Friday, July 28, 2017

The Second Vatican Council and the Lectionary—Part 1: The Antepreparatory Period (1959-1961)

Note: This is the first part of a three-part series. Part Two will examine the preparatory period (1961-1962), and Part Three will look at the first and second sessions of the Council itself (1962-1963).

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been much discussion about Cardinal Sarah’s recent reflection in La Nef on the tenth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, particularly the following excerpt:
On peut souhaiter, là où c’est possible, si des communautés en font la demande, une harmonisation des calendriers liturgiques. On doit étudier les voies vers une convergence des lectionnaires.
[It may be hoped, where this is possible, and if communities request it, to harmonise the liturgical calendars. The paths towards a convergence of the lectionaries must be studied.]
Here at NLM, Gregory DiPippo penned an excellent article in response to and in dialogue with other people’s thought and considerations, notably Fr Raymond de Souza in the Catholic Herald (whose follow-up article can be found here). Gregory’s observation—and, to be fair, he is by no means the only one to observe this!—that the integration of one lectionary into the other form is simply impossible without irreparable damage is, in my opinion, quite correct. So, if some sort of “convergence” of the two lectionaries is to happen, it cannot be on done on this basis. [1] A comprehensive examination of their strengths and shortcomings is required—and, for the Ordinary Form lectionary in particular, this will involve a detailed critique of the rationale and work of Group 11 of the Consilium.

However, another important part of this study is the following question: what sort of reform did the Council Fathers and the periti envisage? Looking at the liturgy constitution in itself, it would seem difficult to answer this question. On the one hand, “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23); on the other hand, the stated desire for some sort of multi-year cycle of readings in SC 51 is an innovation without precedent in the liturgical tradition.

So, in this short series, I hope to provide some of the background material necessary for a deeper examination of this question—not just from the Second Vatican Council itself, but also from the preparatory work done before the Council.

Pope John XXIII, with the Antepreparatory Commission, 30 June 1960 (from ADA I) 
Shortly after the Antepreparatory Commission for the Second Vatican Council was established in May 1959, its President, Domenico Cardinal Tardini, sent a letter to all those entitled to attend the upcoming Council, asking them to submit their views on it and what, in their opinion, ought to be discussed at it. The original deadline for these submissions was September of that same year, but it ended up being extended to the end of April, 1960. These responses, known as vota, were published sub secreto as part of the Acta et Documenta Concilio Oecumenico Vaticano II Apparando, some of which I have already made freely available at NLM. There were over 2,100 vota in total, published in eight large volumes: some vota were very terse and said very little, while others were far more in-depth and wide-ranging.

The Antepreparatory Commission then organised this mass of information into 9,348 brief propositions, organised by subject and contained in two more manageable volumes, called the Analyticus conspectus (also freely available here). Attached to each proposition are the names of each diocese or religious order whose Bishop/Prelate/etc. mentioned something akin to the proposition in their vota, though these footnote lists are often not exhaustive. Sometimes the propositions are direct quotes of vota, and other times they are approximations; sometimes only one diocese/religious order is cited in the footnotes, and at other times the list is very long. [2]

With regards to the lectionary, the Analyticus conspectus (AC) has 43 propositions. The following PDF document collects these propositions together with the relevant portions of each vota:

Extracts from the Analyticus conspectus and Acta et Documenta regarding the Lectionary (PDF)

There are a number of interesting features about these vota, but I will make only three brief observations here.

First, it is worth noting that only around 70 vota in total are cited by the AC for these 43 propositions. If we count the other vota that mention the lectionary which are not cited in the AC, the total comes to around 125, or just under 5% of those entitled to attend the Council. It does not appear that the question of a possible reform of the lectionary was prominent in the minds of many of the Fathers.

Second, with regard to the question of a multi-year cycle, propositions 13-22 reference the vota that were asking for a three or four year cycle of readings, along with those that are less specific (plurium annorumcerto annorum cyclo, etc.). Over these 10 propositions, 20 vota are cited (19 individual, 1 group); if we are to include the vota not cited in this section of the AC, the total rises to 32 (33 if the submission from the Pontifical Salesian University is counted), and in these vota the possibility of a two-year cycle and five-year cycle are also mentioned. So, of the already rather small subset (5%) of the vota that mention lectionary reform, only a quarter of these (so 1.25% of the whole) suggest that a multi-year cycle of readings would be a good idea, and by no means is a three-year cycle unanimously considered the best way to implement this.

Finally, there is a heavy emphasis in the vota as a whole on the didactic element of the Mass of the Catechumens; any reform of the lectionary needs to make it easier to teach the faithful about Catholic doctrine and increase their knowledge of the Bible. The latreutic dimension of this part of the Mass is barely mentioned in the vota. [3] We will return to this observation as this series goes on; it will suffice for now to say that this ‘turn to the didactic’ is of a piece with the post-World War II liturgical movement’s suggestions for lectionary reform at the various liturgical congresses and conferences of the 1950s (particularly Maria Laach in 1951 and Lugano in 1953).

In conclusion, the evidence of the antepreparatory period would seem to suggest that there was no great desire on the part of the Fathers before the Council for a radical reform of the lectionary. Other issues, such as a limited use of vernacular languages, were far more pressing for them. The next part of this short series will look at the next stage in the work of the Council, the preparatory period. 


[1] Furthermore, in this author's opinion, it is an open question as to whether or not the specific, practical reforms mentioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium, such as the readings being intra praestitutum annorum spatium in SC 51 or the abolition of Prime in SC 89, should still be part of any potential future liturgical reform.

[2] For instance, the proposition “Error communismi damnetur” has nearly 220 vota referenced (see Analyticus conspectus I, 199-200).

[3] Peter Kwasniewski has critiqued the obscuring of the latreutic dimension of the Mass lections numerous times here at NLM and elsewhere: for example, “A Tale of Two Lectionaries: Qualitative versus Quantitative Measures” (NLM, 16 Jan 2017); chs. 2 and 8 of Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico Press, 2015); and, most recently, ch. 8 of Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages (Angelico Press, 2017).

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