The death of Kobe Bryant ushered in the new year. It shocked the world. Suddenly the coronarovirus circled the globed. Lockdowns and quarantines ensued. Our lives have been upended. You may have joked about this year being the beginning of an apocalypse— honestly, it feels Pandora’s box of evil was opened and there is no end in sight.
Recreational outlets for stress such as sporting events, music concerts, and festivals have either been cancelled for postponed indefinitely. Local libraries, zoo, and museums closed. How the heck are you supposed to live? I contracted COVID19 in April and those were among the most miserable weeks for my family. And if that wasn’t bad enough the Church suspended public Masses.
I understand why the bishops temporarily removed the Sunday obligation. Viewing the Mass via the Internet was a gift. It was a grace to hear my diocese’s newly ordained bishop preach (my family ordinarily don’t attend the Cathedral for Mass so we wouldn’t have heard Bishop DeGrood otherwise).
In May several dioceses across the United States started allowing public liturgies with safety precautions. I was recently graced with the ability to receive the Blessed Sacrament for the first time in months. It felt like a homecoming.
Home is Where the Sacred Heart is
Saint Augustine wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee. ” This year was a journey in the wilderness (I mean that literally and figuratively). Lent ended on April 11th however my spiritual dryness and suffering continued well into the Easter Season. Streaming the Mass on TV felt like viewing an oasis far off in a desert. Some weeks it appeared real and other times as a mirage.
The tangibility of going to Mass physically reminds me of the Incarnation— God becoming man. Without that direct connection of hearing and seeing the priest in person it remained a great Cross to bear.
Saint Pope Pius X said, “Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven.” This life is not our true home. It is a pilgrimage toward our destination.
Home is about love. The truest form of love is found in the heart of Jesus.
Community of Love
Another term for the Blessed Sacrament is Holy Communion. I love this name for the Eucharist. Under the section What is this Sacrament Called? the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1331, (It is called) “Holy Communion, because by this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in his Body and Blood to form a single body.” Love can only happen in the presence of another.
Jesus told his Apostles in Matthew 18:20, “For wheretwoorthree gather in my name, there am I with them.” This is the reality of the Church. People united together with each other through the power of God’s love.
Returning to Mass reminded me of this communion with God AND man. The priest stands in Personi Christ (the Person of Christ). While only a validly ordained priest, Eucharistic prayer, wheat bread, and grape wine are officially needed for the Sacrament to occur, it is a fuller sign of God’s love when the laity are present. Hearing the faithful sing the various hymns helped me to greater enter into the mystery of the Mass.
An Invisible (But Still Real Communion)
The community of the laity are a visible sign of communion. Yet, there is an invisible assembly present in the Mass— the angelic hosts and communion of saints. I felt closer to the holy ones during the Eucharist than when I was watching it in my own home on the television. Jesus’ words to Thomas in John 20:29 hit home last Sunday, “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” This world is not our true home. A world beyond the senses exist.
According to the Catechism, “The whole community thus joins in the unending praise that the Church in heaven, the angels and all the saints (CCC 1352). St. Augustine echoes this truth, “The angels surround and help the priest when he is celebrating Mass.” Understanding this reality helped deepen my appreciate for the Mass. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Ask God to Give You Strength
This year continues to send us new and unimaginable trials. Our hearts ache for love. The inability to receive the Eucharist made those challenges exponentially tougher. Some of you may still be in “exile” and wondering how long you have to wander aimlessly in the desert of 2020. God never totally abandons us even though it feels like it sometimes. Read the Bible daily or the writings of saints for comfort. Praying the Rosary or chaplet of Divine Mercy help ward off distress. I offer my sufferings to God in hopes that you may receive spiritual consolation to soothe you during your trials!
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During the recessional hymn for the Mass for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, I had a profound insight. “This song is teaching us much more than about Mary!” I thought. I could not believe I missed the theology in the song. Here are the lyrics to the hymn Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly:
Sing of Mary, pure and lowly,
Virgin mother undefiled,
Sing of God’s own Son most holy,
Who became her little child.
Fairest child of fairest mother,
God the Lord who came to earth,
Word made flesh, our very brother,
Takes our nature by his birth.
Sing of Jesus, son of Mary,
In the home at Nazareth.
Toil and labor cannot weary
Love enduring unto death.
Constant was the love he gave her,
Though he went forth from her side,
Forth to preach, and heal, and suffer,
Till on Calvary he died.
