Roman Missal, Third Edition: Liturgical Renewal As Envisioned by Vatican II (Part 4)

Catechesis, Catechesis, Catechesis

Widespread failure to correctly understand and implement the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council has produced a decades-long liturgical crisis in the Catholic Church, leaving the true aims of the Council fathers largely unrealized to date. However, during this dark and turbulent period for the Church, scattered glimmers of light have reflected the Council's true vision for liturgical renewal. Two of these have been the Adoremus Society and Ignatius Press, both founded by Father Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit priest who studied for the priesthood under Cardinal Ratzinger in the 1970s. A close friend of our current pontiff, Father Fessio is deeply familiar with his traditional Catholic vision of the liturgy, and has conveyed that vision for many years in publications such as the Adoremus Bulletin, the Adoremus Hymnal and numerous books by Ratzinger, especially The Spirit of the Liturgy. These materials have helped familiarize American Catholics with the true spirit of Vatican II regarding the liturgy.

Another bright glimmer of light in the darkness of the post-Vatican II era has been the daily celebration of Mass in the tiny chapel of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery founded by Mother Angelica in Irondale, Alabama. Here, as in few other places in America, the celebration of the Novus Ordo liturgy has consistently followed the terms of Sacrosanctum concilium: certain parts of the Mass are always said or sung in Latin; Gregorian chant is a mainstay of the liturgical music; and missals are available to help people follow along with the Latin parts of the Ordinary. Different priests vary in their use of Latin and English in the liturgy, offering a good example of the flexibility that Cardinal Arinze referred to. Like the Benedictine monasteries of the European Dark Ages, Our Lady of the Angels has helped preserve the rich liturgical tradition of the Latin Rite and the true spirit of Vatican II through difficult times for the Church in the United States. Not only has it done that, but through daily broadcast of the Mass on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), it has communicated that tradition and that spirit to millions of Catholics across the United States, providing invaluable catechesis and promoting liturgical renewal in fidelity to the Second Vatican Council.

The implementation of the Missale Romanum, Third Edition, presents an excellent opportunity to correct the widespread misperceptions regarding the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. However, this educational opportunity must be seized and taken proper advantage of, not allowed to slide by. Pope Benedict underlined the importance of this in his April 2010 address to members of Vox Clara when he stated that "the opportunity for catechesis that it [the new Roman Missal] presents will need to be firmly grasped."

Education is the key to understanding. Without proper catechesis, English-speaking Catholics of the Latin Rite will not correctly understand the reasons for the changes or appreciate the new translation. This catechesis is currently going on in parishes across the United States to prepare parish staff, musicians and parishoners for the new Roman Missal. Catechetical efforts aimed at the laity are especially important and essential. Priests are serving catechesis about the new Mass text from the pulpit, through color inserts in the parish bulletin, and through a variety of helpful informational booklets that parish families can take home with them.

Additionally, there are many things that lay Catholics can and should do to educate themselves about the liturgical changes. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a special section of its website devoted to the new Roman Missal at that gives basic information and includes, under "Sample Texts," the full new text of the Order of Mass as well as side-by-side comparisons of the old and new Mass text for people and priests. Every Catholic with access to the Internet should take advantage of these resources and print them out for closer study and review in preparation for implementation. In addition, Catholics who lack knowledge of Latin should start getting familiar with it. Two excellent resources for this purpose are the Adoremus Hymnal, which includes the Order of Mass in Latin and English side by side, and Jubilate Deo, both available from Ignatius Press and through the EWTN Religious Catalogue. Every Catholic of the Latin Rite should at least know the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, the Pater Noster, and the Agnus Dei by heart in Latin. For a better understanding of what the Mass is, Pope Benedict XVI's little book The Spirit of the Liturgy offers a brilliant presentation of the theology of Catholic worship and the 2,000-year history of the Church's liturgy. And finally, Catholics who have not yet done so should pore over Sacrosanctum concilium to soak up the true spirit of Vatican II and clarify their understanding of the Council's liturgical reforms.

Yet even with proper catechesis, some Catholics will still object that changing the words of the liturgy now after forty years is a recipe for pastoral disaster, as it will cause people to leave the Church. This objection stems from all the misperceptions of the Second Vatican Council recounted in this article. Ironically, it is being made by those who are themselves predisposed to leave the Church because they disapprove of the changes. If some Catholics can't live with the changes, that is their problem. For its own good, the Church must remain faithful to the true spirit of Vatican II, even if that means alienating some people. When the Vatican approved the new Roman Missal translation in July 2010, Cardinal Francis George, then president of the USCCB, admitted that some people will not like it but that in the end, "it will be the text the Church uses for prayer." The implementation of the new Roman Missal will be a litmus test of fidelity to the Church. It will separate the wheat from the chaff-true, faithful members of Christ's Mystical Body from parasites who hitch onto it for their own comfort and convenience. This pruning process will render the Church slightly leaner but stronger and healthier, in line with Pope Benedict XVI's vision for the "new springtime" of the Church originally predicted by John Paul II.

