The celebration of the Holy Mass involves all of our senses in our worship. As Catholics, physical postures and gestures have always been an important part of worship. Our actions reinforce the words we speak and the attitudes behind our worship. But which gestures are appropriate in the context of the Mass? In recent years American Catholics have seen a dramatic rise in the use of innovative gestures used by the laity in the Mass. But innovation in the Mass is NOT a good thing. That’s why the Church prescribes rubrics for our participation in the Mass.
My wife and I have received “dirty looks” from others in Mass when we don’t hold their hands during the recitation of the Our Father. Some people will simply grab your hand and attempt to force this participation if you don’t respond to their offer to join hands. Obviously this can be an awkward moment. Some folks seem insulted that you don’t want to hold their hands. My wife and I don’t even hold each other’s hands at this point in the Mass, we simply fold our hands and pray. Why? It’s simple, holding hands during the Our Father isn’t an approved gesture for the Mass.
This is the final installment of a series of articles that began with “The Times They Are a Changin’” This series has dealt with the subject of the recent developments concerning the Liturgy of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. Our English word liturgy, is derived from the Latin use of the Greek word leitourgia and is used to describe the Church’s official public worship which corresponds to the official service of the Temple in ancient Judaism.[i] Since the liturgy of the Church is something that affects everyone who practices the faith, emotions tend to run high concerning this subject.
As we have discussed, the Mass of Paul VI, also known as the Novus Ordo Mass, was developed following the Second Vatican Council. We saw how many changes were made to the liturgy in the name of the Council which were not approved by nor, in some cases, even discussed by the Council Fathers. As we have seen, this was accompanied by schism and dramatic losses in Church membership, Mass attendance and religious vocations.
Now we return to where this series began, the Second Vatican Council and the origins of the Novus Ordo Mass. As we stated earlier, most Catholics if asked would identify the changes made to the liturgy following Vatican II as the most profound results of the Council.[i] When asked what those changes were, most Catholics respond with a similar list:
- Removing Latin from the Mass
- Having the priest facing the people
- Stand alone altars to facilitate the previous item
- Removing the altar rails
- Reception of communion in the hand while standing
- Changing the music from traditional hymns to popular music styles
Most Catholics are also very surprised to learn that Vatican II did not order nor recommend any of these changes. In fact, the Council did call for retaining the Latin in those parts of the Mass that do not change and for keeping Gregorian Chant as the primary form of liturgical music.[ii]
Everyone knows at least something about the life and reign of King Henry VIII of England. While most of what is popularly known is derived from dramatized versions of his sordid relationships with his six wives, two of whom he had beheaded, there is no doubt that the reign of Henry VIII had a profound effect upon the history of England and the world. Gallons upon gallons of ink have been spilled in the telling of his story and that of the Protestant revolution in England and the subsequent creation of the Church of England which has spread out to cover the earth in the form of the Anglican Communion.
Many see Henry VIII as a cruel despotic heretic who turned England upside-down in the pursuit of his own selfish pleasures. There are just as many who see him as a strong and benevolent ruler who fought against the corruption of the Catholic Church and freed them from the rule of the pope. The Anglican church is beloved by many.
The liturgical form commonly referred to as the “Tridentine Mass,” was promulgated by Pope Pius V in 1570 following the Council of Trent. This made the celebration of the Mass uniform throughout Europe with the exception of certain ancient forms that had been in use for over 200 years.[i] This Mass, properly known as the Mass of Pius V, remained normative until the introduction of the Novus Ordo Mass, the Mass of Paul VI, in 1969.[ii] While Paul VI decreed that the new missal he promulgated was to be the only one used throughout the Latin rite Church, he did not abrogate the use of the previous missal.
The implementation of the Mass of Paul VI created confusion throughout the Church as practically no catechesis was undertaken for the faithful. It also produced schisms, the most celebrated of which was that of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of France. The Archbishop established the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) as a traditionalist priestly society and in 1988 he consecrated four bishops in defiance of the pope. This consummated his and his society’s schism from Rome. Pope John Paul II was forced to make the difficult decision to excommunicate Archbishop Lefebvre and the four bishops he consecrated.
Almost simultaneously, the pope issued his apostolic letter, Ecclesia Dei, lifting restrictions upon the celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Pope John XXIII promulgated in 1962. This was the missal in use before the Second Vatican Council. However, priests had to procure the permission of their bishops in order to celebrate that Mass; and most of the time obtaining their permission was practically impossible for a variety of reasons, stated and unstated.[iii] John Paul II also created the Fraternal Society of St. Peter (FSSP), a fraternal society of priests created to preserve and celebrate the Latin traditions, but in communion with the Holy See. The intention of the pope’s motu proprio was, of course, to stem the tide of schism and to call back to the Church anyone whose sole objection was the lack of opportunity to celebrate the Mass and the sacraments according to the previous missal.
