Changes in the Celebration of Mass since Vatican II

Traditional vs. Novus Ordo

Traditional Altar    Novus Ordo table     Traditional Mass        Novus Ordo Clown Mass

 Note: I wrote this about 5 years after becoming Catholic (15 years ago) but thought it worthwhile to post since it gets to the heart of many misunderstandings that Catholics have about the changes in the Mass. What do the changes mean to us and to our spirituality? How many priests still tend to view the changes as the priest in this bulletin? Would anyone in the past, celebrating the Tridentine Rite, accept a clown Mass as a good and proper way to reach out to children? In the days prior to the Novus Ordo Mass a priest would have been restrained by his parishioners and probably whisked away to a mental hospital had he attempted to do such a thing. Thank God, most parish priests try to do as good a job as they can with the Novus Ordo Mass and there are relatively few who desecrate the Mass as the above priest did. I think most bishops have put an end to these shananigans. Likewise, which sanctuary (designated and consecrated as a holy altar to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass) is more conducive to genuine reverence? I do not remember if I sent this to our Diocesan Paper or not, though if I did, I am doubtful that it was ever printed – I just can’t remember back that far (getting old). Anyway, below is what was written and perhaps submitted:

I was recently appalled by the answer given to a layman’s question in a prominent parish’s bulletin.  I will reprint the entire question and answer below in sections, giving comments for each section.

Question

Since the Second Vatican Council, what are some of the more significant changes in the celebration of the Eucharist?  Why do you think these changes have occurred?

 Answer

Probably the most obvious overall change has been the moving from use of the Latin language to the language of those participating in the Eucharist, referred to as the vernacular.

Comment

Although it is true that the change of language into the vernacular is a huge difference, it is inferred by the above answer that this was the desire of the Vatican Council fathers.  In fact The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Chapter 2, Article 54 says: “A suitable place may be allotted to the vernacular in Masses which are celebrated with the people, especially in the readings and ‘the common prayer,’ and also, as local conditions may warrant, in those parts which pertain to the people, according to the rules laid down in Article 36 of this Constitution.  Nevertheless care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”  Article 36 says: “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites.  But since the use of the vernacular, whether in the Mass, the administration of sacraments, or in other parts of the liturgy, may frequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it, especially in readings, directives and in some prayers and chants.”  I guess some prayers and chants have now been stretched into everything – as if chant even exists in the great majority of churches today.  The appendix to the above in the Flannery edition gives the following information:  “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy had allowed a very restricted use of the vernacular in the Mass, but left the way open for an appeal by hierarchies to the Holy See for more radical concessions.”  Isn’t this what really happened?  It was not the desire of the Vatican Council per se but of social and political pressures brought to bear on Regional Conferences and ultimately upon the Holy See that so devastated our use of Latin in the Liturgy. And thus Flannery continues: “However, restrictions on the use of the vernacular were progressively lifted in the face of representations by the hierarchies from all over the world, until by 1971 the use of the vernacular in public Masses was left entirely to the judgment of Episcopal conferences, to the judgment of individual priests for private Masses, and of the ordinary for the divine office, in private, in common or in choir.”  A classical example of leaving the barn door open or giving an inch to those who would take a mile.

Also, note that the expert who is answering the layman’s question in the bulletin says that we are using the language of those who are participating in the Mass.  The truth of the matter is not so rosy – who is it that participates?  Our communities have been further stratified by the use of English (predominantly) in our Mass.  The parishioners that formerly sat together during Mass must now seek out Masses in their own tongue – and when there is only a small community of Hispanics or Chinese or what-have-you, these people are completely left out of the picture.  When Mass was said in Latin, all peoples regardless of language barriers, could participate in Mass using their own Missals with their particular vernacular translation printed on the opposite page from the Latin.  We are no longer one people but a myriad of little communities who rarely, if ever, cross the language barrier to worship as a larger Catholic Family; a reincarnation of the Tower of Babel. Should we applaud this home wrecking?  So far the answer is not technically wrong – but one senses a personal preference for this change as being beneficial for the Church.  What about the inaccuracies of poor translations that have given us a Mass that diverges from the Editio Typica in so many ways?  It has been a constant source of concern for Rome that we have not yet set right the ICEL translation of the Mass.  To this end the Bishops in charge of that project have been warned recently that they have until Easter 2000 to fix the problems (restructuring the ICEL) or Rome will fix it for them. Note: These are the changes that we are just now witnessing in 2012.

