Why Vatican II is Important: Number 1 in Our Series on Vatican II

St John XXIII announces Vatican II:
Gaudet mater ecclesia!

In our first installment of our series of talks on Vatican II, we talk about why this council is so important to the life of the Church, and why it is crucial that we understand how interpretive questions really influence everything in the life of the Church.

Remember to check back next Monday after 6p EST for our next installment!

Vatican II: the Challenge and the Promise

Many of the debates which are going on in the Catholic Church today have as their root the interpretation of Vatican II, the last ecumenical council.  Yet, how many people have really delved into Vatican II, into the texts themselves, the theological and historical context of the Council, and the thorny questions of its interpretation.  At my parish, Prince of Peace in Taylors, SC, we just finished a series on Vatican II.  Often church musicians need resources to learn more, not just about the liturgical and musical questions which effect their daily life, but also the theological background around which some of those questions must be considered.

For the next seven Mondays, each week we offer a link to a talk given by me about Vatican II on the following topics, along with the discussion afterwards:

 Why Vatican II is Important
Ecumenical Councils
Sacrosanctum concilium
Lumen gentium
Dei verbum
Gaudium et spes
Fifty-One Years After the Council: Now What?
This series may be many things, but it will not be dull!  Make sure to check back every Monday evening as we go through these topics together!  Every Monday for the next seven Mondays, at 6pm EST, the new talks will be posted. We hope this will encourage great debate and desire for further study!

On Liturgical Customaries for Seminaries: An Example of Mutual Enrichment from the Anglican Patrimony

Easter Vigil from Nashotah House

One of the more rarified genres of liturgical arcana from the first part of the last century was the category of books in English for seminarians that introduced them to the complex world of Mass, Divine Office and devotions within the context of a spiritual and theological ethos.  It is clear that, as younger seminarians struggled to learn Latin, and comprehensive education in classical languages became thinner, seminarians needed a guide to absorb the Roman liturgical tradition as immediately and effectively as possible.  This entire genre of literature disappeared almost completely after Vatican II, as seminaries rode the wave of incessant liturgical experimentation that crashed upon the rest of the Church.  As I think about those books, I am reminded of Hyacinthe Cormier’s Instructions for Novices of the Dominican Order.  This genre of literature explained, in what seems to us now to be mind-numbing detail, all of the observances of the daily life of a cleric or religious.  But these works did so with the knowledge that developing the habit of external observances does have its effect on the soul.  While it may be true that the habit does not make the monk, there is a wisdom, which has unfortunately passed on, that what we do with the body does give a form to the soul, and can lead it, with proper dispositions of the soul formed by the development of the intellect, to virtue and to holiness.
I am told that nowadays some seminaries have attempted more precise handbooks of behavior in church and seminary, general rules of life.  I have not seen any of them myself.  In my day in the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, everything from etiquette at table to liturgical decorum and expectations of clerical dress were all kind of an oral tradition that was passed from superiors to seminarians in the form of peer pressure to conform, rather than in any manual.
While it is true that many seminarians now have access to a sound formation in liturgical theology that may have been lacking in some places in a pre-Vatican II Church that exalted rubricism over the reason behind the rubrics, they may not always have very clear instructions as to how to behave in church and how to execute the ceremonies of the Mass.  Too many seminaries today find themselves burdened with faculty who are of various opinions about the way everything from Vespers to clerical vests should be done, as well as seminarians, at various stages of intelligence and formation, adding their voices to the din.  In many places, an uneasy house “tradition” begins to coalesce as faculty, seminarians and musical staff come to uneasy and highly provisional agreements on how to do things.  And then seminarians find themselves at the mercy of formators who are not in agreement among themselves, and then float in and out of houses of formation, leaving behind echoes of struggles over the very things that should be a part of the formative process.  In American seminaries, the pretense at giving seminarians a “voice” in matters liturgical then creates another layer of constantly changing expectations of every aspect of the liturgical life of a seminary formation house. 

