Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 1962

Early Discussion on the Sacred Liturgy

      Near the end of October, 1962, the very first general topic taken up by the Council Fathers was the Sacred Liturgy, discussing an early draft of the document which would eventually become known as Sacrosanctum Concilium.

     On each Council day, always beginning at 9 AM, as many as two dozen Bishops would speak (for a maximum of 10 minutes each). During the early discussions on the Liturgy, various Bishops could be heard giving brief addresses -- called interventions, some of which were submitted as written, rather than oral texts -- requesting that:

• local languages should be used instead of Latin in the teaching parts of the Mass
• the Scriptural texts proclaimed at Mass should be more varied
• the laity of the Latin Rite should be able to receive Holy Communion under the appearance of both bread and wine
• there should be a wider provision for priests to concelebrate Masses

      In historical perspective, these proposed liturgical changes were not impulsive and revolutionary – but had been preceded throughout the 20th century by both papal initiatives and liturgical scholarship. A “Liturgical Movement” which began during the 19th-century among Benedictine monks in France, slowly spread to other monasteries and countries. Some of the reforms proposed by this movement received papal support, especially from Popes St. Pius X and Pius XII. Always in fidelity to the Church, liturgical scholars attempted to share the profound meaning of various rites – especially the Mass – with the laity, leading to the publication of missals, scholarly and popular journals, a rediscovery of authentic Church music, even national “liturgical congresses.”

      As late as1948, Pius XII had convened a Commission for the Reform of the Liturgy; a newly-revised Holy Week liturgy was im¬ple¬mented in 1955 – a fruit of the “liturgical movement” – of which most Catholics were unaware.

      So, while there was indeed serious debate in the Council aula regarding proposed liturgical changes, these were not new, unheard of suggestions. Speaking to reporters in the Council press center, Fr. Hermann Schmidt, SJ (of the Gregorian University) and Fr. Frederick McManus (of the Catholic University of America) summarized the discussion with two deeper questions: “First, whether the texts and rites should be changed to express more clearly the divine things they signify, paving the way to full, actual, and community participation; and second, how the liturgy could be an effective influence on society, not divorced from modern civilization and the existing social situation.”

      They hoped that the liturgy of the monasteries would find its way into the cathedrals and parish churches. renewal of the Divine Office and of the Psalter were also Conciliar topics, along with a discussion of liturgical needs in mission lands.

      The Council discussions on the Sacred Liturgy would continue for more than a year. As one observer on Catholics in American culture later noted, “Perhaps more dramatically than any other decree issuing from the Council, the decree (on the liturgy) would touch the folks in the pews in immediate and understandable ways.”

      As the Council Fathers entered a brief recess from November 1st to 4th – to observe the traditional days of All Saints and All Souls, and in observance of the 4th anniversary of John XXIII’s papacy – a “renewed” liturgy was surely in their thoughts. Fidelity, the place of Sacred Scripture, heart-felt reverence, a “ressourcement” (the study of Patristics, the teaching of the early Fathers of the Church), and the recent “Liturgical Movement” would all be factors in a reformed liturgy.

      There would be renewal – yet it was surely intended to be renewal within tradition.

(Next Week:  Five Popes at One Council)

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