Holy Mass, Batman! What Do We Do Now?

I’m currently overseeing a Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II adult faith formation program in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and we’re just about finished with our examination of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The question most commonly asked by participants at this point is not about the Council’s intent but “what do we do now?”

You see, the more they learn about the Council’s view of Holy Mass and its true intentions concerning liturgical reform, the more frustrated they are getting. One woman even told me that the price she is now paying for being “armed with the truth” is a “perpetual state of agitation!”

Why? Consider the following:

- Removing altar rails and kneelers from so many of our churches

- Stripping our sacred places of sacred statues, sacred art and other ornamentation

- Getting rid of Gregorian Chant

- Introducing the Folk Mass and instruments like tambourines and drums

- Relegating the Tabernacle to relative obscurity

- Inviting parishioners to receive the Most Holy Eucharist in their hands

- Turning the priest around to face the congregation

- Constructing new church buildings that resemble theatres in the round

- Crowding our sanctuaries with an army of laypeople and calling them “ministers”

- Eliminating the Latin prayers from the Mass

What do all of these things have in common? None of them — not one — were even remotely suggested by the Council Fathers, much less encouraged .

And so these good people want to know what they should do now… They want to know how they can influence the “powers that be” in their parish to celebrate Holy Mass in a way reflects the Council’s true intent, and perhaps even bring back that awe inspiring sense of the sacred that is all-too-often missing from our liturgies.

Americans like us are a want-it-now kind of people. We’re used to movies on-demand, liposuction and buying on credit. Add to that the fact that we’re talking about a group of people who truly love the Lord, and that the liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and the font from which all her power flows” (SC 10) and the desire for immediate results is understandable.

I must admit, however, I don’t have a very satisfying answer, but here’s what I told them.

Step one for laity who wish to contribute to an authentic “reform of the reform” is partaking of “the necessary liturgical instruction” that the Council encouraged “pastors of souls” to provide “zealously” (SC 14). My advice? Take the initiative and do it yourself.

In addition to discovering what the Council Fathers actually encouraged by exploring Sacrosanctum Concilium by the light of Tradition, we also need to engage in what Pope Benedict XVI called “mystagogical catechesis;” a catechesis that delves into the nature of Holy Mass as Sacred Mystery.

We should read papal decrees, like the 2007 Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, and documents promulgated by the Congregation for Divine Worship, like the 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum — all available online at www.vatican.va .

From there I think we simply need to pray and then pray some more. We must ask the Lord to open doors that will allow us to do His bidding, and we must pray for the humility to do so in charity. If we do this, the Lord will indeed open those doors for us; perhaps through a place on the parish liturgy committee or maybe just through some grace filled conversations with our pastor. Ask the Lord to lead the way and let Him do it.

Beyond this, we must ask — no, beg for that elusive fruit of the Holy Spirit; patience. The reform of the reform is in fact happening slowly but surely, albeit not quickly enough to quiet the unrest that comes from an awareness of the disconnect between the Council’s view of Holy Mass and our most common experiences.

I know — patience in this case is difficult, but it helps to realize that we’re living in the very shadow of Vatican II, and the liturgical reform is as yet work in progress. Perhaps a little historical perspective will be useful.

The following quote has been very influential in my work – in fact, it gave rise to the title of the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series — and it goes like this:

“A new season is opening before our eyes, the time to go profoundly into the Council’s teaching — the time of the harvest of what was sowed by the Council Fathers…”

Now, if you were to stumble upon the above quote not knowing a thing about its origin, you may very well assume that it was uttered in the years immediately following the Council’s closing; perhaps 1968 or maybe at some point in the early nineteen-seventies.

A reasonable guess, but you wouldn’t even be close!

Pope John Paul II spoke those eloquent words in the early days of the new millennium; February 2000 to be more precise.

“Wait just a minute,” you might say, “the time to go into the Council’s teaching is now? Isn’t it just a little bit late in the game for that?”

Absolutely not! Church historians have long recognized that it takes several generations for the teachings of any ecumenical council to fully begin to weave their way into the fabric of Catholic life. Several generations.

With this in mind, let’s consider carefully what the Holy Father was telling us.

According to our Venerable Holy Father, the “new season” envisioned by Council Fathers like himself was not quite a reality in the early days of the year 2000; but with the eyes of faith he could see it taking shape just in the offing.

In comparing the work of the Council to the act of sowing, the Holy Father was telling us that the ups and downs of Catholic life in the decades after Vatican II — including as it pertains to liturgical reform — have not been without progress. Rather, he is suggesting that the seed planted by the Council has been quietly germinating in our midst.

With roots now firmly anchored in the rich soil of the Master’s vineyard, what was once just a humble sapling had become a “majestic tree” — an image the Holy Father used often to describe the Council — and it was visible in the near distance to our visionary Pontiff, its fruit clearly ripened and ready for harvest.

If we take Pope John Paul II’s words to heart, we can hardly fail to recognize just how blessed we are to be alive at this very moment in time. Future generations of Catholics will one day reflect back on our age as a truly momentous, blessed and exciting time in the history of the Church. How they will look back upon us is not yet determined; but the good news is the answer is very much up to us.

We are literally among the very first laborers called into the fields of the Council – into the Council documents themselves — to harvest the fruit of Vatican II. So, are you willing to accept the invitation?

My adult faith formation group in the Archdiocese of Baltimore accepted the invitation, and they’re discovering that being armed with the truth, while absolutely necessary, isn’t always easy. Then again, the Lord who said “pick up your cross and follow me” never promised it would be.

NOTE: If you would like to learn more about the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series and its treatment of Sacrosanctum Concilium , you may email a request to info@HarvestingTheFruit.com .

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