Paul VI on liturgical reform Part 8

In view of the canonization of Pope Paul VI, the pope of liturgical reform, which will take place at the synod now underway in Rome, Pray Tell is occasionally  publishing some of his most significant statements on liturgical reform. 

Again today a special matter in the Church’s life draws our attention to itself: namely, the undoubtedly beneficial results of the liturgical reform. From the day that Vatican Council II issued its Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, great advances have been made that are in line with the state of things prepared by the liturgical movement of the late 19th century and that fulfill those dearly held objectives for which so many churchmen and scholars had worked and prayed. The new Order of Mass we have promulgated after the long and able preparatory work of the responsible groups, with its new eucharistic prayers added to the essentially unchanged Roman Canon, has yielded special fruit: namely, a wider participation in the liturgy, a deeper, more reflective understanding of the sacred rites, a greater and fuller knowledge of the inexhaustible treasures of Scripture, an increased sense of the Church as community.

The passage of these last years has shown that we are on the right path. Sad to say there have been abuses and an excessive liberty in carrying out norms, although most of the priests and people have used sound and upright judgment in this matter. Now is the time once and for all to cast out the decaying leaven of harmful extremes, and to put liturgical reform we have approved, following the will of the Council, into effect integrally, i.e. by respecting the balanced judgments or criteria that inspired it. (Address to a consistory, June 27, 1977)

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Paul VI, asked by his philosopher friend Jean Guitton why he would not concede the 1962 missal to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers who rejected the liturgical reform:

Never. This Mass … becomes the symbol of the condemnation of the council. I will not accept, under any circumstances, the condemnation of the council through a symbol. Should this exception to the liturgy of Vatican II have its way, the entire council would be shaken. And, as a consequence, the apostolic authority of the council would be shaken.



  1. Very interesting!

    “Never. This Mass … becomes the symbol of the condemnation of the council. I will not accept, under any circumstances, the condemnation of the council through a symbol. Should this exception to the liturgy of Vatican II have its way, the entire council would be shaken. And, as a consequence, the apostolic authority of the council would be shaken.”

    So then Paul VI and Benedict XVI are utterly at odds with each other? What does this do to papal authority? To Paul’s and to Benedict’s? It seems that the Church’s Magisterium has made a different decision about the admissibility and even desirability of having the preconciliar liturgy available again. That is the current church law.

    1. Yes, they’re utterly at odds with each other. Both popes claim to be interpreting the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy faithfully. Presumably the more recent statement (“Summorum Pontificum”) should be accepted as “the current church law,” as you say, but not if it’s an indefensible interpretation—if, that is, the council document forbids continued use of the former missal, by ordering “Ordo Missae recognoscatur” and making no allowance for an extraordinary form. Plenty of Pray Tell commenters would agree that the council document does so forbid. What does that view do to Benedict’s authority? Calls it into question, I think—on this point, anyway.
      A point worth pondering, I believe: If the question is which pope is really carrying out the Council Fathers’ wishes, it could be noted that Paul VI was one of them and Benedict XVI wasn’t.

      1. It seems to me that while Paul VI was more faithful to the council, Benedict XVI was more faithful to the Gospel.

      2. Meaning that Vatican II and the Gospel are somewhat at odds? That would be quite a claim.

        Pope Francis said that “Vatican II was a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture. Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous.” Do you think Pope Francis is also at odds with the Gospel?


      3. Suppressing the EF caused needless division. Christ wished us to be one. Allowing the EF doesn’t contradict the essentials of Catholic teaching and allowing it helps heal that division.

        IMO, based on your own statements regarding ecumenism, it completely baffles me that you would oppose SP. Your two positions on these matters seem contradictory to me.

      4. The old rite is not fully compatible with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council – this is the problem. The Council made real advances in the vision of the church (all the people of God with ordained leadership), and decided definitively that the old rite would not continue unreformed because it is a clericalist vision of the church. The Council said that the liturgy reflects the nature of the true church, and the old rite doesn’t do that adequately. This is the main problem.

      5. Fr. Anthony,

        This is precisely where you go off the rails. No one will deny that Vatican II mandate a reform of the liturgy, but you can’t provide a single magisterial statement which states that the pre-vatican ii liturgy is not in line with church teaching. Not Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis, none of them ever made such a claim.

