Monday, 16 March 2015

At the Closing of the Council: Organic Developments the Concilium Should Have Implemented

The most important aim of the early Liturgical Movement was not the reform of the Liturgy to suit the people, but of the people to suit the Liturgy. This would mean, as St Paul exhorts the Romans, to "not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind," (Romans 12:2) and is therefore not a task to be treated lightly. As the Liturgical Movement grew and evolved, only then did the aims shift towards a more substantial reform of the liturgy itself.

I contend, together with Dom Reid in his book The Organic Development of the Liturgy which I have been reading, that the ideology that had captured the mind of prominent liturgists in the lead up to the Second Vatican Council and that held vogue during the Concilium which produced the Missal of Pope VI, now the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, was an unhealthy mix of antiquarianism and twisted pastoral concern. What I consider to have happened is this: a new rite of Mass was produced to suit the perceived needs of contemporary society by piecing together forms which were considered ancient enough, usually from the Patristic era, both Eastern and Western. The artificial collage of liturgical elements produced is a break from the received liturgical Tradition, and in my opinion has been liturgically disastrous since its introduction.

I will not try and defend here the fundamental premise that the only suitable reforms and developments of the Liturgy are those which follow organically from the objective liturgical Tradition, but I will briefly enunciate what that means. As Cardinal Ratzinger noted in his review of Reid's work:

"Between [...] the radical reformers and their radical opponents, the voices of those people who regard the Liturgy as something living, and thus as growing and renewing itself both in its reception and in its finished form, are often lost. These latter, however, basing this on the same argument, insist that growth is not possible unless the Liturgy's identity is preserved, and further emphasize that proper development is only possible if careful attention is paid to the inner structural logic of this "organism": Just as a gardener cares for a living plant as it develops, with due attention to the power of growth and life within the plant, and the rules it obeys, so the Church ought to give reverent care to the Liturgy through the ages, distinguishing actions that are helpful and healing from those that are violent and destructive."

So an organic development is one which is in line with the Liturgy's identity, authentically preserving its character, which will sometimes mean altering the Liturgy but never in an overly dramatic way. Any complete overhaul of the Liturgy cannot be considered organic and is consequently to be rejected. Whether one thinks it is the best change since Christ first changed the bread into his own Body at the Last Supper or a catastrophic change, the Missal of Paul VI is undeniably not an organic development.

I think an interesting question to consider is what would count as organic development in light of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the Liturgy. The Dogmatic Constitution on Sacred Liturgy produced by the Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, certainly gave mandate to make some reforms to the Liturgy. What would reforms true to the nature of the Liturgy have been? Taking the Mass as it stood in 1962, I consider the following modest proposals to cover the requisite bases:

1. Reform of the Church's liturgical calendar such that the temporal or seasonal calendar has marked pre-eminence over the sanctoral (saints) calendar. This would not mean a complete overhaul of the liturgical calendar, but mainly a reform of the rubrics which specify how the two calendars would interact.

2. The participation of the faithful in the responses normally said only by the altar servers during the fore-Mass and Mass. I think an abbreviation of the prayers at the foot of the altar by having only one Confiteor said by the celebrant, altar servers and faithful is appropriate, although it is more important that the congregation have a Confiteor than that there only be one. This is in part a development covered by the emergence of the Missa dialogata.

3. Removing the need of the priest to repeat the sections of the Mass sung or said by the faithful, particularly the Ordinary (Kyrie, Credo, Gloria, Agnus Dei...) and readings, if done by a lector.

4. The Propers of a Mass should have the option of being prayed in the vernacular, particularly at a Missa lecta. These are the Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel, Offertory, Secrets, Communion verse and Postcommunion. This restores them to them to their intended place, particularly consonant with the fact that all these (except the Secret, which can remain in Latin) are said aloud precisely so that they are intelligible to the faithful. The introduction of the vernacular for these is an authentic development of liturgical Tradition as it is a reform that restores these parts to their original intelligibility. The problem of adapting the vernacular to chant means that it is likely that a Missa cantata or Missa solemnis will retain the chanted Latin propers, but the option should remain of making some adaptation as is required.

5. The fore-Mass (Liturgy of the Word, Mass of the Catachumens) should be celebrated from the chair, as in pontifical Masses. This is a return to the fore-Mass's original place, which had been changed because of how the low Mass was developed for private Masses.

6. The more extensive use and preaching of Scripture, which would mean a slight amplification of the fore-Mass, but more importantly a re-structuring of the reading cycle, which I am unsure of how to do in an organic manner, given the venerable antiquity of the Roman lectionary.

7. Some rites lost in history could be returned in a reverent manner, including the Prayer of the Faithful and the Offertory procession.

