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Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Rediscovering Vatican II) Paperback – November 1, 2007
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This volume will be required reading for my class in liturgy and sacraments in a University program preparing lay ecclesial ministers for leadership in the Church. They need to know....
I particularly appreciated Ferrone's section on implementation. She provides a good view of the difficulties of implementation, not only from the perspective of the parish, but above all as instructions are promulgated which make implementation of SC more and more difficult, undercut the authority of Bishop's Conferences (also established at VII), shift from earlier standards for translation (dynamic equivalency) to more rigid and less liguistically sensitive standards (formal equivalency), etc. Her reporting, again, is balanced and even handed, but she does not hesitate to identify where the problems have occured and do so increasingly. I also especially liked her brief overview of the need for liturgical reform in the first few pages. It was educational and intriguing and I found myself surprised at a couple of liturgical practices I had never known existed (the notion that giving out Communion was seen to conflict with the normal progession of the Mass, or the practice of having priests give out Communion every fifteen minutes no matter what else was happening around them, for instance.)
This is an introduction to Sacrosanctum Concilium, but it is a good one, useful for adult faith formation, discussion groups, and anyone wanting to understand both the letter and the spirit of the document and the Council. It, along with the rest of the series, will be especially important in helping the church move past the simplistic notion that Vatican II has been misunderstood for the past 40 plus years or betrayed by liberals who were intent on simply doing whatever they wanted while disregarding the letter of the documents. Combined with works like O'Malley's What Happened at Vatican II, or Alberigo's Brief History of Vatican II (for those who cannot read the 5 volume set) it will help recover a sense of what Vatican II really said (spirit AND letter) and why and what task lies ahead for all of us who compose the Body of Christ.
Rita Ferrone's brief examination of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy could not be more timely. As the Vatican II generation moves toward its sunset years, we are obligated to pass on to our successors what we can of the fervor and passion that so energized the liturgical reform in the twentieth century. It is important that the church remembers what was intended and what still needs to be done.
Ferrone begins by reminding us of the several results of the liturgical reform that are simply taken for granted by the post-Vatican II generations. For example, it is normative that we sing actual parts of the liturgy (as opposed to singing during the liturgy). Most of us are irritated when we cannot understand the language of the liturgy, forgetting that the elders among us celebrated that way for years. We expect the presider to interact with us, face to face, and to preach in a way that acknowledges the scriptures of the day and our ability to critically reflect on them. Young parents, preparing their children for first communion, are shocked to learn their parents received their first communion on the tongue and were denied communion from the cup. But that is not the most shocking thing about communion, Ferrone reminds us. As late as 1962, at the opening liturgy of Vatican II, she tells us, communion was not distributed to the assembly. It was not distributed to the bishops and cardinals. Only the presider received. It had become the "norm" to distribute communion after Mass so as not to disrupt the flow of the liturgy!
It was seems inevitable that things had to change. Indeed, Ferrone moves us swiftly through a succinct but thorough overview of the two stages of the liturgical movement. The first began in the French and German monasteries of Europe in the 1800s. The second, the liturgical movement proper, began in 1909 in Louvain and quickly spread throughout Europe and to the United States. By the 1940's, the interest in liturgical renewal had become institutionalized with several decisive efforts by Pope Pius XII. In 1947 he would write that "all the faithful should be aware that to participate in the liturgy is their chief duty...." And, Ferrone reminds us, the pope meant both internal and external participation, an offering of ourselves, united with Christ--not merely attending Mass.
It is good to remember the liturgical reform did not begin with Vatican II. Indeed, by the time Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, he had already established a preparatory commission to work on the liturgy. Ferrone provides a detailed description of the struggle of those bishops who favored reform and the bishops who thought the liturgy should remain as it was (notably, argued by at least two American bishops!). The debate was vigorous and lengthy and no one was sure what the vote would tell. "It was therefore an undisguised triumph," writes Ferrone, "when the document was approved on November 14, 1962, by a vote of 2,162 in favor and 46 opposed.... All the negative comments were emanating from only a little more than 2 percent of the council" (17).
Having established the history of the document, Ferrone then leads us through three steps in examining the constitution itself: what the major points of the document are, how they were implemented, and where we are today. This is where the author's insight comes to the fore. Instead of an exegetical, blow-by-blow description of the constitution, Ferrone focuses "on seven essential concepts" she has distilled from the text. The first five, she identifies as the "what" of the liturgical reform: paschal mystery, liturgy as summit and source, active participation, and ecclesiology. The final two are the "how"--practical directives for accomplishing the reform. They are the renewal of the ritual books and the renewed formation of the ordained and the faithful. I won't go into a full discussion of each of the points, but we should pause to take note of the renewed ecclesiology found in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Ferrone writes:
It is through baptism that the faithful "are plunged into the paschal mystery of Christ," which is the core of what the liturgy celebrates (SC, 6). The constitution proposes for baptism itself a thorough and far-reaching liturgical reform: restoration of the adult catechumenate received in stages (SC, 64).... The priesthood of the baptized, although different in nature from the ministerial priesthood, is respected (SC, 48, 53). (31)
One wonders if the council knew just how "far-reaching" they were being in reminding us that all the baptized, ordained and lay, share a common priesthood. It is very likely they did not foresee the profound effect the restoration of the catechumenate would have on the pastoral initiation practice of ordinary parishes across the globe. Every year, tens of thousands of catechumens are converted to a deep faith in the Great High Priest and their participation in that priesthood. And their catechists and sponsors along with them renew their own faith and their recognition of their own priestly ministry.
In her section on implementation, Ferrone provides a clear timeline and description of the post-conciliar work. And, while never veering from her lucid and crisp reporting style, she gives us a heart-breaking synopsis of the ultimately successful efforts of the opponents of the reform to subvert the vision of the council by gaining influence over the second revisions of the sacramentary and lectionary. Still, she sees their victory as momentary and refuses to concede the field:
If those who have been in the vanguard of change should feel some disappointment that the reform hasn't yet produced more fruit, this is only the natural result of the depths of human yearning that the project has activated. It is a stage on the way to more profound renewal. (89)
It is good to be reminded of how far we have come. Indeed, in the final section, "The State of the Questions," Ferrone returns to each of her seven concepts to summarize just how far we have come and how much irrevocable progress has been made. And, for each concept, she gives us an agenda for the future. To cite one of the many possible action plans she holds up for us, we turn again to the implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults:
Although a tendency among bishops to regard the process of initiation as primarily an educational endeavor has detracted from its true genius, it continues to hold immense promise for the church as a liturgical reform involving the entire community of faith. Its rites are impressive, and in the act of carrying them out the church comes to a new awareness of itself and its mission. (106)
This is a formidable work. It is a small book but a large task to tell such an important story in so clear and compelling a fashion. It is an excellent introduction to those who did not live through the liturgical changes of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and a wonderful reminder for those of us who did.
In a concluding summary, Ferrone asks if we are better off liturgically now than we were forty years ago. And, of course, she has elegantly led us to understand the question is by now rhetorical. Some malcontents may call for a "reform of the reform" in an attempt to recast the mandate of the council into "a desire for a timeless liturgy, for a liturgy that gives us access to a divine world, untouched by the grime of history." One can almost hear the author tisk. "The times in which we live cannot fail to have a profound effect on how we worship," she writes. "It is best to acknowledge them" (109).
Sometimes we just need to be reminded.