Report on 6th International Liturgy Conference (Part 1)

"50 years of Sacrosanctum Concilium"

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Here is the first part of a two-part special report by William A. Thomas on the Saint Colman’s Society for Catholic Liturgy 6th International Liturgy Conference (Fota VI): 50 years of Sacrosanctum Concilium 1963-2013.

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One of the great highlights of the year in Ireland takes place in Cork city on the first weekend of July. This year the much awaited and appreciated conference on the sacred liturgy got underway at the Clarion Hotel Conference centre on Saturday the 6th of July, concluding late Monday the 8th. This very well attended gathering was made up by clergy and lay alike, coming together as they do, to discuss the role of the sacred liturgy in the life of the Church and in compliance with the universal call to holiness.

Professor Father D. Vincent Twomey SVD, one of Ireland’s leading theologians, opened the conference in the presence of his Eminence Raymond Cardinal Leo Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the distinguished clergy, and the various delegates. In his opening remarks, Father Twomey reminded the audience that just prior to the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, the Pontiff met with the clergy of the diocese of Rome. In his talk the Pope referred to the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and to its 16 documents, telling his priests that there were effectively two Councils, one the “Council of the Fathers” and the other the “Council of the media” and that regretfully many of the Catholics of today, in particular that of the clergy, do not know the Council of the Fathers but remember only what the Council of the media told them. “The Council was the largest Council ever in the history of the Church” said Father Twomey, “but it didn’t produce any defined dogmas, just documents, of which there were 16” “The Council was Pastoral” he said, “and the Church was and is trying to witness to the truth in a world of lies and deceit” The eminent Professor spoke passionately about the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium on the 4th of December 1963, this document he said was promulgated by Pope Paul VI and gives primacy to God, “the liturgy” he said “is something which we have received from Christ and His Church and is not a construction by man” Pope Benedict XVI in the liturgical reform movement, “The Reform of the Reform “has given us a beautiful liturgy and has allowed for its organic growth” he said. Fr. Twomey went on to state that the Second Vatican Council was by nature missionary in that it was to bring salvation to all mankind and that the driving force behind it was the renewal of the liturgy, “because through the liturgy, the faithful are able to express in their lives their encounter with Christ” Adopting the liturgy to local culture influenced by rationalism, secularism, science and technology will drive people to the dark world of magic and darkness, he said. “Though we are looking at the document on the liturgy” said Fr. Twomey, “for Cardinal Henri Marie de Lubac, the most important document was ‘Dei Verbum.’ De Lubac was the most influential theologian of the 20th century (+1991), given that his writings and doctrinal research played a key role in the Second Vatican Council.

Dom Paul Gunter OSB, a monk of Douai Abbey, currently a professor of sacred liturgy at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy in Rome, and who was named  Consulter of the Office of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff in 2008, gave the second paper entitled ‘Per Ritus et Preces’ and ‘Fideles scienter’ A study of these directing characteristics for active participation in the reform and promotion of the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. “The ‘Fideles scienter’ from Sacrosanctum Concilium II verifies the formation needed for a fruitful participation in the liturgical life of the Church,” he said. Further on he said, “that the ‘per ritus et preces from Sacrosanctum Concilium 48 delineates that the ‘participatio actuosa’ is made manifest in rites and prayers that are handed down by the Church for use in her liturgy. Thus his paper considered those two important characteristics of Sacrosanctum Concilium as the means of the ‘participation actuosa’ of the Second Vatican Council. Quoting from Sacrosanctum Concilium 47 and 48, he stressed the urgency of proper liturgical formation of the faithful and the theological meaning of the holy sacrifice of Christ. Quoting Creighton, who said that because there are millions of people outside the Church, there is somehow a dumbing down of the liturgy, Father Gunter concluded.

