What If?

What if we took Holy Mass as the Council Fathers knew it and wrote about it – you know; Mass according to the 1962 Missal, or the Traditional Latin Mass as it’s sometimes called — and then applied the directives found in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy to it? Can you imagine what this rite might look and sound like?

Opinions will vary on certain points, I suppose, but one thing all of us can agree upon is that it wouldn’t look and sound like the overwhelming majority of the Masses that have been celebrated since the Council closed, that’s for sure!

Now just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that some beautiful and reverent liturgies haven’t been celebrated in the revised rite as we currently know it, they most certainly have. The question I’m asking here — one that hasn’t been asked nearly enough in the last 40 years — is simply this: what would the rite look and sound like if we actually followed the Council’s wishes? Let’s call this unfortunately imaginary rite the “What if Rite,” or WIR for short.

I’m going to offer some “highlights” of the WIR as I see them, but I’d also like to invite you, the readers, to add your own thoughts and ideas as well. The only “rule” for taking part in this exercise is that you must reference Sacrosanctum Concilium in support of your vision, because let’s face it – we already know what Holy Mass looks like when the Council is ignored. This exercise is intended to provide an alternative view based upon the Council’s actual texts; or what Pope Benedict XVI calls, “the true inheritance of the Council.”

The first thing we might notice about the WIR in contrast to the present day situation is that it would hardly vary from place to place, much less from celebrant to celebrant; rather, all involved would be operating under the premise that no one, “even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (SC 22).

We would also notice that although the laity carry out “genuine liturgical functions as servers, lectors, commentators, and members of the choir” (cf SC 29), we would no longer encounter ushers in jeans or Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in beachwear; rather, each one would follow the Council’s exhortation to “discharge their office with the sincere piety and decorum demanded by so exalted a ministry and rightly expected of them by God’s people” (ibid.).

In any case, we most certainly would cease referring to such laypersons as “ministers” as is so commonly done nowadays; e.g., ministers of hospitality, ministers of the word, music ministers, etc. Why? Simply put, the Council Fathers never did. In fact, they drew very clear distinctions between ministers (the ordained, that is) and the laity saying, “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).

“Minister or layman.” Did you get that? You see, to the Council’s way of thinking (and remember – that’s what we’re here to explore) it’s either one or the other.

Moving on; no matter where on earth one participates in the WIR, much of it, or in many cases all of it, would be in the language of the Church, Latin. The Council Fathers were exceedingly clear on this point saying, “The Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (SC 36).

The people, however, would not necessarily be relegated to the role of silent observer since the Council Fathers also said, “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).

This tells us rather plainly that in the WIR the Ordinary would be in Latin; e.g. the Confiteor, Kyrie (yes, I know it’s Greek, but please afford me this rare opportunity to play the “spirit of Vatican II” card on behalf of tradition), Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, etc.

In fact, the laity would not only be taught how to say or to sing the Latin in the WIR, they would also be aware of the deeper meaning of their words and actions thanks to their sacred pastors to whom the Council Fathers said, “Pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve active participation by means of the necessary instruction of the faithful” (cf SC 14).

The Council Fathers also recognized, however, that the vernacular “may be of great advantage to the people” at Holy Mass, and so they said that “the limits of its employment may therefore be extended,” primarily in such areas as “the readings and directives, and some of the prayers and chants” (ibid.). In other words, the WIR could employ limited use of the vernacular in some places.

Speaking of the readings, since the Council asked for “the treasures of the bible to be opened up more lavishly, that a more representative portion of the Holy Scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years” (SC 51), we would likely find a cycle of readings in the WIR that is very much like the one used in the Ordinary Form today — a true fruit of the Council for which we should all be grateful.

Given that the Council Fathers called for “the rite of the Mass to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts may be more clearly manifested” (SC 50), a couple of very big changes that took place after the Council would have to be repealed in the WIR.

For one, altar rails would return to our churches if for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than to make it easier to resume the practice of receiving Holy Communion on-the-tongue while kneeling — the only way it would ever be done in the WIR. We can confidently say this for two reasons; one, the Council suggested neither the removal of altar rails nor Communion in-the-hand, and secondly, no serious argument can be made in support of either innovation as “more clearly manifesting the intrinsic nature” of the rite; in fact, it seems more than obvious that it has had the exact opposite effect.

Additionally, we can also confidently say that the priest would no longer face the congregation as he typically does today; instead he would resume the ancient and venerable practice of praying “toward the east” along with all the people. Similar to the matter of altar rails and the reception of Holy Communion, the Council Fathers never encouraged any change in the priest’s orientation at Mass.

I can tell you from experience that when the Ordinary Form is so celebrated, the “intrinsic nature” of Mass as Holy Sacrifice and an encounter with Sacred Mystery is absolutely “more clearly manifested” than the “priest-as-centerpiece” arrangement commonly seen today. For those concerned that ad orientem (facing east) worship would somehow detract from a sense of communion among the people, the interesting thing is that it is actually heightened as a tangible sense of solidarity – priest and people as one — ensues when all are facing the Eucharistic Christ here present while also anticipating His glorious return.

Speaking of “centerpieces” that can obscure the intrinsic nature of the Mass, it would be unthinkable in the WIR to find people applauding for this person or that as takes place in so many liturgies today. The Council said rather forcefully, “no special honors are to be paid in the liturgy to any private persons or classes of persons, whether in the ceremonies or by external display” (SC 32). That means no more clapping for the married couples during their anniversary month, no more asking the teachers to stand for an ovation on “Catechetical Sunday,” and no more “giving it up” for the cantor or the pianist or the bongo player. Not at Holy Mass, anyway.

Oh, that reminds me, say goodbye to Cat Stevens, Marty Haugen and the Folk Mass in the WIR since these are also innovations that the Council Fathers never envisioned. Listen instead for “the treasure of sacred music” that the Council said should “be preserved and fostered with great care” (SC 114). This means that choral music would thrive in the WIR, as the Council insisted that “choirs must be diligently promoted” (ibid.).

In fact, be prepared to welcome back Gregorian chant, which the Council said “should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (SC 116), and the pipe organ too since it “is to be held in high esteem, for it is 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” (SC 120).

In those parts of the WIR that are said or sung in the vernacular, the translation from the Latin would have been carried out just as the Council insisted no less than three times in the Constitution with regard to all efforts at liturgical reform, “with great care.”

This means that the vernacular text used at Holy Mass would be anything but profane; that is, totally unlike the everyday “language of the people” that we encounter so often in the Missal we use today. The vernacular WIR Missal would instead be a faithful translation of the Latin original that retains the theological significance of the text, preserving the centuries old rich liturgical tradition of the Church while opening its often multi-layered meaning up to the faithful as a pathway toward union with the Divine. The vernacular translation used in the WIR, in other words, would be “sacred;” a word that appears no less than 60 times in the Constitution to describe the liturgy and those things associated with it.

Now for some good news… no, make that great news!

While liturgical reform remains a work-in-progress that leaves much of what I offered here a vision as yet unachieved, those of us in the English speaking world can look forward with great joy to the coming of the Roman Missal — 3rd Edition in which the translation has been carried out in exactly the manner just described! This means that the mistakes and shortcomings found in the text that we’ve been using lo these long last 40 years has been corrected, its rich theological meaning restored, and a major step toward recovering a sense of the sacred at Holy Mass is about to be taken! Deo gratias!

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  • guitarmom

    Dear Mr. Verrecchio,
    In the spirit of full disclosure (and as you might guess from my CE “handle”), I have been a Catholic Church guitarist for many years. In fact, I’m a post-Vatican II convert to Catholicism. Thus my heart does not long for the Latin Mass of old nor the Greek Kyrie. They have never been a part of my heart or my heritage.

    I am also a very faithful Catholic who keenly wants to follow the Magesterium. As such, I read articles like yours with a certain hunger to learn. I want to know if what I’ve been doing is right or wrong, and I hope to change where there is need.

    With that introduction, may I please ask — beg, actually — that any sense of triumphalism be avoided? I read half of your article with a hunger. And then I read, “Oh, that reminds me, say goodbye to Cat Stevens, Marty Haugen and the Folk Mass in the WIR ….” Your tone changed, and you became dismissive. In turn, my heart closed and I struggled just to finish you article.

    I beg you, as we enter this current period of change in the Liturgy, please be sensitive to those of us who love singing Marty Haugen’s Mass of Creation, who prefer the sound of a guitar to an organ, or who find no problem with lyrics like “Praise with elation, praise every morning / God’s recreation of the new day” being made famous by Cat Stevens. I know that we will have to change. I just ask that you refrain from gloating over us.

    After all, Sacrosanctum Concilium itself was written “to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ” (SC 1).

  • Hi guitarmom!

    Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it. More than that, I appreciate your approach to the topic; one of genuine hunger.

    Please accept my apology for giving the appearance of gloating. That’s not the tone with which I typed. : ) Let’s chalk it up to a lack of writing skill on my part.

    That said… as things stand today, I (and those of like mind who wish to see a correct implementation of VII) have nothing to gloat about when it comes to liturgical music even if I were inclined to do so. This article is about what Holy Mass might look like IF it were to reflect the Council’s wishes. And I’m sorry to say, that’s a big “if” that is not in sight as it concerns sacred music.

