Monday, 13 April 2009

Pope Paul VI and Liturgical Renewal


The work that has been accomplished since the Second Vatican Council for the renewal of the Liturgy has been enormous and has been a profound spiritual enrichment in the lives of the people of God. The Reports read at the meeting for the Presidents and Secretaries of National Liturgical Commissions held in Rome in October 1984 to mark the twentieth anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium testify to this fact (1).

It is not surprising that in such an immense undertaking there should have been some negative aspects.  Pope Paul VI himself observed concerning those who have gone to excess that they: "are not very numerous, but they are very noisy" (2)

Our present day system of communications is beyond doubt extraordinary, but it also brings with it the effect that a small local event can appear of national or even international importance.  This has had the result in the liturgical field of sometimes giving on occasion an exaggerated importance to reports of liturgical abuses. It often happens that there is an excess of enthusiasm combined with an incommensurate understanding of the material. Often attempts are made to introduce in a celebration in a parish church something that was seen during a workshop or seminar, and sometimes happens that despite much good will the result is a minor disaster. Very few parishes have the necessary resources to implement all the desirable aspects of liturgical renewal. These resources need to be developped, in a word the perennial problem of formation.  What liturgists write about celebration, the worship experience and so on, not infrequently has no relation to the reality of average Sunday celebration.  

It is not out of place to recall that during his pontificate Pope Paul VI gained a reputation in some quarters as one who too often lamented the ills, not just of the liturgy but in every sphere of life and activity. It should, however, be recognised that the circumstances of those difficult post conciliar years made it inevitable that the Pope should draw attention to those matters about which needed correction or tendencies against which it was necessary to issue a word of caution.  
Now that thirty years have elapsed since his death it is an apt moment to draw attention to the discourses of Pope Paul VI on the implementation of the programme for the renewal of the Liturgy as initiated by the Second Vatican Council and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium. This short Article has only one purpose, namely to encourage the reader to look once again at the Addresses of Paul VI because in them it is possible to find an objective and balanced statement concerning renewal and to show that, as pope Paul pointed out so many years ago,  there is still much to be done to improve the quality of liturgical celebrations.

Attention is focused in the following pages to a discourse given by Pope Paul VI during a General Audience on August 22, 1973, and particularly to that part which could be called a "decalogue of suggestions" (3). The "decalogue" was "put together empirically" from the experiences and observations of those involved in pastoral work "in today's fields of the kingdom of God". The observations on each of part of the "decalogue" are where possible inspired by other discourses of Paul VI, since not only does this avoid giving might what might be interpreted as a tendentious commentary, but the interest in this present collection is in the words and work of Pope Paul VI.

I.  There must be a faithful, intelligent. and careful application of the liturgical reform promoted by the Council and particularized by the competent church authorities.  Whoever blocks it or slows it down without reason loses the providential opportunity for the revitalization and spread of the Catholic religion in our times. Whoever exploits the reform as a way of indulging in arbitrary experiments dissipates energy and outrages the sensus Ecclesiae.
Now is the hour for honouring in God's Church with good will and with unanimity that solemn lex orandi: reform of the liturgy.

The Council called the zeal for the promotion and restoration of the liturgy "a sign of the providential dispositions of God in our time, a movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church" (SC n. 43). Prudence and sensitivity are necessary but sometimes an over cautiousness and a delaying until a more opportune moment, can be as counter productive and cause as much harm as the opposite tendency. In his Consistorial Address of 24 May, 1976, Pope Paul VI returned to this subject with great clarity,  and in the light of the recent sad events concerning His Excellency Archbishop Lefebvre, these remarks have an even great poignancy:

"One extreme is made up of those who - claiming the strongest allegiance to the Church and the magisterium - reject and repudiate in practice the very principles of the Council and their subsequent application and reformation as well as the measured carrying out of these principles by the work of the Holy See and the conference of bishops under our Christ-given authority <...> They repudiate the authority of today in favour of that of another age." (4)

The other extreme to which Pope Paul VI drew attention in the same discourse concerned those who while believing themselves to be following the road opened by the Council but in fact have a one sided view:

"With equal firmness we repudiate the course of action taken by those who decide that they have the right to create a liturgy of their own, at times reducing the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments to a celebration of life or their own struggles, and to the status of a symbol of their own spirit of community." (5)

