Commenting on a recent post, Edward Hamer observed that the features of the post-Conciliar Mass that “traddies” typically object to (and which progressives like, I would add) are in fact optional, and he asked whether a Mass celebrated entirely in accord with the rubrics and texts of the reformed Missal, but lacking the “progressive” options, could be seen as expressing the teachings of Vatican II.
I think Mr. Hamer’s observation is correct and his question interesting. I recall a couple of decades ago, during an RCIA session, someone asked what Vatican II was, and an older member of the RCIA team said, “That was when they turned the altar around and replaced Latin with English.” While I kew this was not the whole story, and quickly supplemented the answer, I was struck that for many—perhaps most—Catholics who lived through the Council, that was really what was most significant. But, of course, Vatican II did not mandate either of those things. As numerous people have pointed out, a celebration according to the reformed Missal can obey all rubrics and still lack the vernacular, the versus populum orientation of the priest, any eucharistic prayer other than the Roman Canon, an invitation to the congregation to exchange the sign of peace, extraordinary ministers of holy communion, or communion under both species, as well as include fiddleback chasubles, Gregorian chant and polyphony, exclusively male altar servers and lectors, the chalice veil, the pall, and so forth. Given that all of these things accord with the Missal as reformed after Vatican II, and unless one wants to appeal to “the spirit of Vatican II” (which I view as roughly equivalent to appealing to the original intention of legislators in judicial interpretation) it is hard to say that a Mass celebrated with all of these “traditional” options does not count as a “post-Vatican-II-Mass,” even though to many people it would look more like a pre-Vatican-II-Mass than what people got used to in the decades after the Council.
But it seems to me that there are some features of the Mass as reformed after the Council that are not optional and that do give the reformed liturgy a different “feel” or “ethos” from the 1962 Missal, an ethos that is in accord with distinctive emphases of the documents of Vatican II. Here are a few that occur to me, and what difference I think they make:
- The elimination of “parallel liturgies” for priest and assembly: i.e. for the most part, everyone does everything at the same time.
The priest and assembly together prepare to celebrate Mass in the penitential rite, rather than the prayers at the foot of the altar serving as a preparation for the celebrant and ministers alone. The priest does not read the readings himself, but listens to them proclaimed along with the assembly. The priest does not launch into the Canon after reciting the Sanctus by himself, but sings the Sanctus along with the people before beginning the Canon. In other words, the priest and congregation act as parts of a single assembly. There are, of course, a few private prayers of the priest and ministers that remain (before the Gospel, at the preparation of the gifts, before communion), and the 1962 Missal certainly had prayers that the suggest the priest and people acting together (e.g. the great number spoken in the first person plural), but this feature of the reformed liturgy does seem to give greater emphasis to the sense of priest and assembly acting together. One might also note that the reformed Missal also includes rubrics for the people—something not found in the 1962 Missal—seeming to suggest that they too are part of the “official” liturgy.
- The celebration of the liturgy of the word at the chair and ambo, rather than the altar, as well as the integration of the homily as a feature of the liturgy itself.
These two together given an added emphasis to the importance of the proclamation of the word in the liturgy—even when the word is proclaimed in Latin. The proclamation of the word receives its own “place” in the sanctuary, a place that serves as a focal point, alongside the altar (see GIRM 309). The 1962 Missal makes no mention of a homily or sermon, even though one was typically given after the Gospel reading, at least on Sundays. One often hears the sermon spoken of in the context of the pre-reform Mass as a “suspension” of the liturgical action (sometimes signified by the priest removing his chasuble or at least his maniple) and not an integral part of it. Such a view, while not required by the pre-reform Missal, seems positively disallowed by the reformed liturgy. Rather, the reforms of the liturgy of the word highlight the way in which the assembly is formed by God’s word in the liturgy as part of their prophetic identity.
- The audible recitation of the Canon.
This may be the most dramatic reform, which conveys that what is happening in the Eucharistic prayer is of concern to the people as well as the priest. Of course, this is also suggested by the Canon as found in the 1962 Missal, with its constant use of the first person plural, but this suggestion is somewhat muted (pun intended) by the silent recitation of the Canon.
- The communion of the priest and people integrated as a single liturgical action.
In the 1962 Missal no mention of the communion of the people is found in the Ordo Missae, which passes immediately from the priest’s communion to the ablutions. The Ritus servandus does mention what the priest is to do si qui sunt communicandi in Missa, but this is clearly a separate (and optional) liturgical action alongside the communion of the priest, the two separated by the Ecce Agnus Dei inviting the people to communion. In the reformed Missal communion is a single liturgical action, initiated by the Ecce Agnus Dei and covered musically by the communion chant. This not only unites the liturgical activity of celebrant and assembly, but also makes the communion of those faithful who are suitably disposed into an ordinary part of the liturgical celebration, not an optional add-on.
- The Universal Prayer, in which the faithful exercise their priestly role of offering prayer for the world, as an integral part of every Mass.
Though I have been at Masses—often, but not only, on weekdays—where this is omitted, I can find no rubrical justification for this. Though in many places prior to the Council bidding prayers were a common addition tacked on at the end of the sermon, the Universal Prayer, also called the Prayer of the Faithful, is a notable feature of the post-conciliar liturgical reform, and one explicitly called for by Sacrosanctum Concilium. Though some have voiced a desire for a single set form for these biddings (often motivated by an understandable desire to not have this part of the liturgy hijacked by various agendas), the reformed liturgy seems to leave the contents of this part of the liturgy open by design, so that the needs and concerns for the world, which lay Catholics in particular encounter in their daily life, might be given voice, piercing any notion of the liturgy as an enclosed space that is isolated from “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties” of the people of this age.
These strike me as the most signifiant liturgical changes of the reformed liturgy, changes that must be observed even in a Mass that is celebrated in the most traditional manner possible. They strike me as changes that are reflective of what I take to be one of the key emphases found in the documents of Vatican II:
[The] faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world (Lumen Gentium 31.
Of course, this is an eminently traditional Church teaching, not an innovation of the Second Vatican Council. But it is a teaching that the Council chose to underscore, not only in the conciliar documents with their emphasis on the Church as the People of God and the universal call to holiness, but also in the way that the liturgy was reformed after the council. Whether celebrated with contemporary music or Gregorian Chant, oriented toward people or with them, with communion on the tongue or in the hand, in brutalist simplicity or baroque splendor, a Mass celebrated according to the reformed liturgy will be one that conveys in countless ways the truth that the Church is God’s pilgrim people as a whole, called to participate in God’s saving work.