    The matter of sacred music is going to perhaps be the most difficult of all areas in the liturgy to correct going forward. Why? Well, music is very powerful. People are very attached to their own particular tastes in music. We’ve had 40 years of cathcy tunes, often with good, doctrinally sound lyrics, and many people bristle at the idea that it could be taken away from the Mass. One key point to understand, however, is that “sacred” music is not determined by consensus. (Imagine if we allowed music into the Mass based on popular vote!)

    This is a much more involved topic than we can do justice here, but please feel free to shoot me an email (info@HarvestingTheFruit.com) and I’ll gladly send you some links to magisterial and other resources that explain why even good religious music (like some of Haugen’s music) while of great value in the practice of the faith, have no place in the liturgy. For the record, I like some of this music myself, just not at Holy Mass!

    Thanks again. You’re a great example of humility and hunger. My sincere apologies for seeming dismissive. God bless!

  • norwegianred

    I somewhat agree. I myself love the old Latin mass, the use of decorum and propriety, and Gregorian chant, but I think a complete monopoly by any form of mass isn’t right. I think all of them should be equally available. I mean, obviously right now contemporary mass stomps out the traditional, but if they were to be evened out so that everybody could be happy, that’d be great.

  • c-kingsley

    I’m preparing to help teach about the new translation. I’ve read that the reason the new translation is called the 3rd edition is because it is based on the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, released in 2000. But does anyone else remember a time, around 1965 to 1968, when the response to “God be with you” was “And with your spirit”? I vaguely remember changing to “And also with you”, but I don’t remember exactly when it was. I think this is the third translation of the mass into English since Vatican II.

  • Thanks for your comments norwegianred,

    The truth is, there is a “monopoly” concerning the form of the Mass, and this must be so in that it comes from Christ and His Church. My point is this – the Mass and the various elements therein are not subject to the community and its changing tastes. (Yes, I know… it is and has been treated as such, but this is a problem to be corrected.) In fact, even the pope is unable to simply inflict his own wishes upon the Mass; rather he is its caretaker.

    It’s counter-intuitive in a way, but “turn-out” for a given liturgy is not the measure of fittingness. For example, in some places a punk rock Mass might draw a huge crowd, but that doesn’t mean punk rock is sacred. Extreme example, but you get the point.

    Our challenge today is changing our mindset about Mass. This starts with catechesis on Holy Mass. It is sacred mystery. It is not our own and cannot be subject to changing fashion.

    That said, we have great latitude regarding worship – prayer services, retreats, faith formation gatherings, etc… This is where the tastes of the community can be expressed.

    Thanks again.

    Holy Mass is unique.

  • Hello c-kingsley,

    Yes, the Missal we await in English is the 3rd edition. The first (promulgated in 1969 and made available in 1970) also said, “And also with you.”

    Other languages (Spanish for example) have always translated “et cum spiritu tuo” correctly as “And with your spirit.” Us clever English speakers attempted to translate the sacred text into the “language of the people.” The cost has been great, but soon we will set things right in the forthcoming translation. It will be a great gift.

    God bless.

  • Rock

    Our Parish recently asked our Bishop for permission to install altar rails. We thought we may receive a favorable response due to the overwhelming positive feedback we have been getting over the years as we sing and say many of the responsorials in Latin. Our Bishop responded that standing was the norm in the US church for receiving communion and an altar rail would send mixed signals; therefore, the request was denied. What document is the Bishop using as authority to say “standing is the norm to receive communion” in US churches?

  • Hi Rock,

    The bishop is referring to the General Instruction for the Roman Missal #160 which reads in part:

    “The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.”

    Without stirring the pot here… we are called to respect and give assent to the GIRM for sure, but there is no reason to believe that it is impeccable in all of its content. For instance, the implication here is that reception of Holy Communion standing is of greater, or at the very least of equal, value as a sacred sign as reception while kneeling. I would like to hear what catechesis on this might sound like.

    Speaking of norms, Communion on the tongue, juridically speaking, is still the Universal norm in the Church, reception in the hand is an exception made possible only by special permission (an indult). Many priests will tell you, it is far easier to give Communion on the tongue to a kneeling Communicant. Maybe your pastor should tell the bishop he too is concerned about norms and wants an alar rail in order to make it easier to comply with the Universal norm in the matter of reception of Holy Communion on the tongue. : )

    This is a perfect example of the can of worms we have opened by straying so far afield of the Council. It will take time, but my hopeful prediction is that the day is coming when the indult for Communion in the hand will be removed.