Liturgy change reverses Vatican II initiative - Catholic Courier

Liturgy change reverses Vatican II initiative

During their semiannual meeting in Los Angeles in mid-June and under direct pressure from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and also from some other English-speaking episcopal conferences, the U.S. Catholic bishops voted 173-29 (well over the two-thirds required) to change the wording of some of the prayers that Catholics have been using at Mass for more than 35 years.

When the priest addresses the congregation with the words, “The Lord be with you,” the response has been, “And also with you.” That will eventually be changed to “And with your spirit” to correspond literally with the original Latin, Et cum spiritu tuo.

And when the priest at Communion time holds up the consecrated host in invitation to receive it, the congregation’s response has been “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.” That also will eventually be changed to “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”

These changes, although small in themselves, signify a major and decisive turning point in the so-called “liturgy wars” that have been waged ever since the reforms mandated by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) were first implemented.

A relatively small group of Catholics, including some high-ranking prelates, never accepted the ritual and linguistic changes in the Mass nor the conciliar ecclesiology on which they were based. With the death of Pope Paul VI in August 1978 and the election of Pope John Paul II in October of the same year (the 33-day pontificate of John Paul I came in between), the advocates of a so-called “reform of the reform” gained a sympathetic champion in the papal office.

The changing of top-level curial officials, particularly in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and corresponding changes in various national hierarchies brought about a major shift in the balance of ecclesiastical power. Liturgical scholars and bishops who were directly involved in the ongoing liturgical renewal and who enjoyed the complete support of Pope Paul VI and the contemporary heads of the Vatican Congregation now found themselves in a defensive and then losing position.

Nowhere was the shift more evident than in the change of personnel in the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and in its relationship with the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship. Its longtime executive secretary, John Page, was replaced by an English priest, Father (soon Monsignor) Bruce Harbert, and its chairman, Bishop Maurice Taylor of Galloway, Scotland, was replaced by Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, England.

With the publication in 2001 of the document Liturgiam authenticam, from the same Congregation for Divine Worship, the die was essentially cast.

It is important for readers to understand that this change did not simply represent a course correction. It was a complete reversal of what had been initiated by Vatican II and explicitly approved and supported by Pope Paul VI and the contemporary heads of the same Congregation for Divine Worship.

In a letter to ICEL dated June 13, 1996, Brazilian Archbishop Geraldo Majella Agnelo, at the time Secretary of the Congregation, praised and encouraged ICEL, specifically for its work in the translation of liturgical books and texts. Three and a half years later (Oct. 26, 1999), the new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Jorge Medina Est√©vez, a Chilean, chastised Bishop Taylor and ICEL for not rendering “to the bishops, to the Holy See, and the English-speaking faithful an adequate level of service.”

In Archbishop Agnelo’s 1996 letter, he spoke of the need to increase the involvement of episcopal conferences in the process of translating texts into the vernacular because it is “something that is their right and duty.”

Cardinal Medina, on the other hand, spoke of lessening the bishops’ influence by requiring a nihil obstat (“nothing stands in the way”) from his Congregation for everyone involved in the work of ICEL. Until this time, the episcopal board of ICEL had approved all staff appointments, without any need to seek approval from the Vatican.

In a subsequent article published in America magazine (“Rome and ICEL,” 3/4/00), Bishop Donald Trautman, chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, pointed out that the newly imposed requirement of a Vatican nihil obstat “seems to demean the episcopal conferences.” He cited Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy to underscore his point that the decision “whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used” belongs to the “competent territorial ecclesiastical authority” (n. 36, paras. 3 and 4).

The bishops, evidently under great pressure and with little apparent alternative, surrendered that authority in Los Angeles.

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Copyright © 2024 Rochester Catholic Press Association, Inc. All rights reserved. Linking is encouraged, but republishing or redistributing, including by framing or similar means, without the publisher's prior written permission is prohibited.

Choose from news (Monday), leisure (Thursday) or worship (Saturday) — or get all three!

No, Thanks

Catholic Courier Newsletters