Monday, May 27, 2024

The Lie That Was Told to Over 2,000 Council Fathers at Vatican II

One of the most debated questions at the Second Vatican Council was the language in which the Mass and other rites would be celebrated for Western (aka Latin) Catholics. Everyone who was at the Council testified that there was a battle royale over this topic; there’s no one who disputes that fact. I have collected abundant testimonials in two articles here at NLM:

The majority opinion was certainly against total vernacularization; when someone said that Latin was in danger of disappearing, everyone burst out laughing. In all of the drafts of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the normativity of Latin was always stressed: that’s how we ended up with SC 36:
1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. 2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.
Some Council Fathers were worried about the loopholes. But the relator, that is, the rapporteur tasked with speaking to the assembly on behalf of the committee working on the document, reassured them that total vernacularization was out of the question.

Here is where the research of Fr. Gabriel Díaz-Patri is invaluable. In his essay “Cristina Campo and the Petition of 1966” (chapter 9 in the immensely fascinating book The Latin Mass and the Intellectuals: Petitions to Save the Ancient Mass from 1966 to 2007 edited by Joseph Shaw and published by Arouca Press towards the end of last year), Fr. Díaz-Patri pulls together the relevant passages buried in the gigantic tomes of the acts of Vatican II. [1]
Fr. Díaz-Patri writes (pp. 114–18):

« The Council, which, in fact, was still in session [when Inter Oecumenici appeared in 1964], had clearly decided on the preservation of the Latin language for the liturgy of the Latin rites. Indeed, from the very beginning the normative place of Latin in the liturgy was reiterated in no. 24 of the Schema (the official draft of the Constitution), which received the approval of the Council and became article 36 §1 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The expression is clear: “Linguae latinae usus . . . in Ritibus latinis servetur” (“the use of the Latin language in the Latin rites must be preserved”). The subjunctive “servetur” clearly expresses a command, and not a mere recommendation.

The Acta synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani Secundi, where the minutes of all the discussions that took place in the conciliar hall are officially transcribed, records that some of the Council Fathers suggested changes in the wording to weaken the principle, but their proposals were defeated. The clarity of the principle is confirmed both by the later commentary of Fr. Carlo Braga, and by the official rapporteur, Bishop Jesus Enciso Viana of Mallorca, whose task was to clarify for the Council Fathers the meaning of the texts, who stated in a later debate: “To completely exclude the Latin language from the Mass would contradict the principle already established [by the Council] in Article 36.”

Nevertheless, the Constitution then goes on to state that “since it is not unusual for the use of the vernacular language to be very useful to the people,” it may be given an appropriate place.

There are important nuances in this text that are worth considering with the help of the Acta Synodalia. The initial schema stated categorically “amplior locus ipsi in liturgia tribuatur” (“a wider place must be given”) [no. 24 §2] to the vernacular, but, contrary to what happened in the previous case, this time the Council decided to correct the subjunctive of the expression that had originally been proposed by the drafters, replacing it with the more moderate form “amplior locus ipsi tribui valeat” (“a wider place may be given”), which was approved by the Council Fathers as paragraph §2 of art. 36 of the Conciliar Constitution.

A little further on, in a parallel context, the same procedure was followed with the subjunctive of the expression “congruus locus tribuatur” (“a congruent place must be given,” sc. to the vernacular languages), proposed in that case by the drafters of the schema, which was changed by the Council to the weaker “congruus locus tribui possit” (“it may be given an appropriate place”), as we find in §54 of the document officially approved by the Council Fathers.

The incorporation of these modifications into the original schema was explained in the following way by the rapporteur in the Conciliar Hall so that the meaning of the points upon which they had to vote would be clear to participants.
We have wished to express it in such a way that those who wish to celebrate the whole Mass in the Latin language do not impose their opinion on the others; but that, in the same way, those who wish to use the vernacular in some parts of the Mass do not oblige the former to do so. [!] Therefore, according to what had already been established in no. 36, we have granted a suitable place for the vernacular languages; but we do not say “must be given,” but “may be given,” which we had already taken care to do in the aforementioned no. 36.
On the other hand, the above-mentioned term “congruus” used in no. 54 is not accidental either: if the conference of bishops decide to permit the use of the vernacular, the place and mode of application were to be clearly delimited: first, it is clear that the vernacular was to be used only in Masses with the people (“in Missis cum populo celebratis”), and secondly, the use of the vernacular language was to be limited to certain parts of the celebration, and these parts should be specifically enumerated in each case.

