Saint Thomas Aquinas

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The "Buts" Of Sacrosanctum Concilium

The "Buts" Of Sacrosanctum Concilium 

Sacrosanctum Concilium is another example of the poorly written documents of the Second Vatican the Council. First off it cannot be used as a standalone document to teach us the foundation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass . This is the error I see reoccurring repeatedly by today’s bishops and theologians, as if this document is the beginning and the end of our theology on the Mass. The document was written in the spirit of "aggiornamento" that is to update, but as we will see, few of the primary recommendations of the document, especially those concerning the Latin language were not followed because of so many exceptions made in each of its “practical norms.” I will outline the document and briefly show that the design of the document failed to establish any concrete norms concerning language, and much of the norms established in other areas ended up being detriments to the celebration of the liturgy.

In the introduction the document states its purpose. “that practical norms should be established.” The document refers to the Eastern Rites where applicable, but the document tends to focus on the Roman Rite.

Chapter one goes over the nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, especially in reference to Christ being present, “ under the Eucharistic species.” It also explains how man becomes sanctified through the Liturgy. One of the most famous lines from the document rightfully says, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” The document also was sure to point out that one must receive Christ worthily, “it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions.” These are all important concrete norms for approaching the Mass and thus sets a good foundation. As we know there are many now challenging the notion of receiving Christ worthily.

Chapter two focuses on “active participation.” This in my eyes is where the failures of the document become apparent, being that it never really explains what this participation entails. It does say, “pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally.” As we know however, the external participation since the Council have extremely overshadowed the internal participation, prayer. An emphasis on the laity doing the readings, being extraordinary Eucharistic ministers for example, have been promoted to the detriment of teaching the importance of praying the Mass, which is of first importance concerning active participation. Try meditation on anything at the average parish Novus Ordo Mass.

Next we have the reform of the liturgy. What I find fascinating is that the document talks about reforming but never seems to say anything about creating a new Mass. It later talks about overhauling the rites of the Sacraments, but never the Mass itself. One can make an argument that the creation of the new Mass goes against what the document states explicitly, “…care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.” As we know the new Mass was not to be an organic development, it was a complete overhaul. We know that the old Mass was not the foundation for the new, so how can one say it was organically developed? Its name actually tells us it was new. In other words, there were reforms in 1962, it is essentially the same Mas with changes, but the same cannot be said for the Novus Ordo. So is it not then logical to say that Bugnini's Concilium in creating the new Mass went directly against the prescribed norm here?

Some other norms are then established, but as we will see, most of these norms were never to be realized, and the ones that were adhered to ended up being detriments to liturgical practice in the Church. The first of these being the loss of the symbolic rubrics in the Mass which explained the nature of the Mass so richly. Instead we lost these mysteries of prayer and symbolism in the Mass through what were perceived as useless repetitions. Anyone who has studied the ancient form of the Mass should have understood that there were no “useless repetitions” in the old Mass. This was explained in extreme detail by the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa. Thus we saw that the new Mass was stripped of many of the prayers that for so long enriched the Roman Liturgy. Various symbols and rubrics were removed. The reading of Scripture was then emphasized as well as preaching on the Scriptures. As we know there were added Scripture readings to the new Mass following the document. For example, we know have Old Testament readings. There are also many options for readings as well. Its funny how there was so much emphasis on having options, but if one goes to a Mass in France for example, good luck figuring out whats going on because who knows what readings they using! For all of the emphasis on Scripture, it seems little progress has been made in understanding it.

The next section we see the “this, but” format become the leitmotif of the remaining “norms” made in reference to the Latin language. The norms are frequently followed with a “but” accompanied by a completely different norm which always seems to replace the originally stated “norm.” For example, we have stated in 36. 1. the following plain statement, “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” Everyone knows this is not followed as a general norm of the Church. Instead we get the “but” of the document, “But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants…” As we know the “but” is now the rule.

The document continues and speaks of some liturgical adaptations, which as we know have gone far beyond anyone’s imagination in some cases. The bishop is also mentioned as being at the center of liturgical celebration. We then see another complex issue developed concerning the liturgical commissions, “to promote studies and necessary experiments whenever there is question of adaptations to be proposed to the Apostolic See.” As we know, the liturgical commission that created the new Mass was not a competent commission. Also, the regional commissions ended up plaguing the pope to go along with their “experiments.” As a result there were many “experiments” made that should have never been entertained that became “norms”, Communion in the hand being one of them.