Glory be to God the Father;
Glory be to God the Son;
Glory be to God the Spirit;
Glory to the Three in One.
From the heart of blessed Mary,
From all saints the song ascends,
And the Church the strain reechoes
Unto earth’s remotest ends.
Mary as Theotokos
In the fourth century, there arose a heresy, or false teaching, that denied that Mary was the mother of Jesus. Named after the bishop Nestorius who promoted this belief, the heresy formally became known as Nestorianism.
The Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 declared that Mary is theotokos (the God-bearer). Led by Saint Cyril of Alexandria, the council fathers spoke of Mary as:
“Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh.” (DS 251).
Catholics honor Mary as mother, and celebrate her motherhood on January 1st because:
Jesus entrusted us into the care of Mary as our spiritual mother (see John 19:26-27).
Honoring the motherhood of Mary reminds us of the humanity of Jesus
“And by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man”
Catholics are to make a profound bow at this line of the Nicene Creed. Why? Does not this give credence to the Protestant claim we worship Mary?
According to St. Louis de Montfort, “We never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor him even more perfectly. We go to heronly to lead to the goal we seek—Jesus, her Son.” Mary is not the end. God is the ultimate aim of our focus. We honor Mary because of her closeness to Jesus and her model of holiness.
The last line of the first stanza in Sing of Mary is “Word made flesh, our very brother,
Takes our nature by his birth.” This is referring to the teaching of the Incarnation. Start with Mary. End with Christ.
Incarnation— Jesus is fully human and fully divine
Mary is discussed in the first stanza of the song. The second stanza centers around Jesus. On his life, death, and resurrection. True honor and devotion to Mary will always lead to the belief in the Incarnation.
Jesus had to be fully human and fully God in order to be the perfect bridge between God and humanity. A mere human Jesus cannot save. But a solely divine Jesus would prevent us from understanding the fullness of Truth. God stooped to our level to teach us about the truth that God is love.
God is Love—a community of Persons
Mary leads to Jesus (God made incarnate). Jesus teaches us about the Holy Trinity. Recall Sing of Mary’s lyrics. The first stanza talks of Mary. Secondly, we sing about the Incarnation. Lastly, we sing about the teaching of the Holy Trinity:
Glory be to God the Father;
Glory be to God the Son;
Glory be to God the Spirit;
Glory to the Three in One.
From the heart of blessed Mary,
From all saints the song ascends,
And the Church the strain reechoes
Unto earth’s remotest ends.
Mary received into her heart the love of the Holy Spirit. She followed the will of the Father and gave birth to the Second Person of the Trinity. Jesus passed on authority to his Apostles to administer the sacraments to all and to preach the Good News worldwide!
God works in mysterious ways, the Virgin giving birth is the greatest of mysteries, but be on the lookout for other important insights. The processional song at Mass served that purpose for me today. I pray you are open to the working of the Holy Spirit to enlighten you during your next Sunday Mass!
In the modern world “reform” is a frequently used word. During the 2008 presidential election, a major issue was the reform of the United States healthcare system. Currently, violent revolutions occurring in Libya and Egypt cause people to call for political reform. The modern world frequently criticizes the Church. Many people believe that the Church should update its doctrine by permitting gay marriage and contraceptive use.
The Church is Incarnational
Though being a human institution, the Church has a Divine aspect, and is guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all of its doctrines are immutable and Her truths are eternal. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the “liturgy as the sacred action par excellence is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and it is likewise the font from which all her powers flow.” So the Church desires liturgical worship focused on God rid of excesses that deter from that goal.
Papal authority throughout the centuries advocated liturgical reform when abuses crept in. A prime example of this can be found in the 6th century with Pope Gregory the Great. He made several changes to the Roman Rite in response to heretical groups which caused some bishops to become scrupulous with prayer texts.
Another instance of immense liturgical reform occurred in the 16th century when the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant Reformation, sought to elucidate the Catholic doctrine, in particular the sacraments and reaffirming the Sacrificial nature of the Mass. While successful in clarifying the Church’s teaching, the rigidities of Trent led to decay in liturgical participation among the laity.
Context for Liturgical Reform
Within the 20th century, the 2nd Vatican Council provided the renewal needed for the liturgy of the Roman rite. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium states, “The liturgy builds up those who are in the Church, making of them a holy temple of the Lord, a dwelling-place for God in the Spirit, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Because of the importance of the liturgy, the Council required that reforms should be made and practical norms established. Yet, the reform decrees found in the conciliar document did not develop in isolation. Rather, liturgical reform was several years in the making. Starting as a pastoral movement, the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century began in monastic centers and sought to return piety to the liturgy. It gained papal impetus through Pius XI’s Divini cultus in 1928 and Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei in 1948.
