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The Eucharistic celebration after Vatican II

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April 3 of this year, 2019, marked the first 50 years of the solemn affirmation of the work of the liturgical renewal approved by the Conciliar Fathers and signed by Pope St. Paul VI. The “Missale Romanum ex decree Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II instauratum” is the result of long days of work by the Pontifical Council to implement the general norms emanating from “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” the Constitution on the Liturgy.

The new Missal carried out the guidelines of the Council for the reform of the liturgy of the Mass, as requested by Sacrosanctum Concilium. “The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as also the connection between them, may be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved. For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance; elements which, with the passage of time, came to be duplicated, or were added with but little advantage, are now to be discarded; other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the vigor which they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary.” (SC 50)

The new Missal did not contain readings from the Bible, as did the Tridentine, but an excellent catalog of readings from Sacred Scripture that, collected in new lectionaries, would increase not only the number of Sunday readings and recover the Psalmody, but also distribute these in three years, framed by the synoptic Gospels.

The new Missal of Paul VI demonstrates a great pastoral concern for the assembly, the first actor in the celebration; a community of believers headed by Christ, whose presence engulfs it completely. The people of God are called to fully, actively and consciously participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass; the celebration of the Eucharist appears as the banquet of the assembly presided by the bishop or the presbyter, representatives of the head, the living Christ. The presence of the bishop in a ceremony should no longer imply greater solemnity in the rite, but rather a clearer expression of the mystery of the Church, “which is the sacrament of unity.” (SC 26)

The liturgical reform proposes the appointment of ministers and ministries given to the laity that will respond to the structure of the celebrating community. It stresses the importance of the lector in the liturgy of the Word, the cantor, the psalmist and the ministers of the altar, with the possibility of creating new ministries as appropriate and necessary or as required by the needs of the local church.

The fundamental intention of the Council was to recover the original sources that give meaning to the rites of Catholic worship; highlight what is essential, eliminating gestures added throughout history; and recover those forms and signs that were lost. In order to do so, it rebuilt the celebratory framework using the old Christian basilicas as a functional model. The altar of sacrifice was separated from the altarpiece to express its central place in the Eucharistic celebration, a stand-alone table where the priest can celebrate facing the people, thus enriching the dialogue and communication between the presider and the assembly. The celebrant’s chair took a privileged place to make visible the presence of Christ in the bishop or the presbyters, with seats for the deacons on each side; and the ambo to proclaim solemnly the holy Word of God; all in all an extraordinary liturgical framework to draw attention to the real presence of Christ in these visible and permanent signs.

All done as requested by the guiding principles of the Council, which presents the liturgy of the Church as “an exercise of the priestly office of Christ.” Christ is the center, the crucified and risen Lord who gives us authentic life. The liturgy is nothing other than the great believing celebration of the paschal mystery of Christ; the tremendous mystery that, over time and history, keeps the constant presence of the Lord in his Church, which invokes her Lord and, through him, worships the Father in heaven.

In his convocation speech to Vatican II, St. John XXIII recognized that there are men of good will but of a closed spirit, for whom everything is bad in our time; they believe that all past times were better. “In these modern times, they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster. In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations.” The Holy Father sensed that there would be dissension and disagreement with the purpose, work and results of the Council. Vatican I had them, which resulted in the sectarian split of some German and French bishops and the emergence of the “Old Catholics,” a church that has been called the “liberal Catholics” in America, already far removed from the orthodoxy of the Roman Church.  

St. Paul VI had to conclude the conciliar tasks and promulgate its great constitutions, documents and decrees. The guiding principles of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” consider the liturgy as the exercise of the priesthood of Christ, the summit and source of the Christian life, which requires the whole Church to participate fully, consciously and actively. It manifests the nature of the Church as essentially a community with substantive unity though not rigid uniformity; that can preserve the healthy tradition and, at the same time, the legitimate progression of the language of faith. It is theology made prayer that, having Christ as the center, signifies and realizes the sanctification of the men and women who make up the Church.

St. John XXIII bequeathed his style and spirit to the liturgical reform. He was a saint of enormous common sense and very broad vision who, despite his advanced age, filled with fresh air and a spirit of renewal the old structures and traditions that so burdened the image of ecclesial institutions. It is said that, newly elected as pope, he asked his secretary to invite some friends to dinner with him in the apostolic house. The secretary replied, “Impossible, the Holy Father should always eat alone.”

Pope Roncalli asked in amazement, “What is the reason for this?"

The answer: “Because one of your predecessors instituted it that way.”

