Thursday, December 07, 2023

Sacrosanctum Concilium at 60: Still Dead and Buried

As we all remember, just a few short days ago we had the grand celebrations of the sixtieth anniversary of the promulgation of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (4 December 1963), the magna carta of the liturgical reforms that followed the Council, and that faithfully implemented its provisions.

Or, at least, this is what could have happened, if things had turned out differently. The reality is that this anniversary has gone by almost completely unnoticed: nothing from the Vatican (unless one speaks Albanian!), very little mention from bishops (apart from the Irish), and even liturgists do not seem to have been all that bothered. An exception is provided by Mr Paul Inwood, but even he does not actually seem all that enthusiastic about this anniversary!
Contrary to this general all-round apathy (and not forgetting the contribution of NLM's editor or of Dr Kwasniewski!) is an article by Dom Alcuin Reid, in which he states that:
[I]t has to be said frankly that Sacrosanctum Concilium does not celebrate its sixtieth birthday as tranquilly as we might ourselves hope to do, for the shocking fact is that it has been battered, beaten and abused for decades since its infancy. Sixty sees it staggering across the line without, frankly, much hope of lasting very much longer—despite the ingenious and valiant attempts throughout the different stages of its life of popes, prelates and scholars to prop it up, heal its wounds and get it back on its feet.
Why is this? He goes on to explain:
Putting it quite bluntly, Sacrosanctum Concilium was like a newborn child left out in the cold and ignored whilst people stole its authority to advance their own liturgical agendas… 
Sacrosanctum Concilium had been systematically and thoroughly abused—and the Council made to look foolish—by an adeptly orchestrated Consilium intent on its own modernising liturgical agenda, which had the good fortune of having a pope who would authoritatively sign off its proposals.
Preliminary results of liturgical formation in the Novus Ordo,
June 1971, "Hofheimer Mess-Festival", Germany
This abuse of the Council’s liturgical constitution necessarily came alongside a rewriting of liturgical history, in which certain features of the reformed Roman Rite – supposedly “recovered” through ressourcement – were deemed to be “more traditional” when compared to the usus antiquior. This rewriting of history continues today and, post-Traditionis custodes, is perhaps more prevalent now than it has been for some time. For instance, in a rather poor attempt at satire a few weeks ago, one particular website provided “A brief critical study of the Novus Ordo Missae (1570) by a group of Roman theologians”. The article itself is risible, and a thorough critique by Dr Peter Kwasniewski can be found here, but one part stood out to me in particular (emphasis mine):
The changes we have recalled so far, though disadvantageous, are not necessarily harmful to the faithful. Not so, however, the Offertory Rite. If any part of the Roman rite needed reform, it was surely this. The peculiarity of offering the “unspotted host,” which is still bread, is of course done in anticipation of what it will become, and is perfectly orthodox in context. Nevertheless, in the light of the claim of the Protestants that the elements of bread and wine are not changed, it would be easy for the unlearned to be scandalised… It seems to us that the revisers of the missal might have delved into the treasury of liturgical tradition to suggest some better worded formulae.
The claim here is that the offertory of the traditional Roman Rite is potentially “harmful to the faithful” and that the post-Tridentine reform should “have delved into the treasury of liturgical tradition” for “better worded formulae.” The subtext is that this is precisely what the post-Vatican II Missal does in its reformed offertory texts: the usus recentior is thus more “traditional” and perhaps even theologically superior to the usus antiquior in this regard. Still, for satire to work, it needs at least some basis in reality – and in this case, such a basis is entirely lacking, historically and theologically. How so?
Well, Coetus X of the Consilium ad exsequendam were responsible for the reform of the Order of Mass, and like the failed ‘satirist’ above, they were quite open about their opinion that the traditional offertory prayers were too “anticipatory” of the Canon and needed changing. Indeed, this is expressed very early on in their work, in June 1964:
Everything, therefore, that prefigures the appearance of the oblation of the Body and Blood of Christ and in some way anticipates the manner of speaking proper to the Canon of the Mass must be removed or changed. [1] 
This was done so that “what the offertory really means may be expressed more clearly and be more easily perceived by the Christian people.” [2] However, by May 1966 they had ran into unexpected difficulties with regard to this:
We have tried to achieve this end in various ways, either by adapting the Ambrosian and Dominican rites, or by using oratio super oblata formularies taken from the [ancient] sacramentaries, or by drawing up new texts to accompany the rites. It does not seem sufficient simply to lay down the bread and the chalice without reciting any text and only reciting the super oblata prayer, as was done in antiquity. But it was very difficult to find texts which did not anticipate either the super oblata prayer or the Canon of the Mass. [3]
It is almost as if this anticipatory and proleptic nature of the offertory prayers is part of the “treasury of liturgical tradition,” in both East and West, going all the way back to the earliest extant manuscripts we have. Fancy that! Who could have foreseen this? But, of course, this did not mean that the Consilium rethought their working assumptions and ideological viewpoints about the ritual texts of the offertory. They just proceeded to make up entirely new prayers that were in line with what they thought the liturgical tradition ought to have been, rather than what it actually is. Scholars and liturgists often seem to think that: 
the “authentic” and “original” liturgy is to be found in reconstructions of what scholars believed, or wanted to believe, things must have been like before the period from which we have our earliest sources. [link]
A scholarly "reconstruction" of "Piltdown Man", ultimately based on
