On the tube back from a lively supper after Cardinal Sarah’s important speech last night, it struck me that perhaps the conference had peaked already. Certainly in terms of an immediate and practical legacy, last night’s speech is unlikely to be bested.
However, the proceedings today were a salutary reminder that Cardinal Sarah’s vigorous and specific exhortation—for a return to the centuries-old tradition of priest and people sharing a common orientation to the east and to the Lord during the Liturgy of the Eucharist—is itself the fruit of recent scholarship and pastoral reflection on the reforms implemented in the wake of Vatican II and which claim the Council as their warrant and justification. It was just such scholarship and reflection that we were treated to today.
The first paper was delivered by Dom Alcuin Reid: On the Council Floor: The Council Fathers’ Debate of the Schema on the Sacred Liturgy. Dom Alcuin noted that the Council opened with a patent expression of alarm on the part of many of the bishops at the prospect of liturgical reform, and there were immediate requests for clarification. The vota, or preparatory submissions from the world’s bishops (which Dom Alcuin said filled 8 volumes and have been little studied), reveal that liturgical reform had a low priority and any reform was expected to be moderate, such as an expanded use of the vernacular in the Mass of the Catechumens (now called the Liturgy of the Word) and an expanded lectionary of readings at Mass. There was a conception that that the canon of the Mass would not be touched at all, nor that Latin would cease to hold universal primacy in the Church’s worship.
Dom Alcuin asked the question then, what did the Council Fathers think they were approving? To this he added another: did they intend evolution or revolution? He was adamant that an accurate expression of their intention is not to be found in the works of the Consilium set up to implement the post-conciliar liturgical reforms. Rather their intentions can be found coming from their own mouths, in their interventions on the Council floor.
An example was given of the power of propaganda and the presentation of information. Cardinal Montini’s conciliar dictum that the liturgy was made for man, not man for the liturgy, became a sort of emblem for the more avid reformers, to justify wholesale changes to the received liturgy. This was especially so after Cardinal Montini was elected as Paul VI. What most who quote it fail to provide is the context of that remark. His comments were in the context of the desirability of the people being able to understand more fully the instructive parts of the Mass, the readings principally, and so he was advocating little more than the extension of the vernacular on a limited basis. This intervention expresses accurately his own intentions. That as pope he approved far more radical reforms after the Council does not reflect his intentions at the Council itself, but his subsequent acquiescence to forces over which he had little control.
Bishop Dwyer, then of Leeds, told the Council that he had no desire to stand by the deathbed of the liturgy, and felt that any reform could be made to the Mass only as far as the Offertory; beyond that there should be no change at all. Cardinal Spellman of New York told the Fathers that everyone accepted the goal of enhanced participation by the faithful at Mass, and that debate was actually on the means to that end. He asked whether the pastoral concerns usually cited as justifying proposed reforms were actually for the people’s benefit or the clergy’s. Of what benefit to the people would a reduction in the number of signs of the Cross, kissings and bowings during the canon actually be? Were they more for clerical convenience than truly pastoral benefit?
The Order of Mass published by Rome in January 1965 comes closest to expressing on paper what the Council Fathers actually intended. It is marked by a limited use of the vernacular, the retention of the ancient Roman canon and the Liturgy of the Eucharist largely in Latin. But the Consilium clearly, though without ever saying so, intended this Order of Mass to be merely a stepping stone towards more radical reforms. Dom Alcuin pointed to the fact that three months before publishing this revised Order of Mass one committee of the Consilium had already drafted a far more drastic reform of the Mass. The reformers, he felt, took advantage of the Catholic habit of obedience—of bishops to pope, of priests to bishops, and of the faithful to the clergy in general—and manipulated it in order to get their vision of reform enacted and implemented. Once reform had begun, the genie was out of the bottle, not least because the printed text is not the fullness of the liturgy, and its practical celebration was radically altered in ways far beyond the formal text.
In a poignant conclusion Dom Alcuin pointed to the near-total elimination of small, “useless repetitions” such as kissings of the altar, signs of the cross over the gifts, even the use of an amice by the priest, as essentially misguided and as being anti-liturgical. For clergy, not the people, they had become a burden. They had become a burden for many clergy because, for various reasons, the liturgy and its details had become a burden, a duty, and one that should be minimised. This made sense only if those clergy had fallen out of love with the liturgy they were ordained to celebrate. These details were, whatever else they might be, acts of love and devotion to the Lord present on the altar. The use of the amice in particular was emblematic of the priestly attitude: it could be a burden, or it could be a prayer. The spirit of reductive minimalism was not a spirit of love but of sloth.
This paper has been summarised in some detail as it points to a fundamental issue in current reforms as well as those immediately after the Council. The spirit of the Council developed as something quite different from the intentions of the Council Fathers as expressed by their own lips. An authentic liturgical reform faithful to the intentions of the Council needs to be informed more fully by the words of the Council Fathers themselves.
Dom Charbel Pazat de Lys, of the French Benedictine monastery Le Barroux, presented a paper on The Public Nature of the Liturgy, which was the fruit of much study and reflection. His paper was a learned, if demanding, blend of liturgical theological and canonical reflection.
To give a flavour of what Dom Charbel was offering, he noted that the word “public” itself can be understood in various senses: practical, sociological, institutional and Christological. Too many people think of “public” in purely practical terms. Thus some cite our Lord’s words in St Matthew’s gospel, that when two or more are gathered in the Lord’s name, there the Lord is with them, in purely practical terms as something directly applicable to all Christian gatherings. Yet the context in St Matthew’s gospel precludes that misunderstanding. Jesus was declaring this to the group of those he had just given apostolic authority, and that any gathering of disciples must be in Jesus’ name not that of any group or community. Thus liturgy to be authentically Catholic must follow its description in canon law: that it be done in the name of the Church, by ministers explicitly designated by the Church, and using a ritual designated by the Church. Without satisfying these three conditions no Christian gathering can be truly liturgical.
During the talk Dom Charbel made some pithy, and telling, observations. He lamented the emergence in the Church of the secular aspiration to self-determination. When this occurs in the priest at Mass, he ceases to be the servant of the liturgy but seeks instead to be its master. It is an exaltation of a privileged individual over the whole. The result is individually-fabricated liturgies that are more truly “private” than a Mass celebrated by a priest without a congregation. The priest who offers Mass alone but acting in the name of the Church and using the rites of the Church is far more publicly spirited than the priest who does his own thing at Mass.
Dom Charbel also spoke of the need to restore a proper sense of place, that everyone present should know his or her proper place. Without a clearly designated and respected proper place, the faithful never feel “in place”. Integral to this is each person doing only what is proper to his place in the liturgy. By employing the gestures and actions proper to his place the individual submits himself to the liturgy, to the Church and to God. He advocated the need to allow the universal aspects of the liturgy to be experienced in the context of the local and particular, so that the local congregation takes its proper place within the whole Church. An example would be the use of Latin.
There were two practical suggestions Dom Charbel offered. One was that Rome produce an official Ceremonial for parishes so that they can direct the actions of their liturgy more effectively to the universal Church. The second was that liturgical formation should be much improved. In particular he urged that people be taught anew to offer their own bodies with that of Christ in the host and chalice, a personal spiritual sacrifice that would locate the individual more properly and more clearly in relation to Christ and to the Church.