Fifty years of the Missal promulgated by Paul VI: A reform for the renewal of the Church

This is a translation of an article which first appeared in L’Osservatore Romano on April 6, 2019, p.7, and was submitted to Pray Tell by an official of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Pray Tell is grateful for the submission.

On Holy Thursday fifty years ago (April 3, 1969) Pope Saint Paul VI signed the Apostolic Constitution Missalis Romani, thus promulgating the Roman Missal which had been renewed by decree of the Second Vatican Council. In this seminal document he indicated and explained the most significant changes made to this liturgical book concerning; the Eucharistic Prayer, the Order of Mass and the Lectionary. Three days later (April 6) the Sacred Congregation for Rites published the Decree promulgating the new Order of Mass, along with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The following year brought the typical editions of the Roman Missal (March 26, 1970) and the Lectionary (September 30, 1970).

To bring such a monumental task to completion required courage. Animated by his love and pastoral concern for the People of God, Pope Paul VI showed he had that courage in abundance. Pope Montini was well aware of the challenge at hand, indeed he was often the first one to point out with clarity the suffering which would have to be faced while underlining the necessity of facing it. He recalled it many times in various speeches: to the Consilium, to the faithful, and to the clergy. All the time he was guiding, explaining, defending and promoting the liturgical reform that has its clearest expression in the Missal. His goal in all of this was to renew the Church, for it is through the liturgy, and in particular the Mass, that the Church experiences communion with, through and in Christ. The Missal is necessary for the celebration of Mass, and the Mass is necessary for the renewal of the lives of those who participate in it.

While the reform of the Missal may at first have seemed like a mammoth task, as indeed it was, it should be recognized that much of the groundwork had already been done. Paul VI recalled this fact in the Apostolic Constitution, mentioning early on the intervention of Pope Pius XII in the 1950s in order to reform the Easter Vigil and the rites of Holy Week in the Roman Missal. This was a first step at a time when the liturgical movement was in ferment within the Church. Now, after the Council called by Pope John XXIII, the Council Fathers had spoken and they had asked for a general revision of the Missal and not merely some cosmetic overlay.

Therefore Paul VI wanted to implement these provisions:

“The recent Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, has laid the foundations for the general renewal of the Roman Missal, laying down that ‘texts and rites should be ordered in such a way that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify,’ (cf SC 21) and later that ‘the Order of Mass should be revised in such a way that the purpose proper to its individual parts, as also the connection between them, may be more clearly evident, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be facilitated,’ (cf SC 50) then that ‘the treasures of the Bible be opened up more abundantly so that richer fare may be spread before the faithful at the table of God’s Word.’ (cf SC 51).”  (Apostolic Constitution)

Almost as if to stave off the inevitable objections the Pope specified that “it should not be thought that this revision of the Roman Missal has been introduced without preparation,” given that it was supported by progress in liturgical disciplines and by knowledge of ancient liturgical sources unknown to the Tridentine reformers. Three areas were of the most interest. Above all was Pope Paul’s decision to add three other Eucharistic Prayers alongside the Roman Canon, as well as the enrichment of prefaces “either taken from the earlier tradition of the Roman Church or now newly composed.” Then, regarding the Order of Mass, he explained that

“‘the rites have been simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance’ (cf SC 50). For those things ‘that, with the passage of time, came to be duplicated or where added to little advantage’ (ibid.) have been omitted, especially with regard to the rites for the offering of the bread and wine and with regard to the rites of the breaking of the bread and of Communion. Furthermore, ‘there have been restored … in accordance with the ancient norm of the holy Fathers, various elements which have suffered injury through the accidents of history.’ (cf ibid.). Among such are the Homily (cf SC 52), the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful (cf SC 53), and the Penitential Rite or rite of reconciliation with God and with the brethren, to be enacted at the beginning of Mass: to which due importance has been restored, as was opportune.”

Finally, he dealt with the Lectionary, which was to be renewed according to the prescription of the Council that “‘over the course of a prescribed number of years a more representative portion of the Holy Scriptures be read to the people’ (cf SC 51)”, thus the Sunday readings have been arranged over three years, completed by a two yearly cycle for ferial days.