Is there a better way? 
I can imagine that few seminary formators in the post-Vatican II Church want to create seminarians to be rubrical automatons, deprived of any pastoral sensitivity that is crucial for any priestly life in actual parishes with real people.  But could there be a model for some type of manual which delineates acceptable modes of behavior, while placing them in a spiritual and theological context, which is accessible to seminarians from their first year all the way to Holy Orders, something which could imprint upon them a forma mentis, or an ethos, of a legitimate liturgical spirituality, without becoming a framework for endless griping about every detail of seminary life?
Nashotah House, the premier seminary in the United States associated with the Anglo-Catholic world of Episcopal and continuing Anglican bodies, has produced just such a document.  This Customary  I think provides a useful framework for Catholic seminaries to produce very much needed similar documents that might guide more fruitful and peaceful discussions of seminary life in the future.  While it might be hoped that the USCCB could produce something, there is nothing to preclude individual seminaries from opting to graft onto the Nashotah House Customary structure a similar useful guide for their own use.
One of the interesting things to note is that the document is suffused with the presupposition that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the standard for the worship of the house.  It explains what that looks like in the context of seminary life.  At the same time it recognizes that there are other expressions of the Anglican liturgical patrimony which are part of the seminarians’ history and future as well as occasional celebrations within the house (such as the 1928 Prayer Book and the Anglican Missal).  Where I think this can be useful is that a Catholic seminary today can make normative the use of the Ordinary Form for corporate worship, without excluding, under common sense parameters, other forms of Catholic worship.  As the Nashotah document states, “By permission of the Dean, they may be used for other liturgies, provided that they do not compete with or take students from regularly scheduled community worship.”  There is no reason a document for Catholic use could not allow for such flexibility for the full range of Catholic worship while forming seminarians in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite as the normative use of the house.
The Nashotah document evidently is geared towards, not just the celebration of corporate worship in a seminary environment, but also towards the formation of leaders of that worship.  Hence there are excellent sections on the use of the voice in leading worship, and the spelled out expectation that “as poor vocal use can be detrimental to the life of ministry, when errors are detected, the Dean or faculty member with oversight of the chapel may direct for remedial exercises to be completed.”  In a very useful turn of phrase, we also read the excellent advice: “The assumption of accents, mannerisms not used in everyday speech, or performance-life effects are not tolerated in liturgical ministry.”  The document ably delineates realistic expectations of a proper ars celebrandi. 
A significant part of the document is dedicated to minutiae of the Anglican liturgical experience, but there is no reason why such could not be replaced by the parallel minutiae of Roman Mass, Office and devotions. There is also a sense in which the visible and audible expressions of progressive solemnity are spelled out.  This can be useful in the context of a Catholic seminary, where those expressions often become battles in which the lamentable hermeneutics of rupture vs. continuity are played out.  There is in the document a sense that everything has a place and everything is in its place, and is described in detail.  The lack of such instruction, written and agreed upon by the consensus of a seminary faculty, often leads, less to spontaneous creativity in the worship environment by discerning individuals, and more to needless conflict in the community. 
In Appendix 3 there is a very sound addendum the value of which I think would be seconded by most seminary faculty intent on securing some uniformity in worship, not only for good order, but to a good spiritual end:
A cautionary note on individual, personal ceremonial acts: almost everyone is tempted at one time or another to begin to practice some overt personal, unique, and idiosyncratic ceremonial acts— an extra sign of the cross, a kissing of the fingers, a deeply humble bow, some devout expressive hand movements, a genuflection, etc. While I do not doubt the sincerity of such acts, I vigorously caution against them! If they are being done overtly, then they are being done with the knowledge that they will be observed by others, and in our self-oriented culture, they can only involve a recognition that one will be seen as especially pious and devout. (“I am holier than thou!”) In fact, such actions are spiritually highly dangerous because they risk the judgment of Matthew 6:5 “Do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have their reward.” Better far to add wholly private ceremonies, i.e., making a sign of the cross on the thumb with the forefinger, a tiny cross on the forehead by the thumb covered by the hand, a closing of the eyes and a silent “Maranatha”, etc. The less pious you appear, the more truly pious you will be…in fact.

Earnest seminarians who are wont to ostentatiously adopt what they perceive as pious practices during public worship are often offended by any suggestion that such practices are out of place.  Indeed, rebuking seminarians for them has often been a tool of rupture-hermeneutic minded formators to drill out of seminarians anything smacking of “traditional” piety.  At the same time though, a clear expectation of what is and what is not appropriate for corporate worship, especially when it conforms to the actual tradition of the Church, is very helpful in forming clerics to an ars celebrandi that truly thinks with the Church.
While this particular document is very particular to the needs of one Anglican seminary community, I think it also represents a common element of both Roman and Anglican patrimony which is crucial to the formation of those who lead corporate liturgical worship: the development of an ars celebrandi that is not only grounded in sound theology and law, but also explained in a practical way for seminarians to develop more than what used to be called priestcraft: instead, a heart for true liturgical worship.  It is my devout hope that more seminaries and religious houses may seek to appropriate a very good model for our own times.     