Few who read paragraph 3 of section 22 of Sacrosanctum Concilium twenty five years ago would have imagined how important was the statement "no other person, not even if he is a priest, may on his own add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy".
In the very first days of the implementation liturgical renewal, Pope Paul VI gave the following words of advice and encouragement, which when it is remembered that they were pronounced as early as January 1965 take on almost a prophetic character,

"It may well happen that the reforms will affect practices both dear to us and still worthy of respect; that the reforms will demand efforts that, at the outset, are a strain. But we must be devout and trusting <...> the authority of the Church teaches us and guarantees the soundness of the reforms..." (6)

lI. Always to be recommended is catechesis -philosophical, scriptural, theological, pastoral - on divine worship as the Church proclaims it today.  For prayer is not a blind feeling; it is the utterance of a soul enlightened by truth and impelled by  charity (ST 2a2ae,  83.1 ad 2).

Pope Paul VI had a profound realisation that prayer is the indispensable instrument of renewal. He also realized that it is not only the instrument it is also the concrete sign of renewal. Where the Church is alive, there is prayer. "Prayer" stated Paul VI "is the breath of the Mystical Body  <...> The Church is a community that prays ... the Church is before all else a society of worship; its most pressing concern is prayer".    One of the aims of the Council Pope Paul to those present at a General Audience was "to reawaken prayer among the people of God" (7). 
During the course of the meeting for the Presidents and Secretaries of National Liturgical Commissions (Rome, October 1984) the need for catechesis was frequently and sometimes forcefully underlined, "There is a crucial need for widespread and intensive liturgical formation of the laity and especially of priests".  It still remains an area which has to be given attention.

III. The voices of authority advise us in carrying out reform to exercise great caution with regard to the traditional religious practices of people; to guard against extinguishing religious sentiment in the course of giving it a new and more authentically spiritual expression. A sense for what is true, beautiful, simple, a sense of the community, and of tradition - always deserving respect - must rule over the outward manifestations of worship,  with a view to preserving the attachment of the people to them.

It is not without significance to recall that these words were pronounced fifteen years ago. There significance and indeed, urgency is ever more evident. From all parts of the world the desire is expressed for a development of the devotional life of the faithful. It is true that the liturgical renewal brought with it immense enrichment for the spiritual life of the people of God, but the Council itself and subsequent teaching of Paul VI never failed to underline that the liturgy does not meet all the spiritual requirements of the faithful, but that it should on the one hand inspire devotions and on the other reap the benefit of the devotional life of the faithful. 
The sense for what is true and beautiful is an important part of liturgical worship, there is still a need for what is sometimes described the "splendour of worship". There is still a place for the capacity to evoke a sense of wonderment, the first step on the road to contemplation. Many, especially young people want to learn of the Church's tradition of contemplative prayer, a prayer nourished by the Liturgy.

IV. The family must be the great school of devotion, of spirituality, of fidelity to religion.  The Church has deep trust in the sensitive, authoritative, irreplaceable activity of parents as religious teachers.

The new Book of Blessings opens with Order for the Blessing of Families. This is not just a chance ordering of the material but a recognition of the importance of the "Ecclesia domestica" (De Benedicitionibus n. 58). If the spirit of prayer is not present in the home it makes it more difficult to understand community prayer. It is in the home, at table and at other times that children can effectively learn to pray together and learn that prayer is an integral part of fullness of life. Parents have to take more responsibility for the religious formation of their children, this includes preparing them for the reception of the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion.

V. The obligation to observe Sundays and holydays of obligation retains more than ever its fundamental importance. The Church has made concessions to make this observance possible. Anyone aware of the meaning and purpose of this precept of the Church must see it not simply as a basic duty, but as a right, a need,  an honour, an opportunity; no real and intelligent believer can, without grave reasons, refuse to fulfill it.

The Directory published by the Congregation for Divine Worship concerning Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest underlines the importance of Sunday and seeks to foster community worship even when it is not possible to celebrate the Eucharist. The "coming together" on the Lord's Day, the assembling in the Lord's name even when the Eucharist cannot be celebrated is a way of maintain christian identity, and it cannot be forgotten that the Lord is always present when his followers gather in his name. 

