Monday, March 28, 2011

What Vatican II really said about the Mass

Could this be the Mass of Vatican II?

What follows below is not a homily, nor even a talk. It is the handout I distributed at a parish talk I gave on the liturgical vision of the Second Vatican Council. This was the second talk in a series titled, “Revisiting Vatican II.”
As you can see from the disclaimer at the bottom, I did not present this handout as an indication of what should or should not happen in any particular parish. Before discussing these points, I emphasized that, whatever we think about the rites of the Mass, what is most important is our interior participation. In this regard I appeal especially to the thought of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who regularly insisted that merely changing the external rites of the Mass will have little effect in bringing about a true liturgical renewal.
For the Holy Father, the “reform of the Reform” begins with education, with rediscovering the true “spirit of the Liturgy” – and this reform is quite distinct from “restoration” in the sense of “going back,” Ratzinger has stated on numerous occasions that it is neither possible nor desirable to “go back.” Indeed, we can only continue forward, toward the Lord, toward to consummation of all history. Yet, we may either go forward with the Pope, or without him; with Vatican II or without it. For my part, I advocate fidelity to the Holy Father and to the teachings of Vatican II – for this reason, it will be helpful to consider what the Second Vatican Council actually said about certain exterior elements of the Sacred Liturgy.
The most important thing today is that we should regain respect for the liturgy and for the fact that it is not to be manipulated. [...] That we do not seek self-fulfillment in it but rather the gift that comes from above. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World, p. 410)

Myth vs. Fact – What did Vatican II really say about the Mass?
[quotations are from Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II document on the Liturgy]

Myth: Vatican II got rid of devotions.
Fact: Vatican II said that devotions are necessary, for the Liturgy alone cannot suffice for building up the spiritual life.
9. The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. [...] 12. The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. [...] 13. Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended [...] But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them. (SC 9, 12, 13)

Myth: Vatican II got rid of Latin.
Fact: Vatican II declared that Latin is the official language of the Mass and must be maintained.
36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters. [...]
  54. Nevertheless 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.  (SC 36, 54)

Myth: Vatican II called for modern music to be the norm in the Mass.
Fact: Vatican II insisted that Gregorian Chant (in Latin) must be the norm, though polyphony was also allowed.
116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited 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 from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action. (SC116)

Myth: Vatican II said that modern musical instruments (i.e. the piano, the guitar, etc.) should take the place of traditional instruments (i.e. the organ) in the Mass.
Fact: Vatican II was the first ecumenical council to declare that the pipe organ is the norm.
120. In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things. But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship. (SC 120)

Myth: Vatican II wanted priests to start “facing the people” during Mass.
Fact: Even according to the current liturgical books, the priest should not celebrate “facing the people”.

Myth: Vatican II insisted on regularly distributing the Precious Blood (i.e. Communion from the cup).
Fact: Vatican II envisioned only certain, very limited, cases when the faithful would receive the Precious Blood.
55. The dogmatic principles which were laid down by the Council of Trent remaining intact, communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit, not only to clerics and religious, but also to the laity, in cases to be determined by the Apostolic See, as, for instance, to the newly ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the newly professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptized in the Mass which follows their baptism. (SC 55)

Myth: Vatican II allowed for Communion in the hand.
Fact: There is no mention of this practice in Vatican II. Pope Paul VI specifically warned that this practice could lead to a lack of belief in the Eucharist, and to a loss of reverence.
[In the inscruction Memoriale Domini of 29 May 1969, it is emphasized that the normative way of receiving Communion is on the tongue. Though Paul VI did allow for Communion in the hand, this permission was granted only because some priests and lay faithful (especially in the USA and Europe) had refused to follow the Church’s discipline and demanded Communion in the hand. It was meant as a temporary pastoral concession.]

 – It may be helpful to note Cardinal Ratzinger’s response to the question “How should we actually receive Holy Communion?” The Cardinal’s reply, in part: The signs of reverence we use have changed in the course of time. But the essential point is that our behavior should give to inner recollection and reverence an outward bodily expression. Earlier, Communion used to be received kneeling, which made perfectly good sense. Nowadays it is done standing. But this standing, too should be standing in reverence before the Lord. The attitude of kneeling ought never to be allowed to disappear from the Church.
Another question was brought forward, “Communion in the hand, or directly in the mouth?” Ratzinger’s response, I wouldn’t want to be fussy about that. (from God and the World, pgs. 409-410)

Myth: Vatican II called for the massive renovation of churches; including the removal of statues, altar rails, altars, confessionals, candle stands, etc.
Fact: The Council specifically rejected this notion. Even when certain religious articles would have to be removed, Vatican II specified that they must be disposed of with great dignity.
125. The practice of placing sacred images in churches so that they may be venerated by the faithful is to be maintained. Nevertheless their number should be moderate and their relative positions should reflect right order. [...] 126. Ordinaries must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or dispersed; for they are the ornaments of the house of God. (SC 125, 126)

Myth: Vatican II intended to drastically change the Liturgy.
Fact: What was called for was a process of organic growth – slow and gentle modifications and reforms, always maintaining the same essential reality.
21. In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. [...] 23. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing. (SC 4, 21, 23)

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger comments on the liturgical reforms which took place after Vatican II:
One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth. (from Feast of Faith, p. 81)

Disclaimer: I am by no means indicating what should or should not be done in parishes today. Rather, this “myth vs. fact” sheet is simply an indication of what the Second Vatican Council actually said about the Mass. Like any faithful Catholic, I would most certainly hope that we would not reject the teachings and vision which Vatican II has given us – therefore, I take the above quotations very seriously.

It is not what we would like the Council to have said that must determine our course, but what the Council really said. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, p. 261)