Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Liturgical Reform Did Not Start with Vatican II

March 2011 By Arthur C. Sippo

Arthur C. Sippo, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is a physician and specialist in aerospace medicine who has written and lectured as a Catholic apologist for over thirty years. He writes from southern Illinois.

The Development of the Liturgical Reform: As Seen by Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli from 1948 to 1970. By Nicola Giampietro. Roman Catholic Books. 348 pages. $33.75.

Based on the doctoral dissertation of Fr. Nicola Giampietro, an official in the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, The Development of the Liturgical Reform offers an incisive history of the liturgical reforms before, during, and after Vatican II. Giampietro’s dissertation is based on the memoirs of the late Ferdinando Cardinal Antonelli, who was intimately involved in the liturgical-reform process initiated by Pope Pius XII in 1948, which culminated in the promulgation of a new missal by Paul VI in 1970. It is a standard academic work that the casual reader might find daunting, but it contains priceless information about the official liturgical reforms in the Catholic Church over the past century.

To people who have taken a keen interest in liturgical reform and have read about it both from the perspective of those who support it and those who do not, this volume helps put everything into perspective, separating the wheat from the chaff. This is especially true with regard to the claims of “radical traditionalists,” who allege that the 1970 missal represented a Protestantization of the liturgy and a wholesale break with tradition, and that the 1570 missal was an organic outgrowth of the Church’s life. Cardinal Antonelli’s memoirs show that this was not the case, and that, for good or for ill, the reform basically achieved what it set out to do, although many of the changes went far beyond what most of the liturgical experts in the pre-Vatican II era would have expected or desired.

The liturgy is the daily life of the Church and cannot remain unchanged or unchanging. There may be some missteps along the way that will require correction, but this is not a failure of the process of reform. It is the realistic consequence of a living, dynamic community in worship.

The twentieth century was the stage for major changes in the Catholic Church, the most profound of which were the liturgical reforms that culminated in the New Order of the Mass. The Novus Ordo Missae has been referred to mistakenly as one of the “fruits of the Second Vatican Council.” In fact, the history of liturgical reform that led to the promulgation of the New Mass predated Vatican II by several decades. Improved historical scholarship and the pa­tristic renaissance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had given birth to a new consciousness of the liturgy as a dynamic participation of the faithful in the prayers and rites of the Church.

During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church had to respond to the vulgarizing of study and worship among Protestants, among whom vernacular texts and prayers were considered normative. The Church’s initial response was to circle the wagons and defend past practices. The tremendous confusion in Western Christendom played into the hands of the Protestants, who pointed to pre-existing local variations as justification for further diversity. The problem was that this further diversity was heretical and in discontinuity with the Catholic Church’s traditional praxis and doxis. Sadly, the controversy set up dialectical opposition, which led to extremes of conservatism and liberalism in the opposing camps.

In 1570, in the wake of the Coun­cil of Trent, Pope St. Pius V pro­­mulgated a common missal based on the practices in the Roman Church, which he intended to be the norm throughout the Latin rite. He permitted requests for the preservation of some older rites, but the Holy See’s desire was to establish full conformity with the 1570 missal in the West. This missal emphasized the solemn aspects of the Mass as a sacred ritual and as a re-presentation of the fruits of Calvary on the altar. The rubrics were from an age when royal courts had highly stylized rules, and it seemed only right that similar pomp and circumstance be used in the most sacred of all religious rituals.

With the rise of the Baroque over the next century, the rituals became even more solemn and distant from the people, so that the words of the priest and acolytes could no longer even be heard by the congregation. The liturgy effectively became cleri­calized, with the people practically excluded from active outward participation. They were relegated to spectators who often practiced private devotions unrelated to the ceremonies occurring on the altar. This is not some concocted liberal myth; it is a historical fact. The only time the congregation focused on the altar was at the consecration, which was signified by a series of bells to get their attention, and at communion.

By the 1950s, when I trained as an altar boy, the Mass was celebrated pretty much as it had been for the previous three hundred years. We no longer said the prayers of the Mass in Latin — we said them in mumbles and very fast. The congregation prayed rosaries or novenas, read religious books, or practiced other devotions in total silence. We did have what were called “Dialogue Masses,” in which someone from the congregation would lead the people in saying some of the prayers from the missal in English, but it was always independent of what was going on at the altar and stopped with the bells at the consecration. This was something new in the U.S. at the time and was a foreshadowing of what was to come in the next decade.

Most Catholics did not know that for almost thirty years a revolution had been brewing among scholars that has come to be known as the Liturgical Movement. These scholars found that the modern state of the liturgy did not conform to either the form or the spirit of worship from the patristic and early medieval Church.