Vl. The established community claims for itself the right to the presence of all its faithful.  Should some be permitted a certain autonomy in the practice of religion as distinct, homogeneous groups, they must retain the understanding of the Church's nature: it is a people, with one heart and one soul: it is even socially a unity; it is a Church.

Liturgically the Church is to be seen as the society of praise and worship. Within the unity of one heart and one soul there is always the reality of diversity. 

"The Church is a community that prays, a people singing praise and voicing their petitions, a people of God ... The Church is before else a society of worship; its most pressing concern is prayer" (8).

VIl. As it unfolds, a liturgical celebration, especially of the Mass, is always a very serious action.  lt must, then, be prepared and carried out with great care in its every detail, even the externals (as to gravity, dignity, schedule, duration, etc.,  the unfailing simplicity and sacredness of the spoken word). Here the ministers of worship have a grave responsibility in regard to their own performance and example.

This concern for detail was characteristic of Pope Paul VI. Those who knew him saw in him a man of exquisite courtesy and thoughtfulness. Concern for externals can be exaggerated and has little value if not accompanied by internal dispositions. It is however rare to find that where externals are neglected, interior dispositions are well cultivated. External discipline is a support and a safeguard for higher values. Reverence for the sacred mysteries will help create that sense of the "mystery of the presence of God" which some of the faithful feel is sometimes lacking. Care on the part of the priest and other ministers in the preparation and celebration of the liturgy is a mark of respect for, and a witness to the true spirit of service to the assembly who are gathered together in the Lord's name in the power of the Holy Spirit. On a practical level it can be said that standards in the assembly regarding every detail should not be lower than those accepted in other activity. To accept the responsibility.

VllI.Similarly, the assistance of the faithful must contribute to the worthy performance of worship: by their punctuality, orderliness, silence, above all their participation, the principal point of the liturgical reform.  All of this has been said before,  but how much remains be done.

It would sometimes appear that faults in the celebration of the liturgy are largely those of the clergy. Pope Paul VI has quite clearly indicated the responsibility of every individual member of the local community. The emphasis laid upon the participation of the faithful with reference to Sacrosanctum Concilium n. 14 is not without significance. At the very beginning of liturgical reform Pope Paul spoke quite unambiguously and firmly about the people's responsibility, even rebuking those who "betray a certain spiritual laziness, the refusal to make the personal effort toward understanding and participation...". Concerning the effort to be made the Pope stated,

"Before, it was enough to assist; now, it is necessary to take part. Before, being there was enough; now, attention and activity are required... The assembly becomes alive and active; taking part means allowing the soul to become attentive, to enter into the dialogue, to sing, to act. The unity of a community action, consisting not only of outward gestures but also of an inner movement of faith and devotion, invests the rite with a special power and beauty". (9)

How many of those who have complained about abuses have examined their consciences on this point. As Pope Paul VI remarked one of the important ideas that emerged from the Council in relation to spiritual formation was that of the "sense of community... the Church is communio. If you wish to be Christians, to be Catholics, to be the faithful, you can no longer forget this existential reality." (10).

IX. Prayer in its full meaning is to have two levels, the personal and the communal, as the liturgical norms have indicated.
There should be no conflict between prayer in common and prayer apart. In the Gospel the Lord taught the disciples of the need to go apart to a quiet place for prayer. It has happened that although there may be no conflict there has been some confusion
between prayer in common and prayer apart. Some have complained that during the Liturgy they have no time to express their inner sentiments to the Lord. The introduction of periods of sacred silence is not the answer to such a problem, since the purpose of such moments is not to give within the communal celebration a space for individual "private" prayer, but to evoke the spirit of prayer. 
Pope Paul already faced this issue in his discourse of 17 March 1965 when he drew attention to those matters which,

" give evidence of a degree of confusion and therefore of uneasiness. Until now people were comfortable; they could pray the way they wished ... Now on all sides there are new things, changes, surprises... in short, there is no more peace..." 

The key to the solution of these problems is given towards the end of the same discourse when Pope Paul spoke of the need for

"an awareness that there is a need to achieve simultaneously two spiritual acts: a genuine, personal participation in the rite, with all its implications of the essential in religion; communion with the assembly of the faithful, with the Ecclesia. The first of these acts is bent upon love for God; the second, upon love for neighbour. Thus the Gospel of love becomes a reality in the souls of our time. Therein truly lies something beautiful, new, great, full of light and hope" (11).

