Sunday, March 06, 2022

The Unfunded Mandate

Several years ago, in a discussion in one forum or another, I read a very wise comment to this effect: “Sacrosanctum Concilium was an unfunded mandate for more and better sung Masses.” (If you are the person who said this, and happen to read this, make yourself known in the combox.) Shortly thereafter, I happened to attend a Mass on the first Sunday of Lent which bore home to me the truth of this observation, which can be applied to more than one aspect of the post-Conciliar rite, not just the music.
It was celebrated early in the morning in a church which is one of Italy’s greatest artistic glories. The priest wore a nice traditional-style vestment, and followed the rubrics; his preaching was solid, and not just orthodox, but actually worth listening to. There was no singing, with one exception.
In Italy, the sixth mode Paschal Alleluia is sung at almost every Mass through the length and breadth of the peninsula every day outside of Lent (and sometimes, through carelessness, on the first few days of Lent as well.) In Lent, depending on how quickly they remember, it is usually replaced by this piece of dreariness. (“Praise and honor to you, Lord Jesus.”)
And so the reader, having finished the Epistle, howled this out by himself, then read the verse, and sang “Lode e onore…” again.
I lay aside the absurdity of a read Mass with ONE sung, or rather, partially sung feature. This is the result of insisting on popular participation, shallowly defined as “noise coming out of the people’s mouths”, to the despite of all other considerations. It is also the result of insisting that it must happen immediately, and that, as long as noises are coming out of mouths, nothing else need be done to bring the people to a greater and deeper appreciation of the true riches of their liturgical patrimony. Since the Tract is not a medium that lends itself to popular participation, in the bin it goes, but in the chaos and haste with which the post-Conciliar reform was created, almost no consideration was given to whether it was being replaced with something worth participating in. And unsurprisingly, the congregation at this Mass stood, but did not sing along. This has nothing to do with any aspect of what the fathers at Vatican II asked for in Sacrosanctum Concilium, but is now the norm in Italy, not the exception, and frankly, in most places.
To be fair, the bishops who signed that document had no reason to believe that in the so-called implementation of it, the Holy See would cast the prudence of so many centuries to the wind, and disregard all of the Church’s previous legislation which aimed at protecting the tradition of sacred music. Nevertheless, we now see how little provision was made even within the document itself to guarantee that what it asked for would actually happen. And we see the results.
The priest then preached, from notes, on the Gospel of the Temptation of Christ, Matthew 4, 1-11. This was not the Gospel that he had read, since it was year B of the three-year Sunday lectionary cycle, and he had read St Mark’s much more succinct account (1, 12-15.) It occurred to me at the moment that this was another example of an “unfunded mandate.” Sacrosanctum Concilium asked for the corpus of Scriptural readings at Mass to be broadened, but in very unspecific terms. It also said described such broadening as a “restoration”, which ad litteram means the return to an earlier custom of the Roman Rite. It does not even remotely suggest what actually happened, namely, that the historical tradition be thrown in the bin along with the Tracts, and replaced with such a Sisyphean boulder of a lectionary as we have now, which is simply much too big and too varied.
The Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent, Matthew 4, 1-11, in a lectionary of the last quarter of the 9th century. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 9453
The post-Conciliar reform presents preachers with literally thousands of texts that had never been part of the Roman Rite, and as a result, they have no tradition to work from in preparing their sermons. Is it any wonder that this good priest just preached from his notes, as if there were still only one Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent and not three?
This Mass was a long time ago, and for the years that have passed since then, there has been a .txt document in my “ideas for articles” folder with nothing more than a title. What inspired me to finally turn it into an article was something which the preacher said at the Mass I attended today, that people generally need to be reminded more than they need to be taught. This is the wisdom behind the one-year lectionary cycle (a universal custom of all historical Christian rites before 1969), and the annual recurrence of the same Tract on First Lent, the same Epistle on the feast of St Thomas, etc.: a liturgical tradition in which we can live, rather than a classroom we visit. And this in turn reminded me of another piece of wisdom said to me even longer ago, by a confrere of today’s homilist, that the post-Conciliar rite is extremely didactic, but not very pedagogical.

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