Critiquing a rupturista


I've just read Fr John O'Malley's "What Happened at Vatican II", which argues for the hermeneutic of discontinuity in examining Vatican II. It is an interesting read, and is a good brief introduction to the process of the council. I did get from it a clearer sense of the working of the council than I have from other works about the council, the only one I can specifically remember having read being P. Marini's "A Challenging Reform". I think he has something to his point that the "style" of the documents are different from those of previous councils. (Though, I haven't actually read the other councils, except for Lateran IV.) I am prepared to accept that the documents (of which, again, I have read only a few) have a feel more of argument and persuasion compared to prior councils, which did more decreeing.

The Problem

But that's about as far as my agreement with the assessments of Fr O'Malley can go. One definitely gets the sense from him that this change in style is a good thing, about pwhich I am not so sure. He further argues for this style as being the "spirit" of Vatican II, which is hogwash. O'Malley's hermeneutic means that Vatican II can be used to justify anything that the proponent believes to be in the "spirit of Vatican II".

Here is the paragraph (found on pp 139-40) of the work that particularly incensed* me:
Right after the council Latin was retained in the central Eucharistic prayer, the so-called canon of the Mass, a measure in keeping with Sacrosanctum, but within a few years the Mass in its entirety was being celebrated in the vernacular worldwide. It had become increasingly obvious that the principles of intelligibility and active participation did not sit well with maintaining for such a meaningful part a language only priests understood. The decree thus contained within itself a dynamism that led to changes that were beyond some of its specific provisions but that were almost required by its most fundamental principles.
You can see in the last sentence how rupturistas look at Vatican II. Fr O'Malley appeals to the "dynamism" of the document to justify changes that contradicted the letter of the document. He does not explain just what is this "dynamism" of which he speaks. The relevant entry in the OED for dynamism is: "The mode of being of force or energy; operation of force. Now usu., energizing or dynamic action, energy, ‘drive’."

Now how does one find this in a document? What is the mode of being of force or energy of Sacrosanctum Concilium? What is the energizing or dynamic action of Sacrosanctum Concilium? What is the energy of Sacrosanctum Concilium? What is the 'drive' of Sacrosanctum Concilium?

Perhaps these are the thesis of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which we should expect to find in its opening paragraph. SC 1 says that it is "undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy", to the end of the council's desire to "impart an ever increasing vigor 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."

My other thought, the one which occurred to me on reading the offending paragraph in O'Malley, was that this dynamism was "fully conscious, and active participation". Bugnini certainly used this to justify his sweeping changes to the Mass.

Rather than choose between these options for SC's "dynamism", let us treat the second as part of the first; they go hand-in-hand and are not contradictory, so I don't see why we can't.

So Fr O'Malley is saying that the desire for intelligibility and full, conscious, and active participation as the fundamental principle of SC justified, almost required, a change which was among those which "were beyond" (read: contradicted) the text of SC. But SC does not say to celebrate the whole Mass in the vernacular to advance active participation. To advance this aim, what it says, with direct regard to the lay faithful, is that pastors need to instruct them (SC 14) and that texts and rites should be revised to more clearly show what they signify (SC 21). What it does not say is that the whole of Mass should be said in the vernacular.

Regarding the vernacular in Mass, what it does say is:

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.

3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.

4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

And wherever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of this Constitution is to be observed.

SC 36.1 is easily satisfied. As long as a strictly positive amount of Latin is used in the liturgy, this is satisfied. Even the Anglophone portion of my parish, which uses Latin only during Lent and only for the Kyrie (well, Greek) and Agnus Dei.

SC 36.2 however, seems to preclude the situation we are in, in which the vernacular effectively is used all the time for everything. Use of the vernacular for "some of the prayers and chants" cannot mean that it is permissible to use the vernacular for everything in the liturgy.

SC 54 is much the same as 36.2. It deals specifically with the Mass, and allows the vernacular for the readings, the common prayer, and the peoples' parts. The Canon is not the peoples' part. Anything the priest says is not the peoples' part. Reading the letter of SC, we can understand that the Canon in the vernacular is not in accordance with what is written in SC.

