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The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. | Part 2 | Part 1
Pope John Paul II Addresses the Bishops
So, that is what the Council actually said. I've been saying this now
for several years. Because I've been saying it and other things, Archbishop
Weakland has called me a "papal maximalist," but a year and a few months
ago I was with him at an all-day meeting in Chicago on the liturgy. It
was a very congenial meeting, actually; there were eight or nine of us
there. And towards the end, they were discussing a document, the Pope's
address to the bishops of the Northwest in 1998. Remember, in 1998 all
the bishops of the United States went to Rome for their Ad Limina
visit. For one whole year, as each group of bishops came, the Holy Father
spoke to them on how to interpret the Second Vatican Council in a way
that will lead us into the Third Millennium.
It happened that when the bishops from the Northwest came – from Alaska,
Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho - the Holy Father spoke on the liturgy.
Archbishop Weakland and others were not particularly happy with what the
pope said. And so I took the occasion in the afternoon to say to Archbishop
Weakland, "You know, Archbishop you've publicly called me a papal maximalist.
You published an article in America magazine in which you used that title
for me. But you know, I can't help it. The Pope keeps agreeing with me."
Here's what the Pope said to the bishops of the Northwestern United States:
"The two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of the Savior is a call to
all Christ's followers to seek a genuine conversion to God and a great
advance to holiness. Since the Liturgy is such a central part of the Christian
life, I wish today to consider some aspects of the liturgical renewal
so vigorously promoted by the Second Vatican Council, as the prime agent
of the wider renewal of Catholic life." So, the Council itself wanted
to renew Catholic life. And within that, it wanted to renew the liturgy.
The Pope is saying here that as we look toward the year 2000, we must
go back and see what the Council wanted for liturgical renewal, because
that is the prime agent of the wider renewal of Catholic life.
He continues: "To look back over what has been done in the field of liturgical
renewal since the Council is first to see many reasons for giving heartfelt
thanks and praise to the Most Holy Trinity for the marvelous awareness
which had developed among the faithful of their role and responsibility
in the priestly work of Christ and his Church. It is also to realize that
not all changes have always and everywhere been accompanied by the necessary
explanation and catechesis. As a result, in some cases there has been
a misunderstanding of the very nature of the Liturgy, leading to abuses,
polarization, sometimes even grave scandal."
The Pope generally speaks diplomatically, especially to bishops. These
are pretty hard words, and this is the introduction, so obviously he's
going to give some guidelines for avoiding this polarization, this grave
scandal and these abuses. He says, "After the experience of more than
thirty years of liturgical renewal we are well placed to assess both the
strengths and weaknesses of what has been done . . ." (listen carefully
now)" . . . in order more confidently to plot our course into the future,
which God has in mind for His cherished people." The Pope, here, speaks
to our bishops, looking toward the new millennium and says, in effect,
Here is what I think is the plan God has for all of his people as we
move to the next millennium. And, specifically, here is the liturgical
blueprint that, I, the Holy Father, believe we are to follow.
"The challenge now," he continues, "is to move beyond whatever misunderstandings
there have been and to reach the proper point of balance, especially by
entering more deeply into the contemplative dimension of worship, which
includes a sense of awe, reverence and adoration which are fundamental
attitudes in our relationship with God."
What does the Pope say we must do to restore balance? Enter more deeply
into the contemplative dimension of worship. Can you contemplate when
you've got drummers up in the sanctuary? Where do we find the sense of
awe? Not in this "chatty" stuff at Mass: "Good morning, everybody."
Does that inspire a sense of awe? "Have a nice day." The Pope mentions
reverence and adoration. Standing is a sign of respect; but kneeling is
a sign of adoration. The Pope says we must restore the sense of adoration.
The Pope says to the liturgists and the bishops, "The Eucharist gathers
and builds the human community, but it is also ‘the worship of the Divine
Majesty'." That's from Sacrosanctum Concilium, paragraph 33. He
continues: "It is subjective in that it depends radically upon what the
worshippers bring to it, but it is objective in that it transcends them
as the priestly act of Christ himself to which he associates us, but which
ultimately does not depend upon us."