The next section of the document rightfully expounds upon the nature of the Mass and Christ as the center. It refers to Him as “the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood.” However, in paragraph 50 we see a place for the liturgical experts to take advantage when they indeed overhauled the Mass. “…the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance.” Indeed, the rite was “simplified” but it can be argued that the substance was not adequately preserved being that important parts of the Mass were completely removed. For example, the important references made to the essence of sacrifice and salvation through the Mass were completely discarded such as the Offerimus Tibi Domini, “We offer unto Thee, Lord, the saving chalice, beseeching Thy clemency: that it may go up with an odour of sweetness in sight of Thy Divine Majesty, for our and the whole world's salvation.” Likewise, the Veni Sanctificator was eliminated, “Come, O almighty and eternal God, the Sanctifier, and bless this Sacrifice, prepared for the glory of Thy Holy Name.” Unfortunately, nothing was put in their place to preserve these important theological foundations of the Mass. Thus simplicity trumped the preservation to substance.

Article 55 is a paragraph that seems to have been skipped over, “The dogmatic principles which were laid down by the Council of Trent remaining intact, communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit.” As we know, the bishops now disregard the general principles of Trent since everyone now receives under both species. The “think fit” trumps the principles of Trent being that Trent emphasized Christ being present totally under each species and thus developed Canons that emphasized this fact, as well as justifying the practice of receiving under one species’. If any one saith, that the holy Catholic Church was not induced, by just causes and reasons, to communicate, under the species of bread only, laymen, and also clerics when not consecrating; let him be be anathema.” (Canon II on Communion) It can be argued that the receiving of both species since the liturgical overhaul has over time contributed to the loss of belief in the Real Presence of Christ in totality under each individual species.

Concelebration is then discussed in which the bishops are the ultimate arbiters concerning its practice. The Sacramentals are then covered, and again the solution of simplicity is applied in the upcoming reforms. Even the rites of marriage, baptism and confirmation were not able to escape the overhauling with simplicity being the motivating factor. As we know many prayers were removed from the Sacrament rite of Baptism. Compare the old with the new sometime.

Next the revision of the Divine Office is addressed and we see several changes to be made including the removal of the hour of Prime. The “this and that” leitmotif resumes in the norms given to reciting the divine office in Latin. First we have the “norm” which is never now the norm, “In accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the divine office.” Seems clear, right? Wait for it, then comes the real norm, the “but”, “But in individual cases the ordinary has the power of granting the use of a vernacular translation to those clerics for whom the use of Latin constitutes a grave obstacle to their praying the office properly.” I guess this “but” was to be a self-fulfilling prophesy being that soon every priest under every bishop in the known world was to be under the “certain cases” clause where Latin was an obstacle to their praying the office properly. Sacred music is also given the “this, but” treatment, first the norm, which is never followed, “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” Then the “but” that becomes the real norm, “But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action.” By now we can begin to see how this document in the way it was written was not terribly efficacious to celebration of the Mass.

Chapter VII covers sacred art and sacred furnishings. The document rightly speaks correctly of sacred art, “Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world.” As we know however, soon after the Council, this passage was forgotten and much of the beautiful church art was destroyed or replaced with inappropriate images. The directives given were to ensure that art in the churches were to remain in good taste. As we know this ends up falling into the realm of subjectivity much of the time, and one cannot really fault the document in this case.

The document opens a can of worms once again in stating the following concerning church architecture, “when churches are to be built, let great care be taken that they be suitable for the celebration of liturgical services and for the active participation of the faithful.” Is this implying that the great majority of the churches built before this time were not built for the “active participation” of the faithful? What we see in much of our church architecture after the Council was in fact not conducive to the active participation of the people, being that prayer is the primary active participation of the faithful. Hence, being a spectator is what happens, turning active participation into a concert hall type experience where everyone must focus their attention on the priest. We see churches then being primarily built in the round and the reverent cruciform architecture discarded to the dustbins of time. Again, this active participation is never really explained in any detail, and seems to be understood in a new theological manner than traditionally taught. Isn't it ironic that many in the Vatican II only crowd complain that they are only spectators in the Extraordinary From, when really their Mass in the round is the true spectator event? The document closes with an appendix concerning a new calendar. Although this document contains some valuable information on the Mass as stated above, in my estimation it has ultimately failed to achieve its end, which was to help people understand and participate more fully in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Not only has it not achieved its intended end, it has caused confusion and has in some cases been a detriment to the celebration of the Mass. 

Today's active participation.
True participation




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