Blessed Pope Paul VI on Liturgical Reform: The New Epoch in the Church’s Life

paulvibalconyPope Paul VI was beatified yesterday. To mark the beatification, Pray Tell is running statements from Paul VI on the liturgical reform carried out at his mandate after the Second Vatican Council.

The following comments are from a General Audience of Blessed Paul VI on November 19, 1969.

We wish to draw your attention to an event about to occur in the Latin Catholic Church: the introduction of the liturgy of the new rite of the Mass. It will become obligatory in Italian dioceses from the First Sunday of Advent, which this year falls on November 30. The Mass will be celebrated in a rather different manner from that in which we have been accustomed to celebrate it in the last four centuries, from the reign of St. Pius V, after the Council of Trent, down to the present.

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How could such a change be made? Answer: It is due to the will expressed by the Ecumenical Council held not long ago. The Council decreed: “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, can be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful can be more easily accomplished.

“For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, while due care is 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. Where opportunity allows or necessity demands, other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the earlier norm of the Holy Fathers” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #50).

The reform which is about to be brought into being is therefore a response to an authoritative mandate from the Church. It is an act of obedience. It is an act of coherence of the Church with herself. It is a step forward for her authentic tradition. It is a demonstration of fidelity and vitality, to which we all must give prompt assent.

It is not an arbitrary act. It is not a transitory or optional experiment. It is not some dilettante’s improvisation. It is a law. It has been thought out by authoritative experts of sacred Liturgy; it has been discussed and meditated upon for a long time. We shall do well to accept it with joyful interest and put it into practice punctually, unanimously and carefully.

This reform puts an end to uncertainties, to discussions, to arbitrary abuses. It calls us back to that uniformity of rites and feeling proper to the Catholic Church, the heir and continuation of that first Christian community, which was all “one single heart and a single soul” (Acts 4:32). The choral character of the Church’s prayer is one of the strengths of her unity and her catholicity. The change about to be made must not break up that choral character or disturb it. It ought to confirm it and make it resound with a new spirit, the spirit of her youth.

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So do not let us talk about “the new Mass.” Let us rather speak of the “new epoch” in the Church’s life.

2 comments

  1. From Blessed Paul VI’s audience: “How could such a change be made? Answer: It is due to the will expressed by the Ecumenical Council held not long ago. … The reform which is about to be brought into being is therefore a response to an authoritative mandate from the Church. It is an act of obedience. … It is a law. It has been thought out by authoritative experts of sacred Liturgy; it has been discussed and meditated upon for a long time. We shall do well to accept it with joyful interest and put it into practice punctually, unanimously and carefully. This reform puts an end to uncertainties, to discussions, to arbitrary abuses.”

    Here we see Paul invoking authority and obedience, and technocratic expertise. Arguably, culture has become increasing suspicious of, and resistant to, both articles of faith during the ensuing years.

    I wonder if advisers today, advising a pope who is contemplating major liturgical reform, wouldn’t recommend that he involve the people of God in every stage of the renewal process, so as to make them stakeholders in the outcome?

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