctoral cycle goes through its inevitable growth towards congestion. The changes of 1955 and 1960 had done much in this regard, and there is a simple way of going one step further.

A rubric in the 1962 Missal allows any commemoration to be celebrated ad libitum as a third class feast; a parallel rubric should be added allowing any third class feast to be reduced ad libitum to a commemoration. Perhaps, going further, the historically unknown saints could be left in the Martyrology on their traditional dates, with the option of celebrating a votive Mass in their honour on the day in question. These proposals are not new. The elimination of unhistorical feasts, and the reduction of those below the rank of double major (that is, the vast majority) to the rank of a commemoration, was proposed by Benedict XIV's reform commission as long ago as the 1740s.

Restore Easter Readings

The second matter unmentioned by the Council, but which the reformers of the 1960s took in hand, this time with some real success, was the readings of the Easter Vigil, which had been reduced to unintelligibilty in 1951.

Archbishop Bugnini explains how he reformulated the shape of the very ancient "Mother of all Vigils", and sprang it on the universal Church for the Easter of 1952. Many of the Archbishop's characteristic methods were first displayed in this original exercise in "reform". The back stairs approaches to the Pope while deliberately keeping the hitherto responsible authorities (chiefly the Sacred Congregation of Rites) in the dark, the cavalier disregard for ancient tradition, the calculation that an absurdly centralized and bureaucratic manipulation of the liturgy would be swallowed by the whole Church, out of loyalty to the Pope or from sheer indifference, are features of the process that Archbishop Bugnini was often to repeat after the Council.

Having celebrated the Easter Vigil from 1993 to 1997 with the four readings retained in 1951 and reproduced in the typical edition of 1962, I increasingly felt that there was something wrong with the readings; they suffered from an undeniable air of anti-climax and incoherence. When I took the time to study the traditional series of twelve "prophecies", each followed by a collect summing up its meaning in the mind of the Church, and to study the sung responsories mysteriously placed after the fourth, eighth and eleventh in the series, I realised that they were not twelve readings in a row, but rather three nocturns of four readings each, and that each nocturn had a theme that was summed up in the sung responsory that marked its end. The first four; the Creation, the Flood, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and the Crossing of the Red Sea, are about God's creation of a Chosen People; the second four are about the increasing inadequacy of that people's response to God's Call; while the last nocturn is about God's solution of this conundrum through the sending of the Messiah, who is foreshadowed in three readings as respectively Priest, Prophet and King.

The twelfth reading, mysteriously placed after the final sung responsory and unaccompanied by the penitential gesture of kneeling, is explained by the fact that the Vigil, properly speaking, is over; the reading looks forward to what is immediately at hand. In the crowded Baptistery on Easter night, the candidates descend up to their waists into the waters of the enormous font and walk about in them, saved and praising God for their deliverance from the worship of the idol of Caesar which the Roman imperial power had so recently demanded. The baptizandi are seen by the Church, through its choice of Old Testament reading, as foreshadowed by the three young Hebrews who walk about in the flames saved and praising God in Nebuchanezzar's fiery furnace, likewise delivered from the worship of the idol of the Babylonian king and from the dilemma of physical or spiritual death. The fiery furnace is a kind of anti-type of the Lateran Baptistery.

In retaining only the opening description of the Creation, and the readings that happened to be followed by sung responsories, the changes made in 1951 were an incomprehending dismantlement of a finely crafted structure, which left behind a correspondingly incomprehensible debris. The new optional seven reading vigil of 1969, though retaining only two of the original twelve prophecies, is in itself a great improvement. The fact that the 1969 Missal requires as a minimum only the Red Sea reading and one other has meant, however, that the Easter Vigil has been effectively abolished in many churches. The Vigil deserves the restoration of its triadic structure, reflecting the dialectic of salvation in the themes of its three nocturns, which also correspond to the three watches of the night, just as the twelve prophecies correspond to the twelve nocturnal hours.

Having celebrated the Vigil with its traditional readings for four successive Easters from 1998 on, I can testify that doing so is not only pastorally possible, but also vastly more satisfying than using only the fragmented readings that survive in the Missal of 1962. Ironically, it is the unreconstructed form that, in accordance with the Council's wishes, "sets before the people a richer fare from the word of God". I suggest that this return to tradition be publicly encouraged by Rome. There is no reason why the ancient set of readings should not be used in the 1969 vigil ceremonies. If their length is thought to be prohibitive for homo modernus, who is deemed to love the liturgy but not to love it all that much, then the first nocturn, from the Creation to the Crossing of the Red Sea, could be used, with the other two nocturns being optional.

CONCLUSION

To conclude: the aggiornamentist Quest for the Ideal Liturgy that would solve all problems of popular incomprehension and lack of participation, has failed, and the spirit of liberalizing rationalism that inspired it was, like the spirit of the Synod of Pistoia, never wholly congenial to historic Orthodoxy. No liturgy can be all things to all men, and therefore the quest for an impossible perfection has turned out, as so often in human affairs, to be the enemy of an existing good. As Lord Salisbury observed a century ago: "It is a characteristic of the Progressive Mind to believe that all problems admit of a solution. Conservatives, on the other hand, are quite prepared to confess that the solution to some problems may escape us altogether".

Yet more profound is Dietrich von Hildebrand's citation of a remark by Hans Urs von Balthasar:

"If that mythical entity 'Modern Man' becomes the measure of what God has or has not to say, then religion is obviously at an end."

 

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The author is a priest of the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn, Australia. He has been priest in charge of the traditional Roman Rite congregation in Canberra since 1993.

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MEDIATOR DEI

From the Encyclical of His Holiness Pope Pius XII

On the Sacred Liturgy (20 November 1947)

62. Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy… But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a colour for the liturgical vestments: were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches: were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer's body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.

176. …do not allow - as some do, who are deceived under the pretext of restoring the liturgy or who idly claim that only liturgical rites are of any real value and dignity - that churches be closed during the hours not appointed for public functions, as has already happened in some places: where the adoration of the august sacrament and visits to our Lord in the tabernacles are neglected; where confession of devotion is discouraged; and devotion to the Virgin Mother of God, a sign of "predestination" according to the opinion of holy men, is so neglected, especially among the young, as to fade away and gradually vanish. Such conduct most harmful to Christian piety is like poisonous fruit, growing on the infected branches of a healthy tree, which must be cut off so that the life-giving sap of the tree may bring forth only the best fruit.