By the 1940s the movement had made an impression on Pope Pius XII, and he explored their work informally. In 1948 he convened the Commission for the Reform of the Liturgy with the intention of using the new scholarship to investigate a reformation of the liturgy. Its first true accomplishment was a reformation of the Holy Week liturgy, which was im­ple­mented in 1955. Contrary to the claims of radical traditionalists, this was not a mere evolutionary development. As Giampietro makes clear, the commission recognized that the Easter vigil as practiced at that time occurred during the daytime on Holy Saturday when many of the faithful had to work. To increase the laity’s ability to attend, the vigil was moved to the evening. The commission also thought that the lighting of the new fire was more symbolic when done in a darkened church at midnight than in a daytime ritual. These were actually restorations of the patristic practices that had been defunct for nearly a millennium. They also restructured the ceremony to make it more accessible and relevant to twentieth-century Catholics and permitted reception of Communion on Good Friday, which until that time had not been permitted.

The exact details of the com­mission’s work had not been made public before now. When Archbishop Annibale Bugnini wrote his book La Riforma Liturgica (1948-1970) in 1980, he devoted only eight pages to the entire pre-Vatican II liturgical reform, from 1948 to 1960, which reformed not only the Holy Week liturgy but the Divine Office and the Psalter as well.

In short, the pre-Vatican II reforms were no mere organic development but a carefully constructed reform that tried to create a relevant modern liturgy and consciously used elements of the Church’s past practices. Giampietro makes clear that serious liturgical reform did not start with Vatican II, but long before it. It is also clear that Pope Pius XII took the Liturgical Movement very seriously and clearly understood that the liturgy of the Catholic Church, as beautiful as it was, needed reformation in certain respects to meet the changing needs and lifestyles of the faithful. So radical traditionalists’ portrayal of Pius XII as a defender of the liturgical status quo is inaccurate. He was much more forward-thinking and open to change, albeit a more deliberate and slow-paced change than what would happen in the decades following his death.

Giampietro, through Cardinal Antonelli, documents in detail the events before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council with regard to the ongoing liturgical reform. The cardinal’s memoirs show that the enthusiasm for aggiornamento, which the Council encouraged, led many of the periti (experts) assigned to the liturgical project to call for far too rapid changes, in his opinion. Antonelli singles out Archbishop Bugnini as the prime example of this tendency. It greatly disturbed the cardinal that many decisions that previously had been openly and minutely evaluated and discussed were often farmed out to “committees” — and often to what appeared to be committees of one — by Bugnini and then implemented without full-scale discussion or voting by the entire group. Many documents and directives were promulgated in this manner, especially those representative of progressive sentiments, with little concern for opposing views.

But Bugnini was seen as a man who “got things done,” and in the heady days after the Council he was the man of the hour. Cardinal Anto­nelli was somewhat bitter about this. He thought that some of the changes had not been as carefully wrought as those of the Easter vigil in the previous decade. This left him convinced that the changes to the liturgy in the wake of Vatican II would not be definitive but that further work would be required.

Years afterward, in 1975, Bugni­ni — who had been a rising star in the curia — ended his days as the papal pro-nuncio to Iran. He remained at that post until his death in 1982. His fall from grace has never been fully explained. For a former Vatican insider, this was an obvious demotion, if not a humiliation. From that point onward, he would have no further influence on the liturgy of the Catholic Church.

Despite his misgivings about the outcome of the post-conciliar liturgical reforms, Cardinal Antonelli did believe that they were a positive step forward. Furthermore, while more conservative churchmen — Al­fredo Cardinal Ottaviani, for example — questioned the orthodoxy of some of the changes, the meticulous and scholarly Antonelli insisted that they were in fact orthodox. He and other like-minded experts fought very hard in those later meetings to make sure of this.

In the end, Cardinal Antonelli was fondly remembered by those who worked with him as a scholar whose profound love for the Catholic Church and her liturgy was reflected in his service to the cause of liturgical reform over a period of thirty years. His meticulous memoirs allow us to see into the workings of Catholic liturgical reform from its inception in the 1940s until its ultimate fruition in the 1970s. It shows that true liturgical reform was not an innovation proposed by Vatican II but an ongoing project that preceded the Council and was moved forward more rapidly thanks to the impetus of the Council. Even more important, we find that true liturgical scholarship, and not merely some unbridled desire for change for change’s sake, lay behind the reforms.

In 2011 we are on the eve of a new phase in the reform of the liturgy mandated by Vatican II. After forty years of the Pauline missal, we will be soon using a new Roman missal that will try to return the literary majesty to the Mass that the earlier reform had abandoned in favor of more colloquial and contemporary language. Cardinal Antonelli certainly would be pleased with this new stage in the ongoing reform. It is because of the work of men like him that such a new development is possible.


Pater Ignotus said...