Two examples bear witness to how the Pope himself followed the work of revising the lex orandi of the Missal, after hearing the opinions of the Roman Curia and of other bodies. The first is a hand-written note on the Order of Mass:

Wednesday 6 November 1968, 7pm – 8.30pm. Along with Rev. Fr. Annibale Bugnini We have reread the new Ordo Missae compiled by the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia following observations made by Us, the Roman Curia, the Sacred Congregation of Rites, participants in the 11th plenary session of the Consilium itself, and by other ecclesiastics and lay faithful. After careful consideration of the various proposed modifications, many of which have been accepted, We have given Our approval to the new Ordo Missae, in Domino.  Paulus pp. vi (published in L’Osservatore Romano” May 9, 2018, page 8)

The second hand-written note concerns the Lectionary:

In the very brief space of time indicated it has not been possible for Us to take a careful and complete view of this new and ample Ordo Lectionum Missae. However, based upon Our trust in the expert and pious people who have prepared it after a long period of study, and based upon the trust which is due to the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, which has examined and composed it with so much skill and solicitude, we gladly approve it, in nomine Domini.  On the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, June 24, 1969.  Paulus pp. vi

With a pastor’s heart Paul VI desired to explain and illustrate the reasons, scope and extent of the liturgical reform. In doing so he helped to capture all its positive aspects without remaining silent in the face of the areas of resistance that were opposed to the change, just as he did not remain silent in the face of the erroneous applications which disfigured the reform.  He put it in these terms during a general audience on 19 November 1969:

Thus the reform that is about to take place everywhere is the response to an authoritative mandate of the Church. It is an act of obedience, a matter of the Church’s being consistent. It is a step forward in the Church’s genuine tradition. It is a clear sign of faithfulness and vitality to which we must all give ready allegiance. It is not a fad, a fleeting or optional experiment, the invention of some dilettante. (Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville 1982, p. 539)

Aware of his own authority he confirmed the worth of the liturgical reform in an address to a Consistory on May 24, 1976:

For Our part, in the name of tradition, We beseech all our children, and all Catholic communities to celebrate the rites of the restored liturgy with dignity and fervent devotion. Use of the new Ordo Missae is in no way left up to the choice of priests or people. The Instruction of 14 June 1971 provided that celebration of Mass according to the former rite would be permitted, by faculty from the Ordinary, only for aged or sick priests offering the sacrifice without a congregation. The new Ordo Missae was promulgated in place of the old after careful deliberation and to carry out the directives of Vatican Council II. For a like reason Our predecessor Saint Pius V, after the Council of Trent, commanded the use of the Roman Missal revised by his authority. In virtue of the supreme authority granted to Us by Jesus Christ We command the same ready obedience to the other new laws, relating to liturgy, discipline, pastoral activity, made in these last years to put into effect the decrees of the Council. Any course of action seeking to stand in the way of the conciliar decrees can under no consideration be regarded as a work done for the advantage of the Church, since it in fact does the Church serious harm. (Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville 1982, p. 178)

The Roman Missal is translated into various languages which are approved by the Episcopal Conferences and confirmed by the Apostolic See. In this regard we should note once more what Paul VI wrote in the Apostolic Constitution promulgating the new Missal:

“We are no less confident that it will be received by the Christian faithful as a help in witnessing to and strengthening the unity of all, by means of which, in a variety of so many languages, one and the same prayer of all will rise up, more fragrant than any incense, to the heavenly Father, through our High Priest Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.”

Fifty years have passed and we celebrate a golden jubilee! We can give thanks to the Lord for so many things. Above all we can be grateful to Paul VI for all he gave to the Church while suffering for her. In his words and actions the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, which he carried out in faithful obedience to Sacrosanctum Concilium, did not simply aim at a revision of the shape of the liturgy, rather it aimed at the renewal of the Church, the mystery at the centre of his programmatic encyclical Ecclesiam suam.

Fr. Corrado Maggioni, S.M.M.
Under-Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments 



12 comments

  1. Is anyone working on a series of bulletin articles celebrating the anniversary? It might be a good occasion to catechize those who lived through the changes and those who know nothing but the Novus Ordo. There is still much work to be done in achieving full, active, conscious participation, turning the “gotta be’s” into “wanna be’s”.
    The Tridentine Rite took centuries before it was accepted and implemented in some countries according to Jungman. So patience is required. And perseverance.
    This site has plenty of people who could work on something like this.
    Thoughts?

  2. The need for the reform of the liturgy, and the overall concept for the reform laid out in Sacrosanctam Concilium, is something that all church people should have a good understanding of. Unfortunately, ignorance or deliberate misconstruance of the intent and methods of, for example, Annibale Bugnini and even Pope Paul VI himself, seems widespread among churchmen and churchwomen who are otherwise obviously Catholic in sympathy.
    We need to look, in my opinion, for a variety of ways in which average Catholics can acquire a mature understanding of worship according to the mind of the Church. This was a project dear to St Paul VI. In this country, most of the liturgical reform was presented in a very academic and cerebral fashion, and mostly from a Benedictine perspective. But that is not the only legitimate option.
    We often forget that St. Jean Marie Vianney was an enthusiastic proponent of liturgical renewal, and his tone was always warm, emotional, and enticing, painting an appealing picture of the early Church. Where is that option for us today? The average Catholic needs a vibrant faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Bible, for example, and in the glory of being a member of the Body of Christ. Where are the passionate preachers on these topics?