Pope Paul addressed this issue on several occasions and with a directness which leaves no room for doubt about his position concerning renewal, concerning communal and private prayer he said on another occasion of the need,

" to foster a spirit and practice of personal prayer. Without a genuine, intimate, continuous inner prayer-life in faith and charity we cannot keep ourselves Christians; we cannot profitably and wisely share in the flourishing liturgical renaissance" (12).

X. Singing: what a great problem!  But take heart: it is not insoluble. A new  epoch is beginning for sacred music. Many have called for the preservation in all nations of the Latin, Gregorian chant of the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.  May that be God's will. Then we can study what steps can be taken to achieve it.

There has existed and still exists a misunderstanding in many parts about the status of the use of latin in the liturgy. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium stated quite clearly that the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites (SC n. 36). The use of the vernacular was promoted by the same Constitution, nevertheless with the injunction that "steps should be taken enabling the faithful to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass belonging to them" (n. 54). It was this recommendation that Pope Paul VI was echoing in the tenth item of this decalogue. The equation of  the celebration of Mass in Latin with the "Tridentine Mass" can obscure the fact that Latin is still the language of the Church today and not something belonging to a former time.  A Mass sung in Latin with the ancient Gregorian Chants is still a normal part of the Church's liturgical life and indeed still occurs every day in many parts of the world.
A study of the plainsong melodies would be a valid means to gaining insight into the relationship between text and melody. The most perfect examples of plainsong show how the melody is completely at the service of the text. An interesting example is the Introit for Easter Sunday "Resurrexi". Some may think that the Easter morning celebration should open with a Fanfare or a tune which proclaims to the ends of the earth the victory of Christ. The ancient plainsong melody, on the contrary, is meditative and calm, suggesting the rising from the sleep of death, refreshed with new life. Of course other insights are possible and legitimate, but the patrimony of sacred music is also a didactic heritage and not just a collection or witness to former liturgical practice.
Discourses and Directives about Sacred Music are not lacking, but in a society in which music, especially among the young, occupies a significant place, it is surprising how many parishes have little singing. 
The Holy Spirit who raised up musicians in the past can and will do the same in the Church today. This, however, requires that we work with the Holy Spirit and provide the means and occasions for formation.

So many things: yet how beautiful they are and ultimately how simple. If they are carried out,  what power their new outpouring upon the community of the faithful would have to bring about in the Church and in the world the longed for  religious renewal.

Pope Paul VI was very conscious of the ecclesial dimension of prayer, for him a strong, living prayer life was inseparable from the sensus Ecclesiae. He urged the faithful to "pray with the Church and for the Church". The exhortations of Paul VI are as relevant today as when first pronounced. If this present short paper has aroused an interest in turning once again to examine the addresses of Pope Paul VI it will have achieved the purpose for which it was undertaken.


(1) Congregazione per il Culto Divino, Atti del Convegno dei Presidenti e Segretari delle Commissioni Nazionali di Liturgia Venti Anni di Riforma Liturgica Bilancio e Prospettive Città del Vaticano, 23-28 ottobre 1984 (Edizioni Messagero Padova 1986).
(2)   AAS 68 (1976) 369-378
(3) The text can be found in Notitiae  (=NOT) 9 (1973) 297-300 and in L'Osservatore Romano 23 agosto 1973. An English translation can be found in Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979 Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts The Liturgical Press, Collegeville Minnesota (1982).
(4) As in n. (2)
(5) As in n. (2)
(6) General Audience 13 January 1965 L'Osservatore Romano 14 gen 1965
(7) General Audience 3 November 1971 in NOT 7 (1971) 377-378
(8) General Audience 3 November 1971 in NOT 7 (1971) 377-378.
(9) General Audience 17 March 1965 L'Osservatore Romano 18 marzo 1965
(10) General Audience 2 June 1970 in NOT 6 (1970) 233-235
(11) General Audience 17 March 1965 L'Osservatore Romano 18 marzo 1965
(12) General Audience 20 August 1969 in NOT 5 (1969) 339-342; See also General Audience 22 April 1970 in NOT 6 (1970) 157-160;  General Audience 3 November 1971 in NOT 7 (1971) 377-378.
(13) NOT 9 (1973) 302-303

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