Answer

I think the most obvious visible change has been turning the altars around so the priest celebrant faces the congregation and is not standing with his back to the people while he faces the front wall of the sanctuary.

Comment

Now here is a loaded answer!  It is true that this (unsanctioned) posture of the priest is definitely a visible change that ranks right up there with the absence of authentic art, statues, stain glass, altar rails, the unwarranted use of extraordinary ministers, altar girls et al.  However, the author of the answer has now tried to explain away, what amounts to, an infraction of the rubrics by utilizing his personal sociological or psychological preferences.  The facts again are not that the priest faced the “wall” or “turned his back to the people” as some kind of affront to their personhood.  Does he think that the Church designed the rubrics of the Mass, during all the previous centuries when the Mass was said “ad orientem,” as a playwright might stage the actors in relation to his audience?  The priest did not face the wall, he faced the east (the Orient) or the direction from which Christ would return.  Since all churches could not be built in such an east-west configuration, the practice became to celebrate Mass towards the Tabernacle where the Real Christ who mediates between us and God the Father reposes.  As a matter of my own sociological and psychological preference, I find it appalling that a priest would say Mass with his back turned toward our Lord.  I guess this answers the question of why so many of our churches have removed the Tabernacle and have hidden Christ away in some remote part of the Church; they no longer need to address such troubling questions.  Rubrics of the Mass were designed for the worship of God and not for the amusement of the people – so that we can make eye contact with the priest and be spellbound by his performance.  The rubrics have always placed the priest, (acting in persona Christi) as “alter Christus” a mediator between God and ourselves.  He stands to offer God the only sacrifice that is acceptable (the body, blood, soul and divinity of His only-begotten Son) while he asks further that the individual sacrifices and prayers of the people will be accepted along with the Acceptable Sacrifice that he is offering.  If we were in a mob of people who elected an ambassador to plead our desires or to beg for mercy to a King, I would not want or expect to have my ambassador turn his back to the King and face the people while pleading our case.  The author of the above answer has overstated his case and presented an ingenuous view of the reason for the change.  The change has never been documented as a rubric to be followed although it is true that the bishops have allowed and even promoted it.  In fact, the rubrics at one point say that the priest should now turn and face the people.  If he must turn to face the people, then pray tell, what direction was he facing before the instruction was given?  It is simply another example of the disobedience that has swept through our Church.  No one, it seems, wants Rome to tell them what to do.

Answer

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council advocated these changes to emphasize that the Eucharist is something we all do; the celebrant by reason of his ordination to the priesthood and the laity by reason of their being baptized into what we call the priesthood of the laity.  It was not uncommon, prior to the liturgical changes, for lay participants at Mass to pray a Rosary, sometimes out loud, while the priest, “said the Mass” in a subdued voice.  The Rosary is a proper and honored private devotion but it has no place during the community celebration of the Eucharist.

