Liturgy Prior to Vatican II

The McGrath Institute for Church Life, within the University of Notre Dame in America, is preparing a series on the liturgy in its online journal. Given the significance of liturgy, especially in light of recent pontifical pronouncements, I will be providing a link to each of these articles as they become available. The second article of the series is below. – AD.

“It is crucial to recognize that the Council Fathers never thought in terms of rescinding the Tridentine Mass, precisely because it was that rite that they were revising and rejuvenating. If they had suppressed the old rite, it would mean that they were creating an entirely new rite. They would then be employing a hermeneutic of discontinuity. Rather, they were engaging in a strong hermeneutic of continuity: the old rite was to continue in a revised form. Because of this hermeneutic of continuity, they never considered the possibility of the unrevised rite continuing to be celebrated. Such an option would have never entered their minds. For the Council, the revised Eucharistic liturgy would simply be the Roman rite of the Catholic Church.”

“Do This In Memory of Me”

If we had somehow arrived in Jerusalem after Pentecost and had felt the desire not only to have information about Jesus of Nazareth but rather the desire still to be able to meet him, we would have had no other possibility than that of searching out his disciples so that we could hear his words and see his gestures, more alive than ever. We would have had no other possibility of a true encounter with him other than that of the community that celebrates. For this reason the Church has always protected as its most precious treasure the command of the Lord, “Do this in memory of me.”

Pope Francis, Desiderio Desideravi (Apostolic Letter on the Liturgical Formation of the People of God), n.8

The Rise of the Liturgical Renewal

The McGrath Institute for Church Life, within the University of Notre Dame in America, is preparing a series on the liturgy in its online journal. Given the significance of liturgy, especially in light of recent pontifical pronouncements, I will be providing a link to each of these articles as they become available. – AD.

“In the debate over Vatican II’s liturgical reform and its subsequent implementation, what is often overlooked is the rise of the liturgical movement prior to the Council. The desire for a renewal in the understanding and experience of the liturgy was fostered in various settings and comprised multiple components. A number of European Benedictine abbots and abbeys were most influential.”

Rediscovering Daily the Beauty of the Truth of the Christian Celebration

Today I have finally gotten to reading the Apostolic Letter Desiderio Desideravi of Pope Francis on ‘the liturgical formation of the People of God’. It did not take long to come across one of those profundities that simply called out to be shared:

21. But we must be careful: for the antidote of the Liturgy to be effective, we are required every day to rediscover the beauty of the truth of the Christian celebration. I refer once again to the theological sense, as n. 7 of Sacrosanctum Concilium so beautifully describes it: the Liturgy is the priesthood of Christ, revealed to us and given in his Paschal Mystery, rendered present and active by means of signs addressed to the senses (water, oil, bread, wine, gestures, words), so that the Spirit, plunging us into the paschal mystery, might transform every dimension of our life, conforming us more and more to Christ.

22. The continual rediscovery of the beauty of the Liturgy is not the search for a ritual aesthetic which is content by only a careful exterior observance of a rite or is satisfied by a scrupulous observance of the rubrics. Obviously, what I am saying here does not wish in any way to approve the opposite attitude, which confuses simplicity with a careless banality, or what is essential with an ignorant superficiality, or the concreteness of ritual action with an exasperating practical functionalism.

23. Let us be clear here: every aspect of the celebration must be carefully tended to (space, time, gestures, words, objects, vestments, song, music…) and every rubric must be observed. Such attention would be enough to prevent robbing from the assembly what is owed to it; namely, the paschal mystery celebrated according to the ritual that the Church sets down. But even if the quality and the proper action of the celebration were guaranteed, that would not be enough to make our participation full.

The Presentation of Gifts…and Ourselves

So we, who bear death in our very bones, bring life-giving food before God and recognise that food as God’s gift. We do this in the awareness that he will return that bread to us in communion as the authentic bread of life, the bread that feeds undying life into us. This presentation of bread and wine is a radical act that expresses the fragility of our lives as human beings and at the same time recognises the One who has not only given us life as we have it now but who will give us life in abundance.

Frank O’Loughlin, New Wineskins: Eucharist in Today’s Context (Bayswater, VIC: Conventry Press, 2019), 39.

On the Liturgical Culture Wars

In its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Second Vatican Council declared

…the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the Church’s power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made children of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s Supper. (n.10)

Anyone reading such a clear and definitive statement would be hard-pressed to underestimate the significance and place of the Church’s liturgical life. It is also easy to understand why many Church members have firm and definite opinions on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the Church’s liturgy, what it should look like, and how it should be celebrated.