“And was he a pope like me?”

“He certainly was.”

“Well, as I am also Vicar of Christ, as that pope was, I annul it right now. So tomorrow and from now on, the pope will not eat alone anymore.”

That is the richness of the Church, the ability to do like that father of a family in the Gospel, who is able to take both the old and the new out of his large chest, for the benefit of the people of God.



Comments from readers

Michael Kramer - 08/29/2019 09:15 AM
I ran out of space, forgive the separate comment. Addressing the idea of "unity in signs is a sign of unity as a people of God", it is important to point out that for much of Church history there was far greater uniformity in the latin church in her liturgy than there is now. 50 years of the experimentation and tweaking has led to very common statements like "unity in diversity" and other similar statements. Almost all options are widely embraced, this one has been shied away from for a few decades, but is now no longer taboo. The last 4 Prefects for the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments have endorsed it. It should not be taboo or be considered to harm unity. In fact, in the other two forms of the Roman Rite it is the norm not just on paper but also in practice. In the entire eastern church, in her 20+ particular churches all except 2 use this as the normative posture when offering the Divine Liturgy. Surely we have the same faith as the other two forms of the roman rite, and as all of the eastern churches. Surely there is no harm to our unity with the other two Forms of the Roman Rite and with all of the eastern churches. My entire point through my responses has simply been that it is a legitimate option. One that the church embraced for nearly all of her history. There was a small period of confusion following the council where it was spoken of poorly, but in the last 20 years there's been a solid effort to recover from misunderstandings surrounding the practice and to again encourage its use. That was my only point. I don't even think your intention was to discourage it, my only point was clarification to avoid confusion. I appreciate the efforts of all who work to bring the liturgy beauty and reverence and sacrality and hope that you and I and others will continue working towards the common goal of bringing people to Christ through various means, especially meeting him in the Liturgy.
Michael Kramer - 08/29/2019 09:04 AM
Thank you kindly for your response, Rogelio. Perhaps my initial comment was misunderstood. I was saying that to prevent confusion it should be pointed out that nowhere in the Council or in the Missal is there a directive or imperative that Mass must be celebrated facing a different direction than it was from time immemorial. There is nothing wrong with Mass celebrated facing either direction. Oftentimes I find there are painstaking efforts taken to explain why we do things differently than we did for much of Christian history. I find this effort strained and counter-productive. Both ways are fine in themselves. Further, to be clear, nothing I stated was about my preferences. I simply stated the fact that there exists no directive in the council or the missal to "face the people". In fact, in the current General Instruction, several times the priest is directed to "turn and face the people and say..." and it is clarified in the same General Instruction that only at certain times in the Mass is the direction "towards the people" required. I stuck to facts and liturgical directives. Further, to continue the clarification that I was interested in facts and not my preferences in my initial comment, I will hold my nose and share a link from Wikipedia which contains several well-sourced quotes that this is what the Early Christians, Popes, Fathers of the Church, etc, thought they were doing. It was absolutely about the rising sun and the Second Coming of Christ. St. Charles Borromeo, one of the most important theologians at the Council of Trent stated so explicitly in addition to the plentiful references here: I also indicated in my post the direction of the Roman Basilicas and that has been treated extensively and has to do with the confessio placement. Liturgical history/documents also show that even in those arrangements, the priest and people would still turn together in common direction.
Charles - 08/28/2019 10:26 PM
Hello Rogelio. Thank you for posting this article. I wish to respond by saying that though the new Missal does help the faithful to understand the Mass. However,as professor Peter Kreft said on a Youtube audio recording about moral relativism, he qoutes an important phrase, "Ideas have consequences". If the Concilar Fathers could have seen the results of such actions they did, what would they see today? Many think today that the medevial period of where the Liturgy grew organically is something that is not acceptable. Therefore, I would like to mention a few comments from a priest and exorcist who celebrates the Old Mass in a document on the spirituality of the Latin Rite. 'The old ritual also fosters a sense of detachment on the side of the priest and the people because the ritual is completely determined by Holy Mother the Church. We see in the Old Testament that God gave very detailed instructions on how He was to be worshiped. This is key in understanding the liturgy in two ways. The first is that the liturgy is not our action, it is the action of God by means of the priest; it is not something we do, it is essentially something God does, for the consecration cannot take place without God Who is the first cause of the Sacrifice. The second way is that it is God, and not ourselves, Who determines how we will worship Him. This has been one of the most notable failings in modern times: a desire to determine for ourselves how we will worship God. It is erroneous because it is up to God to tell us the type of worship that pleases or displeases Him and, therefore, only He should be the one to determine the ritual. It was mentioned earlier that God had fashioned the liturgy over the course of time through the saints, who were filled with love of God".