Since the liturgy’s development is organic, many of the renewal efforts of the Liturgical Movement pushed for a return to earlier Christian liturgical elements such as: an increased focus on the centrality of Christ’s sacrifice, better use of Scripture reading, greater emphasis on Gregorian chant and promotion of active participation among the laity. Ultimately, these concerns were addressed and declared by the Church in the 2nd Vatican Council.
A brief liturgical history from the Reformation to the 20th century will help to put the Liturgical Movement into perspective. Protestant reformers rejected not only the abuses of the Church, but the medieval liturgy as well. Dustan Tucker viewed the Reformation as “essentially an anti-liturgical revolution”.
Council of Trent and the Liturgy
The Council of Trent responded by criticizing such departures from Tradition. Pope Paul V declared, in the papal bull Quo primum, a return to the rite of the Early Fathers. This included removing lengthy and unnecessary prayers, ornate elements, and superstitious piety from the Mass. Soon after Trent, the Church implemented this reform. From 1568-1570 the Tridentine Missal and Breviary took shape. Requirements to pray the office of the Blessed Virgin and of the dead were lifted. General rubrics at the beginning of the missal provided uniformity in worship.
For the next few centuries there was stability in liturgical reform. However, abuses in the liturgy still arose. For instance, the number of feast days increased from 182 to 300 between 1584 and 1903. Many started to take priority over Sunday. Several attempts at reform failed during the three centuries preceding the Liturgical Movement.
Influence of Prosper Gueranger
Liturgical study blossomed within monastic communities in France in the 19th century. The Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes, in France, housed one of the early promoters of the European liturgical movement, Prosper Gueranger. He advocated a return to Gregorian chant as the authorized liturgical music for the Church. By the 1870s, his fellow monks researched chant manuscripts and desired to purify the texts to their original content. Gueranger made liturgy the center of monastic life.
Despite his positive contributions, he never encouraged the essential liturgical principle full and active participation by the whole congregation. Despite this, reform in France soon found its way to Germany and later Belgium around the turn of the century.
Though Gueranger had an important part in the liturgical reform in Europe, many historians acknowledge the movement’s true founder as the Belgian Benedictine, Dom Lambert. Beauduin. A speech given by him at the Catholic Conference at Malines in 1909 marked the beginning of the Liturgical Movement.
Pius X and Spread of Liturgical Reform
Influenced by Pius X’s motu proprio, Beuduin called for complete and active participation of all Christians within the liturgy. He wanted to reach beyond the people of Belgium to all Catholics. To accomplish this, Beuduin wrote a missal for the laity. Later he organized his abbey to provide liturgical education and even published a journal, Les Questions liturgiques.
The Liturgical Movement soon spread beyond Germany, France, and Belgium. As the century continued, the liturgical reform came to the Netherlands in 1911 and Italy in 1914 and eventually throughout the rest of Europe.
The liturgical movement traveled across the Atlantic in 1926, under the efforts of Virgil Michel. As a student of Beuduin, he sought to promote liturgical piety in the United States. To endorse the movement, Michel founded the journal Orate Fratres and Liturgical Press at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. He once said, “Should not every devoted Catholic try to the utmost of his power to participate actively in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to follow the priest in mind and heart, to pray with him and act with him?”
Origin of 20th Century Liturgical Reform
While the liturgical movement originated and grew forth from the monastic centers in Europe, the Holy See was not detached from this development. At the beginning of the century, in 1903, Pius X held the liturgy in high esteem. In his motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini, the pope referred to the liturgy as “the Church’s most important and indispensible source.” Papal support continued with Pius XI’s apostolic constitution Divini cultus in 1928. Released on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Pius X’s motu proprio, this document advocated an increased need for reform in liturgical music. The pope declared,
For the Liturgy is indeed a sacred thing, since by it we are raised to God and united to Him, thereby professing our faith and our deep obligation to Him for the benefits we have received and the help of which we stand in constant need. There is thus a close connection between dogma and the sacred Liturgy, and between Christian worship and the sanctification of the faithful.