Italian Priest Padre Serafino Lanzetta F.I. presented his paper “Sacrosanctum Concilium in the Light of the Liturgical Reforms.” Speaking in perfect English, Professor Serafino stated that “The Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council was the first document approved by the Ecumenical Assembly of bishops. In a very short time this document found almost all the Fathers in accordance with the immutable principles of Liturgy, with some theological highlights for the active participation of all the people of God. Unfortunately the understanding of these principles did not emerge. He went on to state that “all the principles of the Constitution are orientated from inside and have a practical goal. From the general and theoretical principles derive practical norms to renew the Liturgy. Thus there are two levels of the Constitution, i.e. the theoretical and the practical ones, and after the Council, a third effort was added: the work of a “Consilium” to put into practice the entire document on the sacred liturgy. Often too much attention was given to the pastoral care of the liturgy and some of those decisions show how very predominant was that desire to reach some kind of a practical end. The risk therefore was to forget ‘the spirit of liturgy’ and to let praxis be the guideline.

“What can we do today,” asked Professor Serafino, so that the Liturgy may always be the precedence of God in our lives? He suggests that we should reconsider more accurately three main points, 1) What active participation of the mass properly means? 2) Is the liturgical assembly the subject of Liturgy, that is, what idea of Church must we have to consider the liturgical assembly? 3) The sacred language of Liturgy in our world in search of a common understanding. Quoting Bugnini who said that the Missal of Vatican II was a “Pastoral” missal, Professor Serafino asked the question “what does Pastoral really mean, does it mean continuity or discontinuity?” The word Pastoral is like a miracle cure, but empty of dogma, thus there is a risk of the liturgy drying up if not celebrated correctly he said. Further he stated that there were erroneous interpretations in the document and quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium 21 which affirms both text and rite “the liturgy should be able to reflect the sacred” he said.

The afternoon session of Saturday began with a paper presented by Dr. Mariusz Bilinewicz of Dublin, entitled “Fifty Years of Sacrosanctum Concilium: a Review of the Theological Critique. He stated that after some fifty years of Sacrosanctum Concilium he examined some critical voices which were raised against Sancrosanctum Concilium since the time of its promulgation. It began with the question whether, and to what extent, is theological critique of the Council's document at all possible on the grounds of Catholic theology; then, it presented in greater detail the main objections which are raised both against some theological aspects of the Constitution and against certain practical policies adopted by its authors; finally, it attempted at evaluating these critical voices and highlighting the way forward for continuing theological reflection on the document. Later on he presented his new book entitled “The Liturgical Vision of Pope Benedict XVI – A Theological Inquiry (published by Peter Lang)

The last paper of the day before Pontifical Vespers were celebrated in Saints Peter and Paul church was presented by Dr. Carmina Chapp of Saint Joseph’s College in Maine. She spoke about Sacrosanctum Concilium and its centrality of the liturgy in the apostolic life of the Church. Stating that “as the first document promulgated at the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium provides a lens through which the entire work of the Council can be viewed, there is an intrinsic relationship between the celebration of the liturgy and the missionary activity of the Church, particularly in the work of the laity in the temporal realm. The liturgy takes a central place in the apostolic life of the Church because it is the place where one is united with Christ and begins to “see as Christ sees.” while also becoming empowered to be the vessel through which “Christ is seen” by the world. Laity gain the fruits of the liturgy by active participation, and go out into the secular realm to “see it as Christ sees it” and to conduct their temporal affairs as Christ would conduct them, being the presence of Christ in the midst. The graces received in the liturgy are to be put to use in all temporal areas, including business, economics, politics, medicine, education, and the arts,” she said.

On Sunday afternoon, after a Pontifical High Mass celebrated at Ss Peter and Paul in Cork, by Cardinal Burke,  Dr. Ralf van Bühren, Professor of Christian Art History at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce in Rome, presented his paper “Sacrosanctum Concilium and Sacred Architecture: Sources and Post Conciliar Reception of the Liturgical Constitution.” Sacred architecture might effectively influence the active participation of the faithful and also their comprehension of the paschal mystery, which rate among the principles of the liturgical restoration initiated by Sacrosanctum Concilium. In view of chapter VII (Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings- SC 122–130) his lecture examined the art, historical art, and the historical and theological background of the constitution in its antecedents and its later reception.

