Thursday, April 16, 2009

Liturgical destruction documented in old bulletins




A few months ago, our parish music director came across a ton of old bulletins from the 1960's stashed away in a closet. In leafing through these bulletins (which stretch from 63-Dec. 68 and then pick up again in 1977), we came across many articles that referenced the liturgical destruction going on in the Church - it was very interesting to see how these changes in the Universal Church were played out on a parish by parish level and how they were introduced to the congregation. It's really fascinating - someone should send it to Fr. Z (hint).

I only today got a chance to really flip through them, and there is so much material here that one could write a very full and interesting book on the effects of Vatican II on the life of a single parish. However, I'd just like to include a few of the more interesting excerpts here. Words in bold were underlined in the original. The one thing I want to draw attention to is the high-handed manner in which these changes were introduced - no explanation, no transitionary period, simply "This is what we are doing and we expect you to comply." Remember, bold words were underlined in the originals, which helps to get a feel for the tone.

November 1st, 1964

As you know, the Church now permits the priest to administer the Sacraments in English for the benefit of the people. Up until now, after you confessed your sins, the priest gave the penance, then you said the Act of Contrition while the priest gave you absolution in Latin. From now on, you will not say the Act of Contrition in the confessional, but in the pew, before coming into the confessional. So, immediately after the priest gives you your penance, he will say the form of ABSOLUTION IN ENGLISH, while you listen. Remember, contrition or sorrow is absolutely essential for a good confession, so be sure you say the Act of Contrition before entering the confessional.


November 8th, 1964

As we announced last Sunday, the form of ABSOLUTION in confession is now said by the priest in ENGLISH. You are reminded, once again, to say your Act of Contrition, in the pew, before coming into the confessional, so that you can listen and understand what the priest is saying to you.

November 22nd, 1964

Beginning next Sunday, the Sunday Masses will be said in English (however, the Altar Missal and your new books have not yet arrived). In the meantime, you will use the olive-green books in your pews. You will notice that an insert, with the new version of the English Mass, has been glued in on the first page.

Besides the language, the following few changes will be made: A layman will read the Epistle from the Sanctuary; everyone is expected to join in the singing of the 4 hymns during the Mass: the first will be sung as the priest enters the Sanctuary, the 3nd during the Offertory, the 3rd at Communion time and the 4th while the priest is saying the Last Gospel. As the priest gives you Holy Communion, he says "Body of Christ." You answer "Amen." There will be a few changes in the timing of the standing, kneeling and sitting positions during the Mass, but the commentator will direct you.

Remember that these changes are made for the benefit of ALL the people. Therefore, the Church expects everyone to take part in the Mass and sing and recite the prayers aloud.

Today is the first anniversary of the death of President John Kennedy. Let us offer this Mass and all our prayers for the happy repose of his soul. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.

November 29th, 1964

We have started to say the Mass in English this morning. The Church directs all Catholics to say the prayers of the Mass together and aloud. Everyone is expected to sing the hymns during the Mass. Use your olive-green book for the hymns and the little insert on page 1 for the prayers (new books have not yet come). Follow the Commentator as to when you should sit, stand or kneel. When the priest gives you Holy Communion he says "Body of Christ." You answer "Amen" in English, not Latin "Amen" [original contains accent marks on the vowels a and e].

For how much the spirit of Vatican II people are supposed to care about the laity, there is sure no real instruction here, just a set of directives to be obeyed under obedience. Yet I thought these changes were about freeing the people to participate?

Okay, now compare these messages above announcing liturgical destruction with some bulletin articles from the very same parish in December 2008 and January 2009. Here the pastor, Fr. Gerald Gawronski, is attempting to educate his parishioners as to why he is going to start doing the Novus Ordo ad orientam. Look at the trouble he goes through the make sure they get it:


December 14th, 2008


Religion is ritualized by nature. Religion must use symbols to point to realities that are difficult to grasp sometimes. We ritualize more than just religion. We have rituals in our government...and rituals even in our families. At birthdays, we make a cake and sing a song. Songs express special joy. What about the candles? What about giving gifts? What does it express when we use these things?

Another reason we ritualize things is to show that they are about sacred realities. Especially when it comes to relationships of love, rituals are important.

What are we really doing when we come here on Sundays? Why do we do what we do? We dress up. We have ceremonial robes; we light candles; we have this special structure...what does it all mean? If we were to sum up what we do here in one word, it would be sacrifice. The natural instict of religion is ritual sacrifice.