This is why it's so important that liturgical law be respected: an objective
act is taking place. "The priest, who is the servant of the liturgy and
not its inventor or producer, has a particular responsibility in this
regard, lest he empty the liturgy of its true meaning or obscure its sacred
character," says the Holy Father.
Then he talks about "The core of the mystery of Christian worship." Is
the core of the mystery of Christian worship a sense that we are the people
of God? Is it feeling united with each other? Spiritual bonding? Not according
to the Pope, who says, "The core of the mystery of Christian worship is
the Sacrifice of Christ offered to the Father and the work of the Risen
Christ who sanctifies his people through the liturgical sign." The sacrifice
of Christ, sanctification. That's what the Pope says. Remember, he's looking
now to lead the Church in the new millennium liturgically. He continues:
"It is, therefore, essential that in seeking to enter more deeply into
the contemplative depths of worship, the inexhaustible mystery of the
priesthood of Jesus Christ be fully acknowledged and respected."
There is a movement to refer to the celebrant as the "presider," instead
of the "celebrant" or the "priest." Now it's true, he is a presider. But
that's an abstraction; and I think there's an agenda behind the abstraction.
You see, all the Sacraments need someone who presides: at Confirmation,
at the Eucharist, at Confession - and at Baptism. And who can preside
at Baptism? The priest is the ordinary minister and presider, but under
certain unusual circumstances a layman - man or woman - and even a non-Catholic
can preside at Baptism. And, so, I believe some people want to get us
in the habit of thinking of the priest as a presider primarily because
that's an abstract term, which could include women.
What does the Pope say about the matter? "The priest, therefore, is not
just one who presides, but one who acts in the person of Christ." You
see, only the priest can act in persona Christi capitis, in the
name of the Bridegroom (Jesus) over against the Bride (the Church) in
the nuptial act, which is the Mass.
Full, Conscious and Active Participation
The Holy Father next discusses three attributes of the liturgy: full,
conscious and active participation. Remember that I began by reading paragraph
14 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which states that the purpose of the Council
in renewing the liturgy was to achieve full, conscious, active participation?
Well, those words can have different meanings. It is very interesting
to find out what the Pope thinks they mean, as he tells us what he believes
God is calling the Church to do in the liturgy in the new millennium.
First, he talks about the fullness of participation. "The sharing of all
the baptized in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ is the key to understanding
the Church's call for full, conscious and active participation. Full participation
certainly means that every member of the community has a part to play
in the liturgy. And in this respect, a great deal has been achieved in
parishes and communities across your land. But, full participation does
not mean that everyone does everything. Since this would lead to a clericalizing
of the laity and a laicizing of the priesthood, and this was not what
the Council had in mind."
What does he mean by "clericalizing the laity"? It's the idea that, for
example, the lector, the server at the altar, or the cross-bearer participates
more actively than the mother with her child in the back of church. It's
the idea that being more like the priest in the sanctuary somehow makes
you participate more fully. But the Pope says no to that idea. No, the
"clericalizing of the laity" and the "laicizing of the clergy," whereby
the priest doesn't do priestly things but sits while lay people are distributing
the Eucharist, are not what the Council had in mind, says the Pope.
"The liturgy, like the Church, is intended to be hierarchical and polyphonic,"
he says. Not concentric and egalitarian, but hierarchical and polyphonic:
"Respecting the different roles assigned by Christ and allowing all the
different voices to blend in one great hymn of praise." I'm not saying
there shouldn't be lectors and acolytes, and so on. There should be. But
the point is, it's not how close you get to the altar that determines
how fully you participate. If that were the case, then those who aren't
ministers of some sort at Mass would be second-class participants. That's
not what the Council meant, says the Pope, by full participation.
Then the Pope comes to active participation. "Active participation certainly
means that in gesture, word, song, and service all the members of the
community take part in an active worship, which is anything but inert
or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity
of silence, stillness, and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers
are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily
or following the prayers of the celebrant and the chants in music of the
Liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are
in their own way, profoundly active. In a culture that neither favors
nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned
only with difficulty. Here we see the liturgy, though it must always be
properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural."