The Dawn of Real Liturgical Renewal

A major priority of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI has been correct implementation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, especially the reform of the Sacred Liturgy. The Third Edition of the Missale Romanum and the Instruction for its translation, Liturgiam Authenticam, were both issued during John Paul's pontificate. Liturgiam Authenticam marked the close of a four-decade period of experimentation with liturgical translations authorized by the Second Vatican Council, while the Third Edition of the Roman Missal represents a consolidation and integration of the Council's liturgical reforms into the Church's Latin Rite tradition. This project of correct implementation of Vatican II has been carried on with vigor by Pope Benedict XVI, who sees the proper understanding and faithful celebration of Catholic worship and liturgy as the key to renewal of the Church and effective evangelization.

In 2007, Pope Benedict took the bold step of issuing a universal indult that allowed the occasional celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form in any diocese of the Latin Rite without the necessity of obtaining the local bishop's permission. This move may have been somewhat controversial at the time, but it was a stroke of genius. Pope Benedict recognized that lack of Catholic exposure to the traditional Latin Mass was impeding the authentic liturgical renewal envisioned by the Second Vatican Council. The pre-Vatican II Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo of Vatican II are not strangers to each other, nor was one ever intended to be radically different from the other. By giving modern Latin Rite Catholics the opportunity to experience the traditional Latin Mass, it allows them to reconnect with their liturgical (as well as religious and cultural) tradition and can help them better understand how the Novus Ordo Mass fits into that tradition.

Furthermore, a major theme running through the pontificates of John Paul and Benedict has been the prediction of a "new springtime" for the Church in the third millennium, particularly based on a revival of interest in Catholicism among young people. Both Popes have understood that there's an important connection between the implementation of Vatican II and this theme of a new springtime for the Church: Renewal of the liturgy will lead to renewal of the Church from within. But what will the new springtime look like?

In an interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN in 2003, then-Cardinal Ratzinger opined that the new springtime would not be characterized by mass conversions to Catholicism all over the world. Rather, he said, it would consist of small, "convinced communities" of believers, especially young people, who would celebrate the liturgy together and witness the joy of their Christian faith to the modern society around them. That joyful witness of faith would be the primary method of evangelization, attracting other people to the Church and leading to a renewal of society as well.

This hope-filled yet realistic vision of the new springtime for the Church resembles not so much a flood of sunlight as an ever-growing number of lighted candles in the darkness. It has a particularly Benedictine flavor, and is part of the reason why our current Holy Father took the name Benedict. He did this to honor Saint Benedict, whose little monasteries scattered throughout Europe preserved Catholic faith and culture during the Dark Ages. The Church today confronts a certain kind of "dark ages," as it is surrounded by the manifold evils of modern Western society and culture. In the Eucharistic liturgy, the heart of the Church's life, the burning light of Christ can set each small, faithful, "convinced community" of believers ablaze, empowering them to spread the light of Christ to others.

A tantalizing glimpse of Pope Benedict's vision for the new springtime can be seen in the hunger for liturgical tradition among Catholic young people. In dozens of places across the United States where Mass is now occasionally celebrated in Latin in the Extraordinary Form, the churches are packed with Catholics in their twenties and thirties. These small, "convinced communities" of young believers, with their devotion to truth, enthusiasm for Catholic tradition, respect for authority and commitment to fidelity to the Church, are already helping to make the Second Vatican Council's vision for liturgical renewal a reality.

As the inauguration of the English translation of the Missale Romanum, Third Edition approaches, we are standing on the threshold of an exciting and historic moment for the Roman Catholic Church. The dark and difficult period of the post-Vatican II era is vanishing, and the dawn of real liturgical renewal as envisioned by Vatican II is upon us. In April 2010, Pope Benedict XVI expressed to Vox Clara his hope that the new Roman Missal will serve "as a springboard for a renewal and a deepening of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world." With the realization of this hope, the new Mass translation will play a vital role in the new springtime for the Church. Its theological riches will help priests and people alike enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist, the source, center and summit of the Church's life. Its prayers will elevate Catholic worship and inspire and enrich our personal prayer lives. Along with a rediscovery of our rich liturgical and cultural heritage in the Latin Rite tradition, this renewal of the Sacred Liturgy will stimulate a new flowering of Catholic culture and enable the light of Christ to more brightly illuminate the world of the twenty-first century.

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