Liturgical Renewal ordered by Vatican II


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. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.

In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community. [Sacrosanctum Concilium 21]

The changes willed by the approximately 2700 to 4 vote of the world's Catholic bishops in the document cited above can be summarized as 1) restore the active participation of the people, 2) remove accretions and duplications which crept into the Roman Mass in millennium before Pope Pius V imposed it on the Latin Church, and 3) manifest the proper sacramentality of the Mass as an act of Christ, Head and Body. These were legitimate and long over-due reforms, as the virtually unanimous vote of the hierarchy shows. Other goals of the reforms can be read in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

1. Active Participation (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium 14-20). In the context of the Reformation the essentialism of the Missal of Pius V makes sense. The emphasis is on the theologically essential participant, the priest, without whose power the Eucharist cannot be confected. The role of the laity, who through baptism is a member of the Body of Christ, tended to be passive. The lay person's role in the effecting of the Eucharist was accidental (in the philosophical sense of not being "of the essence"), though the rubrics required the presence of at least one layman (to complete the sign of Christ, Head and members). As a consequence, the people were left to pray privately, their active role fulfilled by the servers. Put another way, their Mass participation was primarily devotional (the rosary, prayer books etc.), as opposed to liturgical (giving the responses, following the prayers devoutly etc.). One of the key reforms of the Council was to restore the properly liturgical role of the people to them. Even before the Council the trend favored lay missals with Latin-English, and dialogic Masses, where the people give the responses, over praying private devotions during Mass. Contrary to the assumption of many Catholics, liturgical piety is more meritorious than personal devotion. Certainly, the quiet and peace of nearly silent Masses fosters a feeling of devotion; however, objectively, through active liturgical participation we exercise the priestly office of Christ Himself conferred by baptism and thus share in His merit. Of course, interior spiritual participation must also be present, and not just external activity, for active liturgical participation to be authentic. Participation in the Pascal Mysteries is not primarily a matter of feeling, or even external doing, but of FAITH and CHARITY.

2. Accretions and Duplications (SC 21-25). The Holy See had long encouraged the study of the nature of the liturgy and the historical origins of its parts. The findings of theologians such as Fr. Joseph Jungmann (The Mass of the Roman Rite, 3 vols., Christian Classics, 1950, 1986), clearly reveal the mutability of the Mass from the time  of the earliest known Roman sacramentaries (5th and 6th century). Rather than being a static form, the Roman Rite had absorbed customs from other local Churches (e.g. Gaul), as well as developed it's own, an evolution that ended with Pius V and Trent. What had once been "novelties" when first adopted at Rome became fixed parts of the "immemorial Mass". The only constant being the authority of the Apostolic See to permit, order and even to impose them. Without judging the virtue of this change or that following Vatican II, on which there are legitimate arguments pro and con, the need for the reform of the Tridentine Mass was certainly accepted by all bishops and theologians. 

3. Sacramentality of the Roles (SC 26-32). The Church is the mystical Christ, Head and Body (1 Cor. 12). The ministerial priest is the sacramental sign of Christ the Head, who acts in persona Christi capitis (Catechism of the Catholic Church 875, 1348, 1548). The people, though baptism, also exercise an office (CCC 1188, 1273). It is not essential to the confecting of the Eucharist, but is essential to the sacramentality of the Eucharistic assembly.  Together, priest and people, are a sacramental sign of Christ's continuing mystical presence in the world through the Church, which makes possible the perpetuation in time of the One Sacrifice of Calvary, Eucharistic Communion and the substantial Presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament itself. The sacramentality of the Church as the Mystical Christ is clearer, therefore, when both priests and laity exercise their proper sacramental offices as Head and Members, respectively.

Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL

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