“By the 1920’s, sacred architecture in France and Germany had changed profoundly,” he said. “The impetus for a new aesthetics and a specific liturgical disposition of the sacred space came from the functionality of technical construction and from the Liturgical Movement’s focus on the altar. Sacrosanctum Concilium took these evolutions into consideration. Until the 1980s, these new principles prevailed due to the Liturgical Reform after the Council, together with a preference for raw concrete as a means to renew sacred architecture with contemporary materials and forms, and a radical restriction of images for the purpose of highlighting the importance of the liturgical action.” On the other hand, since the 1990s, new aesthetic ideas have emerged, and there have been innovations concerning the pastoral and artistic promotion of the liturgy as regards liturgical spaces.

Professor van Bühren lamented the fact that during the 1960’s and 70’s, and during the 1970’s and 80’s, sacred images were often removed from churches; “but such images are catechetical mystagogically and catechetically valuable and also fully conform to instructions given in Sacrosanctum Concilium 122 and 127 and Lumen Gentium 67, and they should not have been removed” he said.

“In the post-Conciliar era, in church architecture there was a strong tendency of reducing the number of sacred images as a result of the idea of the Liturgy (altar) being the centre of the church interior. Nevertheless the Second Vatican Council, apart from the liturgical suitability of sacred art, had demanded «noble beauty» (SC 124) for the church interior.” This restriction on the number of images and the centrality of liturgy already existed in France and Germany in 1920’s to the 1960’s, van Bühren reminded the Conference. Newly built churches had only few images, mainly in an abstract style, which made it difficult or impossible to somehow communicate the divine message of salvation. Since the 1920s, one of the most influential architectural styles was the cubical, rational, and box-like space, derived from Bauhaus and De Stijl, whose soberness was hardly conducive to prayer. Extra liturgical forms of devotion were shifted into secondary rooms or were cancelled completely.

Professor Dr Helmut Hoping gave a wonderful paper entitled “What Reform?-The Hermeneutics of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Liturgical Renewal” Hoping gave a brief history of the Council and explained the history of Sacrosanctum Concilium coupled with its hermeneutic, explaining that the document itself was the basis for liturgical reform, but the actual word ‘reform’ was never mentioned in Sacram Liturgiam, rather that other word called “aggiornamento” or “bringing up to date” was used and which became one of the key words of the Second Vatican Council. “This aggiornamento is precisely what the Council attempted to do and the Fathers highlighted the liturgy and the primacy of God,” he said. Another feature he explained was the principle of bilinguality, the use of Latin couple with the vernacular-the tantum re disciplinari or a new ecclesiology, and the instruratio and not reformatio in the examination of the liturgical books. Annibale Bugnini became a “periti” of the Council and especially of its liturgical schema, Professor Hoping told the delegates, and that Bugnini, who was a radical reformer, had prevented the approval of the liturgical reforms from going to the Congregation of Rites, but rather went directly to the Pope and had them approved by him, thus there was no scrutiny of Sacrosanctum Concilium by the competent body. (Except that the Holy Office insisted on authentic translations) Pope Paul VI issued the Moto Proprio “Sacram Liturgiam” on January 25th 1964 and thus gave immediate approval of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Quoting Cardinal Ratzinger, Hoping said that “liturgy was not the aim of the Council, although Sacrosanctum Concilium became the first text to be discussed by the Fathers, and in that the primacy of God in the liturgy. Secondly the discussion focused on the use of the vernacular, and the modern and pastoral character of the schema. Noting that it was Cardinal Spellman of New York and Cardinal Montini (future Paul VI) tried to retain the Latin for divine worship, Hoping went on to describe the other dynamics of the Fathers by quoting Cardinal Felici who said that Sacrosanctum Concilium was not of the doctrinal nature, thus here the roots of the reform were now becoming visible he said. Further, he said, that the goal was to renew the liturgy using the mysterium paschal, of charity, simplicity, transparency, comprehensibility and the vernacular. Concluding his talk Professor Hoping stated that the Council Fathers did not envision a continuous liturgical reform, and thus what is needed is a new liturgical movement which makes alive the real heritage of Vatican II, something that requires profound liturgical education.

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William A. Thomas is a Roman Catholic Theologian, Journalist and Writer. He has lectured in the United States, Ireland, Rwanda and Peru and is a frequent writer on Catholic matters and broadcaster, based in Galway, Ireland.