Did the Second Vatican Council Change the Mass?

by Michael Lofton  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  May 20, 2015   

Examining the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the average mass today

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In a previous article on the Second Vatican Council, it was asserted that the council did not change the Faith. Some responded by saying that the Second Vatican Council changed the Mass, and as a result, changed the Faith. But is that true?

The Second Vatican Council began to reform the Roman Rite through its first constitution, known as Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The reforms taken by the Council were modest and explicitly intended to keep the substance of the Mass the same, only changing some of the elements that were not divinely instituted:

For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.

The Council sought to guard against extreme novelty by prohibiting priests from changing the liturgy. "Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority."

It requested that the revisions made to the liturgy would maintain "sound tradition": "That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimate progress careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised."

It also put further restrictions on legitimate progress by stating, "Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them."

The Council cautioned against the laity performing functions not proper to their role, and the same for priests. "In liturgical celebrations each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy."

It also wished to preserve Latin in the Mass. "Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites."

It even gave Gregorian chant the highest position of honor in the liturgy. "The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."

The reforms of the liturgy requested by the Second Vatican Council were implemented faithfully in the revision of the Mass made in 1965. This liturgy was almost very much like the liturgy before the Second Vatican Council, with only a few changes. Pope Paul VI claimed this edition of the Roman Missal was the faithful implementation of the Second Vatican Council: "The singular characteristic and primary importance of this new edition [the 1965 edition of the Mass] is that it reflects completely the intent of the council's Consitution on the Sacred Liturgy" (Klaus Gamber, Reform of the Roman Liturgy, 33).

Though the 1965 Roman Missal was a faithful and complete fulfillment of what the Council requested, Pope Paul VI allowed for a further refom of the Mass by Abp. Annibale Bugnini and his Consilium, which went way beyond, and perhaps at times against, the instructions laid out by the Second Vatican Council. The result was the 1969 edition of the Roman Missal, the edition used today (though this edition has been revised several times). It was this edition that made the many changes we see between it and the Mass prior to the Second Vatican Council. But even the current edition didn't change the direction the people face during Mass, nor did it require Communion in the hand and the overuse of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

What was requested by the Second Vatican Council is not what we see in the average parish today. In fact, we are twice removed from what they requested, as the 1969 edition of the Roman Missal that Novus Ordo parishes use today is not a faithful implementation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and much of what we see in the average Novus Ordo parish isn't even faithful to the 1969 edition of the Roman Missal. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council itself cannot be faulted for the liturgy we often see in the average Novus Ordo parish today.


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