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The Day the Mass Changed

Online Edition: March 2010, Vol. XVI, No. 1

The Day the Mass Changed

How It Happened and Why

by Susan Benofy

Introduction to Part II

The first reforms of the liturgy were introduced on November 29, 1964, and more were introduced a few months later. This was just a year after the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) and before the Council itself had ended.

During the period of preparation for introducing the reforms, the bishops would have been in Rome, as the third session of the Second Vatican Council met from September 14 to November 21, 1964. Thus it was the Liturgical Conference who took the initiative of interpreting SC and working out a program of implementation.

Prominent members of the Liturgical Conference included Fathers Frederick McManus, Godfrey Diekmann, OSB, Eugene Walsh and H. A. Reinhold, liturgists who had promoted practices such as standing for Communion, removing altar rails, singing hymns at Mass and Mass facing the people. It should come as no surprise to find that all these practices — which were introduced after the Council but were not found in Sacrosanctum Concilium or other official implementing documents of the time — are recommended in the program they devised.

(Part I of this essay appeared in the February 2010 issue of the Adoremus Bulletin.)


Part II – Conclusion

In 1948, Pope Pius XII set up a commission to study liturgical reform, and several changes resulted, the best known of which is the reform of the Holy Week liturgies promulgated in 1955.

A series of meetings were held in Europe starting in 1951 at which liturgists from several countries came together to discuss reform of the liturgy. Though unofficial, these meetings made a series of proposals for changes in the liturgy, which were sent to Rome in the hope of influencing the reform that was already in progress.

In 1960, Father Frederick McManus, in his introduction to Father H. A. Reinhold’s book Bringing the Mass to the People (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1960), mentions these proposals and anticipates their influence.

Recommendations made at a congress have of course an organized character, however private and unofficial. Of equal importance are the studies and proposals of individual scholars and writers. These have been in the background of every liturgical development of the century; they are certain to be the guideposts to future development (p. 14).

Speaking specifically of the proposals in the Reinhold book, Father McManus says:

Much that is proposed in these pages will doubtless be found in future liturgical books, in one form or another, after it has been considered … by the competent authority in the Church (p. 15).

Many individual scholars sought changes such as removing Communion rails or receiving Communion standing, as we have seen. Even when these changes were not formal proposals of an international meeting, liturgists were confidently anticipating their inclusion in a future reformed liturgy well before the Second Vatican Council was announced.

When actual preparations for the Council began some of these same liturgists served as periti (experts) to the committee drafting the Constitution on the Liturgy. Two Americans, Fathers McManus and Diekmann, were on the Preparatory commission before the Council and also both were periti who were official advisors to the Council’s bishops on historical and theological scholarship pertaining to the liturgy.

But the periti did not confine themselves to giving disinterested scholarly evaluations. They in fact saw the Council as an opportunity to continue advocacy for their favored practices. For example, Benedictine Father Diekmann was particularly interested in “inculturation” and the adoption of the vernacular, and at the Council “he had the time and the platform to lobby intensely for their resolution”, as Sister Kathleen Hughes reports in The Monk’s Tale: A Biography of Godfrey Diekmann, OSB (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 223).

The periti often gave lectures while they were in Rome for the Council sessions. These lectures gave the bishops who attended the expert’s own interpretation of the Council documents. The influence of these lectures is described in accounts by those who were present in Rome at the time. Bishop Robert Tracy of Baton Rouge, who attended the Council, wrote:

Perceiving the importance of renewal of the Liturgy to the entire work of the Council, the typical non-specialist bishop began to do collateral reading on the subject and to attend some of the lectures which were being given by world-renowned writers and professors almost every afternoon.…

Moreover, it was possible, in the course of the morning at St. Peter’s, to arrange to speak, privately or in a small group, to many an expert on the liturgy (An American Bishop at the Vatican Council, New York: McGraw-Hill Book company, 1966, p. 56).

Journalist Robert Blair Kaiser, who covered the Council for Time magazine, reported:

… on Sunday morning October 28 [1963] more than 150 United States bishops attended a study session of the liturgy conducted by the American liturgist Father Frederick McManus, and they all indicated a general enthusiasm for the reforms outlined in the schema (Pope, Council and World: The Story of Vatican II, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1963, p. 134).