Pius XI also states that task of the popes are to maintain the Liturgy like a custodian. In his 1924 bull Inter multiplices, he warned the Church of the dangers of modernism and upheld the notion of the liturgical growth as an organic development. Read in light of Divini cultus, the papal bull is not an ultramontane claim of papal power over the liturgy. Rather it is a warning to prevent liturgical reform from falling victim to antiquarianism.
Pius XII’s Mediator Dei
Papal impetus to the Liturgical Movement continued under Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei. Written in November 1947, this document solidified the relationship between the movement and the Holy See. The encyclical gave the Liturgical Movement official papal approval, yet at the same time warned against liturgical abuses. Mediator Dei became the first encyclical dedicated solely to the liturgy.
In defining the Sacred Liturgy and affirming liturgical piety as the center of the Christian life, Pius XII’s encyclical is viewed as the Magna Carta that set up the general reform in Sacrosanctum concilium. The conciliar document’s theme of the presence of Christ in the liturgy is declared in Mediator Dei. “In obedience, therefore, to her Founder’s behest, the Church prolongs the priestly mission of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the Sacred Liturgy, states Pius XII. This displays a striking similarity to a passage in Sacrosanctum concilium regarding the presence of Christ in the liturgy. According to the conciliar text, “The liturgy, then, is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ”.
Sacrifice of the Mass
Another major point given by Pius XII is the fact that the Liturgy should be seen as a sacrificial act. The salvific effects of Christ’s sacrifice are explained by the pope, “…it can be said that on Calvary Christ built a font of purification and salvation which He filled with the Blood He shed; but if men do not bathe in it and there wash away the stains of their iniquities, they can never be purified and saved.” By placing such stress on the sacrificial nature of the Mass, Pius hoped to prevent the faithful from error in viewing the liturgy exclusively as a memorial banquet.Sacrosanctum concilium reaffirmed the centrality of Christ’s sacrifice as well.
Practical Liturgical Reforms
Along with a deeper understanding in theology of the Mass, the Liturgical Movement also promoted pragmatic reform such as active participation for the laity. “The cooperation of the faithful is required so that sinners may be individually purified in the Blood of the Lamb,” stated Pius XII. Such cooperation could be facilitated by involving the laity. As previously mentioned, promotion of active participation started in the monasteries during the late 19th century. Publication of missals for the laity ensued at the turn of the century. This allowed them to follow along through prayer responses and singing along in the “dialogue Mass”.
A large majority within the Liturgical Movement agreed that the preferred understanding of the liturgy could not be reached until more vernacular was infused into the Mass. Many of the early pioneers of the movement such as Michel advocated for vernacular usage in the Mass. German bishops asked the Holy See, in 1949, to allow the epistle and gospel reading to be in the common language. By the 1950s more papal allowances permitted vernacular usage in the liturgy.Musicae sacrae disciplina, Pius XII’s encyclical on liturgical music granted hymns during Mass to be sung in the language of laity.
Issues with the Vernacular
Not all involved in the Liturgical Movement agreed on the amount of vernacular to be introduced into the liturgy. Many groups, like the English Liturgy Society in particular, welcomed the use of the vernacular and believed it should replace Latin in many rites including: baptism, anointing of the sick, and funerals.
An issue from usage of common language, raised by H.A. Reinhold, is faulty translations. He stated, “What I am personally afraid of …is a ‘commission’ of professors who know all about their fields but do not speak the language of the people…And that would be worse than what we have now, because it would falsify the spirit of our Roman Liturgy.”
Loss of meaning occurs when translating a biblical text into various languages. “The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth,” proclaimed Pius XII on the importance of keeping Latin in the liturgy.
Another aim of liturgical reform in the 20th century dealt with sacred music. The Liturgical Movement sought a restoration to an unadulterated Gregorian chant. In the previous century, a method for renewal in sacred music began in Abbey of Solesmes. Here monks researched liturgical music and undertook the reinstatement of Gregorian chant in the Mass. While support for this style of music lacked uniformity, the majority in the movement endorsed Gregorian chant. In his motu proprio, Pius X called it the “supreme model for sacred music.”
Participation in the Mass
Further promotion of this style occurred with Divini cultus by which Pius XI encouraged an end to “silent spectators” and urged an active participation among the laity. “In order that the faithful may more actively participate in divine worship, let them be made once more to sing the Gregorian chant, so far as it belongs to them to take part in it,” the pope stated. His predecessor’s encyclical Musicae sacrae disciplina reaffirmed Pius X’s motu proprio. At the same time, Pius XII’s document displayed openness to development in sacred music. Yet, music must not become profane for the sake of mere exhibition in the liturgy. Rather, sacred music is an integral part of liturgy and must be given a high honor.