SC 54 goes on to say that the faithful ought to be able to say in Latin their parts of the Ordinary of the Mass. If Mass is said totally in the vernacular, we never have the opportunity to learn the ordinary in Latin. Randomly choose an American parish, interview 100 of the persons there after Mass, and I defy you to find one who can do what SC says they should be able to. I think I've only ever said the Credo once in Latin. And that was definitely not at my own parish. The current situation with regards to Latin is pitiful. If we don't use Latin at Mass, we won't be able to use Latin at Mass. That is where the use of the vernacular since Vatican II has gotten us.

SC gave clear instruction on how to achieve the end of active participation. We have touched on this above, and will do so below as well. But SC did not include exclusive use of the vernacular as a way to achieve this. Any appeal to the "spirit" or "dynamism" of the document which allows for the exclusive use of the vernacular in Mass is either dishonest or ignorant. It is absolutely absurd to think that the "spirit" of a document can nullify its text. If the council fathers wanted the entire Mass in the vernacular, they would not have approved a text which said that "
the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites." Moreover, Fr O'Malley himself acknowledges that the allowance of the vernacular into the liturgy was a very hotly contested issue. Clearly, many council fathers speaking strongly against the use of the vernacular is an indication that Mass completely in the vernacular was not the intent of the council.

One of the problems with Fr O'Malley's reasoning is that it can be used to justify anything in a Mass. If Fr Bob believes cola and crackers promote active participation, then it's ok. If Sr Jane thinks she would participate more actively by reciting the Eucharistic Prayer, then it's ok. There is no end to the foolishness that Fr O'Malley's reasoning allows.

The true meaning of active participation

The more true understanding of active participation can be found at SC 48: "The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God's word and be nourished at the table of the Lord's body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all."

This teaches us that to achieve the end of active participation, we need catechesis, not excluding Latin from the Mass. Active participation is about a deep awareness of the sacred realities going on under the veil of sensible signs. It is about maintaining oneself from mortal sin so that you can be nourished by the Body of Christ. For these things we need catechesis. Leaving Latin out of Mass does not promote active participation. Even if it did, it is not one of the ways SC told the Church to promote active participation. In fact, it is a repudiation of the text of SC.

Towards a solution

How will we rectify this all-vernacular error foisted on us by Bugnini?

*Encourage priests to use Latin. If they don't do it already, suggest it. If they do, let them know it is appreciated.
*Go out of your way for Masses that use Latin. In my own diocese, there is a fantastic parish in Westminster which has a Latin-Ordinary NO Mass every First Friday at 17:30. If you're in the area, check it out next month.
*Attend Mass in foreign languages. This will raise awareness that you don't need to understand the words.
*Teach yourself the Latin Mass parts. There are plenty of resources online with which you could do this.
*Teach your children and godchildren the Latin Mass parts.
*Teach other people's children the Latin Mass parts. Become a catechist, and just throw Latin in where you can. Kids eat it up, they think it's very cool to say the Pater in Latin. The Faith and Life Series of books from Ignatius Press are good for this; the sixth-grade book has a whole section on the Mass and encourages the teacher to teach the kids the Latin parts. Even if we can't get middle-aged people on our side, we can have a tremendous influence for good on the young, and that demographic is gonna win out in the long-run.

*Incidentally, it seems "incensed" is only used as an adjective. I can't imagine that I've just coined its use as a verb though, and I trust everyone knows what I mean, so I believe I am justified.


  1. I fully agree, our Church culture must be maintained. Latin is extremely important, and God willing if I get ordained as a priest, I'll only say the words of Consecration in Latin and maintain the Latin Ordinary.

  2. Thank you for the encouragement and agreement. I hope that by the time we are ordained the reform of the reform will have progressed a great deal more, so that saying the Consecration and Ordinary in Latin won't be so out of the ordinary as they are now.

  3. No problem, I hope so as well with the reform of the reform will be along greatly by that time.

    We've come far in a short period of time though, even a couple of years ago, who'd imagine hearing some of the Ordinary in Latin?