Having used the new translation of the Roman Missal now for four months, I believe that translators could give us "literary majesty" in a form that would be far more accessible, far more understandable than what we are currently praying.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Yes, there are glitches here and there, but thus far in my parish no one has said one word to me about the new translation being good, bad ugly or whatever. And everyone has tried very hard to get their parts down and at least here do a very good job. Who knows what the new translation in about 40 years will look like. I'll be long gone.

Carol H. said...

What is so inaccessible in the current translation?

Gene said...

Fr, that is because you want it to work and Kavanaugh doesn't give a damn. The Priest's attitude is contagious...

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I personally love the new translation and find it a vast improvement over the previous English translation. There are some of the prayers that have some interesting phrasing, but most of the prayers are meant to be chanted not spoken and when chanted are actually very good. What I appreciate the most is that the spirituality of the Roman Rite is crystal clear in terms of what our attitude should be before God and the abundant use of "God's grace." The term "grace" was almost totally lacking in the previous translation. I also appreciate that I am saying over and over again, "we pray" and this really does make clear that the prayers are prayers, not proclamation to the laity in front of us, but that "we are praying" clergy and laity together. I will trust the laity in my parish that they like the new translation and that they are smart enough to understand it.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a little off-topic, but something you might be interested in.
Is SSPX Homecoming Imminent?

Joseph Johnson said...

I wonder if Pius XII would have envisioned Communion in the hand (in the non-historical way that it is done now) and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion as a part of the liturgical movement?

As Bishop Schneider has pointed out in his little book, "Dominus Est," the way people are instructed to receive the Host in the hand is not the way it was done in the early Church. And, even if it were to be done as described in Bishop Schneider's book, is it even desirable to return to that probably rather messy antiquarian way of receiving (that is, picking up the Host with the tongue from the palm of one's hand)?

Communion on the tongue became the norm through organic development both because it was more sanitary and practical and because, as we developed a deeper sense of the Real Presence over time, it seemed the right thing to do to show reverence and awe and reinforce that belief in the minds of priests and laity. The law of prayer is the law of belief.

Anonymous said...

When we hear the prayers, and the readings from the various Holy texts, we are flying across several millennia of human culture. It seems only reasonable there would be significant differences in styles if not for the vast ages that separate them, but for the distinct cultural periods they come from, and perhaps most significant of all, the actual meaning of the author. For example, I dearly love the awesome prose of Isaiah, but am drawn in by the intricate thoughts of Paul.

We strive to have all sorts of inclusive music from various cultures we don't actually comprehend, so why would we not be equally intrigued and energised by the diversity of our Liturgy?


Gene said...

RCG, You just lost five credibility points for using the word "diversity." Watch it!

Gene said...

I'm with Carol...I want to know what is so "inaccessible" and difficult. It reads just fine to me. Of course, Kavanaugh is the one who did not know the meaning of "compunction," interestingly enough. He may also be uncomfortable with terms like "grace," "damnation," and "sin."

It is like all the hooplah about the very minor changes in the Mass. Everybody had to have Mass cards, printouts, and flash cards. Listening to all the whining and moaning, one would have thought the Church had become a giant special ed class. The same people that whip through all kinds of techno speak and bureau speak suddenly become illiterate when faced with such terms as "consubstantial" and "incarnate." is called passive aggressive behavior.

Anonymous said...

I listen to the words of the prayers. They teach me how to pray.
For whatever reason, they are more meaningful to me than the prior translation.

ytc said...

Father, could you provide your commentary of your own? At least this basically confirms my previous suppositions that everything happened deliberately.

Anonymous said...

I have studied this book--Fr. Giampietro's account of Card. Antonelli's memoirs, including the cardinal's formal minutes taken as secretary of Vatican II's Commission on the Liturgy (from which, incidentally, Bugnini was deliberately excluded) which drafted Sacrosilium Concilium--in considerable detail. In my view, Mr. Sippo's review of this book does not adequately reflect Card. Antonelli's deep concern that the new post-conciliar implementation commission under the direction of Bugnini--brought by Paul VI back in from the cold to which John XXIII had banished him--in formulating the Novus Ordo had gone very far beyond the objectives of the legitimate pre-c0nciliar liturgical movement, and far beyond the directives of the Council itself.

Anonymous said...

The Blogger Formerly Known as Pin:

Deus, qui *diversitatem* gentium in confessione tui nominis adunasti,
da, ut renatis fonte baptismatis
una sit fides mentium et pietas actionum.



Gene said...

Advantage, RCG! LOL!

Hammer of Fascists said...

Regarding the need for "accessibility," the pope has noted that the heresy of modernism requires that "no dogmas are to be inserted except those that . . . are within the capacity of the people. Regarding worship, the number of external devotions is to be reduced, or at least steps must be taken to prevent their further increase."

Oops, wait a minute: that was Pius X in his encyclical Pascendi Dominicii Gregis, not BXVI. I guess it doesn't count, then, since it's old.