One of the unfortunate couplings with those who lament the loss of the “pre-Conciliar” Mass (a.k.a. Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), Extraordinary Form, 1962 Missal, etc.) is the linking of the “New Mass” (a.k.a. Ordinary Form) wholly with the Second Vatican Council. This connection, while understandable given the emergence of the Ordinary Form just after the Council, is too simplistic and is unhelpful for a number of reasons. Without the Second Vatican Council, would the Ordinary Form of the Mass be similar to what it is today? We can only speculate. But given what was under way long before the Council in both the Church and Western culture, it seems likely that, Council or not, there would have been a heavy altering of the Mass as it was known mid-century.
I will attempt to make this argument historically in a moment, but first consider why this is strategically and pastorally important.
I. Strategy – It is significant as a pastoral stance to articulate why we should decouple concerns about the Ordinary Form of the Mass from the Second Vatican Council. It is one thing to express concerns with the current state of the liturgy, which of itself is a focused matter, capable of reconsideration, organic developments, and the exercise of legitimate options. But it is another matter to enter into a dispute with an entire Ecumenical Council, a Council that considered many things of varying theological weights and issued two dogmatic constitutions. While no new dogmas were proposed, Lumen Gentium (on the Church) and Dei Verbum (on Sacred Scripture) were important reaffirmations of the Church’s teaching regarding what are some disputed matters today.
Whether the perception is fair or not, many who favor the TLM are seen as repudiating the Second Vatican Council in general. Allowing such a perception to continue takes the legitimate discussion of liturgical concerns down a lot of rabbit holes that broaden the conversation into unnecessarily wider ideological categories (such as right vs. left, new vs. old, progressive vs. antiquarian, etc.). It also lights up other more serious matters such as ecclesiology, authority, sacramental theology, and so forth. We who love liturgical tradition would do well to focus the discussion on liturgical matters and leave other theological concerns about the Council (if we have them at all (many of us do not)) for other times. Further, recourse to the actual Council documents is both salutary and necessary in order to enhance ongoing liturgical excellence.
II. History – In terms of decoupling the Ordinary Form from the Council it is also helpful to recall some history that most of us know, but tend to underemphasize.
1. The “Liturgical Movement” had been underway for almost 60 years prior to the Second Vatican Council. Most liturgists fix the date of 1909 and the Malines Conference as the official beginning of the Liturgical Movement that sought to address liturgical disputes and concerns that had been brewing for centuries. Some of the concerns were very understandable: a cluttered calendar and related complexities such as multiple Collects and observances. It’s hard to doubt that the increasing notion of “modernity” likely influenced desires for change in a more problematic way and that this idea grew through mid-century.
2. Even before 1906, Pope Pius X began an overhaul of the Breviary as he saw fit. More on that here: Strange Moments in Liturgical History
3. Then came the two World Wars. But despite that, liturgists were still meeting and writing.
4. Things started to get official in the mid-forties. The Sectio Historica of the Sacred Congregation of Rites formally commenced the work of reform in 1946 with a Promemoria intorno alla riforma liturgica. This was presented to Pope Pius XII in May. With papal approval, Austrian Redemptorist Joseph Löw began to draft a plan for a general reform. This was completed at the end of 1948 and published the following year as Memoria sulla riforma liturgica. A papal commission for liturgical reform was established in 1946, but it was May 1948 before its members were appointed. [Annibale] Bugnini, its secretary, … observes that it “worked in absolute secrecy” and enjoyed the “full confidence of the Pope” [Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, p. 150-151].
5. So note: nothing less than a papal commission was already beginning the work to set forth a plan for a “general reform” of the Liturgy. And note, too, the coming to the fore of one A. Bugnini.
6. The commission came out rather quickly with the overhaul of the Holy Week Liturgies in 1951. While well received by most, the changes were sweeping. Even more, they set forth some problematic principles later critiqued by Louis Boyer and others, including Alcuin Reid.
7. Among the shifts in principles that developed through the 1940s and 50s, was a tendency to emphasize the needs of “modern man” (as if we were some new sort of species) and to heavily weight antiquity over legitimate developments from other ages, especially the Medieval period. Joseph Jungmann, S.J., though having authored a well-researched study of liturgical history in The Mass of the Roman Rite, tilted heavily in other works toward the ancient liturgy. Jungmann became very influential. And though Pope Pius XII warned of “antiquarianism” in Mediator Dei, the balance decidedly shifted there anyway through the 1950s and beyond.
8. Finally came the Second Vatican Council. The output of the papal commission for general reform was taken into the Council process largely “as is” and support for it expanded.
I do not in any way affirm all these. I simply note them and point out that they were under way well before the Council.
III. All of this leads to the focal question: If there had been no Second Vatican Council would we still have witnessed a significant change in the Mass and its celebration? The answer would seem to be yes. As I have tried to show, things were already advancing quite rapidly prior to 1960 and would likely have continued apace. While the Council may have infused a widespread notion of “aggiornamento” that added rapidity and the expectation of change, the Liturgical Movement, for better or worse, was already moving along quite rapidly and deeply and would likely have continued to do so.
Clearly, I speculate here. But, frankly, so do those who would dispute the answer. None of us can really know for sure what would have happened in an alternate universe, absent the Council. However, some significant overhaul of the liturgy seemed to be in the offing, for better or worse, Council or not. (Arguably, the Ordinary Form promulgated in 1970 is not the actual Missal of the Council; the 1965 Missal is. I’d like to review its elements next week and show that the changes in it fell far short of the changes that were ushered in with the 1970 Missal.)
My real point in raising this is to encourage those of us who love the TLM and other older forms to be careful to distinguish the Second Vatican Council from the Ordinary Form of the Mass. I encourage this for the two reasons stated above: first, a strategy that allows us to be identified (fairly or not) with the repudiation of an entire Ecumenical Council is an unwise strategy; second, knowledge of the history of the whirlwind 20th century shows that the relationship of the liturgical changes to the Council are more complex than generally appreciated by a simplistic “pre-Conciliar vs. post-Conciliar” mentality.
None of what I write should be taken to mean that the Ordinary Form in its exact specifications was inevitable, or that those who love the TLM are on the “wrong side of history.” On the contrary, we should see ourselves as a legitimate part of today’s liturgical diversity and should seek to influence the discussion today rather than returning so regularly to rehash a complex Council that occurred over fifty years ago. Decoupling our stance from an assessment of the Second Vatican Council is an important element in advancing the conversation today.
OK, take what you like and leave the rest. But as with any discussion on Liturgy, try to avoid personal attacks and campy simplifications. For the record, I celebrate both forms of the Mass and find pastoral blessings and challenges in each. But let’s avoid a combox discussion that generates more heat than light. Be of good cheer; we are in the realm of speculation, not fact. In terms of strategy, reasonable people will differ.
Here is an example of how the older “ars celebrandi” can help with either form of the Mass. Most of the advice given in this video could be easily applied to the new form. Some may dispute an overly rigid mannerism, but allowing room for personal adaptation, the principles here are helpful advice.