How to Introduce Ad Orientem to Your Parish


The Ordinary Form celebrated ad orientem at Prince of Peace, Taylors, SC:
photo credit, James Honker Photography

Robert Cardinal Sarah’s landmark address to Sacra Liturgia UK this month has pastors all over the world wondering how they might introduce ad orientem worship to their parish.  Particularly given the controversy that has erupted as a result, I am sure there are some of the brethren who may be thinking the time is not ripe for moving in this direction in their parishes.  On the contrary, I think the controversy may provide the perfect opportunity to explore how to implement this change of liturgical direction in the parish, and to do so by Advent 2016.

First of all, since news of the controversy is already all over Catholic and secular news, it provides the occasion for the pastor to explain to his people what all the fuss is about.  In a homily and bulletin column series, go back to Ratzinger’s famous Hermeneutic ofContinuity address to the Roman Curia.  Then, provide the faithful with quotations from both Sarah’s address as well as the communiqué from the Holy See and Cardinal Nichol’s letter about the matter.  You can explain that this current battle in the liturgy wars is a clear manifestation of the hermeneutic of continuity vs. continuity of rupture.  You can then provide the current legislation of the Roman Missal as well as the Holy See in which the people can see for themselves that the Missal presumes the ad orientem direction and that Bishops do not have the power to forbid it.
Then, the months leading up to Advent can be a powerful time for catechesis.  Father Jay Scott Newman of St Mary’s, Greenville, has an excellent set of bulletin columns by which he introduced the idea, along with a series of sermons, to his parish.  Excerpting and integrating these into bulletin columns and pastoral letters to the faithful can introduce the idea to the faithful.
In my own parish, we put into the pews a resource, which explains to visitors and parishioners why what they may see, hear and experience at our parish may be markedly different than their experience in other American parishes.  That resource is given to all new families when they register and is excerpted in the bulletin on a regular basis.  We also invite people at Christmas and Easter to take home the booklets to learn more.
It is a great time to do a book study on Michael Lang’s seminal work TurningTowards the Lord.  Send a personal invitation to your highest donors, heads of ministries, school faculty and staff, parish employees and members of the finance and pastoral councils. 
These months of catechesis leading up to Advent may be geared towards the implementation of ad orientem worship, but can also be used to address some of the lack of catechesis and liturgical confusion all around.  In my own parish we did a book study on Ronald Knox’s Mass in Slow Motion as well as a sermonseries to which I go back from time to time. 
It is important during this time to avoid polemics over the versus populum stance.  Attacking a position that the vast majority of the faithful have come to expect as the norm for worship in their time will bear scant fruit.  We can, however, emphasise the ad orientem posture, not as evidence of “turning back the clock to before Vatican II” or even “turning our backs on the people”, but as exercising a legitimate option that is part of the creative diversity of the Church, and of uniting priest and people on the same side of the altar.  It is also important to underline that this position in the Novus Ordo is generally taken up only at the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when the prayers are addressed to the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit, with the Cross on the Altar as a focal point for the entire assembly.  You can also mention that, in St Peter’s in Rome, Mass is celebrated in both directions every day: at side altars with the altar against the wall, with priest and people facing the same direction, as well as behind the altar towards the people, in the case of the Altar of the Chair and the Papal Altar.  If it’s good enough for St Peter’s in Rome, it should good enough for your parish, too.

Pope Francis celebrates the Ordinary Form ad orientem at the Altar of St John Paul II at St Peter’s, Rome