Lay Involvement with the Liturgy
Besides the external elements of the liturgy, the Liturgical Movement encouraged inward participation of the laity during Mass. According to Romano Guardini, the chief goal of the liturgy is not concerned with individuals showing reverence towards God. He states,
The liturgy is the Church’s public and lawful act of worship. It is performed and conducted by the officials whom the Church herself has designated for the post— her priests. In the liturgy God is to be honored by the body of the faithful, and the latter is in its turn to derive sanctification from this act of worship. Here the Catholic conception of worship in common sharply differs from the predominately individualistic Protestant style of worship.
In Mediator Dei, the pope encouraged Christian participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass. Such involvement takes place in laity’s offering of the bread and wine and of alms to the priest. Upon their behalf the priest offers the sacrifice. Through the liturgy and their sacrificial offerings the Christian becomes more attentive to the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Second Vatican Council
The activities of the Liturgical Movement culminated in the 20th century with the Second Vatican Council. Here the nature of the Church became better clarified. The Constitution, Sacrosanctum concilium, expanded upon the advocated reforms by the previous council. The conciliar document’s stress on the presence of Christ in the liturgy also harked back to Pius XII’s Mediator Dei.
Regarding Holy Scripture, in the 1950s, the movement sought for greater emphasis placed on the Word in the liturgy. Pius XII granted limited sanctions by having the epistle and gospel read in the vernacular, but only after said in Latin first. This allowed for greater attentiveness in Mass. Sacrosanctum concilium continued such reform in permitting use of the common language in places like the readings and some prayers. But the document still maintained to keep the Latin language as the norm in the liturgy.
Mystical Body of Christ
Another theme found in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was the Nature of the Church as the Mystical Body. About twenty years prior to the council, the encyclical Mystici corporis christi examined the Pauline concept of the Church being the body of Christ. This provided great insight on the nature of the Church. Like the monks from Solemes and the popes, especially Pius X, the Council held sacred music with high esteem. Sacrosanctum concilium decreed, “The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride and place in liturgical services.” Furthermore, the document declares that the liturgy’s development must be organic. “Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority,” asserts Sacrosanctum concilium.
It is God who “wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” Through liturgical worship humans are sanctified and receive Christ in the Eucharist. Yet, because of the human aspect of the Church, abuses have entered into the liturgy. Because of this, reform is constantly needed. In the twentieth century, this renewal came in the form of the Liturgical Movement.
Established first in monastic hubs in Europe, the movement eventually gained papal momentum from the encyclicals Divini cultus and Mediator Dei. They promoted a return to early Christian liturgical practices and encouraged more usage of Scripture, Gregorian chant, and active participation of the laity during the Mass.
Cabie, Robert, and Aime Georges Martimort. “The Celebration of the Eucharist in the West from the Council of Trent to Vatican Council II.” In The Church at prayer: an introduction to the liturgy. New ed. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1988. 173-185.
Chupungco, Anscar J. Handbook for Liturgical Studies: Introduction to the Liturgy. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997.
Flannery, Austin. Vatican Council II: the Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents. New revised ed. Dublin; Northport, NY: Dominican Publications; Costello, 1996.
Guardini, Romano. The Spirit of the Liturgy. New York, N.Y: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998.
Jounel, P. “From the Council of Trent to Vatican Council II.” In The Church at Prayer Volume 1: Principles of the Liturgy. New ed. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1987. 63-84.
Pius XII. Mediator Dei: On the Sacred Liturgy. Encyclical Letter. Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1947.
Reid, Alcuin. The Organic Development of the Liturgy: the Principles of liturgical Reform and their Relation to the Twentieth-century Liturgical Movement prior to the second Vatican Council. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2005.
Smith, Fidelis . “”Musicae Sacrae Discplina”: Pius XII’s Encyclical on Sacred Music .” The Musical Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1957): 461-479.
The Veneration and Administration of the Eucharist: the Proceedings of the Second International Colloquium on the Roman Catholic Liturgy organised by the Centre International d’Etudes Liturgiques. Southampton: Saint Austin Press, 1997.
 Ernest B. Koenker, “Objectives and Achievements of the Liturgical Movement in the Roman Catholic Church since World War II,” Church History 20, 2 (1951), 15.
 Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963), 2.
 Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy: the Principles of liturgical Reform and their Relation to the Twentieth-century Liturgical Movement prior to the second Vatican Council 2nd Ed.( San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2005), 39.
The Veneration and Administration of the Eucharist: the Proceedings of the Second International Colloquium on the Roman Catholic Liturgy organised by the Centre International d’Etudes Liturgiques. (Southampton: Saint Austin Press, 1997), 123.
 RobertCabié and Aimé Georges Martimort, “The Celebration of the Eucharist in the West from the Council of Trent to Vatican Council II.” In The Church at prayer: an introduction to the liturgy, New ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1988), 183
Ecumenical councils mark an important time in the Catholic Church’s life. They occur in response to heresy, revolt, confusion of doctrine, or reform outdated ecclesial structures. While the Council of Trent was a more defensive reaction to Protestant polemic, the Second Vatican Council sought to bring aggiornamento, an updating, to the Church. The “walls” constructed by the Church over the centuries were to be dismantled.
Tearing Down of Frivolous, Cumbersome Traditions
The most visible sign of reform ushered in by the Second Vatican Council regarded the liturgy. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the liturgy as the sacred action par excellence is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and it is likewise the font from which all her powers flow” (CCC 1071-1075). Appropriately, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosantcum concilium, was the first document issued by the Council Fathers. Promulgated on December 4th, 1963, this document set the tone for the rest of the council. The Roman Rite Mass, said completely in Latin prior to the Council, was in need of updating. Superfluous elements had accumulated into its rubrics and a wide gulf existed between the clergy and the laity.
From the onset of the document, Sacrosanctum concilium reiterates the importance of the liturgy: “The liturgy daily builds up those who are in the Church, making of them a holy temple of the Lord” (SC art. 1). Seeing it as the activity that transforms men into the house of the Lord is significant. Too many times, Catholics complain about going to Mass on Sunday because it either interferes with sleep or other events in their life. But if they knew about the life-altering effects the liturgy can have, a change in mentality might occur. The Council advocates an active participation within liturgical worship on the part of the People of God.
Mass is the Source and Summit of the Christian Life
An appreciation for the liturgy cannot occur without learning about its aim and purpose and how it relates to other aspects of the Church. A wonderful passage from the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, succinctly states the liturgy’s importance, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows” (SC art. 10). This line provided great insight to the Church’s view of liturgy for me. The image of water flowing from a fountain is such a beautiful way to describe the relationship between the Mass and its outpouring of God’s grace upon humans.
The word “summit” in that phrase also invokes another profound image─ a mountain or peak. To speak of the Mass in that way, demonstrates that the purpose of a Christian’s life is to reach to top of the summit, which is done through participation in liturgical activity.
Eucharist and Priesthood Intertwined
Though the fount and summit depict the liturgy in a profound way, it is only through seeing the connection of the liturgy to the priestly office of Christ and the Eucharist that these images can be fully realized. Through the action of Christ the High priest the sanctification of men are accomplished (SC art. 7). When the priest offers bread and wine to God, he is not acting on his own behalf, but rather Christ’s.
The connection between the priesthood and the Eucharist is necessary in explaining the liturgy. If the Mass had an exclusive human element, it would become a mere frivolous activity. However, the Council Fathers stress the point of Christ’s presence within the liturgy. “But he also willed that the work of salvation which they preached should be set in train through the sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves” (SC art. 6). The reason these signs aid us in salvation is through Jesus’ constant presence within the Church’s liturgical celebrations (SC art. 7).
What is the Purpose of the Liturgy?
While the liturgy’s prime objective is directed towards the sanctification of man, it does possess an educational and pastoral nature as well (SC art. 33). Through the visible signs and prayers proclaimed during liturgical worship, the faithful gain a greater understanding of Catholic doctrine. Yet, because of unnecessary wordings and phrases picked up through the centuries preceding the Second Vatican Council, the rites within the liturgy became long and difficult to comprehend. According to the conciliar document, “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, and free from useless repetitions. They should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation” (SC art. 34).
Ignorance of Scripture, Ignorance of Christ
A second norm expressed by the Council Fathers advocated a closer link between the rite and words in the liturgy. Ways to implement this standard included greater variety of reading from the sacred scriptures and having the sermon’s content stem from the theme of that particular Sunday’s liturgy (SC art. 35). It was not until I attended an Extraordinary Form Mass that I realized how much reform went toward the restoration of sacred scripture in the liturgy. I took for granted what was lacking in the pre-Vatican II liturgy─ diversity in scripture readings. It is quite amazing how the Council Fathers meticulously delved into the sacred scriptures and developed specific motifs for Sundays and feast days. Such a restoration in the rites and readings helps Catholics better understand and participate in their liturgical experience.
