Council and Liturgy: From November 3, 1962

Though the forecasters had it that the Second Vatican Council would begin with one of several other topics, the decision to take liturgy as its first matter for study is commendable on several counts.

As a bulletin from the Council's press office implied, the move underscored the fact that internal renewal of the Church was the bishops' primary concern. Since liturgy is the public prayer life of the Church, efforts to ensure proper vigor and understanding of worship rank as an important expression of that concern. Moreover, the wide interest in liturgy and the liturgical movement guaranteed that the Council's first round of discussions would exercise a special appeal for the general public.

The decision may also have been prompted by the fact that the liturgy has received unusually intensive study from scholars in recent decades. As a result, it seems that the preparatory commission on the liturgy was able to produce a list of concrete proposals for clarification of issues and enactment of decrees. This commission's experience also indicated that there were relatively few liturgical matters which could not he framed in such a manner as to win approval of a clear majority of the conciliar Fathers.

It may be, too, that the prospect of turning immediately to a "spiritual" topic like the liturgy appealed to many as a welcome change from the organizational details of the first week. Many also hoped that this move would counteract any unfortunate impressions created hy overzealous reports on the "political" aspects of the Council in its preliminary stage. As events have in fact proved, the much discussed election of members to the Council's working commissions went off without excitement, let alone a "revolt." Moreover, its results scarcely lent support to prior outside speculation over attempts, from any quarter, to block selection of one or other category of nominees.

In Rome and within the Council itself, one had ample evidence before the discussions ever opened that the Church had already begun to "update" its liturgy. As Fr. Frederick R. McManus, former head of the American Liturgical Conference and a consultant to the Council, remarked in an authoritative background story for the NC News Service, the many Sunday evening Masses throughout the Eternal City testify to what has been slowly growing in recent years. He pointed also to the fact that the daily Mass opening each general session of the Council is a "dialogue" Mass. In other words, the congregation of bishops and others in attendance respond in unison and, in some places, pray along with the celebrant, who offers the Holy Sacrifice facing the people.

Behind all questions about changing the Church's rituals lay a concern to help all "the praying people of God" to understand the liturgy and thus to derive fuller spiritual benefit from it. When one realizes that in Latin America alone the largely Catholic population can he expected to more than double in the next four decades, future difficulties come alive. Over a period of less than forty years, some 400 million new Christians will there await introduction to Catholic faith and practice. Every aspect of the Church's life must he reviewed with an eye to the needs of that continent, if to no others. Clearly, the Council's concern with the liturgy arose, not from an antiquarian interest, but from the heart of its pastoral and apostolic charge.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks with reporters ahead of a health care vote on July 27 on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Senate rejected legislation to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act, with McCain casting a decisive "no." (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein, Reuters)
“We are relieved and delighted that the Affordable Care Act remains intact,” Sister Carol Keehan said. “We think that this is really an important moment now to hear the people on both sides of the aisle that have said we need to come together and work on making this better.”
Kevin ClarkeJuly 28, 2017
Photo by Michael O'Loughlin
Ms. Cook said she often witnessed individuals climbing the rickety wooden steps leading up to the memorial. “It was the saddest thing you’ve ever seen. You just wanted to cry,” she said, recalling the mothers, in particular, mourning the loss of their dead sons.
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, pictured in an early January photo, has become increasingly outspoken as the Nov. 8 election approaches and has urged the nation to embrace religious diversity. (CNS photo/Lynn Bo Bo, EPA)
Cardinal Bo believes the establishment of diplomatic relations between Myanmar and the Holy See could “help build up Myanmar as a democracy and contribute to peace building in the country.”
Gerard O'ConnellJuly 28, 2017
(CNS photo/Michael Roytek, courtesy Boy Scouts of America)
Archbishop Pierre said the Scouts are called to be "leaven" in a world today that "is plagued by isolation, selfishness and individualism. In contrast, Scouts know something about being together, including others, and teamwork."