All the symbols around us here in this Church show that sacrificial reality...in a deeper sense, we see that religion involves sacrifice because it is about God and God is love and in this world love and sacrifice walk together the same path...Pope Benedict XVI wrote, "the transubstantiated host is the anticipation of the transformation and divination of all matter in Christological fullness...the Eucharist provides the moevment of the cosmos with its direction." The Eucharist is the goal of the entire cosmos. It is the direction.


Remember, all that explaining was just for the sake of educating parishioners about why this priest was going to adopt the ad orientam posture during Mass. Who seems more authoritarian and power hungry, this priest who is trying to explain the intricacies of liturgical theology to his people, or the priest from the 1960's who arrogantly says "You're going to do x, y, z and the Church expects everyone to participate"?

Another bulletin article a few weeks later followed up on this theme, this time after ad orientam had been introduced. Again, look at the trouble the pastor is going to in order to make sure the traditional forms are understood by his people (this was not written by the pastor, but one of his associates):

January 18th, 2009

I am someone who has read a lot of liturgical books and knew what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal said about it – that is, I knew the “rules and regulations.” But I was uncertain how I would actually like it once he started doing it and how it would effect my subjective experience of going to Mass. Therefore I decided to try to put out of my mind all the theology I had studied and the books I’d read and just observe the Mass as somebody just walking in off the street, like a blank slate.

Several things struck me about the experience: first, I think there is a great aesthetic beauty when the priest says Mass facing the Lord. Everything seemed to come together up at the altar: the beautiful backs of the vestments (which we so seldom see), the elevation of the host in front of the crucifix calling to mind the sacrifice of Christ, the unity of the priest, servers and entire congregation praying and orienting themselves towards the mystery being accomplished on the altar. I thought the coalescence of all of these elements made the experience something transcendent – takes our attention from the face of the priest, and refocuses it on the sacrifice of Christ. This reminds us that the Mass is not about the priest or his “performance,” but about Jesus’ offering of Himself to God the Father. Another beautiful theological truth came to me as I watched Fr. Gerald consecrate the host upon the altar, hidden from the view of the congregation, and then suddenly elevate it after the consecration. The elevation reminded me of something wondrous, like the sun suddenly rising from behind the mountains and breaking forth upon the earth – just as Scripture refers to Christ as the Sun of Righteousness who rises up with healing in His wings (Mal. 4:2).

The fact that the consecration happens out of view of the congregation and that we do not see the consecrated host until the elevation brought to mind a profound truth: though the suffering and death of Christ was public, it was also hidden. Many people witnessed the physical death of Christ: the women, the disciple John, and the Roman centurions. But in another sense, the true suffering of Christ was veiled. Nobody can possibly get a glimpse into the agony He endured from bearing the sins of the world, from enduring the total rejection of love and the desolation that came with it. No human being can ever comprehend this suffering. This is what I got out of the Mass: the consecration happening in secret, veiled like the interior agony of Our Lord at His death, but then followed by the elevation before all the people, just as He was lifted up upon the cross for the whole world to gaze upon.

In the end, I found that I lost nothing by experiencing Mass said with the priest facing the altar, but that my experience was greatly enriched. It made Mass a more beautiful and edifying experience, and refocused my attention on the sacrifice being carried out on the altar, which in the end is what the whole liturgy is about: divine love offering itself for the salvation of mankind. As far as I’m concerned, anything that can bring this home to me more firmly is a welcome addition. I mentioned this because I think it is good for us all to discuss it. I was talking with Fr. Gerald the other day in the Church and he asked me what I thought about the Mass being said this way, and this article is my response. What do you think about it? Please let Father Gerald know. He is available to talk about it.


The last sentence is especially revealing: "What do you think about it? Please let Father Gerald know. He is available to talk about it." Remember, those in favor of tradition are supposed to be rigid and inflexible. Did the bulletin articles from the 1960's ever invite the parishioners to come talk with the pastor about any of the liturgical changes? No way.

I hope this brief and fascinating look into the way the liturgical reforms were implemented helps to destroy the myth that trads are all about mindless obedience and authoritarianism while "spirit of Vatican II" people are about openness and dialogue. Reread those articles from the bulletins of 64 and 65. There's nothing open about them.

No comments: