Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgated of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (December 4, 1963). If I may borrow a rhetorical strategy from Fr. Fessio, here is what your local liturgical scene would look like if we were all following, to the letter, the teaching of Vatican II:
- The Eucharist would be perceived by all as a “divine sacrifice,” in which, as in the Church herself, action is subordinated to contemplation (cf. SC 2). The Mass would be understood to be, and would be called, a “holy sacrifice” (SC 7, 47, et passim) and the liturgy in general “a sacred action surpassing all others,” whose purpose is “the sanctification of man and the glorification of God” (SC 10; cf. 112). Indeed, the liturgy would seem like a foretaste on earth of the heavenly liturgy of the new Jerusalem (SC 8).
- The faithful would be well catechized and well disposed to receive the sacraments fruitfully (SC 11), and would understand the nature of the liturgy and how to participate well in it (SC 14), led by the example and instruction of the clergy (SC 16-19): “through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration” (SC 48). In this way, they would be unlike the majority of Catholics today, who, according to many surveys, are unaware that the Mass is the re-presentation of the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary or that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—and who also don’t sing very much, in spite of decades of cajoling.
- The liturgy would look much as Catholic liturgy has looked for centuries, since “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23).
- The ordained ministers would be the only ones performing the actions they are supposed to do, while the laity would be involved in those ways that pertain to them: “in liturgical celebrations each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy” (SC 28; cf. 118).
- No one, “even if he be a priest,” would ever “add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (SC 22.3).
Kwasniewski goes on to ask: "Is this what you experience, week in, week out?
Is not the monumental failure to implement much of Sacrosanctum Concilium a scandal?
What became of the great promise of the original liturgical movement? It is hard to escape the impression that Sacrosanctum Concilium was largely a dead letter within a year or two of its promulgation. Should we be happy or sad about that? Indifference seems to be far the greatest reaction. And surely that is unworthy of Catholics."