8. Though I am weary of touching an artifact so old and venerable as the Roman canon, I am inclined to agree with Fr Brian Harrison when he said:

"I would suggest two changes to emphasise the role of the Holy Spirit at those key moments of the Eucharistic Prayer, the epiclesis, or invocation of the Spirit over the gifts, and the doxology. First, the words Spiritus Sancti virtute (“by the power of the Holy Spirit”) could well be inserted into the epiclesis prayer which begins Quam oblationem after the word quaesumus; and secondly, the entire doxology (which begins, “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit”) could be given greater emphasis by saying or singing it aloud, as in the new rite, while elevating the chalice and paten, as an invitation for the people to respond with the final “Amen.” The contrast between this moment and the preceding silence of the rest of the Canon would provide a beautiful and dramatic consummation to the majesty of the Eucharistic Prayer." (Address to the St. Thomas Aquinas Society Eucharistic Conference, Colorado Springs, March 26, 1995)

9. Restoring the Ite, missa est to its place at the end of the Mass, and the abolition of the Leonine prayers in public Masses as well as the Last Gospel being either brought before the Ite or returned to private recitation by the priest.

If we are to include what I consider to be duplicated or excessive sections, I would mention the sentence added at the end of the Munda cor meum (the prayer before the proclamation of the Gospel) as one that could be removed as a repetition of what has just been prayed for, or the irrelevant later verses of the Lavabo psalm (Ps. 25) during the Offertory, which goes for longer than is required anyway. It may be possible to re-introduce some of the prefaces which were suppressed in history. But these would be relatively minor changes to the prayers of the Mass.


It is clear that some of these changes were made with the introduction of the Missal of Paul VI. Yet, whilst I have listed a number of changes, what this might cloud is how much would remain the same: almost everything. Using a one of the common booklet of the 1962 missal for usage of the faithful in this reformed Mass would be fairly straightforward. Latin has been retained for almost everything except the changing parts of the Mass. The Canon is still silent. Mass is ad orientum. The prayers are the same.

Not only do I consider these changes essentially the sum of what Sacrosanctum Concilium called for, I consider that these reforms would be all that was required to bridge the gap between priest and congregation which had so much been decried. The task would then continue to be what it has always been: for the entire People of God to be elevated and transformed in conformity to the Divine Liturgy, and ultimately, to God himself.


  1. I feel similarly to you in these matters. Rome's reforms led the way for a number of other Christian traditions, including my beloved Anglican Prayer Book. Like you, we're also now in the process of back-pedaling a little, trying to figure out exactly if, how, and where we went too far, and it's been fun watching similarities in our work. We've both swapped "and also with you" back to "and with your spirit" and we've both cleaned up the translation of the Creed, for example.

    I might push back gently at a couple points however.
    First, it should be worth noting that even though the liturgy has been drastically changed, it has not lost its validity. The whole Church (as far as Roman polity is concerned) approves the Ordinary Form, so it's not as though the validity of the Sacrament has been compromised. Thus, in the midst of indignance and push to restore what is lost, don't fall into the trap of "liturgical fundamentalism" where sedevacantists and other schismatics end up.

    Second, the plant-tending analogy was not treated as accurately as could have been. When I first started working for a small farm in my home town, I was surprised at how "violent" a healthy pruning could be. Whole branches plucked off, bloomed flowers trimmed back, the changes for the sake of the plant sometimes are drastic, and not always gentle. Though yes, always with the life within the plant in mind. It is possible (in my opinion, whatever that means) to see the current Ordinary Form (in the Roman Rite) and the 1979 Prayer Book (in Anglicanism) as the same liturgy as before, just having undergone a very strict pruning. Then the debate is less about if it's the same plant, and more about how much of that pruning was really necessary!

    It is my hope (and in my extremely limited sphere of influence, my mission) that this painfully-pruned and sometimes deformed liturgical child of the 1960's and 70's be nurtured to regrow healthily back into its pre-reform shape and content, keeping only the best of the changes. (For example, the third (OT) reading is in my opinion a helpful addition to the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy.)

    Just in case you're not already aware, there is a New Liturgical Movement which has the exact same concerns that you have. I bet you'd enjoy following their articles if you don't already:

    1. Good points!

      To the first one, I would be very far from holding any semblance of that position. Somewhat at odds with many in my traditionalist community, I actually prefer attending the Ordinary form of the Mass, though I consider it far from ideal in certain ways. Part of the issue I have with the OF is that it allows within the rubrics for what I would consider practices contrary to the nature of the Divine liturgy. But most of the times these are not requirements, they are permitted options. So you can have a rubrically sound Mass that is excellent and one that is remarkably poor (in externals, I mean).

      Your second point reminds me of a comment made by my philosophy professor in first year. I had argued something to do with gradual change in terms of personal identity and I made a somewhat naive point about the change being "slow enough." He rightly pointed out that changing something quickly or slowly and referring to it as gradual is nebulous without some more specifications. At the end of the day, changes need not actually be slow - no sensible person should argue that an improvement needs to be implemented slowly merely for the sake of gradual appearances. Ultimately I think the plant analogy illustrates that: a) we are treating an organism that is in some respects living, b) this organic whole came from before us and will, presumably, continue after us and c) if we are not to kill the liturgy, the changes we make must not disrupt its integrity as an organism. Like all plants, the liturgy has essential and non-essential parts. The liturgy can be pruned - even violently, so to speak - in a way that is healthy for it, but it can also be conserved as living with an unhealthy, violent pruning. So as you say, the question is what changes were for the better and which for the worse, all the while keeping in mind that the liturgy is still valid post 1970.