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Vatican II and the liturgy, 40 years later

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 Contents - Jun 2003AD2000 June 2003 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Three Feasts: Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity - Peter Westmore
Liturgy: John Paul's new encyclical on the Eucharist targets liturgical abuses - Michael Gilchrist
AD2000 staff members awarded federation Centenary Medals - AD2000
News: The Church Around the World - AD2000
Interview: Vatican II and the liturgy, 40 years later - Zenit News Service
Events: Corpus Christi Procession - Brisbane, 22 June 2003
The environment: rediscovering the balanced Catholic perspective - Michael Casanova
Laity: The role of lay Catholics in a time of crisis - Mary Ann Glendon
Those dreadful old Catholic hymns? - Fr Fabian Duggan OSB
The seal of confession: how a priest put his life on the line - Clem Lack
Letters: Eucharistic encyclical and the priesthood (letter) - John Kelly
Letters: Requirements fulfilled (letter) - John Young
Letters: Four conditions (letter) - Fr G.H. Duggan SM
Letters: Holy Orders (letter) - Francis Vrijmoed
Letters: Brisbane Synod (letter) - Alistair Barros
Letters: Catechetics (letter)
Letters: Teilhard de Chardin (letter) - Grahame Fallon
Letters: Latin Mass (letter) - Philip Robinson
Letters: Death by 'nice blokes' (letter) - Lisa-Maree
Letters: Abortion (letter) - Betty Griffin
Letters: Prayer to Our Lady of Good Counsel (letter) - Marie E. Curtin
Books: Culture and the Thomist Tradition : After Vatican II, by Tracey Rowland - Fr Peter Joseph STD (reviewer)
Books: From Physics to Metaphysics, by Fr Francis J. Selman - Michael Casanova
Books: The Story of Christianity : 2000 Years of Faith - Anthony Cappello (reviewer)
Books: Family in the Bible, edited by Richard H. Hess and M. Danial Carroll - Bill Muehlenberg (reviewer)
Books: Our books are the cheapest!
Reflection: Church scandals: focus on the message, not just the messengers - Fr Kevin Brannelly

Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, ZENIT News Service spoke with Monsignor Peter Elliott about 'Sacrosanctum Concilium,' the pastoral constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Monsignor Elliott is the author of 'Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite' and 'Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year,' widely used reference books published by Ignatius Press. He is episcopal vicar for religious education, professor at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, and a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Zenit: What were some of the good things that Sacrosanctum Concilium produced?

Monsignor Elliott:The Council document was the mandate for post- conciliar liturgical reform and most of the reforms are good, especially better celebrations of the sacraments, concelebration, the reform of the Divine Office and the wider use of the vernacular.

Why did liturgy go awry so much in the post-conciliar era?

Basically, the work of the liturgical movement and Pius XII in Mediator Dei on the meaning and spirit of the liturgy was not properly assimilated before the Council.

The opening doctrinal section of Sacrosanctum Concilium is brief, because it presupposes Mediator Dei. Then, after the Council, the "changes" were introduced in an authoritarian way, hastily, often without respect for popular piety and what people valued. Extremists and cranks soon moved in, experimenting, innovating and pushing people around. They moved many altars but not so many hearts.

I also believe that some changes to the Mass went beyond what the Council Fathers envisaged in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and this is the very area where we still encounter problems. We also need to remember that the late 1960s and 1970s was an era of cultural modernism, marked by overconfidence, radical chic and bad taste.

Are the liturgical problems behind us?

There has been some stabilisation and the revised Roman Missal and General Instruction should help, but there are still widespread problems - sloppy ceremonial, verbosity, vulgar music, disobedience and sheer ignorance.

In some areas, in Australia for example, church "renovators" are still destroying our patrimony and alienating people. These renovators are rushing their projects through before the Catholic people discover what is in the revised directives - for example, the location of the tabernacle.

I hope that the Vox Clara committee will put one problem behind us - the poor English translations. We have suffered 30 years of banal and inaccurate texts. That scandal is on a par with the mistranslated vernacular Bibles that spread errors at the time of the Reformation. It has played into the hands of the Lefebvrists and it is a major source of banal liturgy in English-speaking countries.

Would rapprochement with the Eastern Churches help the liturgy in the West?

I would hope so, because we have much to learn from the East - a sense of mystery, transcendence, the liturgy as a taste of heaven. The Eastern Churches also understand the liturgy as an action, both divine and human.

In the West we often want to control, plan, even manipulate worship, so it centres more on us than on God. Liturgy becomes what we do, rather than the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.

One observer suggested that the liturgy should have been the last thing changed after Vatican II, rather than the first thing. Is this a fair observation?

Not really, because this is an academic hypothesis. The historical reality was otherwise. The liturgical movement and reforms initiated by Pius XII converged with the pastoral needs of mission territories, and that made liturgical reform a priority for Blessed John XXIII and the Council Fathers.

Unfortunately, when people think of Vatican II they focus on liturgical change because that was the visible effect of the Council they experienced in parishes. They should not forget the other great achievements of the Council, such as the universal call to holiness, collegiality, ecumenism, the permanent diaconate and a richer theology of marriage.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 16 No 5 (June 2003), p. 7

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