Monday, May 11, 2015

The U.S. Bishops’ Interventions on the Liturgy at Vatican II

Since the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, much ink (both real and virtual) has been spilt over what Vatican II said about the liturgy. Considerably less, however, has been used in examining what was said about the liturgy at Vatican II. This is perhaps due to the Acta Synodalia - the record of all the spoken and written interventions made at the Council - being quite difficult to get access to. Unless one has access to an excellent library that has the Acta, or is prepared to shell out quite a bit of money to purchase all 26 volumes, the chances of being able to personally consult them is small. [1] As well as this, the Acta is, as one might expect, almost entirely in Latin, which is an obvious barrier for those who do not know the language well.

The Council Fathers - but what did they all say?
However, there are a few English-language resources out there for those who want to begin to find out what exactly was said at Vatican II by the Council Fathers. [2] One of those is a book edited by Mgr Vincent Yzermans, entitled American Participation in the Second Vatican Council (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1967). Yzermans was a priest of the Diocese of St Cloud who served as both a press advisor and the official representative of Bishop Peter Bartholome during the Council. American Participation is a compilation of the spoken and written interventions made by the American Bishops at Vatican II - or, at least, those he could get access to, for it seems that some bishops were not the best at record-keeping! [3]

Chapter 3 of American Participation will be of special interest to NLM readers, as it is that chapter that collects the interventions of the U.S. Bishops on Sacrosanctum Concilium. A PDF scan of this chapter can be downloaded here!

The interventions certainly make for interesting reading - on some things the U.S. Bishops are in broad agreement (e.g. the use of the vernacular for private recitation of the breviary), on other things there is considerable diversity of thought. Some extracts to whet your appetite:
There are, indeed, many among the clergy and laity who, imbued with historicism, rather than with true pastoral sense, look for great changes without sufficiently considering their usefulness to the faithful. (Francis Cardinal Spellman, 22 Oct 1962)
[T]he psychological and mental dispositions of our contemporary men should be the normative and determining element of any liturgical decree. The difference between modern man and sixteenth-century man is such that there is a strong indication of the need for liturgical reform. (Joseph Cardinal Ritter, 23 Oct 1962)
Recalling both the history of early centuries and contemporary necessities, where is the justification of the opinion which wants to change the venerable language of the sacred liturgy at will? An attack on Latin in the liturgy is indirectly but truly an attack upon the stability of sacred doctrines because the liturgy necessarily involves dogma. (James Cardinal McIntyre, 5 Nov 1962)
The faith of our people is not going to be enhanced by making its practice easy. Spiritual muscles, as well as physical ones, are developed by exercise, not by indulgence. Look about and see where the faith is strong, and you will find a deeply rooted conviction of the need for penance. Conversely, where luxury and ease are cultivated the faith is moribund. The kind of devil that besets our world today can be driven out only by prayers and fasting. (Bishop Russell McVinney, 12 Nov 1962)


[1] However, with regard to the Acta, please keep an eye out over the next few weeks for news regarding an exciting project!

[2] For instance, Fr Joseph Komonchak has translated into English some of the preparatory schemas drafted before the Council: the draft De Ecclesia can be found here, four other draft schemas can be found here, and a pretty good essay examining the suggestions (votum) submitted during 1959-1960 by the U.S. Bishops for what the Council should discuss can be found here. Also, though they do not contain any full texts of speeches, it is worth mentioning that the diaries of Yves Cardinal Congar, O.P. and Henri Cardinal de Lubac, S.J. have recently received English translations: Y. Congar, My Journal of the Council (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012); H. de Lubac, Vatican Council Notebooks: Volume One (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015). Diaries and journals are, however, very personal (and often very frank!), so, as interesting as they can be, if one is looking for a more objective account of Vatican II then they are perhaps not the best resources to begin with!

[3] Yzermans recounts that, in reply to his request for copies of spoken and written interventions, Bishops Alexander Zaleski (Lansing), Lambert Hoch (Sioux Falls), Ignatius Strecker (at that time of Springfield-Cape Girardeau) and Floyd Begin (Oakland) said that they had not kept any copies! Indeed, Bishop Begin said that the same was likely true of many other bishops (cf. American Participation, pp. 5-6).

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