 As far as the actual implementation goes, there are various theories about the best way to do this.  Some feel that using the so-called “Benedictine arrangement” of six candles and a more or less prominent altar cross on the altar is an important first step.  Parishes like St Mary’s went ad orientem at all their usual Sunday and weekday Masses after the catechesis occurred.  In my parish, for several years there were experiments with the new position: for brief periods of time, for holy days, for school Masses. 
Here is a way that the position can be gradually introduced:
1.    Daily Mass.  Often your daily Mass crowd can give you a very good read on the temperature of reactions in the parish.  Doing the position at some or all daily Masses, while tailoring catechesis to those Masses is a way to start.
2.    School Mass.  Catechizing school faculty, staff, parents and children through workshops, classes, and letters.  It also means that children will grow up in an environment where the position does not carry the same baggage as previous generations carried about it.
3.    Principal Mass.  After 1 and 2, maybe during Lent, is a good time to do the position at the principal Mass.  Especially if the Mass tends towards the “High Mass” variety with choir, incense and a serious complement of altar servers, it introduces the idea to Sunday worship while still giving options to those faithful who are not ready for the transition.
4.    Holy Day Masses and Holy Week.  Doing the position for those days highlights their solemnity by making them different, and the position can always be brought into the homily on that occasion.
5.    All Masses.  Repeat all of the catechesis again before doing this, and still keep a safety valve Mass, particularly the one where the oldest crowd, that might have more trouble receiving this change, go. 
6.    Keep Masses with the Bishop or visiting celebrants versus populum.  Instead of making an issue out of the contrary position, it can be presented as making the celebration special when someone comes like the Bishop or as an act of hospitality to visiting celebrants who might not be used to it.  The occasional reversion to versus populum will cause people to reflect on the differences between the two positions and want to explore the reasons for them, as well as their own reactions more. 
Some prelates legitimately fear that it will cause division and strife in the parish.  That is why priests must be prepared to know and exercise their rights in the matter, and to account for the gentle and firm way in which they have prepared the parish for the change.  Building up a culture of support for the change within the parish will also be important when the priest is criticized for doing so.

It is also important that parochial vicars or assisting priests prudently forego their right to celebrate ad orientemwhen the pastor has reaffirmed the versus populum position.  Creating division between priests in a parish will unsettle the faithful and provide them with ample opportunity to recreate that divide amongst themselves.  The young priests will get their chance, and it will be easier for them when their older brothers have blazed the trail.  If, after all of this, the Ordinary insists, then he is then in the position of having to explain to the faithful and his presbyterate why he insists on denying to some priests the right to exercise those rights which are instilled in the law itself.  A priest should always be obedient to his Ordinary, and God will reward that obedience and patience.  As more parishes experience ad orientem worship and more Catholics see that Vatican II is not undone and the sky does not indeed fall, ad orientem will move from the fringes of the life of the Church, where it has been unjustly exiled, back to the heart of the Church.          

The Christmas Novena

When I was a seminarian at the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary at St John Lateran, from 2000-2005, one of the highlights of our liturgical year was going to St Mary Major and singing the Christmas Novena in the Borghese Chapel where the image of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romani resides.  I was amazed to find that, all over Italy, people gathered to sing in Latin (!) this novena, that comes in large part from St Alphonsus.

When I came back to South Carolina, I was wondering how we might do something similar in my parish.  I based a version of the one we used at St Mary Major as well as a paraliturgical service designed for Advent called Vigilate from Msgr Martin Hellriegel, the indomitable pastor of Holy Cross, St Louis, and master of liturgical movement in parish life.

Just in case anyone is interested, I include here a link to the booklet that we have for private use only at my parish.  We have not done it publicly yet, but some of our people do it in their houses, and maybe one day we will get to do it in church!

On the Recovery of Liturgical Symbolism and Avoiding the Pitfalls of Legalism and Dilettantism

