Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vatican II and the Year of Faith--The Liturgy

Tridentine Mass, Priest Facing Altar

Vatican II Mass, Priest Facing People
   While the Second Vatican Council brought about many changes in the life of the Church there is no doubt in my mind that the most significant of these has been the changes that have taken place in the Mass as well is in the rites of the other sacraments. I was fortunate, I believe, to be in the seminary as the council unfolded and was well-educated in the reasons for the liturgical changes as well as in the changes in approach to the theology of the Church and the understanding of the Scriptures that went along with that.

   Unfortunately while the changes were implemented in many cases the faithful were not well educated in the reason for them.  This, I believe, has led to many of the problems that the Church has had to deal with in the celebration of the Eucharist since that time.

   Without dwelling on problems I will say that without proper formation change seemed to many to be happening just for the sake of change. "They turned the altar around and are using English. What will they do next?"  Many sought even more change that was not well grounded theologically and others sought to retrench into the past.  Both tendencies are unfortunate.

   So what happened?  Even before the council there was a loosely organized, but quite strong and widespread "liturgical movement".  This movement encouraged wider participation by the laity and resulted in practices such as the dialogue Mass where the whole congregation said the responses, in Latin, that once were recited only by the altar servers.  Gregorian chant, now considered so traditional, was re-etablished because it was simpler than some of the elaborate Mass arrangements that required trained choirs to sing. There was a strong push as well for the use of the vernacular language, including many bishops and theologians.

    The changes, then, did not happen in a vacuum.  There was a previous impetus leading up to them as well as several principles set forth by the council and leading up to it.  Almost everyone has heard of aggiornamento, Pope John XXIII's term for updating, literally "bringing up to the day". But have you heard of resourcement, or resourcing. Many theologians like Yves Congar and Henri de Lubac from France were calling for us to look back to the earlier theological resources of the first centuries of the Church and not to rely solely on the scholastic theology of the Middle Ages.  Without rejecting the latter they called for a new look at the former..  It was this movement which led to the re-establishment of the Kiss of Peace and the Prayers of the Faithful, as well as the practice of concelebration by many priests at the same time.  These things were not innovations but the recapturing of ancient practices.

   The council also insisted on "full, conscious and active participation in liturgical services" (Constitution on the Sqacred Liturgy, # 14.) as well as  a liturgy  which "respects  and fosters the qualities and talents of the various races and nations.  The call for active participation included increasing the role of the laity in formal liturgical roles such as lectoring and eventually.  The several statements on cultural expression has led in my experience to some beautiful African, Oriental, Slavic and Hispanic liturgical celebrations.  The Council did insist that some aspects of the Mass are unchangeable but that others may be adapted according to these principles.

  I grew up with the Tridentine (Council of Trent) Mass in Latin.  I sang in a boy's choir and was fortunate to be in a parish where we children sang the high Mass every Sunday of the school year. I have a great appreciation for all that was represented in that way of worshiping. I have gregorian chant and Palestrina motets on my iPod.  Nonetheless,  I have grown to embrace the new rite for Mass and see the need for us to move forward with it so that we can develop an equally rich tradition as the one that is behind us.  I will admit that there have been excesses in the implementation of changes, some of them merely silly, others outright wrong. I also think that some things were cast aside that the council never meant to cast aside and we need to re-claim those.  But in this Year of Faith we need to move forward.  90% of the Church now lives in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  Theologians and bishops in these places, most especially in Africa, attribute a great increase in the practice of the Catholic faith not only to superb missionary efforts, but also to the use of vernacular language and openness to cultural expression. The Mass in Latin was seen as a foreign ritual that rightly or wrongly kept many away. They can now celebrate the Eucharist in a manner and with an expression that is native to them and yet is the Eucharist in union with the whole Church.

   As we move forward in the Year of Faith let us deepen our understanding of the Mass. Let us realize that in theEucharist not only are bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but those of us who receive that Body and Blood are called to be changed and transformed by it so that we can be Christ in and for the world.


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