    1. This is a most important article given the position of the author within the Congregation – and we are all in Corrado Maggioni’s debt for expressing the situation so clearly and elegantly.

      Thank you!

      While the web and this blog are seen by millions, unless this article is noticed in the printed media – especially those publications that are distributed to priests – it will be a restatement of the truth but one which few of those who need to hear it most will notice.

      So let us draw attention to this article in other places.

  3. In light of Pope Francis’s Apostolic Letter TRADITIONIS CUSTODES (16 July 2021), this citation takes on new, weighty, historic import and renewed bold lead energy for our next steps. Thank you to Pope Paul VI and Vincentian Annibale Bugnini CM and the Papal Appointed Consilium for the consequential follow-through and hard thoughtful work (ad exsequendum) for implementing the REFORM of the then-used pre-1969 liturgy. Like these promotor-movers of reform, I too am not to be ashamed of the Spirit’s evangelical lead gift of the courageous Ecumenical Council.

  4. Yes but we all know that the reform was pushed through as fast a possible to avoid the impatient breaking away in schism, Bugnini says so. We have Bouyer’s description of the last minute composition of EPII, and his remark that the calendar was contrived by a trio of maniacs and accepted only because there was no alternative proposal. I have recently read that Bugnini expected (possibly intended) that the whole reform would be carefully reviewed over the following twenty years (no chapter and verse cited). And I am here speaking of revisions (probably small adjustments) to the Missale Romanum, not to vernacular adaptations. We have, of course, had some, such as the Pentecost Vigil; and slight changes in the rubrics (eg. the purification of the the vessels). But there are still absurdities which should never have been tolerated.

    1. Two points in response to this:

      (1) Bouyer, despite his credentials, comes across as a mean-spirited person who would probably only have been satisfied if the reform had been done in his way and no other. The Oratorian Fathers are not generally noted for their progressive liturgical thinking.

      Badmouthing and ranting generally means that you’ve run out of cogent arguments. More recently, this was certainly true of Gamber and others.

      (2) Many have commented that the reforms of Pius V put the liturgy into the deep freeze, and then Vatican II came along and microwaved it. Up to Pius’s time, the liturgy had grown and developed organically in different ways over the previous 1500 years, much as a living body does. The time after Trent was a period of artificial stagnation. In the 1960s and 70s, liturgists were quite clear that, now that the liturgy had been to a certain extent brought back to life, the organic growth and development of “the body” would begin again and continue. This seems to lie behind Bugnini’s view that the reforms were far from the end of the story.

      What we are seeing now, leaving aside those who wish to undo the reforms altogether, is a desire on the part of some to freeze the liturgy once again, in this case to freeze it in the state it was in by the late 1960s. Much of what we have seen during the past 25 years — the retrenchment, the stifling of creativity and the pioneering spirit, and the ill-advised translation wars — is symptomatic of this inability to accept change, this desire to want to say “OK, we did the reforms. That’s over. Now we can sit back and live happily ever after.” In fact we can’t. To think otherwise is a delusion, just as trying to go backwards is.

      I believe we need to understand that the liturgy will not and cannot stand still, but must always be changing, developing, adapting itself to the different peoples and eras who use it to come closer to God.

      1. That is unfair to Fr. Bouyer. Publishing his memoirs was a great mistake and did him a disservice. He had left instructions that if they were ever to be published, everything unkind was to be removed, and those instructions were ignored by someone who should have known better. And he wasn’t “that” sort of Oratorian, even though he wrote an excellent short life of St. Philip and was friends with Fr. Scott Napier; he belonged to the Oratoire de Jésus, better known as the French Oratory, founded by Bérulle.

      2. I agree that Bouyer in his Memoirs, written mostly in his anecdotage I think, comes across as over conscious of class and culture, from a particular French middle class viewpoint..
        It is indeed worrying that rigidity seems to have set in again. Particularly when BXVI called for movement, whether or not we agree about the direction of change he had in mind. His suggestion that consideration should be given to moving the Rite of Peace back to where it was originally simply got an explanation of what it is supposed to mean after the EP, without any evident analysis of whether that is perceived by congregations. To my mind the insistence in 1984 on an exact adherence to the 1962 liturgical books was a sign that the old SCR rigidity was alive and well (and was the root of the liturgy wars).

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