Andrew Meszaros - 08/28/2019 04:27 PM
The current prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, Cardinal Robert Sarah, called for a “return to a common orientation of priest and people eastwards.” Unfortunately, his urging that the change be implemented soon, fell on def ears, with a few exceptions by a handful of bishops.
Rogelio Zelada - 08/28/2019 03:55 PM
Las normas litúrgicas las dicta la Congregación para el Culto Divino y la Disciplina de los Sacramentos y que esta toma en cuenta las notas que les ofrecen los obispos locales de todo el mundo. No se trata de buscar justificaciones que apoyen nuestras preferencias, sino aceptar humildemente lo que nos obispos católicos sostienen y siguen sin mayores problemas. Llegará el momento en que explique el por qué de la misa de espaldas a la comunidad, que en principio nada tiene que ver con la orientación hacia el sol, como las oraciones de los musulmanes de cara a la meca. Se trata de mirar como modelo a las grandes basílicas romanas y ver que el altar central es circundable y está totalmente de cara al pueblo: Santa María la Mayor, San Pablo extramuros, etc. Es un importante postulado litúrgico que "La unidad en los signos es un signo de nuestra unidad como Pueblo de Dios".
Rogelio Zelada - 08/28/2019 03:54 PM
The liturgical norms are dictated by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and these take into account the notes offered by local bishops throughout the world. This is not about seeking justifications that support our preferences, but humbly accepting what the Catholic bishops maintain and continue to do without major problems. I will eventually explain the “why” for the Mass with the celebrant’s back to the community, which in principle has nothing to do with the orientation towards the sun, such as the prayers of Muslims facing Mecca. This is about looking at the great Roman basilicas as a model and seeing that the central altar stands alone and is totally facing the people: St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran, etc. Also, it is an important liturgical postulate that "Unity in signs is a sign of our unity as People of God."
Michael Kramer - 08/28/2019 10:18 AM
As a 32 year old who has known both the Old and New Mass for most of my life I find it very problematic that it was implied that the council or the missal of Paul vi itself had in mind the default celebration of Mass “facing the people”. Such a thing was not mentioned in the council at all, and only mentioned in passing in the general instruction for the Roman missal for the New Mass. it is true that the set up for the Old Mass can be in such a way so as to necessitate a celebration “facing the people”, and it is also true that the New Mass is able to be done “ad orientem”. It is not a recovery of anything from an earlier Christian Liturgy to “face the people”. It happened in a select few Roman churches as architecture necessitated because of the rising of the sun and the location of the confessio in the church. But in the overwhelming majority of the churches, both east and west, the default was “ad orientem”. The author doesn’t imply there is anything wrong with it, but it seems opportune to state explicitly that Mass celebrated “ad orientem” is not only not inferior and not an invention of the Middle Ages But also that there is nothing wrong with it, it’s our patrimony, we should embrace it, we should be open to praying in that way again to experience the gift the church gave us for so long in praying in that way, and seek to enter enter the Mass the way countless saints throughout the ages did, facing the same direction as the priest. A priest when he chooses to offer Mass ad orientem according to the liturgical books of Paul VI is not in any way being disobedient, nor is he turning his back (pun intended) on the reform. The detaching of altars and the complete emptying out of many sanctuaries is something to be lamented. It resulted in much discontinuity in many sanctuaries architecturally, and created, according to a book written by Monsignor Klaus Gamber, an atmosphere with a temptation to pray as a self enclosed circle. +Ratzinger wrote the forward.
Elizabeth DE ARAZOZA - 08/26/2019 06:10 PM
Gracias Rogelio, con gusto lei tu articulo con tantos excelente detalles que me hicieron recordar las clases que recibimos en el SEPI. Bendiciones, Elizabeth
james - 08/26/2019 03:47 PM
Another excellent message given to us to be inspired. Thank you for the excellent article. Let us challenge ourselves to become better and more informed with Holy ways. Blessings, and In Unity....
Maria Maguire - 08/26/2019 11:17 AM
WOW, Rogelio! Loved your blog. Thanks for those important details of "Santosanctum Concilium" pointing out the importance of full participation, consciously and actively of the Church in the Liturgy. Wish we had more Catholics interested in learning about the great sacredness and beauty of the Liturgy of the Mass which brings us so much closer to Christ. (Do this in remembrance of me). I Love John XXIII! Maria Maguire

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