Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Evidence of Upheaval in 1964

No matter how many books I read or how much I study the issue, the question of what precisely happened between the close of the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of the new form of the Roman Rite will always be a bit mysterious to me. How can we make sense of the huge chasm that separates the words of the Council from what became the liturgical practice only a few years later? This question will always intrigue me. So I'm always interested to find new documents that shed some light on the question of what precisely were the liturgical intentions of the Council. How disparate were they among those who put together Sacrosanctum Concilium?

Here is a fascinating document from 1964, posted by Arthur Connick at the MusicaSacra forum. As he says: "When the 4th Edition of The Celebration of Mass, by J. B. O'Connell, was published in 1964, an instruction prepared by the Consilium dated 9/26/64 had already eliminated many of the characteristic features of the Mass of 1962. Canon O'Connell helpfully prepared an insert to be supplied with his book indicating the changes called for by the instruction."

Notice the very first instruction. The priest will no longer say prayers silently that are being sung by the choir or said by the people. This might not seem significant at first glance. Perhaps it was regarded as a way of enhancing the liturgical value of the singing and of the people's responses, maybe as a step toward greater participation.

But this one change actually has gigantic structural implications.

There are no longer two and three theaters of liturgical action (arranged hierarchically) that make for the stunning richness of the sung Mass. The priest has to effectively wait for a long sung Sanctus or Gloria before moving ahead. In practice, he must wait and wait through long uncomfortable periods of doing nothing. It's no surprise that under these conditions, celebrants prefer the rule: the shorter the better. The layered aesthetic of the previous thousand plus years comes to be purely linear as each liturgical actor waits for the other, creating this common sense that people often have that Mass is just "one thing after another."

As for the propers of the Mass, consider that if the choir doesn't sing them, they come to be eliminated completely by default. Otherwise the celebrant has to wait to see what the choir will sing before he could begin his prayers. And remember that it was already common for the choir to sing hymns instead of propers at Low Mass, but at least the celebrant actually spoke the propers. No more. This change played a large role in entrenching the practice of throwing out the sung propers completely -- so that they are not even spoken at all by the celebrant (or, in the case of the offertory, not even printed in the Missal!).

So this one change actually has huge implications. And remember that this was 5 years before the new form of ritual was promulgated.

I've wondered in the past if I could make one change in the practice of the ordinary form, it would be to restore the option for the celebrant to say the parts of the Mass in a low voice as the choir sings. That alone would change the texture and approach, help restore the polyphonic ordinary, allow for more patience on the part of the celebrant with the sung Mass, and restore the centrality of the sacrifice on the altar instead of having the liturgical attention spread out in so many different directions.

I truly cannot believe that anyone in 1964 actually understood the implications of this one change. Here we have a strong case against liturgical rationalism. They thought they knew but they did not know.

Liturgical Changes from 1964, Roman Rite of Mass