On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI followed these precedents by releasing his own motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum. Summorum allowed for even greater access to the older Mass by calling upon bishops to create structures that would increase opportunities for the faithful to attend the Latin Mass. While the Mass of Paul VI remained the ordinary form in the Latin Church, he designated the Mass of Pius V, celebrated according the missal of John XXIII, as the extraordinary form of the Latin rite. He also allowed priests who wished to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to be able to do so without having to obtain their bishop’s permission.
The question we must now ask is, “Why?” Why so much effort to restore the Mass that was apparently rejected following Vatican II? And why so much interest on the part of the popes? This is especially pertinent since the Society of St. Pius X has not budged in its positions. Even though Pope Benedict repealed the excommunications of Lefebvre and the bishops he consecrated, they appear no closer now to reconciliation than they were when those excommunications were first pronounced. Could there be other reasons besides the reconciliation of SSPX and others who left communion with the Church due to the changes of Vatican II?
Next time we will discuss steps taken to approve yet another form of liturgy within the Latin rite. Join us then.
[iii] Capponi, Neri, D.Cn.L., LL.D. “Bishops Against the Pope: The Motu Proprio "Ecclesia Dei" and the Extension of the Indult.” EWTN Document Library. www.ewtn.com.
In his very first public address as pope, the newly crowned Benedict XVI had this to say about the purpose and mission of his papacy:
…in preparing myself also for the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, I wish to affirm strongly my determination to continue the commitment to implement the Second Vatican Council, in the footsteps of my Predecessors and in faithful continuity with the two millennial tradition of the Church.[i]
Notice the force given to this little statement. This was in 2005, forty years since the close of the Second Vatican Council; and the undeniable implication was that the decisions of the Council either had not yet been implemented, or had been implemented incompletely or incorrectly! Notice also that he went on to say his commitment was to implement the Council “…in faithful continuity with the two millennial tradition of the Church.”[ii]
It’s been quite a few years since Bob Dylan first sang that prophetic phrase.[i] That was 1964. The times certainly have changed since then. Lyndon Johnson was president following the assassination of John Kennedy the previous year. The War in Vietnam officially began that year and the Beatles first came to America. In 1964 the first Ford Mustang was produced[ii] and the Second Vatican Council produced some of its most prestigious Church documents.[iii] These included: Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), Unitatis Redintegratio (the Decree on Ecumenism), and Orientalium Ecclesiarum (the Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rites.) It was also in 1964 that Pope Paul VI issued his first encyclical (Ecclesiam Suam)in which he listed his aims for the Church during his papacy.
Pope John XXIII aimed to foster unity within the fragmented Christian world when he had first called the council two years earlier.
The high point of his reign was the Second Vatican Council, nicknamed Vatican II, which opened on October 11, 1962. In calling the ecumenical council, he sought a “New Pentecost,” a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He sought reconciliation for the world’s divided Christianity and invited Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant observers to attend the proceedings. [iv]
So perhaps it is not surprising then to see such a great emphasis laid upon ecumenical topics and endeavors. So how’s that going?
Not too bad actually. The first rupture in Christian unity occurred in 1056 A.D. Not since that time have prospects for some level of unity and cooperation between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches of the Universal Church looked better. This is primarily due to the untiring efforts of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We must also take into account that, like it’s immediate precursor, the Second Vatican Council resulted in a schism. The First Vatican Council resulted in the Old Catholic schism while the Second Vatican Council resulted in the schism of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X. If you are not already familiar with these groups the linked articles should prove helpful.
If asked, most Catholics would say that the most profound result of the Second Vatican Council was its changes to the liturgy. The traditional Latin Mass, termed the Tridentine Mass after the Council of Trent that codified it, had been in use certainly since the 5th Century A.D.[v] The Second Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy gave us the Novus Ordo or New Order of the Mass. The primary stated purpose of the Novus Ordo was to make the Mass more directly accessible to the faithful by presenting it in the various vernacular languages of the people. This would, it was hoped, encourage greater participation in the Mass on the part of the people.
Several more recent developments in the Catholic Church can be seen as having resulted from the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis upon ecumenism and to the liturgical changes following the council. Over the coming weeks we will take a look at the Motu Proprios of John Paul II and Benedict XVI which intended to give the faithful greater access to the Latin Tridentine Mass. We will also look at the new provision being made by Pope Benedict for Anglicans seeking to enter the Catholic Church and some of the effects that may have upon Latin rite Catholics. We will also discuss the upcoming implementation of the new English translation of the Mass: why it is happening now and what may be the results of it nearly 50 years after Vatican II.