Increasing Active Participation
Besides simplifying rubrics and making scripture more varied, permission to use the vernacular on a wider basis aided in the faithful’s ability to actively participate in the Mass. While Latin remains the norm for the Latin rites, Sacrosanctum concilium emphasizes the importance of incorporating the language of the faithful in the Mass. “But since the use of the vernacular, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or in other parts of the liturgy, may be frequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it”(SC art. 36.2).
The document specifically mentions the readings and prayers in which the mother-tongue may be used. Having the liturgy proclaimed in a language the laity is accustomed to increases their ability to comprehend the Sacred Mystery. As stated in the previous paragraph, my experience with the Extraordinary Form Mass affected how I viewed the Novus Ordo Mass. In the former it was a struggle for me to follow the prayers said in Latin by the priest, while the latter has all the prayers in English the language I grew up learning. Despite, my limited knowledge of the Latin language, I still appreciate its beauty especially when sung.
The Mass Foreshadows Heavenly Worship
Another aspect of the liturgy expounded upon early on in the conciliar document is the eschatological nature of the liturgy. “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, proclaim the Council Fathers” (SC art. 8). After reading this, my view of the liturgy greatly deepened. I always knew the importance of attending Mass weekly and its connection to the other sacraments. I just never stopped to ponder how the liturgy went beyond temporal activity.
All our actions in the liturgy anticipate our participation in the Heavenly worship before God. My understanding before seeing the link between worship of God in earth and heaven was elementary. The liturgy does not only affect humans in their daily lives, but gives them a glimpse of the Heavenly Banquet. Article 8 also depicts Christians as a pilgrim people. Stated in that way, I gained a deeper appreciation for the Eucharist. For each and every Mass can be seen as providing food and strength along life’s journey.
Where are all the Catholics every Sunday?
Such significance of the Eucharist calls to mind an urgent question: why is not every Catholic readily attending Mass on a weekly basis? Well, I think that a prominent problem occurring today in the Church regards the status of one’s participation within the liturgy. Growing up, there were times I felt that the Mass was boring and that I got “nothing” from the experience. I have heard many other Catholics express similar feelings about the liturgy.
The Second Vatican Council stated the importance of active participation during the Mass (SC art. 30). However, the word active does not refer to merely external action. “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalms, antiphons, hymns, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper time a reverent silence should be observed,” declare the Council Fathers (SC art. 30). Notice that even through silent moments people can participate in the liturgy.
Importance of Sacred Music
Without a proper disposition towards the Mass, a person lacks an authentic liturgical experience. Sacred music provides an invaluable role in developing a proper mindset toward the liturgy. The decree on Sacred Liturgy has an entire chapter dedicated to this subject. Music throughout the Church’s tradition is of immeasurable value─ greater than all other art forms (SC art. 112). To quote the conciliar document, “So have the Fathers of the Church and the Roman pontiffs who in more recent times, led by St. Pius X, have explained more precisely the ministerial function exercised by sacred music in the service of the Lord” (SC art. 112).
In secular society, music tends to have a sole purpose─ entertainment. Concerning the liturgy, sacred music is not sung in order to save people from boredom. Instead, the Mass acts as a service of the Lord to draw us closer to God. Sacred music is considered to be more holy, the more intimately its connection to the Mass (SC art. 112).
Worship Not Entertainment
Growing up I never thought of the function of music going beyond entertainment. Many newer churches have the choir located at the front and center. I have experienced liturgies in which people would applaud after a mass if they thought the choir sang well. Although the choir gained constant recognition for their singing, it became commonplace for that congregation to lack participation in song. The choir is not supposed to be the most memorable part of the Mass. This is not what the Second Vatican Council called for. Rather, the choir’s aim is to invite the faithful into active participation in the liturgy (SC art. 114).
Great Gregorian Chant
Furthermore, the Council Fathers echoed the long tradition of Gregorian chant as the liturgical norm in music, “The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (SC art. 116). The document also continues to state that other types of sacred music may be used such as polyphony, but they must foster active participation among the people. Not until I started attending a church that implemented Gregorian chant on a regular basis did I develop a sense of understanding and appreciation for that musical form.
