Shifting Liturgical Priorities

News: Commentary
by Rodney Pelletier  •  •  November 15, 2022   

Confusion about what the Mass really is

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For the last 60 years, nearly three generations of faithful Catholics all too often have experienced liturgical abuse  when attending the Mass of Pope Paul VI — known as the Novus Ordo.

Pope Paul VI

Of course, the Second Vatican Council, Annibale Bugnini and Pope Paul VI get lots of attention when the roots of liturgical abuse are mentioned.

Yes, the council, with an almost universal vote by the Fathers, approved a renewal of the liturgy — but without set limits or clear objectives.

Yes, Annibale Bugnini was the main architect of the liturgical re-engineering of the Roman Rite. He even wrote, "For years I'd been wondering whether it wouldn't be possible to rejuvenate the liturgy, 'ridding' it of the superstructures that had weighed it down over the centuries."

And yes, even Pope Paul VI himself exceeded the mandates of Vatican II regarding the Mass.

But what's not often discussed is the role of the laity, priests and bishops in the liturgical upheaval of the 1960s.

The Catholic laity had already started embracing the birth control pill.

The Catholic laity had already started embracing the birth control pill: 51% in 1965 and jumping to 68% by 1970. So a laity that was beginning to ignore Church teaching on contraception was becoming ripe for liturgical innovation. Blinding themselves to truth, they became blind to beauty as well.

Hearing rumors that the Vatican Council would modernize the Church and Her teachings, priests began to tinker with the Mass. Some had already begun doing parts of the Mass in the vernacular, turning their backs to God on the altar by facing the people and allowing "folk" Masses.

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In fact, while some priests were claiming their rebellious actions were done to implement Vatican II, the council itself declared it was the clerics' responsibility to "become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it."

It also called for clerics to internalize the liturgy as the font of love and grace, and thence teach the faithful:

With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally, taking into account their age and condition, their way of life, and standard of religious culture. By so doing, pastors will be fulfilling one of the chief duties of a faithful dispenser of the mysteries of God; and in this matter they must lead their flock not only in word but also by example.

Looking back over the last 60 years, however, it's clear that priests did not follow the directions of Vatican II. Many bishops saw the liturgical abuses by priests and the laity and did little or nothing to stop them.

Blinding themselves to truth, they became blind to beauty as well.

Pope Paul VI mentioned the problem in 1968 to the liturgical commission:

This results at times even in conferences of bishops going too far on their own initiative in liturgical matters. Another result is arbitrary experimentation in the introduction of rites that are flagrantly in conflict with the norms established by the Church. Anyone can see that this way of acting not only scandalizes the conscience of the faithful but does harm to the orderly accomplishment of liturgical reform, which demands of all concerned prudence, vigilance, and above all discipline. 

Addressing the epidemic of liturgical innovation, Cdl. Walter "Benno" Gut, then-prefect of the newly formed Congregation for Divine Worship, lamented in 1969, "At present, the limits of the conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy have been vastly overrun in many areas."

He continued, "Many elements have been introduced, with or without authorization, which go beyond the liturgy schema."

"These unauthorized initiatives," he added, "often could no longer be stopped because they had spread too far abroad. In his general goodness and wisdom the Holy Father then gave in, often against his own will."

To learn more, watch Reclaiming Tradition, episode 4: Shifting Liturgical Priorities.


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