The emergence of what is often referred to as the ‘liturgy wars’ is, of course, not just about liturgy. The experience of conflict and division in liturgical matters often corresponds to firm positions in a range of other areas of Church life, such as the place and power of the Magisterium, the Papacy’s role, and the significance of dissent. Often enough, liturgical preferences were intimately connected with theological and ecclesiological understandings, and the liturgy became a ‘battleground’ that was about more than just the ‘what’ and ‘how’.

The cut and thrust of the ‘liturgy wars’ were often subject to significant influence by the person appointed to head the Church’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW). The ability of the CDW Prefect to influence how the liturgy is celebrated in any particular era is significant. That influence can have serious repercussions when personal preferences are given sway over the Church’s understanding of the place of the liturgy in its life.

During the past few weeks, Pope Francis has named a new Prefect for the CDW to take over its administration. The new Prefect, Archbishop Arthur Roche, had been the Secretary of the CDW since 2012 and previously had been head of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. Archbishop Roche has a quiet ‘can-do’ approach, able to get things accomplished as they are requested rather than operating from some personal preference. In this regard, he is different to his predecessor and former boss, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who it must be admitted had adopted a more ‘traditionalist’ approach to the Church’s liturgy.

It must also be admitted that Cardinal Sarah’s approach to liturgical matters was often at odds with the understanding and vision for liturgy held by Pope Francis. Ironically, Archbishop Roche was frequently despatched into the public arena to ‘walk back’ statements made by Cardinal Sarah after a private conversation between Sarah and Pope Francis.

So what does this new appointment mean for the liturgical life of the Church? Anthony Ruff OSB, writing for the Pray Tell website, hints

It seems Pope Francis is slowly but surely moving liturgy to be more aligned with the Second Vatican Council and its reform of the liturgy. In replacing all the consultants to the office for papal liturgical celebration in 2013, and in naming new consultors to the CDW in 2017, Francis has reversed the previous trend of appointing figures skeptical of the liturgical reform or interested in reinterpreting it in a traditionalist vein. This redirection is a delicate task for Francis to carry out, for traditionalist currents have grown quite strong in recent years.

It is to be regretted that the very thing meant to be a source of unity and common worship in the Church’s life has become a source of division and conflict in the years since the Second Vatican Council. The renewal of the sacred liturgy called for by the Council was meant to place the worship of God, as expressed in liturgical celebrations, within the ‘noble simplicity’ that is innate to the Roman Rite. Less encumbered by unnecessary accretions, the revised post-conciliar liturgy was meant to be a return to the inherent beauty of liturgy that is focussed on, and founded firmly in, an awareness of God and our worship of God.

Now granted, some will interpret the various liturgical norms and rubrics one way while others will have a different view. Such interpretations have as much to do with culture and experiences of the Divine as anything else. Such differences in liturgical approaches and interpretations are good and, I would argue, healthy for the life of the Church as a whole. After all, we are called to unity in worship, not uniformity.

However, I would also argue it is to be regretted that far too often an individual’s or a community’s particular preferences in liturgical matters are seen to be more important – to the point of dissent at times – than the participation in a common celebration of the Church’s liturgy which first and foremost is oriented towards God. The Church’s liturgy is far too important as the ‘source and summit’ to be reduced to mere personal or corporate preference. It is not mine, nor yours. It is a treasure that belongs to the Church.

And so we can only hope that the latest appointment by Pope Francis will have long-lasting benefits for the life of the Church, as expressed in its liturgical celebration and life and renew the Church’s commitment to living out the renewed life called for by the Second Vatican Council.

On The Professionalisation of Ministry

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you*. (Matthew 28:19-20a; NRSV)

* But only once you have been thoroughly vetted, educated and formed, and officially commissioned to do so by some liturgical ritual!

In the four and a half months of 2021, thanks to the direct intervention of Pope Francis, there has already been some significant changes in the understanding of officially recognised formal ministries in the life of the Catholic Church. In January 2021, thanks to his Apostolic Letter Spiritus Domini, the rather arbitrary restriction on the admittance of females to the formal ministries of Lector and Acolyte was removed through a change to Canon 230 §1 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law. The amended canon will now read:

Lay persons who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte. Nevertheless, the conferral of these ministries does not grant them the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.