a hoax combination of human, chimpanzee and orangutan bones
And as if they were trying their best to demonstrate this, for their reformed offertory Coetus X started with adapting a text from chapter 9 of the Didache and Proverbs 9:1-2 – with changes and omissions they considered ‘suitable’: 
Schema 170
Sicut hic panis erat dispersus et collectus factus est unus,
ita colligatur Ecclesia tua in regnum tuum.
Gloria tibi, Deus, in saecula.
[As this bread was scattered and, having been gathered, is now one,
so may your Church be gathered into your kingdom.
Glory to you, O God, for ever.]
Didache, ch. 9
Sicut hic panis erat super montes, et collectus factus est unus, ita colligatur Ecclesia tua a finibus terrae in regnum tuum.
[As this bread was scattered upon the mountain tops and, having been gathered, is now one, so may your Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.] 
Schema 170
Sapientia aedificavit sibi domum,
miscuit vinum et posuit mensam.
Gloria tibi, Deus, in saecula. [4]
[Wisdom has built herself a house;
she has mixed her wine and set her table.
Glory to you, O God, for ever.]
Proverbs 9:1-2
Sapientia ædificavit sibi domum:
excidit columnas septem.
Immolavit victimas suas,
miscuit vinum,
et proposuit mensam suam
[Wisdom has built herself a house;
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has immolated her victims,
mixed her wine,
and has also set her table.]
By March 1968, these prayers had been changed for those used today in the Novus Ordo (“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation…”)—but without the phrase “we offer you.” Coetus X explained these revised prayers as follows: 
In these new formulas various elements may be seen as organically composed: the bounty of God, from whom all gifts come; the work of the earth, which yields fruit in its season; the industry and labour of men; the holy Eucharist, for the preparation of which these gifts are offered. No element is contained that might possibly be falsely understood: either as ‘a sacrifice of bread and wine,’ or as an anticipated offering of the body and blood of Christ, or as a consecratory epiclesis. [5]
Notably, at this point, Paul VI had to step in and effectively force Coetus X to insert quem/quod tibi offerimus to these new formularies. [6] It perhaps should also be noted that no sources are given for these newly-composed prayers: their Jewish berakah background, often cited, [7] is not actually mentioned by the group. But all this is more incidental to my main point, which is that far from being rooted in the liturgical tradition of the Church, whether East or West, the revision of the offertory – or, rather, its changing into the “Preparation of the Gifts” (Præparatio donorum: see GIRM 33, 43, 72-77, 214) – is a thoroughly modern, rationalist innovation, one that goes against Sacrosanctum Concilium 23: “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.” 
The idea of Coetus X and others that everything that anticipates the Eucharistic Prayer “must be removed or changed” finds no basis in the liturgical tradition, which prominently and frequently features prolepsis and anticipatory language. And although the group wanted their ideology to be adopted by the other working groups of the Consilium, [8] this did not happen – indeed, unless one were to completely rewrite many of the super oblata prayers, it could not have happened! For example, on the most solemn day in the liturgical calendar, Easter Sunday, the following super oblata is prayed in the Novus Ordo, where one will note that the word “offer” is in the present tense:
Exultant with paschal gladness, O Lord,
we offer [offerimus] the sacrifice
by which your Church
is wondrously reborn and nourished.
Battered, beaten, distorted, little-read, unloved... still relevant?
At the conclusion of his recent article, Dom Alcuin Reid states that:
Are we to celebrate Sacrosanctum Concilium’s 60th birthday? That hardly seems possible. It is surely a moment for sombre recollection—of remembrance of its noble aims and sound principles, certainly, but also of realistic recognition of the abuse and distortion and banishment it has suffered since its infancy at the hands of those who were charged faithfully to implement it.
The ink was barely dry on the signatures of the Council Fathers before the reformers cast aside the liturgical constitution in favour of their own ideologies and pet theories for ‘reform.’ And today, Sacrosanctum Concilium arguably remains as dead and buried as it was a few short years after its promulgation. As Gregory DiPippo has said:
Sacrosanctum Concilium begins with a statement of what the Council hoped to achieve: “This sacred Council… desires to impart an ever-increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church.” None of this has happened. The Christian life of the faithful has not become more vigorous; its institutions have not become more suitably adapted to the needs of our times; union has not been fostered among all who believe in Christ; the call of the whole of mankind into the household of the Church has not been strengthened…
[T]he gardeners are not always correct in discerning which plants are flourishing and which are not. We can only continue to pretend for so long that the recent ones have made a good job of it, or that the garden in its current condition is anywhere near as beautiful or fruitful as it used to be. For the time being, the current chief gardener is busy with a sad and doomed attempt to make the new plants flourish by yelling at the remaining old plants. The day will come, however, later than we hope, but sooner than we realise, when another chief gardener will have the honesty to say, “I don’t care who put these here or why. They are not growing properly at all. I hear there used to be some other plants that grew quite well in this soil…”
It seems inevitable that, at some point in the future (God willing), the colossal legislative mistake that is Traditionis custodes will be abrogated, and questions about a “reform of the reform” will no longer be completely verboten. But at that point – the seventieth anniversary? eightieth? – perhaps it may be time for the Latin Church to consider whether or not to exhume Sacrosanctum Concilium and attempt to stich back together and reanimate its corpse, or to leave its remains discreetly buried with the little dignity they still possess and quietly return in large part to her traditional liturgical praxis.

