Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"Part II: The long history of liturgical renewal"
by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
(From the September 15, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
(This fall we will begin using a revised version of the Roman Missal for Mass with a new English translation. This is the second in a three-part series by Bishop Cupich on the history behind the renewal of the liturgy by the Second Vatican Council.)
It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the bishops at the Council of Trent in the 16th century seriously discussed restoring liturgical practices known in the early Church, such as Communion under both kinds and the use of the vernacular. On the last day of their meeting in Trent, Dec. 4, 1563, they issued a document authorizing Pope Pius IV and his successors to reform the Mass. For a number of reasons that work was never completed. With a sense of history, then, the bishops who gathered 400 years later at the Second Vatican Council choose December 4, 1963 as the date to publish their first document, The Constitution on the Liturgy. In effect, they were saying that they were ready to take up the unfinished agenda the Church began four centuries earlier at Trent. They also wanted to make clear that their efforts were in continuity with an unbroken tradition of the liturgy.
Ironically, the slow centuries-long pace leading up to Dec. 4, 1963, was followed by a level of activity and change never before seen in the Church. With the ink on The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy barely dry Pope Paul VI established in January 1964 a commission, or Consilium, to implement the reforms. Comprised of 50 cardinals and bishops along with 200 experts from around the world, this group was given two tasks: 1) revise the liturgical books in accord with the norms established by the Council and 2) provide resources to educate priests and the laity about the renewal.
With hindsight we can honestly say that the work of reforming the liturgical books was much more successful than the efforts to educate priests and the faithful. Clearly, there was an unevenness in the preparation of priests and people, if we compare efforts among various countries or language groups and even between dioceses in our own country. Sadly, in those areas where pastors received inadequate preparation, the people suffered from an equal lack of attention and preparation.
What was oftentimes missing was the link between renewal of the liturgy and the agenda to reform the Church, which I discussed last month. For some, the changes in the liturgy were just a matter of cosmetics, making Mass relevant and by-and-large unattached from the spiritual development of Catholics which the Council envisioned. This at times led to liturgical abuses. Without taking into consideration the spirit and principles of authentic renewal, some people very irresponsibly introduced outlandish innovations into the liturgy for the purpose of making worship more relevant. Sadly, such abuses often damaged the faith lives of people. They fostered a disrespect for true liturgical renewal and caused great confusion. Happily, this situation has been addressed and will continue to be addressed by the Church. This will require better education of liturgical leaders, priests and the faithful and calling people to accountability.
At the same time, even with better catechesis and education about the true spirit of the reforms, there still is a need to address some attitudes that reduce worship to a private affair. Some people resist the invitation to participate more actively and fully in the liturgy, preferring to be left alone. It is also true, as Blessed Pope John Paul II once noted, that some continue to resist the renewal because they did not believe that the Church could make these changes. As the late pope put it, “they turned back in a one-sided and exclusive way to the previous liturgical forms which some of them consider to be the sole guarantee of certainty of faith.”
The challenges of past mistakes and ongoing resistance should not make us lose sight of the enormous positive impact the renewal of the liturgy has had for the life of the Church. We have seen a wider use of Scripture, the translation of the books into the common language of people, the increased participation of the faithful, the ministries of lay people – all great blessings we have received in this time of reform.
We are now at an important historical moment in the life of the Church with the implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. We should view this effort as a fresh opportunity, especially with the experience of 40 years of pastoral practice and the recovery of insights with the new translation to take up once again the work of spiritual and liturgical renewal. In the third and final part of this series we will take a look at what the Third Edition of the Roman Missal has to offer us and what we plan to do in the diocese in the weeks and months ahead to implement its use in our parishes.
The summary below details the fast pace of liturgical renewal immediately after the Council up to the present moment:
• September, 1964, the Consilium published directives about how churches should be arranged architecturally to adapt to the reforms. The setting for Mass was to include a presidential chair, a lectern (ambo), the altar facing the people in the body of the Church, the nave.
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