Thursday, February 6, 2014

Have We Been Wrong?

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.


  1. I have long been of the view that the Council was a moderating influence on the virulence of an out of control papacy. What is interesting is how the papacy, with successive incumbents, has tried to roll in the ideas of SVC and restore curial control.

  2. In the same vein, couldn't we also say that SC also unleashed, whether intended or not, a significant push-back (albeit in mostly the wrong ways) against liturgical ultramontanism?

    I've always seen SC as Mediator Dei 2.0, a document which simultaneously tries to reign in out-of-control liturgical experimentation, throws in a few good bones (e.g. restoring Sunday Vespers), yet leaves the door wide open for "mild" liturgical innovation. And, in both cases, they are extremely verbose.

    More to your thesis, I think it stands to reason that if V2 never happened or SC were never written, nothing would have stopped Paul VI and Bugnini & Consilium from producing yet more innovations along the same lines as 1955 and 1960. Perhaps the whole process would have been more gradual and 50 years later we would still be in the midst of tinkerings and have a Missal and Breviary almost unrecognizable from what existed in 1939. Perhaps not, but it's an interesting alternative thesis.

  3. JohnR,
    Indeed, it is about control and the authority to make changes in both MD and SC.

    My own view is that if Pius XII had lived longer the changes to the Mass rite would have been more radical with a clearer distinction between the 'fore-Mass' and the offertory and anaphora with the trial from 1956 Good Friday of the cope worn for the former and chasuble for the latter being extended throughout the liturgical year. Likewise Pius X had promised more change yet died before that was achieved. He had used the word 'squalor' to describe the traditional order which is disturbing but illustrates the problem. I disagree with you and think the process would have been more radical without SC although my own view is that Paul VI's was tormented by doubt and a better element within him ringing alarm bells within his conscience.

    With due respect to our blog host I don't thing the two tier model of Office is a bad thing per se. If someone has the care of souls and is engaged in missionary work for example should they have to celebrate the same rite as a canon in a collegiate foundation or a religious? The consultation of the senior episcopate in 1956 found a strong desire for shortening of the Office. Only two, IIRC, of those consulted were against any reform at all one of them being Abp. McQuaid of Dublin. The most extreme response was from Mannix of Melboure who suggested a three psalm structure for the greater Hours and wanted to see Vespers and Compline combined into an evening service containing both the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. There is a certain irony that with his hatred of my country and his hatred of my Sovereign Lady Her Majesty The Queen he was suggesting almost precisely what Abp. Cranmer had effected four centuries earlier. The problem is that modern/post-reformation/revolution clergy have always delighted in the idea of a shorter Office - in contrast to earlier generations.

    1. Rubricarius,

      I understand your point about the practical and pastoral concerns around a full Office and actually agree with you entirely. My former parish, Byzantine, had a congregation of merely 100 people, 5 of whom attended Orthros (Mattins/Lauds), so we omitted three of the psalms and the Royal Troparia, and some of the Canon. Where I see a divergence between this and the Consilium's proposal is that the abbreviated version is clearly the exception and that larger parishes, monasteries, and cathedrals would still be expected to use the fuller version according to their resources. Where a two tiered liturgy comes up short is in automatically abbreviating and cutting up the Office into smaller bits merely because of congregational presence and with no regard given to the setting and resources.

    2. Rubricarius, indeed the 3-psalm arrangement has been promoted since the days of Quignonez!

      I agree with you about Paul VI. It is he who is to thank that the Suscipiat and the Roman Canon (slightly adulterated and only optional) were preserved in the Novus Ordo. Bugnini wanted to scrap both of those.

  4. FYI, "hard" copies of From Breviary to Liturgy of the Hours are still available new at for just a little more than the cover price. I ordered a copy several months ago but haven't yet read it.