Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November 11, 1962 – Fifty Years Later

          The purpose of the Sacred Liturgy is to give glory to God (sometimes referred to as a vertical orientation).  The purpose of the Liturgical Renewal would be pastoral: so that people could better understand the Word of God and share more fully in His sacrificial banquet (a horizontal element).  This dynamic tension was present even prior to the Second Vatican Council.

          In February 1962 – just eight months before the Council’s opening – Pope John had issued an Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia maintaining that Latin should be used in the training of seminarians.  No professors or instructors, “moved by an inordinate desire for novelty, (should) write against the use of Latin either in the teaching of the sacred disciplines or in the sacred rites of the liturgy.”  Many thought this signaled the end of any discussion about the using the vernacular at Mass.

          Yet, a few months later in April 1962, the Vatican Congregation for Rites issued a decree that, all over the world, the prayers and blessings of the baptismal rite could be pronounced in the vernacular (except for the baptismal words themselves -- “Ego te baptizo…”). This more widespread use of the vernacular seemed particularly pastoral; parts of the rite could be used to instruct the people gathered for Baptism.


         During October and into November, the Council Fathers openly discussed the language of the Liturgy and the Sacraments.  Over eighty Bishops made “interventions” about the use of Latin and the vernacular languages.


         The Melchite Patriarch of Antioch – the venerable eighty-four year old Maximos IV Saigh – spoke in French (not the usual Latin) to the Council Fathers:  “Christ Himself had spoken the language of his contemporaries and He offered the first Eucharistic Sacrifice in a language which could be understood by all who heard Him, namely, Aramaic.”  He explained that, in the East, “every language is liturgical, since the Psalmist says, ‘Let all peoples praise the Lord.’ Therefore man must praise God, announce the Gospel, and offer sacrifice in every language.”


          The reaction of the gathered Bishops – from both East and West -- was very positive.


          Speaking in his own name and those of several other Council Fathers (including several Americans), Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani – the head of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office – appealed to the Latin language’s antiquity, universality, theological precision and sign of unity.  Latin – he said -- should continue to be the language of the Liturgy, and the vernacular should be used only for instructions and certain prayers.  Are we seeking to stir up wonder or perhaps scandal among the people by introducing changes in so venerable a rite, that has been approved for so many centuries…? The rite of Holy Mass should not be treated as if it were a piece of cloth to be refashioned according to the whim of each generation.”


          Sadly, because of partial blindness, the elderly Cardinal Ottaviani did not see the signal to finish his talk after 10 minutes nor did he hear the instruction to stop. His microphone was turned off in mid-sentence.  Some of the Bishops applauded.


          Giovanni Cardinal Montini of Milan spoke as a mediator between opposing points of view.  He maintained that changes should not be introduced “on a whim” because the Liturgy is of both divine and human origin; yet the rites were not completely unalterable.  “Latin should be retained,” he proposed, “in those parts of the rite that are sacramental and, in the true sense of the word, priestly.”   Without discarding the beauty and the sense of the sacred and while retaining their symbolic power, “the rites should be reduced to a simpler, more easily understood form – eliminating what is repetitious and over-complicated”.


          The fervent discussion of the Sacred Liturgy – the “vertical” and “horizontal” dimensions truly forming a cross -- would continue into the Council’s Second Session, by which time Montini would be Pope Paul VI.           


(Next Week: The Sources of Revelation)                    Monsignor John T. Myler

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