Comment

Again, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council never advocated these changes – I would defy him to produce a single Vatican document that makes his case.  The Eucharist (or thanksgiving) is the word most widely used today.  It may be an effort to decrease the importance of the ACTION of God – the Sacrifice – while increasing the importance of the ACTION of the people in thanking Him.  At least I personally see it this way – since rarely, if ever, do we hear the Mass referred to as THE HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS.  Don’t get me wrong!  Eucharist is a perfectly acceptable name for the Mass – but still there seems to be a sociological restructuring going on here.  And yes, both the laity and the ordained participate in the thanksgiving.  How is this different from what was taught previously?  Why are there no words from our expert on the difference between the ordained ministerial priesthood and the royal priesthood (which differs in essence and not merely by degree)?  Again, the insinuation of the author is that we are predominantly the same – a blurring of the differences between priest and laity.  The Church never sanctioned the practice of saying rosaries during Mass.  The fact that some people did this is no different today as it was then.  I have witnessed the same in parishes who say the Mass in the vernacular today.  Although, in neither instance have I heard the rosary said aloud in such a manner as to distract the faithful.  I wonder which Mass was quieter and more prayerful and respectful of the other faithful?  I’m sure he knows the answer to that question.  Today it is not uncommon to find a loud and uproarious congregation that allows children to run up and down the aisles or parishioners who banter with the priest who asks them questions – in what has become a totally informal gathering.  Silence is still specified in the instructions for the Mass.  Why isn’t it enforced?  I suppose we are to take notice of the words which the author placed in quotations:  “said the Mass.”  Is his inference that the priests who (for hundreds of years) “said Mass” were not celebrating or offering thanksgiving?  Was it just a simple act of reading the words in a book or play?  Of course, if we were to compare this with what we get in our parishes today I suppose we would have to say that now it has become improvisational theater.  But of course the insinuation is wrong from the start.  Have you ever wondered how the Church produced so many holy Saints and Popes when they were forced to just “say the Mass?”  I wonder if these Saints and Popes were prone to saying a Rosary during Masses they weren’t celebrating themselves.  I found in the above paragraph a not-so-well hidden attack on all things traditional.  We are, don’t you know, a Church of tradition.  To disparage our tradition is to mock our fathers and mothers in the faith and to tell them how stupid they were now that we have matured in intellect and faith that far surpasses theirs.  To accept and actually prefer the changes made in the Mass is one thing: but to disparage the earlier tradition is quite another.

Answer

Another lesser change is being permitted to receive the Eucharist under both the form of bread and wine as the Apostles did at the Last Supper.

Comment

A true statement, but again it is made to sound like all is well with this change.  It was never intended that receiving under both species should be a valid reason for using extraordinary ministers.  But look at what has happened.  Rome has recently written the bishops of the world concerning this blurring of the lines between the lay and the ordained and the preposterous use of lay ministers to accommodate “the many” when there is no clear need.  Reception under both kinds is not a mandate (although our particular Bishop made it one – whether Canonically legal or not).  Canonically it was to be left up to the individual priest in every parish as to whether he could provide this to people in a manner that was not disruptive or if he might require help from the laity.  We see in this change another way in which some people have taken extraordinary measures to overstep the bounds of what was intended.  A social and political agenda is hot afoot in many of the changes – especially when the blurring of lines between the priesthood and laity are concerned.  Finally, a quick quote from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship in the Vatican II documents:  “. . . it does not seem that manner of distribution should be approved . . . in which the communicants come up directly to take the chalice themselves and receive the blood of the Lord.”

Answer

One change disturbing to some people is the practice of being allowed to accept communion in the hand.  I’m not sure why people feel this way and I can only guess.  Is there some sense that one is not “worthy” to receive the Eucharist in one’s hand but is worthy to receive it on one’s tongue?  The only other reason I can think of is that some people might think there is something “unclean” about one’s hands and, therefore, the tongue is the more “worthy” member of the body.  To this mentality I would express my suspicion that most of us commit many more violations of the law of love by what we say with our tongue than by what we do with our hands.

Note: See a short article on the Vatican Website about receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling. (here)