Especially in our noisy world, we need to have silence. Especially in
our world where it is hard to pray, we need to have contemplative adoration.
In a world that doesn't respect the liturgical cycles and seasons, we
need to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on a Thursday, not on a Sunday.
Precisely because we have to be counter-cultural, we need to say there's
something more important than the workday. It's our feast day.
Finally, the Holy Father discusses conscious participation. He says, "Conscious
participation calls for the entire community to be properly instructed
in the mysteries of the liturgy" - the Council's main instruction - "lest
the experience of worship degenerate into a form of ritualism. But it
does not mean a constant attempt within the liturgy itself to make the
implicit explicit, since this often leads to verbosity and informality
which are alien to the Roman Rite and end by trivializing the act of worship."
Conscious participation, then, is not a multiplication of commentators
telling us what's happening as the Mass goes along; it's not laid back
informality and the trivializing of the liturgy. That's why I think it
may seem like a small thing, but it's a very bad to begin a liturgy by
saying, "Good morning, everyone." That's not how you begin a sacred
liturgy. You begin a sacred liturgy, "In the Name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," or better yet, "In nomine
Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti."
The Holy Father continues: "Nor does conscious participation mean the
suppression of all subconscious experience, which is vital in a liturgy
which thrives on symbols that speak to the subconscious, just as they
speak to the conscious. The use of the vernacular has certainly opened
up the treasures of the liturgy to all who take part." There is, then,
a positive value to the vernacular. "But," the Holy Father continues,
"this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially, the Chants
which are so superbly adapted to the genius of the Roman rite, should
be wholly abandoned."
What, then, does the Pope say about full, conscious, active participation?
That it should be hierarchical, that there should be quiet, and worship
in awe and reverence, and that there should be a place for Latin and,
certainly for Chant in the liturgy. I submit to you that in most parishes
across this country that's not what you habitually find at the ordinary
Masses for the people. Thus, although the Pope doesn't say it in so many
words, he is of the opinion that the way Mass is currently celebrated
doesn't conform fully to the mandates of the Council, as intended by the
Church for the next century.
We have now two extremes and a moderate position. One extreme position
is the kind of informal Mass, all in English, facing the people, with
contemporary music, which does not at all correspond with what the Council
had in mind. But it is legitimate, it is permitted; it is not wrong. And
we have on the other extreme those who have returned, with permission,
to the Mass of 1962 and, as others have noted, it is thriving and growing.
But it is not what the Council itself specifically had in mind, although
it is the Mass of the ages.
Then you have the moderates. Those in the middle. Me and a few others.
But I am going to insist on my right as a Catholic and as priest to celebrate
the liturgy according to the Council, according to the presently approved
liturgical books, to celebrate a form of the Mass that therefore needs
no special permission-and which in fact cannot be prohibited-what I've
called "the Mass of Vatican II."
This essay appeared in the September/October 2000 issue of Catholic
Dossier and is based on a lecture on the liturgy given by Father Fessio
in May, 1999.
U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer
| Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Music and Liturgy | From The Spirit of the Liturgy
| Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer |
From The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the
Rite and Liturgy
| Denis Crouan, STD
Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
The Mass of Vatican
II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
and Conversion | Barbara Morgan
The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, STL
Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
Adoration: Reviving An Ancient Tradition | Valerie Schmalz
Fr. Joseph D. Fessio, S.J. is the founder of Ignatius Press.
He entered the Jesuit Novitiate in 1961 and was ordained a priest in 1972.
He completed his undergraduate work in philosophy at Gonzaga University
in 1966 and earned two Masters degrees (philosophy, theology) from
the same institution. He received a Doctorate in Theology in 1975 University
of Regensburg, West Germany, where his thesis director was Fr.
Joseph Ratzinger. Fr. Fessios thesis was on the ecclesiology
of Hans Urs von Balthasar.
Fr. Fessio taught philosophy at Gonzaga and the University of Santa Clara,
California and theology at the University of San Francisco before founding
the Saint Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco in 1976.
Two years later he founded Ignatius Press. He is now Provost of Ave Maria University in Florida
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