The breadth and depth of Holy Mass

Father John A. Kiley

In a small parish graveyard outside of Orvieto in central Italy, the headstone for Archbishop Hannibal Bugnini reads simply “Liturgiae Amator & Cultor,” that is, “Lover and Server of the Liturgy.” Archbishop Bugnini certainly did not singlehandedly transform the Catholic Mass from the priest focused ritual of the Council of Trent into the lay welcoming ceremony celebrated today.
But there is no denying that the Archbishop’s insights and inclinations greatly influenced the panel of bishops and theologians that ordained what today is known as the Novus Ordo, the “New Order,” the ordinary form of the Catholic Mass vastly celebrated throughout the believing world today. According to biographer Yves Chiron, Archbishop Bugnini appreciated the Roman liturgy as “parochial” and “dynamic.”
By parochial he certainly meant involving the whole parish: clergy and laity, priests and deacons, lectors and servers, ushers and gift bearers, musicians and choir, the pious and the penitent. The former order of Mass greatly and rightly emphasized the vital priestly role exercised by the ordained clergy. After all, the unique role of the priest was exactly what Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers despised about Roman Catholicism. “Every man his own priest,” was Luther’s battle cry. The Church had to correct this faulty notion and the centrality of the priest at Mass was one powerful instrument for conveying this belief.
But after five hundred years, the Second Vatican Council determined that the broader, rightful role of deacons and laity in Catholic liturgical practice should be reviewed and revised. All the “people of God” should be accorded a proper participatory role in the Church’s sacramental liturgies. Mass should be a parish and not simply a priestly event. Along this line Catholic dioceses and parishes have benefited from restoration of the diaconate, the implementation of competent lectors, the employment of well-trained servers, the possibility of extra-ordinary ministers of Communion, the encouragement of congregational singing and even the respectful employment of greeters and collectors.
By dynamic his Excellency undoubtedly had in mind the “participatio actuosa,” the “active participation” envisioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the liturgy. Catholic devotional life has indeed been dynamic. May Processions around the parish property, carrying of patron saint statues through city streets, living rosaries, Stations of the Cross, and parish novenas have offered much lay involvement over the years. The Catholic liturgy on the other hand was far from dynamic, utilizing near-Byzantine ceremonies, in an alien tongue, within a gated compound to which only the clergy had access.
In contrast to this ritual stagnation, Archbishop Bugnini could hear oral responses in the language of the people; he could hear readings from the Old Testament, the Epistles and the Gospels, read by the laity and proclaimed daily by the clergy; and he could appreciate the solemn canons and words of consecration at the heart of every Mass prayed audibly for the edification of God’s people. Thanks to his insights, the Book of the Gospels may now be carried to the altar in procession, lay readers may approach the lectern from their pew, gifts of bread and wine may be presented from the community as the altar is prepared for sacrifice, a sign of peace may be exchanged within the assembly, the cup may be extended to the faithful and the host may be received into outstretched hands by a laity appropriately standing as befits their dignity as baptized Christians.
Although the wisdom and decrees of the fathers gathered at the Second Vatican Council have had over fifty years to penetrate Catholic minds and effect Catholic practices, the Council’s reforms still meet with some resistance, or worse, some rejection. Pope Francis has recently displayed some impatience with such liturgical sluggishness by limiting private Masses at the Vatican and by curtailing the broadening use of the Tridentine Mass around the world.
In the early years after the Council there were admittedly some excessive liturgical novelties. Experimental canons, abbreviated prayers, slovenly vestments, creative theatrics, inappropriate participants, unworthy utensils, and a neglect of piety were not lacking. It is no wonder that Pope Benedict in Milestones regarded Catholic liturgical practice after Vatican II as “a disintegration.” Abuses notwithstanding, the current Catholic missal, developed with Archbishop Bugnini’s parochial and dynamic ideals in mind, best expresses the breadth as well as the depth of the Church’s central prayer, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


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