Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The "Hoped Liturgy" of Sacrosanctum Concilium

Below I've copied an interesting article published today at the New Liturgical Movement website. It's followed by a user comment.


Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgated of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (December 4, 1963). If I may borrow a rhetorical strategy from Fr. Fessio, here is what your local liturgical scene would look like if we were all following, to the letter, the teaching of Vatican II:
  1. The Eucharist would be perceived by all as a “divine sacrifice,” in which, as in the Church herself, action is subordinated to contemplation (cf. SC 2). The Mass would be understood to be, and would be called, a “holy sacrifice” (SC 7, 47, et passim) and the liturgy in general “a sacred action surpassing all others,” whose purpose is “the sanctification of man and the glorification of God” (SC 10; cf. 112). Indeed, the liturgy would seem like a foretaste on earth of the heavenly liturgy of the new Jerusalem (SC 8).
  2. The faithful would be well catechized and well disposed to receive the sacraments fruitfully (SC 11), and would understand the nature of the liturgy and how to participate well in it (SC 14), led by the example and instruction of the clergy (SC 16-19): “through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration” (SC 48). In this way, they would be unlike the majority of Catholics today, who, according to many surveys, are unaware that the Mass is the re-presentation of the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary or that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—and who also don’t sing very much, in spite of decades of cajoling.
  3. The liturgy would look much as Catholic liturgy has looked for centuries, since “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23).
  4. The ordained ministers would be the only ones performing the actions they are supposed to do, while the laity would be involved in those ways that pertain to them: “in liturgical celebrations each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy” (SC 28; cf. 118).
  5. No one, “even if he be a priest,” would ever “add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (SC 22.3).
  6. The use of the venerable Latin language would be a frequent and appreciated occurrence, since “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (SC 36.1). The vernacular, of course, will be utilized, but only for certain parts of the liturgy (SC 36.2), and the clergy would remember the Council’s request that “steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (SC 54).
  7. Liturgies would frequently be celebrated in their most noble form, namely, “solemnly in song” (SC 113). Most of the singing would be closely connected with the actual texts of the Mass (cf. SC 112, 113) and the music would be such as “adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites” (SC 112). There would be an important role for trained choirs or scholas, which preserve and foster the treasure of sacred music—a treasure of inestimable value (SC 112, 114-115). The people, for their part, would sing acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs—and everyone would observe reverent silence at the proper times (SC 30). None of the texts of the songs would be in any way objectionable from a doctrinal point of view, since they would be drawn directly from Scripture or the liturgy itself (SC 121).
  8. Notably, Gregorian chant, being “specially suited to the Roman liturgy,” would be given “pride of place in liturgical services” (SC 116). Other forms of sacred music would not thereby be excluded—such as, preeminently, polyphony (ibid.). And of course, the pipe organ would be “held in high esteem” as “the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things” (120). Other instruments would only be used if they “are suitable or can be made suitable for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful” (ibid.). Hence, such instruments as piano, guitar, and drums, which, in the Western world, originated in profane settings and are still associated with genres like jazz, folk, and rock, would never be used for sacred music. None of this is surprising, since the Council Fathers announced their purpose of “keeping to the norms and precepts of ecclesiastical tradition and discipline, and having regard to the purpose of sacred music, which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful” (SC 112).
  9. Communion under both kinds would be rare—e.g., to newly professed religious in the Mass of their religious dedication or to the newly baptized in the Mass that follows their baptism (SC 55). Similarly, concelebration would be relatively rare (SC 57).
  10. Sunday Vespers would be a much-loved weekly occurrence, to which large numbers of faithful flock: “Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually” (SC 100).
  11. The liturgical year would be of enormous importance in the life of the community, marked by the observance and promotion of each season’s traditions and customs (cf. SC 102-110). Images and relics of the saints would be publicly honored (SC 111). Sacramentals and popular devotions would abound, such as Eucharistic Processions, Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, the Brown Scapular, and customs connected with saints’ days, because all of these things deepen the spiritual life of the faithful and help dispose them to participate more fully in the sacred liturgy (cf. SC 12-13).
  12. The church architecture and furnishings would be “truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world” (SC 122), “turning men’s minds devoutly toward God” (ibid.). There would be nothing that could disturb or distract the faithful, since the bishop would have “carefully remove[d] from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity, and pretense” (124), since what are rightly sought are “works destined to be used in Catholic worship, to edify the faithful, and to foster their piety and their religious formation” (SC 127).
Is this what you experience, week in, week out?

Is not the monumental failure to implement much of Sacrosanctum Concilium a scandal?

What became of the great promise of the original liturgical movement? It is hard to escape the impression that Sacrosanctum Concilium was largely a dead letter within a year or two of its promulgation. Should we be happy or sad about that? Indifference seems to be far the greatest reaction. And surely that is unworthy of Catholics.


Source: Peter Kwasniewski, "Is Your Liturgy Like What Vatican II Intended?," New Liturgical Movement Website, December 4, 2013, accessed December 4, 2013,


The user comment below the article has written:
No one seems to be mentioning 1) Paul VI; 2) John Paul I; 3) John Paul II; 4) Benedict XVI; and 5) Francis. 
If there is no leadership from the top on sacred liturgy, how in the world does one expect the rest of the Church to follow? Zero leadership = total chaos. We should not be surprised by this. 
Admittedly, Benedict at least tried, and had a growing number of disciples, but as an opt-in system. Nothing was mandatory. Thus, hardly anything he did trickled down to the average (key word = average, not the churches of this blog) parish. His actions indeed strengthened the conservative-leaning ones, but pick a church at random this Sunday (not the <1% known to have a sprinkling of Latin, but a truly average parish) and it's the same old nonsense as under JPII. 
Sacrosanctum Concilium was a horrible document to begin with, and its pastoral reforms need to be ignored if Mass is ever to be taken seriously again by the universal Church. At the same time, the last 50 years did not happen as a result of magic. Until someone at or near the top takes control of the situation, we should not expect the average (that random, round church in the suburbs) parish to improve. The conservative ghetto will improve, but not the average parish.
Source: Kenneth J. Wolfe, comment, December 4, 2013 (approx. 7:00 a.m. PST), on "Is Your Liturgy Like What Vatican II Intended?," New Liturgical Movement Website, December 4, 2013, accessed December 4, 2013,


Is leadership the only problem? Certainly not, but it's a big one. The bigger problem, I think, is identified here, and it helps explain the poor leadership:

Yes, the bigger problem is the continual one: most of us, myself especially, do little to become Saints, to truly break free of the lies of the world, flesh, and devil.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments ad hominem or deemed offensive by the moderator will be subject to immediate deletion.