  2. This quote on the 1962 missal is unfortunate when viewed through the lens of history. Pope Paul VI’s suppression of the old Mass might have cemented its place as a “symbol” of rejecting Vatican II for a small number of Catholics (and for those opposed to its use just as much as traditionalists) causing needless division and suffering for the far larger number of Catholics for whom it was no such symbol.

    1. In my memories of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I remember the discussions of the weirdness of the relatively few people who were upset with the liturgical changes in broad – Fr Gommar DePauw having founded a breakaway chapel community a few miles from where I lived, and it was a small but loud group at the time. There were people who missed this or that particular thing about the Old Ways, but not typically a broad-based fundamental anxiety or rejection. Instead, the thing in those years that riled people was Humanae Vitae (my parents were not dissidents at all on that latter score, but I certainly heard the discussions in the air, which were memorable to me because my mother had gone into labor with her sixth child on the day her first child graduated from high school – as it turns out, the very day Fr DePauw started his chapel – and the month before HV was issued).

      1. I’ve never doubted that most people accepted the changes regardless of how much they liked or didn’t like all or part of them (and really what choice was there? Leave your family parish for one that might not be in communion with Rome? One could quietly reject HV without it changing their worship life and parish connections), but I wonder how easily Fr DePauw would have filled his chapel if the old Mass were simply allowed – that is, how many of those folks really cared about the ideological reasons he had vs just wanting the old Mass?

    2. A real problem was Marcel Lefebvre himself. According to Yves Congar in Challenge to the Church, not only did Lefevbre and his followers use the Tridentine Rite as a symbol for rejecting the teachings and ecclesiology of Vatican II, they also used it as a powerful “banner” for the promotion of French monarchism (there is still today a movement to restore the descendant of the King of France to the throne, replacing the current republic).

  3. I suspect that the “abuses and an excessive liberty in carrying out norms” was a factor as much as any “condemnation of the council” that contributed to a desire for the old form of Mass.

  4. The excellent Rubricarius of S. Lawrence Press told me that ++Lefebvre used the Missal of 1967 all through the time of Pope Paul. Different branches of his society used different missals, to wit, pre-1955, 1962 et al. 1962 seems to have been agreed upon in negotiations with Cardinal Seper, and as a source for unity of the society.

    The Archbishop also violated 1962 rubrics by celebrating a pontifical sung mass, and insofar as he could, he omitted the last gospel.

    I wonder if the Archbishop simply had his own interpretation of Vatican II’s hopes for the liturgy and was not quite the obstructionist as he has been portrayed.

  5. The famous “Agatha Christie” indult of 1971, allowing the Tridentine Rite to be used in England and Wales on restricted occasions, specified what text was to be used: “The edition of the Missal to be used on these occasions should be that published again by the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (27 January 1965), and with the modifications indicated in the Instructio altera (4 May 1967).”

    However, nearly all those benefiting from that indult did not like “the 1962 Missal” and the modifications it had made to “the immortal Mass” of Pius V, and so instead celebrated the unreformed rite from earlier years, as Brian Duffy indicates. They were then in consistent breach of the law, even after John Paul II’s universal indult of 1984 which also specified the 1962 Missal.

    Even after Papa Ratzinger’s 2007 Summum Pontificum, described by one distinguished commentator as “a reward for disobedience”, the vast majority of their celebrations remained illicit although valid, since the 1962 Missal was once again specified.

    1. And for many it was a reward for obedience. That is an important fact regardless of one’s thoughts on whether SP should have been issued.

      The vast majority of EF Masses I have been to have followed the 1962 Missal closely, with some small variances usually coming from the celebrant’s age or permissions granted to some groups (and when I say small variances, it’s pretty much always whether or not the confiteor is said before communion. If that sort of thing renders a Mass illicit, then a decent number of the OF Masses I have been to have probably been illicit).

  6. Our Diocese has a bishop who promotes the Tridentine Mass and in meeting with groups of people has ridiculed the liturgists and theologians of Vatican II. They were people pushing an agenda that “anything from the past was suspect.” He and others on his staff have challenged the education of those who formed St. Paul VI’s rite and it is obvious his disdain for what the Council has done for the Church.

    St. Paul VI’s prophetic words are true in our part of the world.

    1. Yet I suspect any significant liturgical developments at the Vatican level are unlikely for the remainder of this pontificate, which has its hands more than full of other more pressing matters.

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