Friday, June 12, 2015

“Mediator Dei? Never heard of it!” Sacrosanctum Concilium's Disappearing Footnotes

[T]he idea that the council was a continuation of work already begun was obscured by numerous commentaries that treated SC as a departure from the past, the beginning of a “new” liturgy for the “new” post-Vatican II church.
So states Susan Benofy towards the beginning of her recent article “Footnotes for a Hermeneutic of Continuity: Sacrosanctum Concilium’s Vanishing Citations” (Adoremus Bulletin 21.1 [2015], 8-9). Of course, this is not a particularly new or revolutionary statement; readers of this blog will undoubtedly know of various commentaries on SC from the late 1960s and 1970s that took the approach of rupture and discontinuity towards the liturgical tradition. [1]

However, Dr Benofy backs this up with a particularly interesting and unique observation, something that I haven’t seen anyone else notice or comment on: the drastic differences in the footnotes between the final draft of SC and the definitive text as promulgated by Pope Paul VI.

In the various drafts of SC discussed by the Council Fathers in the first and second sessions of Vatican II, documents such as Tra le sollecitudini, Divini cultus, and especially Mediator Dei were cited quite often in the footnotes, but all of these references ended up being removed from the final text of SC. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of the footnotes present in previous drafts (around 115) were cut out of the final text of SC (which has 42 footnotes) – the only references left are to the Bible (23), liturgical texts (8), the early Church Fathers (6), and previous councils (5).

Why were so many notes removed from the final text? Dr Benofy cites Pierre-Marie Gy, O.P., an influential liturgist and member of the Council’s Liturgy Commission, who says that it was merely a matter of the “proper style” for a document of an ecumenical council to only cite quotations from biblical, liturgical and patristic sources – even when other sources are quoted or referenced. [2] It is curious, however, that all the notes referring to St Pius X, Pius XI and Pius XII were removed from SC when the other dogmatic constitutions of Vatican II have various citations from the recent papal magisterium and curial texts. [3]

All this might at first seem somewhat inconsequential. After all, we’re only talking about footnotes here! However, as Dr Benofy tells us:
Readers of SC who are not familiar with the liturgical teachings of earlier twentieth-century popes and are not led by footnotes to the documents that explain them will almost certainly see SC as a document with no connection to the recent past. They are thus unable to see SC as the Council Fathers did – as the continuation of reform begun by Saint Pius X.
Alongside the article is a handy table of citations that were removed during the final revision of SC. [4]

Had even some of these references to documents such as Tra le sollecitudini and Mediator Dei been kept in, it would certainly have been harder to interpret SC with a hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity. As it stands, Vatican II's Liturgy Commission - inadvertently or by design [5] - made it a lot easier for various people to interpret SC as advocating a kind of 'year zero' liturgical reform, disconnected from the reforms of the earlier 20th century popes.

Dr Benofy is to be congratulated for bringing this important information to light – go to the Adoremus Bulletin now to read her eye-opening article!


[1] A good example is that of Joseph Gelineau, S.J., in his book The Liturgy: Today and Tomorrow (New York: Paulist Press, 1978): “the Roman rite as we knew it exists no more. It has gone. Some walls of the structure have fallen, others have been altered; we can look at it as a ruin or as the partial foundation of a new building... The liturgy is a permanent workshop” (p. 11).

[2] For instance, SC 22 depends very heavily on Mediator Dei 58-59 (which, incidentally, give the reasoning behind Pius XII’s condemnation of archaeologism in liturgical matters found in MD 61-62). However, unless one has read MD, one wouldn’t necessarily be aware of this, as since MD is not a biblical, liturgical or patristic source, the footnote in SC 22 that referred to it was removed by the Council’s Liturgy Commission.

[3] For example, Dei Verbum cites Leo XIII, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, and various curial offices and commissions; Gaudium et spes cites Leo XIII, Pius XI, Pius XII, St John XXIII, and Paul VI; Lumen gentium cites (albeit in the “supplementary notes”) Benedict XIV, Pius IX, Leo XIII, St Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, and Paul VI. GS especially is not shy about quoting St John XXIII in particular – so was it just the Liturgy Commission that was concerned about “the proper style”?

[4] For those who don’t have access to the very useful (but rather expensive!) synopsis of SC edited by Francisco Gil Hellín (in the Concilii Vaticani II Synopsis series published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana), which parallels the various drafts alongside the final text, the first draft submitted to the Council Fathers with its footnotes can be found in the Acta Synodalia of the first session of Vatican II (General Congregation IV, 22 Oct 1962: cf. AS I/1, pp. 262-303). This is available for free download – see this article on NLM for the links.

[5] The intentions of the individual members of the Commission would take a lot of research to begin to uncover. I would imagine that, just like with the minutes of the Consilium, there is a lot of hidden, behind-the-scenes material for future historians to uncover!

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