Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

A eucharistic revival that renews the church: Part IV

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

In the fall of 1965, I was a junior in high school. That was the year my home parish of Sts. Peter and Paul in South Omaha, Nebraska, was making plans to build a new church.

Our pastor, Monsignor John Juricek, who had been with us since the 1920s, had planned on a building much like the original Gothic-style church, with a long nave. The sanctuary, cordoned off by a Communion rail, would contain an altar against the front wall. Plenty of niches for statues and a choir loft on the back wall were also in the drawings.

But that year everything seemed to be changing in the church, and for the decade that followed. One Sunday, Monsignor spoke at all the Masses to announce that the old design would not do. The bishops were meeting in Rome for the Second Vatican Council. It was clear things would be different.

Monsignor felt an obligation not to build a church that would be outdated. Change was coming and we had to plan accordingly. The church would be in a fan shape. The altar would face the people. There would be no Communion rail separating the altar from the people.

Monsignor wanted people to know that the liturgical changes decided at the council had been talked about for a long time, but never officially. He recalled reading books in the seminary about the way early Christians celebrated the liturgy. There was quiet discussion about the value of bringing some of those practices back, particularly if they were lost treasures to be recovered. As I discovered later in my studies of Christian worship, discussions about restoring the liturgy of the early church dated back to the 16th century.

In fact, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council were deliberate in choosing the date of Dec. 4, 1963, to issue their first document, the Constitution on the Liturgy. It was exactly 400 years ago to the day that their predecessors in the 16th century met for the final time at the Council of Trent and asked Pope Pius IV and his successors to carry on the reform of the Mass. But that work was incomplete, as only one cardinal was tasked to do it and he had limited resources and knowledge of the liturgy.

Now, four centuries later, the bishops at Vatican II could complete the aspiration of their ancestors not only to reform and renew but to restore the Roman liturgy to its earliest form by taking advantage of the scholarship done in the 19th and 20th centuries, which rediscovered many of the writings of the Fathers of the early church. That is why they could describe their efforts as being in continuity with an unbroken tradition of the liturgy.

In less than two months, Pope St. Paul VI established a commission (consilium) of 50 cardinals and bishops, along with 200 experts from around the world. The pope gave them two tasks. They were to revise the liturgical books in accord with the norms established by the council, and they were to provide resources to educate priests and the laity about the renewal.

Within a decade after the Constitution on the Liturgy, Catholics witnessed a reform and restoration of the Liturgy on a scale that has no precedent in the history of the church. (See sidebar.)

Admittedly, there were bumps in the road with such a massive undertaking. Clearly, there was an unevenness in the preparation of priests and people. What was really missing was the link between renewal of the liturgy and the movement to authentically renew the church. Without that deeper link to the renewal of the church, the restoration of the liturgy easily became a matter of cosmetic changes.

And for some, that meant making the Mass “relevant” and largely unattached from the spiritual development of Catholics that the council envisioned. This led to abuses and what St. Pope John Paul II called “outlandish innovations” in his letter marking the 25th anniversary of the council.

Some of these abuses fostered disrespect for authentic liturgical renewal and caused confusion. Happily, this situation has been addressed through ongoing education and catechesis about the true spirit of the reforms.

In that same letter, the late pope also observed that while “the vast majority of the pastors and the Christian people have accepted the liturgical reform in a spirit of obedience and indeed joyful fervor,” there was resistance to the reforms. Some people, he noted, considered religious practice to be a private affair, so they resisted the call for active participation of the faithful, preferring to be left alone.

And then there were others who did not believe that the church could reform the liturgy, for, as he put it, “they turned back in a one-sided and exclusive way to the previous liturgical forms which some of them consider to be the sole guarantee of certainty of faith.”

Yet, in spite of all of this, the late saintly pope urged us not lose sight of the enormous positive effect the renewal of the liturgy has had for the church, with the wider use of Scripture, prayers in the common language of people, the increased participation of the faithful, the ministries of laypeople.

These, he noted, are all signs of the “movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church.”



Activity of the consilium

• September 1964: Directives were published on how churches should be arranged architecturally to adapt to the reforms. The setting for Mass was to include a presidential chair, a lectern (ambo), the altar facing the people in the body of the church, the nave.

• March 1965: Documents were issued permitting Communion under both kinds for the faithful and concelebration by priests.

• March 1967: An instruction on sacred music was issued.

• June 1968: A revised Lectionary and a new Missal with new eucharistic prayers were published. In this same year, we saw the beginning of a partial use of the vernacular, which became complete in 1971.

• 1969: A new liturgical calendar, and new rites for funerals, infant baptism and marriage were issued.

• November 1970: The Liturgy of the Hours was revised.

• January 1972: The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was published.

• January 1973: Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist were introduced.

• December 1973: The new form of the Rite of Penance was issued.


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