Vatican II: A Walk-Through - The Council and the Liturgy
The changes in the Liturgy of the Church show how the work of the Council affects every
catholic. In earlier ages of Christendom changes were made in Canon Law and in the
Christian Life itself. But these changes usually took place so slowly and gradually that each
man in his own brief life-time hardly noticed them; if he did take heed of change, he did not
find the change disturbing. But in modern times -- above all in the middle of the twentieth
Century -- the whole tempo and movement of secular history has increased in every sphere
of life, and with the greatest rapidity. The Church is new as well as old. If it is to remain up
to date and in touch with the urgent needs of modern life, then the Church, too, must undergo change. Clearly, changes and adaptations must be accomplished with great prudence.
Clearly, too, great courage is needed, if the ancient and unchanging truths and ways of life
and worship are to take on new forms.
Inevitably, many Catholics have found the liturgical changes disturbing. Older Catholics, in particular, have over the years grown deeply attached to the words and actions of the Latin
Mass; they have learned to love it, in its Latin form, and it has become for them a permanent
and unchanging reality in a rapidly changing world. Latin was the common tongue -- the linguna franca -- of the Western world, used by clerics, statesmen and scholars. Since the Mass is the common prayer of the whole Church, many feel that Latin should still be retained. This view
was expressed in the first great Decree to issue from the Council -- the "Constitution on the
Sacred Liturgy." The Decree states "the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the
The change from Latin to English, in parts of the Mass, has been singled out because it
appears to many to be the most striking result of the Council's work. But the Council has
authorized the use of the vernacular, or mother-tongue, not only for parts of the Mass but
also for the administration of every sacrament and sacramental. It has directed national
councils of bishops to establish liturgical commissions whose task is to produce suitable
translations of liturgical texts, and to promote knowledge and love of the sacred liturgy.
While local commissions are engaged upon this work, the Central Liturgical Commission
meets in Rome. Its primary function is the revision of the liturgical books. Its secondary
function is to adapt the liturgy to the needs of modern times, and to enable all Catholics to
take part actively in the official worship which the Church offers to God. However rapid
and unexpected these changes might appear, they are in fact intended to be gradual,
step by step, until eventually the renewal of the liturgy has been completed.
The first major result of this work by the Central Commission was the promulgation, in
September 1964, of an Instruction for putting into effect the "Constitution of the sacred
Liturgy." This instruction drew attention to the fact that changes are taking place, not for the
sake of change, but because the Liturgy is at the centre of Christian life and worship. It is
through the active sharing in these sacred rites that the faithful, the People of God, "will drink
deeply from the source of divine life. They will become the leaven of Christ, the salt of the
earth. They will bear witness to that divine life; the will be instrumental in passing it on to others."
By modern standards, florid and elaborate ceremonies, dress and ornament are seldom
esteemed. During the course of centuries, many features or details had crept into the liturgy,
and these features are now regarded as unsuited to the worship of God and out of keeping
with the real nature and dignity of that worship. For this reason the liturgical books are being
revised and the rites simplified. The first book to appear, following the Council's decree, is
known as the Ordo Missae. Issued in January 1961, this book sets forth the rite which is to
be followed, in keeping with the changes introduced by the Council and by the Liturgical Commission.
Next: The Altar
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