From my experience, I know that Gregorian chant creates active participation because it allows everyone to take part in the liturgy. Though not a popular style of music, Gregorian chant transcends culture and time and demonstrates universality. Catholics have been chanting parts of the Mass for centuries and this practice continues today. Through this particular musical form, Catholics today can be connected to peoples from various ages and cultures.
Along with Gregorian chant, Sacrosanctum concilium gave directives on the proper musical instrumentation used in the liturgy. The preferred instrument for liturgy is the pipe organ. Sound produced by the organ greatly enhances church ceremonies and powerfully lifts men’s minds to God (SC art. 120). An appreciation towards organ music in the Mass cannot be gained until a person experiences it. I have noticed a huge difference in the tone of the liturgy when a piano is played versus when an organ is used. The organ can sustain notes for a much longer time and its sound will not be drowned out by a large congregation singing.
Pianos lack the capability to adjust volume levels based on the size of the congregation. When sitting in the back of a church, there were times that I had difficulty in hearing the piano. The Council permitted use of other instruments in the liturgy, but they had to be approved by the territorial authority (SC art. 120).
Liturgy of the Hours
A major area of liturgical reform called for by the Second Vatican Council pertained to the Divine Office. According to the document, the office of readings was part of ancient Christian tradition. It is designed to incorporate prayer throughout the day. Article 85 states, “Hence all who take part in the divine office are not only performing a duty for the Church, they are also sharing in what is the greatest honor for Christ’s Bride.”
As the official prayer of the Catholic Church, clergy are required to pray five “hours” per day. The Council Fathers sought to renew the divine office in order to follow tradition better. First, they called to change the hours of the divine office back to fit the schedule of the practices of the early Church (SC art. 88). The two chief hours were Lauds, Morning Prayer, and Vespers, Evening Prayer.
While I have only prayed Liturgy of the Hours a few times, I am most familiar with Compline, Night Prayer. It was wise for the Council Fathers to restore the hours back to their original times. I found it calming to mediate on particular psalms and prayers in Compline relating to sleep and rest. Having prayer linked with specific hours of the day helps draw my attention from the mundane events occurring in world. The Divine Office leads me to a deeper connection with God’s time.
Public Prayer of the Church
Because the divine office is a communal prayer of the Church, personal prayer is nourished and grown out of it (SC art.90). Liturgy of the hours is strongly encouraged to be prayed preceding Eucharistic celebrations. “Pastors of souls should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts”, states the conciliar constitution (SC art. 100). Upon reading this article, I realized how far off the ideal the implementation of liturgical action in the United States was.
If asked which type of prayer should precede the Mass, a common answer would be the rosary. Up until a couple of years ago that would be my response as well. However, through both a friend and my parish priests, I slowly became introduced to the beauty of the divine office. Now, I am a strong proponent of bringing back traditional prayer such as Vespers to precede Sunday liturgies.
When carried out as recommended by the Council, liturgy of the hours has a powerful effect on a person both externally and interiorly. The constant back and forth proclamation of the psalm by the congregation demonstrates the communal aspect of the prayer. Also, the Council prefers to have the office sung or chanted (SC art. 99). Saint Augustine once said, “A person who sings prays twice”. As previously stated, Gregorian chant allows for greater participation due to its ease of learning. In addition to reflecting on psalms, Catholics are further united in the singing of the divine office.
To sum up, the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has set forth guidelines in which the Church must obey regarding liturgical practices. The Council Fathers desired to restore lost elements of the Mass, while at the same time abolish frivolous accretions it gathered from the centuries after Trent. As the wellspring of the Church’s activity, liturgical reform must be taken seriously. All regulation of the liturgy passes through the magisterial authority of the Catholic Church. “Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority,” state the Council Fathers (SC art. 22). This statement might be the most overlooked sentence in the entire document. I have witnessed on several occasions pastors and even lay people who tamper with the liturgy. Perhaps the worst abuse occurred when a priest added and changed words to the Eucharistic prayer.
Currently, the liturgy is a topic on the forefront of many Catholics’ minds since the new translation of the Roman Missal is coming out during Advent 2011. Pope Benedict XVI’s fervent advocacy of the New Liturgical Movement continues to show the relevancy of the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council. Through prayer and guidance by the Holy Spirit we can hope that all the liturgical reforms in Sacrosanctum concilium may come to perfection in the ensuing age.