One of the great virtues of many of the younger clergy is that they do seriously want to recover much of the symbolism of the sacred liturgy that has been lost.  After a long winter of iconoclasm, we are seeing once again vestments, vesture, music and art which had fallen into disuse.  Of course, it is one thing to hand on a tradition; quite another to have that tradition interrupted and then try to recover it again.  It is in the latter case that we find ourselves with some difficulty.  Often we learn how to do things by some version of oral tradition: someone we respect tells us that things should be done in a certain manner, and we try to imitate it as such.  But there is a lot of truth in the aphorism: trust but verify.  It was this deference to unverified oral tradition that allegedly led Alfred Hope Patton to insist on the use of absurdly tall birettas at Walsingham, when he was unaware that what he thought was an accurate depiction in art of them was actually a parody. 
The great Roman liturgist Leon Gromier lamented that in his time prelates were discarding things willy-nilly because they did not know why they were instituted in the first place.  In our own time, we should be careful to restore things until we know how they were used in the first place.  I became sensitive to this reality as a young seminarian when I listened to the curmudgeony old canons of the major basilicas in Rome.  They knew all of the minutiae of pre-Vatican II ceremonial and had rejected it as they adopted the reforms.  So when they saw younger clergy doing things in the name of tradition that were not actually done at all, they arguably rightly dismissed them as ignorant and more concerned with externals than the true spirit of the liturgy.
On the one hand, it is true that, where there are no rubrics, but merely ceremonial indications, concern for liturgical decorum can disintegrate into pedantic willfulness.  How many faithful people have been disedified by the nasty ritualistic Syllabus of Errors imparted by haughty young men with more nerve than sense on terrified altar servers and pewsitters!  One can see why Pope Francis very sensibly calls out pharisaical behavior that masks the real point of the liturgy.
On the other hand, though, if we are to recover liturgical symbolism in all its fullness, we should be careful to investigate as much as we can before we attempt to do so.  Otherwise, we can risk devolving into a liturgical dilettantism which invents idiosyncracies as “local custom.”  While local variations across the Catholic orb have always and will continue to exist, I think it important that serious people insist that observing forms which can be appealed to some authority is closer to the communal spirit of the liturgy than just assuming that my own personal oral tradition is how things ought to be done.  It is also important to achieve a welcoming and hospitable environment in churches and sacristies as clergy have more possibilities for travel.  The last thing a visiting cleric wants to do is to go to a church for Mass and get involved in acrimonious debate over minutiae.  But respect for the authorities, and knowledge of them, could be helpful in this regard.
Let me give a few examples: I see constantly in pictures and in person the phenomenon of clerics who love the biretta, (dignum et justum est) but who wear it indoors in procession while in choir.  I have seen this in Anglican churches, churches of the Anglican Ordinariate Use, the Extraordinary Form and Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  Fortescue and Baldeschi call for the biretta to be carried, not worn, in processions indoors by clergy in choir and worn, not carried, by the ministri parati.  Ritual Notesand Anglican Services, the comparable Anglican authorities, carry the same instruction.  Pearcy Deamer’s Parson’s Handbook laments that anyone would employ “foreign headgear” during the divine service at all.  When I have discreetly tried to point this out when being asked about the proper thing to do, I have been assured that I was wrong, that the in house style of name the person or the parish or the seminary or whatever is the only right thing to do.  While none of the books have any authority as such, they do have the weight of tradition.  Should they not be prized over local custom that is in the mind of the beholder? 
Once I was very excited to hear that a group of young levites in Italy prevailed for the veil to be restored to the tabernacle of their church.  And then I saw that they had lovingly made a black tabernacle veil.  Would Jesus be offended by being swathed in mourning by men who were anxious to please Him?  Surely not.  But again, should we not also bow to the weight of the accepted authorities in this matter?
Not everyone is familiar with the ins and outs of Nainfa’s Costume of Prelates.  Whether some like it or not, lace is certainly prized by many. But I wonder about the use of the rochet by clergy who have no right to it.  You see priests administering sacraments in a rochet, when before they would have donned a surplice over the rochet to do so, if they had the right to use it at all.  There is a disturbing tendency to say, “Well, the Church is so ugly, let me use anything that is pretty to solemnize the divine services.”  Certainly a noble sentiment, but is obedience to the respected authorities for whom these things were living tradition not better, and more spiritually fruitful, than the sacrifice of praise even in beauty?
Deference to these things marks out the difference between the amateur and the professional.  It also hopefully keeps a sense of order, perspective and charity.  I was once asked my opinion about a particular liturgy which was very lovingly executed by some very well-meaning people.  When I pointed out that I did not understand why certain things were done the way they were (namely, differently than any of the Roman or Anglican authorities who were invoked by those executing the liturgy), I was accused of being mean-spirited and disrespectful, and a promising friendship was compromised on liturgical niceties.  We have carried a very modern spirit of individualism, so easily offended, into the worship space in such a way as to not want to be corrected by anyone.  Is this not even more inimical to the spirit of true common worship than bad taste?
Music is not exempt from these pitfalls either.  The liturgically sound priest and musician combination is rare to find.  So often what happens is a pastiche of “I want it done this way” that has to constantly reinvent itself with every new celebrant or organist.  How often rows have ensued about how the Gradual is to be performed, or the placement of the choir, or the vesture of the cantor!
The struggle to recover as much as we can of our Catholic liturgical tradition is certainly worth the growing pains.  We must avoid the extremes of legalism and dilettantism.  We must always carry forward our work in communion with others, with charity reigning before all else.  But we should also develop a proper deference for, and assiduous study, not only of the texts of liturgical prayers, rubrics and music, but also the ceremonial books which suggest how they might all come together in a beautiful way.  Humility is the most attractive virtue in the celebration of the sacrifice of redemption, and gives a deeper luster to the beauty with which we execute it.