These parts could be, in principle (“imprimis”), the readings and admonitions (“in lectionibus, admonitionibus”), the “common prayer” or “prayer of the faithful” which had just been reincorporated into the Roman Mass, as well as some prayers and chants (“in nonnullis orationibus et cantibus”). In addition, when local conditions made it advisable (“pro condicione locorum”), this could also be extended to those parts of the Mass that pertain to the people (“etiam in partibus quae ad populum spectant”). However, the enumeration of various possibilities in no way implied a universal authorization whose application could be decided individually by the celebrant, but it was up to the competent territorial authority (and, if applicable, after having heard the opinion of the bishops of neighboring regions speaking the same language) to establish, first of all, whether the vernacular language would be allowed or not, and if it was allowed, to what degree, after approval and confirmation by the Apostolic See.

On the other hand, the enumeration of the various possibilities for the use of the vernacular in the Instruction does not mean that all must be authorized; rather, it represents the limits within which the competent authority may authorize.

Fr. Braga also explains that, if we follow the Conciliar Constitution, the parts that are sung or said by the celebrant should be only in Latin. However, the same Constitution adds that if, in some place (“sicubi”), after careful and prudent consideration (“sedulo et prudenter”), it seems opportune to allow an even wider use of the vernacular to include also some of the parts (“aliquae ex his partibus”) said by the priest, an indult should be requested from the Holy See according to the norms given in no. 40. However, prayers recited in secret by the priest are always excluded [“semper excluduntur”]: these must be only in Latin.

When the language issue was discussed again, in the Congregatio Generalis XLIII, the rapporteur explained the proposed text:
We are therefore leaving open two doors: the door is not closed to anyone who wishes to celebrate the whole Mass in the Latin language; and the door is not closed to anyone to use the vernacular language in specific parts of the Mass.
In this way, the only door that was completely closed by the Council, according to the text approved and in light of this explanation given by the rapporteur, is that of being able to say the whole Mass in the vernacular. On the other hand, as the rapporteur points out, the only thing that is commanded in this article is to be found in a text added to the original schema by the Council Fathers, namely, that the faithful should be taught to say or sing in Latin the parts of the Mass that correspond to them. »
Print by Mathieu Lauweriks, 1935 (source)

Let us summarize in five points what SC teaches according to the official relator:

  1. Latin must be kept in the liturgy; this is not optional.
  2. A liturgy in Latin only will always be possible.
  3. The vernacular may be used, at the discretion of episcopal conferences and with the Holy See's approval.
  4. But the vernacular is to be used for only some portions of the liturgy, not for all.
  5. The people must be instructed in Latin Gregorian chant.

Thus, at a busy urban parish in England or the USA one might envision a Sunday schedule something like this (not that I'm recommending it, but merely envisioning what might follow from the foregoing norms):
  • two low Masses in Latin, one of them a dialogue Mass;
  • one low Mass with the changing parts in the vernacular;
  • a high Mass chanted in Latin by the choir trained on Ward Method;
  • a high Mass in Latin, with English hymns and readings.
That, I suggest, is the mental picture that most closely resembles what all the bishops and superiors of the Catholic Church voted in favor of. As Fr. Díaz-Patri shows, the Council Fathers were solemnly assured, prior to voting on the text, that its meaning could not be construed as endorsing or even allowing total vernacularization, and that the rights of Latin would be respected to such an extent that some part of the Mass would always remain in Latin, and the whole of it could remain in Latin for those who wished it. And Paul VI promulgated this document as thus presented.

In the meetings of the Central Preparatory Commission prior to the Council, Cardinal Montini gave a speech in which, after appealing to the other members of the CPC to broaden the use of the vernacular for certain parts of Mass, he then stated: “In the rest of the Mass, the Latin language will be kept, except perhaps for the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father), which is, as it were, the summit of public prayer, and is the best preparation of souls for Communion.” At the Council itself, Cardinal Montini stated even more clearly: “Especially when it comes to the language to be used in worship, the use of the ancient language handed down by our forefathers, namely, the Latin language, should for the Latin Church be firm and stable in those parts of the rite which are sacramental and properly and truly priestly.

All the while, the main advocates of liturgical reform—and their leader, Cardinal Montini, with his new friend Annibale Bugnini, whom he quickly sized up as the right man for the job, as Yves Chiron narrates in his biographies of both figures—had no intention of honoring this stipulation. Msgr. Bugnini was an enemy of Latin liturgy all his life. Famously, in a 1969 response to Hubert Jedin who had lamented the damage to Church unity from the almost total disappearance of Latin, Bugnini showed his cards: “Do you believe there is a deep and heartfelt unity amid lack of understanding, ignorance, and the ‘dark of night’ of a worship that lacks a face and light, at least for those out in the nave?”

It would appear that many who worked with Bugnini to draft Sacrosanctum Concilium and later staffed the Consilium felt the same way. Yet they knew they could not ask for too much, too fast. This is why Bugnini said, in what is among his most notorious utterance (speaking to a small number of fellow SC drafters on November 11, 1961):

It would be most inconvenient for the articles of our Constitution to be rejected by the Central Commission or by the Council itself. That is why we must tread carefully and discreetly. Carefully, so that proposals be made in an acceptable manner (modo acceptabile), or, in my opinion, formulated in such a way that much is said without seeming to say anything: let many things be said in embryo (in nuce) and in this way let the door remain open to legitimate and possible postconciliar deductions and applications: let nothing be said that suggests excessive novelty and might invalidate all the rest, even what is straightforward and harmless (ingenua et innocentia). We must proceed discreetly. Not everything is to be asked or demanded from the Council—but the essentials, the fundamental principles [are].
Part of what he already had in mind here was total vernacularization, which he knew would have been massively voted down by the Council Fathers. So, we mustn't tell them that... we must utter some "fundamental principles"... and, if needed, grease the wheels with a few untruths... it wouldn't be the first time that one had to tell a noble lie for the good of the people...

After the Council, the moves toward this goal were rapid, as Fr. Díaz-Patri well documents in the aforementioned book. There was Inter Oecumenici of 1964; the first Italian Mass by none other than Paul VI in March of 1965; the Missa Normativa of 1967; the infamous papal general audiences of 1965 (March 17) and 1969 (November 19 and November 26), in which Paul VI bare farewell to Latin and Gregorian chant. [3]

If we step back and view this whole elaborate picture, what do we see?

Quite simply this. Montini, Bugnini, and all who belonged to their camp wanted to move away from Latin into the vernacular long before the Council. But they made sure to present to the Council a document sufficiently conservative and sufficiently vague to allow over 2,000 bishops to sign off on it—and, what is more, made sure everyone was given the false assurance that Latin would remain in place, even though their actions immediately after the Council make it abundantly clear they never had any intention of honoring these reassurances. Within a few short years, Latin was nearly entirely gone from the Church’s public worship—or rather, it had been actively excluded, banished.

How then can one attempt to justify this gigantic bait-and-switch?

Well, predictably, it is turned into pious hagiography, an unexpected victory of Divine Providence over minds as yet insufficiently enlightened at the Council. In the words of Cavadini, Healy, and Weinandy:

As we have seen, the Council Fathers desired that the Latin language be preserved, especially in the people’s responses, although they readily acknowledged that the vernacular was frequently advantageous to the people. What they did not anticipate was the enthusiasm with which the vernacular was accepted by clergy and laity alike. Bishops’ conferences around the world voted to expand the use of the vernacular and requested and received permission to do so from Rome….
        The vox populi had spoken and had been affirmed by the Church—vernacular it would be. This ecclesial affirmation undercuts one of the most common arguments against the Novus Ordo: that the wholesale adoption of the vernacular, and the reformed liturgy more broadly, is illegitimate because it went beyond what the Council intended. What this fails to note is that Church’s magisterium, in the persons of Paul VI and John Paul II, confirmed these developments, judging them to be authentic liturgical developments that were in accord with the aims of the Council, even if the Council had not explicitly called for them.
Given all that we have seen, this interpretation is the very height of tendentiousness. Such an approach, where the vox populi plus the papal rubberstamp equals “legitimate development,” is really no different from the move of progressives who say that “the Spirit” outstripped the limited mental faculties and theological categories of the Council Fathers and paved the way for outcomes that far exceeded their wildest dreams (or nightmares, as the case may be). In both cases, the past is left behind, buried beneath the rubble of its own deconstruction, and replaced with a “new Catholicism” that must sound different, look different, be different, than it was for every prior century of its existence. [4]

One cannot learn about a bait-and-switch of this magnitude without souring on the Council-as-event, the governance of Paul VI, the ideology of Bugnini, and the good faith of the entire Consilium. There is no room for a naively optimistic narrative. There was deviancy, plotting, mendacity, and betrayal. That is the milieu out of which the liturgical reform arose. As children bear the traits of their parents, so the reform bears the traits of its treacherous origins, and carries them forward with daily ruptures, like a garment torn inch by inch.

This is why I say in my books that the difficulties in the reform are not cosmetic but genetic: they have to do with the principles of its construction, design, and execution, not the superficially mutable aspects of its instantiation here or there. And this is why restoration, not reform, is the only path to a satisfactory and stable liturgical future for the Catholic Church.


[1] In the interests of space, I will leave out the extensive footnotes—a good reason to make sure you pick up a copy of this book, among the best books I read in the whole of 2023.

[2] For both quotations, and their Latin originals, see this article by Matthew Hazell.

[3] For the texts with commentary, see this lecture. These speeches are the reason why it is impossible to claim that "the Novus Ordo was meant to be done in Latin, with chant, but it was hijacked," etc. See this article.

[4] For a thorough refutation of the Cavadini, Healy, and Weinandy series, see the anthology Illusions of Reform.

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