[1] Schema 16 (De Missali, 2), 17 June 1964, p. 7: Tollenda ergo vel mutanda sunt omnia quae speciem oblationis Corporis et Sanguinis Christi prae se ferunt et modum loquendi Canoni missae proprium quodammodo anticipiant.
[2] Ibid., pp. 6-7: Omnibus rei liturgicae peritis constat preces et ritus offertorii plus aliis recognitione indigere, ut id, quod offertorium revera significat, clarius exprimantet a populo christiano facile percipiantur (cfr. [Sacrosanctum Concilium] art. 21, 2).
[3] Schema 170 (De Missali, 23), 24 May 1966, p. 11: Variis modis conati sumus ad hunc finem pervenire, sive adaptando ritum ambrosianum et dominicanum, sive adhibendo formulas orationis super oblata e Sacramentariis desumptas, sive exarando novos textus, qui ritus comitentur. Non sufficere videtur simplex depositio panis et calicis sine ullo textu recitando, oratione super oblata tantum subsequente, sicut agebatur in antiquitate. Sed difficillimum erat invenire textus, qui nec orationem super oblata, nec Canonem Missae anticiparent.
[4] This text is also one of the antiphons for Corpus Christi (Ant. 1, Lauds) in the Breviarium Romanum, but, of course, the function of an antiphon is different from that of an offertory prayer!
[5] Schema 281 (De Missali, 47), Addendum I, 23 April 1968, p. 5: In his novis formulis varia elementa organice composita videntur: largitas Dei, a quo omnia dona perveniunt; opus terrae, quae fructum praebet suo tempore; industria ac labor hominum; sacra Eucharistia, ad quam praeparandam haec dona afferuntur. Nullum elementum continet quod forte false intelligi possit: vel tamquam "sacrificium panis et vini"; vel tamquam oblatio corporis et sanguinis Christi anticipata; vel tamquam epiclesis consecratoria.
[6] Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990), p. 371, fn. 37: “In the schema, which was then submitted for study to the prefects of the curial agencies and to the Holy Father, the phrase “which we offer to you” (quem/quod tibi offerimus) was lacking. The Pope was the one who added it.”
[7] See, for example, Michael Witczak, “The Sacramentary of Paul VI,” in Anscar J. Chupungco (ed.) Handbook for Liturgical Studies. Volume III: The Eucharist (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999), pp. 133-175, at p. 153: “The Consilium had proposed a rite in which the basic action was simple and clear: preparing the altar and placing the gifts upon it with prayer. The new prayers, beautiful adaptations of the Jewish berakah, complicate the action somewhat. The texts proposed in the experimental liturgy spoke of unity and preparation; the new texts praise God for creation and for giving us bread and wine to offer, a return, obliquely, to the language of offering that was so dominant in the former Missal of 1570.”
[8] See Schema 16, p. 7: “The discussion about the application of these principles in each coetus continued in both the first and second sessions, but the members felt that the matter still needed a longer discussion, to be resumed in the third session” (Horum de principiorum applicatione ad singula coetus et in prima et in secunda sessione disceptationem protraxit, tamen sodalibus visum est rem longiore adhuc indigere deliberatione in tertia sessione iterum resumenda).

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