Comment

Oh come now, are you sure you can’t come up with some better guesses than these?  In the first place the whole idea of reception in the hand was soundly defeated in a vote by the world’s bishops as published in the documents of Vatican II (see Memoriale Domini).  That once again, the political wielders of power in the US Church were able to overwhelm and control the vote as to whether or not the US should petition Rome for an indult for this permission is a matter of documented fact.  The history of this little episode is quite enlightening if you will take the time to research it.  So either prudently or imprudently the Holy See granted the US an indult or permission.  It is not the norm but it is permissible until the indult is revoked.  Your first guess would be ludicrous since all Catholics should understand that no one is “worthy” of the body and blood of Christ (“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word,” etc.).  And the difference between hand and tongue as members of our body is not the issue here either.  First, there is the issue that this practice is the chief culprit for bringing down the altar rails and depriving the faithful of reverently receiving Communion on their knees easily, though Vatican II reminds us to make a sign of reverence before reception (do you see that very often?).  Secondly, Communion is not “taken” it is “received.”  I am sure that the author knows that we have not communed until the body and blood of Christ is received into our digestive system.  The last time I looked, I could not begin digestion of anything placed in my hand but I certainly can when it is placed on my tongue.  The question is who am I receiving communion from?  Is it me?  Am I taking it as if it were a right?  It is not a right.  It is a great gift that is given by Jesus to us.  When I receive on my tongue I allow the priest who acts in the person of Christ to give to me what I cannot take of myself.  It is ritual.  It is symbolic.  It is the humble reception of what I could never deserve on my own.  Why then must you belittle the belief of those who continue to think with the Church’s ancient teachings on these matters?  Your other observations and guesses are demeaning to those who reverently hold to the Norm of the Church.  Isn’t it interesting that since both methods are deemed acceptable, we only see communion in the hand taught to new communicants these days.  Is this why only 30% of Catholic laity and 60% of Catholic priests believe in the Real Presence today (by latest poll)?  I don’t know the answer to that but I do know that these changes certainly cannot help.  My argument against the practice is not that it is illicit but simply that the Church has acted imprudently in allowing this permission since we have history to attest to the damage that these practices have caused in the past. We are now starting to see these same abuses in our present day Church.  How many times have you found a consecrated Host on the floor under the pews?  Or outside on the ground?  How many have you seen wait to “eat” their hosts on the way back to the pew or in the pew itself?  As for me, I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember.  And the crumbs . . . those small consecrated Hosts that are trampled underfoot at most every Mass.  Is the convenience worth all that we have lost?

Answer

Having said all of this, I must point out that everyone should feel free to receive the Eucharist in whatever manner they find most comfortable and most uplifting to their own spirituality.  Neither manner of receiving the Eucharist is “more spiritual” than the other.

Comment

Now that he has made those who receive the Sacrament on their tongues feel as lepers, he acknowledges that it’s OK if it makes us “feel comfortable.”  I for one don’t care what it feels like.  Whether something is comfortable or uncomfortable is not the question – everything does not have to feel good in order for us to have a deep and abiding spiritual life.  In fact, if I were to hazard a guess, it is probably the opposite that is truer.  The decision is not about deciding about green beans or peas for supper.  It is a matter of conscience and a matter of trying to convey to the next generation of Catholics that reverence, ritual and proper symbolism bespeaks volumes that mere words cannot express.  It is thinking with the Church – not with cliques of experts who would introduce novelty after novelty into our faith in an effort to restructure society.  This is not a feel good clinic where syrupy love is the only law – translated to mean tolerance, not of others so much but of disordered lifestyles; especially if the lifestyle is in and of itself considered serious sin.  Forgiving someone for the sin they commit is right and good – but hating sin itself is not only OK, it’s required.  If I’m OK and you’re OK, then why is Christ hanging on the cross?  The prevailing attitude in our liturgies today seems to have changed into a saccharine gathering with fellowship being the ultimate goal. It is far from the Apostles who gave up everything, including their lives, to preach the Truth, in season and out, but especially to those who would not have any of it.  Where is the real agape love – that  love we are to have for God – that love which is short on feeling but long on acts of will and self-denial? It is a manly, self-sacrificing love that we seldom see these days. Are we actively teaching that kind of love today?  I hope so. Self-denial, loving correction and heroic acts of will are not much spoken of today. Concern for our sins and perfection of our lives is all but forgotten. Till now I have seen scant fruit from the new improved expression of liturgy.

