Sunday 13 October 2013

To resume...

In yesterday's post, I suggested that Bugnini and the Consilium seem to have got going with the introduction of the vernacular with extraordinary speed, and a clear sense of direction, rather short-circuiting their own processes and going farther than the Fathers of the Council had intended.

I think I ended the post a bit too quickly really to substantiate that last point: I had written plenty, and supper was calling.  So this is why I think they went too far. Rather than specifying the readings and 'those parts which pertain to the people' as Sacrosanctum Concilium said, they listed the following in a 'normative decree' which was to inform the response to any requests of bishops' conferences for use of the vernacular:

The vernacular can be used:
1. In sung and recited Masses that are celebrated with a congregation:
a) in the lessons, epistle and Gospel
b) in the prayer of the faithful
c) in the chants of the ordinary of the Mass, namely the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Benedictus, and Agnus Dei
d) in the chants of the proper of the Mass: the introit, offertory and communion antiphons, with their psalms, and the chants between the readings;
e) in the acclamations, greetings and dialogues;
f) in the Our Father, as well as in its introduction and in the embolism
g) in the formulas for the communion of the faithful;
h) in the collect, prayer over the gifts, prayer after communion, and prayer 'over the people.' 
2. In the administration of sacraments and sacramental:
a) in the rites of baptism, confirmation, penance, marriage, and anointing of the sick, including the sacramental formulas; and in the distribution of communion outside of Mass;
b) in the conferring of holy orders: in the address that begins each ordination or consecration; in the examination of the candidate in an episcopal consecration; and in the admonitions;
c) in the sacramental;
d) in funerals.
In brief, as I understand it, anywhere but in the Canon of the Mass (including the Preface), and in the actual words of ordination.  One could, I suppose, argue that these are all parts 'which pertain to the people,' but I cannot believe that is what many of the Fathers of the Council thought they were voting for. Otherwise, why not frame the guidelines the other way about, and specify that Latin be retained for the Canon and the words of Ordination?

In fact, Bugnini, later in the chapter, justifies the eventual surrender of the Canon to the vernacular as being in accordance with Sacrosanctum Concilium by that very argument: 'Is there anything that is not part of the liturgical action of God's people? No! Everything belongs to them. Nothing is excluded from their attention and their participation.'

That is clearly nonsense, and I think he protests too much because he knows that the charge that he over-stepped his brief is valid. Clearly, by his reasoning, the precise wording of Sacrosanctum Concilium §54 is completely meaningless.

But hang on, my interlocutor may argue, the vernacular was only introduced when bishops' conferences petitioned for it anyway.

There is some truth in that argument; but I think it raises two important questions.  One is, what was the point of the Council debating and decreeing, and the Consilium consulting experts and issuing guidelines etc, if local bishops' conferences were actually the people who should be making such decisions with a carte blanche. That was not the intention of the Council Fathers, who wanted to allow bishops' conferences to make decisions within the remit established by the Council, and developed by the Consilium and ratified by the Holy Father.

The second is, why did all those requests arise anyway? For arise they did, and very swiftly. Bugnini portrays this as having nothing to do with the Consilium, but I have my doubts.  There was a liturgical movement which was very active in some countries, and the liturgical experts appointed to the Consilium were, naturally enough, drawn from those with an active interest in liturgy.

Further, what Bugnini does make very clear is both that all sorts of illicit experimentation with liturgy had been going on prior to the Council, and that quite a lot of the Consilium's haste and decision-making were to try to keep the disobedience in some kind of step with the work of the Consilium (or the other way around, of course). 

For example, he writes, concerning the need to permit the Canon in the vernacular: 'it was felt with special intensity in certain parts of the world, particularly in the Netherlands, where translations of the Canon were beginning to circulate, along with texts of the new Eucharistic Prayers. In order to retain control of liturgical development, the Dutch episcopal conference presented requests to the Holy See...' (my emphasis).

Note how he shies away from admitting what was happening: translations of the Canon weren't 'circulating' (that would be meaningless: they were printed in the Missal); no, they were clearly being used.  Thus, in part at least, a lot of the development was being driven by disobedient priests, abusing their role and imposing their own tastes on the Mass.

It seems to me that the Dutch hierarchy had no intention of stopping such abuses: rather, they used them to press the case for the change they had wanted all along; a change which many progressive bishops had had in mind, and which perhaps explains the wording of Sacrosanctum Concilium. My current working theory is this: had they said they wanted the whole of the Mass in the Vernacular, they could not have been sure of getting it through. By making it look like a much more modest ambition, and then staffing the Consilium with the right people, and also stimulating 'pressure from below' they achieved their ambitions.

And all this in spring of 1964, when the ink was barely dry on Sacrosanctum Concilium which was promulgated in December 1963.

The reason for the surrender of the preface and the Canon to the vernacular was that 'the resultant Mass, partly in Latin, partly in the vernacular, was a hybrid, lacking in continuity.'

One could argue that there is a case for the Mass to move into a hieratic language for the sacred moments surrounding the consecration; one could argue that there was a case for abandoning the experiment, and merely having the readings in the vernacular; but inevitably, the solution applied was to permit the Canon to be said in the vernacular; always in response to requests from bishops' conferences, of course...

It must be acknowledged that there was huge enthusiasm in many quarters for the vernacular. I remember my own parents thinking that it might be a good idea, certainly as far as the readings went.  But to disregard the historical wisdom of the Church so swiftly strikes me as reckless, at the least: more reckless than the Council Fathers collectively were prepared to be.

And the results, we know, have been (to be kind) mixed. The faithful (by and large) cannot say or sing in Latin those parts of the Mass proper to them, as the Council Fathers mandated.  They are not better instructed; they do not have a better understanding of the sacred mysteries. They do not (overall) participate more actively - for vast numbers no longer come to Mass at all. And we now have the situation in many parishes where there is (say) an English Mass, a Spanish Mass, a Polish Mass, a Syro-Malabar Mass and so on. Instead of Catholicity, we have fragmentation. And of course, travelling abroad one can be completely lost: I attended a Mass in Luxembourg where I think (but cannot be sure) the priest omitted the Canon all together! That is far from what the Council Fathers had in mind.

But Bugnini, of course, reaches different conclusions: 'Serious pastoral reasons opened the door to the vernaculars everywhere in the liturgy. If the vernaculars gained the upper hand, it was clearly because authenticity required them and there was a real need for them.'

I am not convinced.

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