Have we been wrong about the liturgy and Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium? I have tried on this blog to dispel the myth that the liturgical overhaul of the 20th century descended from the Council or even from the same people who acted as the main players at the Council. The trend towards change began earlier during the days of Jansen and during the 19th century Liturgical Movement. For various reasons those forces merged with Modernism in the early 20th century after Pascendi Dominici Gregis drove that movement underground in the academies and forced it to study seemingly benign subjects like liturgy (ironic that the Pope who issued Pascendi blew the first salvo against the old rite).
My thesis until recently has been that Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document on liturgy written by Msgr. Annibale Bugnini either during the waning years of Pius XII—who began the study groups for an Ecumenical Council—or early days of John XXIII—who called Pope Pius' Council, was meant as a pretext for greater changes. The vague instructions on the place of Latin, of chant, and the variety of readings could justify the 1962, 1965, and 1969 Ordines Missae. The document was a stepping stone, not an end. Indeed, I would side with the "neo-cons" in saying that the document was never implemented. Where their position fails is in claiming that the document was mis-interpreted, as though the man who wrote it did not know his own intentions.
What has caused me to revise my views slightly is a book called From Breviary to Liturgy of the Hours by Stanislaus Campbell, a thorough account of the re-structuring of the already altered Divine Office which took place between 1964 and 1971. The book traces the process using the records and meeting notes from the various study groups within Consilium, the commission Pope Paul established to circumvent the impossibly baroque SCR. The suggestions and discussions are frighteningly irreverent to the past, to patrimony, and the common worshipper—despite the prevalence of the word "pastoral." Study group 9's records reveal the memorandum: "Today, Lauds and Vespers are not popular, and they require a radical restoration." I now think that Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Council were actually a slight moderating influence on the Consilium and the new liturgy. How?
Some of the most radical moves, such as the de facto abolition of the minor hours, came from the top. The death of Prime/Terce/Sext/None and the creation of an optional series of hours descended from the mind of Papa Montini himself. Pope Paul even thought the novel cycle for Lauds and four week cycle for the rest of the hours too cumbersome for pastoral reasons. He favored an alternation between psalms and readings. Another example would be the endless options in the Pauline liturgy. There could have been even more profound differences in the options. At one point Consilium wanted a three psalm scheme for the major hours when celebrated with laity present and a five psalm scheme for private recitation. The three psalm scheme seems absurd to those who favor the older liturgy, but would it not be even more absurd to have two Divine Offices: one for the parish and one for the priest at his desk? The Consilium even describes Sacrosanctum Concilium 89 as "dangerous" because it could elicit repetition among the psalms during the little hours, as was done from the start of the little hours until 1911.
As troubled as the reform was, it seems the Council and particularly Sacrosanctum Concilium prevented the finished product from being an even greater departure from the traditional liturgy than it already was.
P/S - the book is available for purchase on Google Books for $15, a reasonable price in contrast to the $1,085 for a copy on Abe Books.