Note: Since this writing the Holy See under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have made great strides in getting rid of many abuses of the Novus Ordo Mass. In fact Pope Benedict XVI has begun distributing the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling at the Masses he celebrates. See this article (last paragraph). It is now no longer required for a priest to get permission from his Bishop to say the Latin Mass and there is much work being done to return sacred music to a wider use of chant and polyphony. Only time will tell if we will one day experience a true reform of the reform and return to a more dignified, reverent and holy Mass. May God move the Church to restore the holiness, reverence and awe we should expect in all our Catholic parishes.
Since writing this, I also ran across a very interesting quote concerning saying the rosary in Mass that I wish I had known at the writing:

“So varied and diverse are men’s talents and characters that it is impossible for all to be moved and attracted to the same extent by community prayers, hymns and liturgical services. Moreover, the needs and inclinations of all are not the same, nor are they always constant in the same individual. Who, then, would say, on account of such a prejudice, that all these Christians cannot participate in the Mass nor share its fruits? On the contrary, they can adopt some other method which proves easier for certain people; for instance, they can lovingly meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ or perform other exercises of piety or recite prayers which, though they differ from the sacred rites, are still essentially in harmony with them. (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei)

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11 thoughts on “Changes in the Celebration of Mass since Vatican II

  1. Thanks for this. It’s very informative and addresses some questions I’ve had. I thought you were being sarcastic when you said “clown Mass” then I looked closer at the picture………….oh dear………God spare us all.

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    • Yes, they did indeed occur. I knew a former parishioner who moved and her new pastor dressed in a gorilla costume to say Mass. There was a lot of abuses not that many years ago. I think most of this has passed but it pays to stay vigilant.

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  2. These abuses are the product of modernist priests who have taken practice in the wrong direction, not the actual letter of the Vatican II documents or of the Novus Ordo Mass in itself. You should reserve your scorn for them. The Mass of Paul VI, properly implemented as we do in my parish, properly honors God in a beautiful and dignified and traditional manner. When I first started to Mass, we sang all of the ordinaries of the Mass in Latin. We would still if it weren’t for our bishop, something of a modernist, who prescribed a uniform musical setting throughout the diocese for the new English Mass translation last year (we still sing the Agnus Dei in Latin, as well as the Salve Regina and other Marian antiphons). I receive the Host on the tongue, as do many people. Even the people who receive it on the hand are not rushed. And there are no crumbs. The altar servers are very careful to hold patens before each communicant lest any crumb be dropped. Our pastor celebrates one Mass every Sunday ad orientem. He would do more, I think, if the bishop would let him.

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    • Thanks Joseph. I think you are quite lucky to have such a great priest and we should all be sure to let them know how much we appreciate them. The only thing I might take issue with in your response is your statement that I should “reserve your (my) scorn for them (modernist priests).” I hope that the tone of the post wasn’t scorn first off and 2nd I think I made it clear that the rubrics for the Mass are being ignored by the modernists and have little to do with the Editio Typica Mass which is the official Mass. The changes made within the Mass are the product of those who operate “in the spirit of” Vatican II which seemed to say that they took their own road based on how they interpreted the documents and then applied these personal and novel ideas to the Novus Ordo Mass. Sorry if you thought I was impugning all Novus Ordo Masses and all the good priests along with the others. It was never my intent.

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  3. There is so much here. These problems are so deep and so rooted in so many things, I have often considered doing a PhD on something along this vein.

    It is so true what you said about the children – I had to go to a Novus Ordo Mass on Sunday, and there was a little girl running around the church barefoot, with the shortest skirt on possible, and she was only about maybe 5 or 6 years old.

    There is so much I could comment on. I think it is hard to educate the people on this because they simply do not understand how different Catholicism was in the past; how much stronger it was and how much more it strove to protect the people. Even I realize more and more that the level we are at today is nothing compared to what it once was.

    People do not get that we are in a battle of cultures, and that whoever has the strongest culture will win, and that what is at stake is souls. They do not get that culture profoundly shapes people. They want to say “oh, I have God, so it is all ok.” But no one puts a light under a bushel. They forget that there are millions of other people out there being swallowed up by our modern culture, because our Catholic culture will not speak out strong enough.

    Thank you for posting this. There is a lot here to think on.

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    • The saddest part I think is that a whole generation or two has grown up thinking that this is normal. The outraged people have mostly died or been driven from the pews to the SSPX or else to no belief whatsoever. I think the SSPX and the FFSP are our best bet for keeping the traditions alive for future generations. God may have had a reason for the breach that occurred between Rome and the Pius X Church.

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