The periti, for their part, believed that the bishops were in great need of the “education” they provided. Father McManus, in a letter to Father Diekmann, wrote:

The [US] bishops are extremely timid among themselves and I should like to get a little sociological and psychological study done on them…. Hallinan is very good indeed; I only wish it were not a case of getting him a Berlitz-type education in the liturgy while we operate (Monk’s Tale, p. 206).

The reference is to Archbishop Paul Hallinan of Atlanta, who was a member of the Commission on Liturgy at the Second Vatican Council, a member of the Consilium after the Council, one of the founders of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), and was Chairman of the US?Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy from 1966-1968.

The periti also worried about how the liturgical reform would be implemented in their home countries. When Father Diekmann was told that the US bishops had lost interest in the Council and wanted to go home, “the American periti were called to a meeting to plan strategy for the implementation of the Council, lest the bishops return home without much enthusiasm and revert to ‘business as usual’” (Monk’s Tale, p. 258). Back in the US when the Council was not in session various liturgical experts were strongly promoting reform of the liturgy through lectures and workshops. In March 1964, Father Diekmann wrote to fellow liturgist J. B. O’Connell:

Fred [McManus] and I have been very busy lecturing to groups of priests throughout the country ever since returning from Rome. And the list of such engagements stretches through the next months, until September (Monk’s Tale, p. 252).

The lectures continued even beyond that September. In February 1965, McManus addressed a meeting sponsored by the Liturgical Conference. Speaking to 500 architects, artists, clergy and members of diocesan liturgical commissions on “Recent Documents on Church Architecture”, Father McManus told his audience:

To talk about official documents of the Church requires an initial disclaimer. From the very start we must be clear in our minds that the teaching, doctrine, and theory has greater significance than the precise formulation of the norms or regulations.… We must look rather to the commentators and the commentaries in order to understand fully what may be very simply expressed in an official pronouncement, document, or regulation (Church Architecture: The Shape of Reform. Washington, DC: The Liturgical Conference, 1965, p. 86).

Father McManus assured his listeners that such commentaries were already available, and could be found in books and in articles published in periodicals such as Worship. He made specific mention of a just-published article by Father Diekmann in Concilium Volume 2.

An important point is made by this excellent article of Father Godfrey’s; it is principle and doctrine that underlies the formulations in official language and the regulations. Father Godfrey’s article was written before the Instruction which appeared in October and yet it is valid now and will be as valuable in the future. The meaning of norms must be sought in the supporting reasons, for which we must look to the commentators (p. 87).

The idea that principles (as interpreted by commentators) have “greater significance than the precise formulation of the norms” is in essence the approach that puts the “Spirit of Vatican II” in opposition to the actual statements of the Council documents. It suggests, moreover, that it is more important to read articles by commentators than to read the documents themselves. And it leaves it to the commentators to decide what the fundamental principles are.

Some commentators even included “change” among the important principles. In fact, in popular presentations about the liturgical reform around the time of the Council, the word “change” is used more frequently than “reform” or “renewal”. This is especially evident in the book Our Changing Liturgy (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1966) by Jesuit Father Clement McNaspy, a member of the Board of Directors of the Liturgical Conference and editor of the magazine America. Father McNaspy stressed the necessity for change and urged his readers to accept it.

Another reason why change is peculiarly urgent today, in liturgy as in other human elements of the Church’s work, is the unprecedented acceleration of change in the world as a whole. Indeed, change may well be the most characteristic trait of our time.

Since we learn by doing, it was plain that by experiencing change in our everyday life of worship we might all become better prepared to accept the further changes called for in other conciliar decisions…. Liturgical change was to be only the beginning; but it did establish the principle (p. 32, 33).

Such ideas were also spread by the Liturgical Conference through its annual Liturgical Weeks, which increased greatly in popularity immediately before and during the Council. Though a private organization, the Liturgical Conference had a sort of semi-official status.

Father Godfrey Diekmann reported that interest generated by press reports on the liturgy discussions at the Council accounted for the 1963 Liturgical Week in Philadelphia drawing 15,000 people.

Attendance grew to 20,000 for the 1964 meeting in St. Louis, and in 1965 Liturgical Weeks were held in three different cities to accommodate the increased interest (“Liturgical Practice in the United States and Canada”, Concilium vol. 12: The Church Worships. Johannes Wagner and Helmut Hucke, Editorial Directors, Paulist Press, 1966, pp. 157-166).

