by Fr. Matias Augé CMF
On April 19, 2018 at his blog Settimo cielo, Sandro Magister, published a post titled “Paul VI and the Liturgical Reform. He Approved it, But Didn’t Like It Much.” In this post, Magister reports on some comments made confidentially by Paul VI to the one who was the master of pontifical ceremonies, Virgilio Noè, who later became a cardinal. The source for these confidential comments is the “Personal Diaries” written by Noè.
For now, I dwell on the first confidential comment: on June 3, 1971, after the commemoration of the death of John XXIII, Paul VI said: “How on earth in the liturgy for the dead should there be no more mention of sin and expiation? There is a complete absence of imploring the Lord’s mercy. This morning too, for the Mass celebrated in the [Vatican] tombs, although the texts were beautiful they were still lacking in the sense of sin and the sense of mercy. But we need this! And when my final hour comes, ask for mercy for me from the Lord, because I have such need of it!”
We do not know what form of Mass was used on this occasion. Since it was the eighth anniversary of the death of Pope John, we must assume that he used any of the forms In anniversario extra tempus paschale, which the 1970 Misssale Romanum assigns to pp. 857-859 (forms A and B) and pp. 860-861 (forms D and E). Or more probably one of the three forms “Pro Papa ” was used (pp. 869-871).
In Form A, the Prayer over the Offerings asks that the deceased, “cleansed by heavenly remedies (remediis purgatus caelestibus),” may be “ever alive and blessed in your glory.” The Prayer after Communion asks God that the deceased be “cleansed from all offenses” (a delictis omnibus emendatus) and attain “for all eternity the precious gift of the resurrection.”
In form B the Collect asks the Lord to “send down…the lasting dew of your mercy (rorem misericordiae tuae perennem infunda) on your servant.” The Prayer over the Offerings speaks of “this sacrifice of conciliation” (sacrificium propitiationis). The Prayer after Communion asks, “if any stain of sin has clung to him (her), may it be wiped away by your merciful forgiveness” (si quae ei maculae peccati adhaeserunt, remissionis tuae misericordiae deleantur).
In form D the Collect asks that the Lord grant “the forgiveness for his (her) sins he (she) always desired” (remissionem, quam semper optavit, peccatorum). The Prayer after Communion asks that the deceased be “cleansed from all sins” (ab omnibus peccatis emundatus).
In Form E the Collect invokes the “God of all forgiveness” (Deus indulgentiarum). The Prayer after Communion asks that the deceased be “cleansed of all sins” (a peccatis omnibus expiatus).
These are basic facts, laid out in a list, that should be examined within the entirety of the liturgical texts. But I believe that they suffice to allow me to affirm that these formulas speak of sin, expiation, and the redemptive power of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and invoke the mercy of God. If we examine the other formulas and prayers in the “Masses for the Dead” section of the Missal (pp. 851-886), this doctrine is confirmed and enriched. It is true, however, that in the three formulas Pro Papa (pp. 869-871), not analyzed here, the theme of sin is only indirectly explicated, inasmuch as the deceased Pope is commended – repeatedly – to the mercy of God in the three formulas.
To claim, on the basis of the aforesaid confidential comments, that Paul VI approved the liturgical reform “but did not like it very much,” we would need a more extensive and documented analysis of Pope Paul’s thinking on the various liturgical books, especially the Ordo Missae. I hope someone will do this.
Fr. Matias Augé CMF is a veteran professor of liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome and former consultant to the Congregation for Divine Worship. Reprinted with permission from Munus: Liturgia e Dintorni.” Tr. awr.