It is worth remembering, of course, that the ministry of Lector and Acolyte, as they are currently understood in the life of the Catholic Church, only dates back to Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Letter Ministeria Quaedam (1972). This intervention eliminated the former ‘minor orders’ that were part of the preparation of a man for ordination as Priest and replaced them with the two ‘lay ministries’ of Lector and Acolyte. Admittedly, there was still a focus in Ministeria Quaedam on the two lay ministries being necessary as part of the preparation for Holy Orders, though they could also be conferred on other suitable male (non-ordained) members of the Church.

Setting aside for the moment the nature of these two ministries, which I may return to in another column, there was very little in the way of controversy in the broader Church setting about Pope Francis’ changes. Why? Simply because it was already happening. Men and women were already fulfilling the larger part of the two ministries of Lector and Acolyte even if they were not officially referred to as such and there was no formal ‘conferral’ of the ministry.

It will be up to conferences of bishops to determine how best to give expression to the fullness of the changes within their own territories, yet I suspect – and fear – that the implementation may only be at a cosmetic level rather than a delving into, and an exploration of, the fullness of the two ministries of Lector and Acolyte.

More recently, Pope Francis has established a new ministry. In the opening days of May 2021, through his Apostolic Letter Antiquum Ministerium, Pope Francis has established the formal and official ministry of Catechist in the life of the Catholic Church. It has been established as a definitively ‘lay ministry’, one to which “those lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to cooperate in the work of catechesis” (n.5) may be admitted on a stable basis as a recognition of some “definite vocational aspect” (n.8).

Again, the reality of the new ministry of Catechist will only come to full expression once conferences of bishops take up Pope Francis’ invitation to determine “the necessary process of formation and the normative criteria for admission to this ministry” (n.9). And the question of the practical expression of the new ministry and what it might look like is still some way off.

And so I finally come to the point of this column, and the reason why I commenced by quoting what is often referred to as the ‘Great Commission’ of Jesus to the disciples.

At the heart of the ‘Great Commission’, the task of making disciples, is not a specialised subset of the existing disciples. The commission, the task, is given to all disciples, regardless of who they are, because they have first heard the Word of God and been called to the continuing task of personal and corporate conversion of heart and life. It is not something that belongs to only some in the Church, therefore, but something that belongs to all in the Church, and does so from the moment of baptism. It is baptism not the conferral of some ministry that prompts the Christian believer to participate in the continuing mission of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Or at least it should be.

One of the concerns I have already heard expressed in several places about the advent of the new ministry of Catechist, and which I suspect extends to the broader availability of the ministry of Lector and Acolyte, is about the ‘clericalisation’ of the laity of the Church.

At the heart of my concern about this is a concern that the conferring of these ministries on certain members of the Church – after they have been selected, vetted, educated, and formed – will give permission for other members of the Church, those on whom the ministries are not conferred, to simply not be involved in the continuing mission of the Church.

In other words, the professionalisation and clericalisation of ministry will permit the baptised members of the Church, those who have been anointed as ‘priest, prophet and king’ (see, for example, Rite of Baptism of Children, n.62), to abrogate the missional responsibility that is theirs by baptism. Mission and ministry will become the task and responsibility of a ‘special class’ within the Church, rather than the task and responsibility of the whole Church.

Now granted, individual members of the Church will exercise their ‘priestly, prophetic and kingly’ responsibility in a variety of ways. Some will be called to do so on a full-time basis either through the reception of Holy Orders or the conferral of a ‘lay ministry’. There will be others who will serve the mission of the Church in other ways on a full-time basis that are not connected with Holy Orders or formal ‘lay ministry’. Yet the responsibility for mission is not, and cannot be, limited to those who have received Holy Orders, been instituted into a formal ‘lay ministry’, or been employed by the Church in some specific role.

The advent of the changes by Pope Francis to the availability and breadth of formal ‘lay ministries’ is certainly to be welcomed. They suffer, I believe, because they are not firmly established first and foremost in a well-developed understanding or theology of the priesthood of all believers. As such there is a distinct risk to be faced by the Church in light of these changes, a risk that might further entrench a passivity in the members of the Church when it comes to responsibility for, and involvement in, the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ into the world.

It is to be hoped that conferences of bishops will be attentive to these risks as they examine how best to make these new ministries a reality in the life of the Church. It is also to be hoped that conferences of bishops will be attentive to the risks of simply innovating these new ministerial opportunities without placing them in the context of mission belonging to the whole Church.