In the same paper Father Diekmann mentions the purposes of the Bishops’ Commission on the Liturgical Apostolate established in 1958.

It was intended, moreover, to serve as a liaison between the hierarchy and the Liturgical Conference; its secretary reported on the Conference’s work and on the general state of the liturgical renewal each year at the time of the bishops’ annual meetings (p. 158).

When this Commission became the US Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) in 1965, Father McManus resigned the presidency of the Liturgical Conference to become head of the BCL secretariat. Father Diekmann and other prominent liturgists served on its Board of Directors and spoke regularly at the Liturgical Weeks.

Education in liturgy was not among the responsibilities of the BCL when it was founded. This role was left to “diocesan commissions and private agencies”, or even to “commercial music publishing firms”, as we read in The Diocesan Liturgical Commission: Documentation, Proposed Goals, and Present Projects (Washington, DC: USCCB Publications Office, 1970, pp. 4, 16).

The very rapid introduction of the reforms made it almost impossible for the bishops, who were still spending considerable time in Rome attending Council sessions, to take an active role in planning the implementation of the liturgical reform. So this was left to the “private agencies”, that is, organizations of expert liturgists whom the bishops had come to rely on for interpretation of the Council’s intentions. And the Liturgical Conference was prepared to take on the task.

The Liturgical Conference and the “Parish Worship Program”

In the early 1960s, under the presidency of Father Frederick McManus, the Liturgical Conference had established an office in Washington, DC, and hired a full-time executive director. During the Council, when Father McManus was in Rome as a peritus, the president was Father Gerard Sloyan, a priest of the diocese of Trenton, and chairman of the Department of Religious Education at Catholic University of America. Father Sloyan had attended the 1944 Liturgical Week and is quoted as saying that since that time his “involvement with the liturgy has been almost totally coterminous with [his] membership in the Liturgical Conference” (See Gordon E. Truitt, “Gerard Sloyan: Bridge of the Spirit” in How Firm a Foundation: Leaders of the Liturgical Movement, compiled and introduced by Robert L. Tuzik. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1990, pp. 292-299, quote on pp. 293-294). Father Sloyan believed that the main change in the liturgy after the Council was to be a change of spirit. Gordon Truitt writes:

Because of the work involved in communicating that “change of spirit”, the Liturgical Conference immediately undertook a major publishing program, to which Sloyan contributed in several ways. The weeklong planning sessions for a series of books, the first and for a long time the only aids made available to guide the celebration in the new rites, took place during the week in which President John Kennedy was shot in November 1963. The Conference’s national staff and services were expanded as part of a long-range education program to help implement the decrees stemming from Vatican II (Truitt, p. 295. Emphasis added.)

That same fateful week a decisive vote was taken on the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The Liturgical Conference had already decided to produce these books, known as the “Parish Worship Program”, more than a week before the final formal vote and promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The “Parish Worship Program” was only part of the Liturgical Conference’s program for liturgical reform. In 1966, Father Diekmann reported of the Liturgical Conference that

presently its busy Washington headquarters are, practically speaking, the spearhead of our pastoral-liturgical movement, with a many-faceted publicational, educative and promotional program (Concilium vol. 12, p. 158).

Father William Leonard, SJ, then- chairman of the theology department of Boston College, described this many-faceted effort of the Liturgical Conference in more detail:

The central office of the [Liturgical] Conference has sponsored and staffed institutes for seminary professors, diocesan liturgical commissions, architects, musicians, and publishers of missals. With the cooperation of the National Council of Catholic Men, films and television programs have been produced.… Soon after the Council had approved the Constitution on the Liturgy, a comprehensive Parish Worship Program was prepared, made up of books and leaflets explaining the liturgical renewal for priests and people, by the end of 1964 more than two million of these items had been sold (“The Liturgical Movement in the United States” in The Liturgy of Vatican II vol. 2, edited by William Baraúna, OFM. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1966, p. 309).

The diocesan liturgists who were in charge of implementation almost certainly got their information on the meaning of the liturgical reform in one of the Liturgical Conference’s many institutes, and were presented with their ready-made program for instructing the laity. And that program, the “Parish Worship Program”, instructed pastors to implement a whole array of practices not found in any of the documents from the Holy See, including practices that had been advocated by liturgists for decades.

A major part of the “Parish Worship Program” consisted of three books. No author was given for these volumes, but each book had a signed Preface and listed contributors to its composition. Father H.A. Reinhold wrote a preface to one volume, Father McManus wrote the preface to another. Fathers McManus, Clement McNaspy and Eugene Walsh were all listed among the contributors, as were representatives of two commercial music publishers: the Gregorian Institute of America (GIA) and World Library of Sacred Music (now WLP). Father Godfrey Diekmann’s ideas are evident in the program’s recommendations.

One of the books, Priest’s Guide to Parish Worship, has an imprimatur dated May 22, 1964 (Washington, DC: The Liturgical Conference, 1964) — less than five months after the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), was published. Only SC itself and Pope Paul VI’s apostolic letter, Sacram Liturgiam, were published before the Priest’s Guide appeared — and the only practice from SC found in Sacram Liturgiam that would affect the Mass at the ordinary parish was the requirement of a homily on Sundays and Holy Days.

The Priest’s Guide, however, recommends a number of changes, implying that they are implementations of the Council decrees. Father McManus, in the Preface to Priest’s Guide to Parish Worship says:

The point of this book and of the entire Parish Worship Program is the fulfillment, without delay or hesitation, of the great Council’s commitment to a sincere and living worship of the Father in heaven. It attempts to translate into the practical situations of parish life what the Council has said with force and eloquence (p. vi).

In its Introduction, Father Sloyan, president of the Liturgical Conference writes:

The Priest’s Guide “is meant to lead the priest to an accurate and thorough grasp of what the Constitution on the Liturgy means to him, to his people, and to their common worship of God” (p. xii).

And readers are told:

Every element has been prepared in the strictest possible conformity with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, and with the most responsible opinion of liturgical study and pastoral experience (p. 11).

The Priest’s Guide’s first chapter begins with a review of changes in the liturgy in the previous decades: encouragement of frequent Communion, changes in the Breviary, in Holy Week and in the classification of feasts.

Changes in the liturgy are normal and natural. They are even necessary. All of us have lived through quite a number of them in the past, and we shall undoubtedly see many more in the future (Priest’s Guide, p. 2).

The changes to be introduced by the Conciliar reform, however, are “of a new and different sort from the ones we have all experienced in the recent past” (Priest’s Guide, p. 2).

With all this emphasis on coming changes, it is puzzling to read later in the same book that the recommended program:

will not require any serious modification within the foreseeable future. This program can be used now but it will not be obsolete next year. It is the best possible preparation for what is to come. It is also the best possible use of legislation already in force (Priest’s Guide, p. 60).

The “legislation already in force” in the summer of 1964 included the unmodified rubrics of the 1962 Missal, that is the rubrics for the so-called “Tridentine” Mass. Yet with all the anticipated changes in the liturgy, readers are assured, the “Parish Worship Program”, once introduced, will not require change. A priest reading this might believe that he did not have to read any further documents coming from the Holy See on the subject of liturgy.

Much of the Priest’s Guide is devoted to the details of what is called the “Program for Mass”. It illustrates what happens when commentators put their own interpretation ahead of specific provisions of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Arrangement of Churches

The program first considers the arrangement of the church. Encouraging participation is treated as the primary principle here, and participation is certainly a major consideration in the Constitution. However, that same Constitution stressed that “the Church has brought into being a treasury of art that must be carefully preserved” (SC §123). It also says the Church insists that “all things set apart for use in divine worship are truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world” (SC §122).

The Priest’s Guide, however, insists that the basic standard for judging an element of the church building is whether it aids “intelligent and meaningful participation”. On this basis it warns that

there will be things of the highest artistic or other merit which will nonetheless be unacceptable in terms of this more basic consideration (p. 62).

It proceeds to consider the altar, which “is primarily a table, and should look like one” (Priest’s Guide, p. 66). Since this is not the case in churches of Gothic or Baroque design it recommends certain modifications.

This dilemma has been solved successfully in many parishes by the installation of an altar facing the people. A very simple temporary altar has been installed semi-permanently on a raised platform just inside the altar rail.

The advantages for effective participation involved in such a bringing of the Mass to the people are obvious…. Also, it is advisable that the gates of the sanctuary railing and even a portion of the railing itself should be removed where possible, thus creating a very important space in front of the altar (Priest’s Guide, p. 66).

It further recommends that there be “Communion stations” where priests stand to distribute Communion. (As we have seen, such an arrangement was already in place in some churches.) It describes the procedure for receiving Communion at such stations.

The faithful advance one or, better, two at a time and receive standing, without genuflection before or after. Such a procedure does much to encourage the idea that communion is a meal being shared, rather than the private devotion of individuals who happen to be attending the same Mass (Priest’s Guide, p. 66).

The Priest’s Guide adds that this method eliminates an “assembly-line” impression created by receiving at a rail, and yet claims that it saves a good deal of time.

Manual for Music

The Priest’s Guide also considers music, insisting that the most important single element of the program is getting the entire congregation to join in the singing at Mass. The importance of music in the “Parish Worship Program” is emphasized by the fact that another volume in the series, A Manual for Church Musicians (Washington, DC: The Liturgical Conference, 1964), is entirely devoted to music.

The Manual considers intelligibility a higher priority than the artistic qualities of the music:

Since the didactic aspects of the liturgy have been highlighted, intelligibility has received the greatest attention. Until the principle of an intelligent and instructful worship is restored to the Church, other characteristics of the liturgy must recede temporarily, until a balance between understanding and aesthetic perception is gained. Such an abeyance, should it come about, would be a negligible and necessary sacrifice.… (pp. 20-21).

The exclusive emphasis on intelligibility leads to conflict with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which states: “The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care.” (SC §114). And it says of Gregorian chant:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as distinctive of the Roman liturgy; therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services (SC §116).

But the Manual says that Gregorian chant is not appropriate for parish liturgies:

Although the plain chant is one of the priceless treasures, it is primarily the domain of the monastery; it has never been the actual treasure of the American parish. Our priests were “exposed” to it during the formative years of the seminary training, and occasionally a hard-working choirmaster has introduced it, but not without hard effort and even some opposition. There is no need to fear that the chant will be lost, for the monastery will preserve it, whereas the parish never really possessed it. For the monk, Latin will not prove a barrier to his understanding of the Church’s ceremonial; for the average parishioner, English will prove an invitation to an understanding of the worship of the Whole Christ that Latin could never give. It is the parish that is the first concern of the bishops, and intelligent participation the motive that underlies their liberal allowance for the use of English (p. 20).

A consultor on both the Manual and Priest’s Guide was Sulpician Father Eugene Walsh of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. Father Walsh had introduced a program for singing English hymns at a Low Mass, and considered this superior to trying to teach people to sing the Latin High Mass. This rejection of chant apparently reflects his thinking. His biographer, Timothy Leonard, tells us that:

The major principle guiding Gene in all this work with The Liturgical Conference was that the end of good participation in the liturgy should not be hindered by the overemphasis on the means to attain it. Thus he found the wish to preserve Gregorian Chant to be wrong. He had learned the Solesmes method and developed his own style of doing Gregorian over many years, but when it became possible for people to sing in English at Mass, he knew it had to go.… Walsh really thought people who favored the maintenance of Gregorian Chant to be prejudiced (Geno: a biography of Eugene Walsh, SS, Washington, DC: Pastoral Press, 1988, p. 80).

The Priest’s Guide also seems, implicitly at least, to discourage chant. It says the music at Mass must be good, but it warns:

The priest must be careful nonetheless that perfectly praiseworthy efforts to add dignity and solemnity to special feasts do not become an excuse to take away from the people a vocal participation that is rightfully theirs (Priest’s Guide, p. 71).

But which parts of the sung Mass “rightfully” belong to the congregation? Archabbot Rembert Weakland (later Archbishop of Milwaukee) discussed this point in a talk on “Music and the Constitution” given at the National Liturgical Week in August 1964. In particular he asked what was the role of the people in singing the Proper of the Mass. (His address was published in The Challenge of the Council: Person, Parish, World: Twenty-Fifth North American Liturgical Week, Washington, DC: The Liturgical Conference, 1964, pp. 204-209.) To find an answer to this question, he said,

It is helpful, however, to try to prophesy concerning the future from the hints the Constitution gives us (p. 207).

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Susan Benofy

Susan Benofy

Susan Benofy received her doctorate in physics from Saint Louis University. She was formerly Research Editor of Adoremus Bulletin.