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A Change of Pace in the Catholic Blogosphere: Praising Vatican II’s Liturgical Reform

March 8, 2007

For all the criticism that is levelled against the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical reform of the Roman Rite within the Catholic blogosphere, there is little praise to balance out the picture. Without focusing on how particular parishes have or have not implimented these reforms accurately or on the proliferating abuses that inevitably follow an ecumenical council of such a grand scope as that of Vatican II (think of how it took almost 200 years to implement the reforms of the Council of Trent), I’d like to point to a few reforms that have made our Liturgy richer and more in conformity with the early Christians forms of worship.

1. Vatican II’s reforms aimed at the Roman Rite. It’s important to realize that Vatican II did not change the entire liturgical life of the Church. It reformed one particular rite of the Catholic Church, the Roman Rite. Very often critics of Vatican II fabricate an historical image of the “pre-Vatican II” Church as one uniform body with a homogeneous liturgy. This is simply not accurate. While the the so-called Tridentine Mass (I don’t call it the “Latin Mass” since the Novus Ordo Mass can be, and has been, said entirely in Latin) was the official Liturgy of the Roman Rite, there were and still are a number of Eastern rite Liturgies. It’s easy for so-called “traditionalist” Catholics to forget that Eastern Catholicism has a long and celebrated history of tradition of the vernacular with a plurality of eucharistic prayers.

2. Vatican II drew from ancient liturgies and from the Eastern rites for its reforms. Vatican II helped the Roman Rite to recover many traditions that were lost during the Carolingian era of the Western Church. Looking to ancient liturgical texts as well as to current practices in the Eastern rites which helped preserve some of the most ancient traditions of the Church:
-the celebration of the Liturgy in the vernacular, which unites congregation and priest allowing for fuller participation by all Catholics in the Liturgy
-communion under both species
-reception of the Eucharist standing, which symbolizes the hope of Resurrection
concelebration of the Eucharist
-conducting the Sacrament of Penance face-to-face
-more active participation of the laity such as the proclamation of the Word of God

These reforms and others capture ways in which the earliest Christians worshipped and expressed liturgical life.

3. The 1970 Roman Missal (originally announced in 1969) included three added eurcharistic prayers providing a total of four different prayers within the Latin Rite:
a. Prayer I: The “Roman Canon” or “First Eucharistic Prayer”, which is derived from the Tridentine Missal
b. Prayer II: A prayer adapted from St. Hippolytus‘ third century Apostolic Tradition
c. Prayer III: A modern prayer
d. Prayer IV: A prayer adapted from the “anaphora” of St. Basil the Great

These prayers express the true tradition of the Church, representing its liturgical life from antiquity (Prayer II and IV), through the Middle Ages (Prayer I) and into the present day (Prayer III).

4. The revised lectionary has enriched the Liturgy of the Roman Rite. The congregation now hears readings from the entire Bible. The Tridentine Mass neglected altogether the Gospel of Mark, and certain passages from the Gospel of Matthew were read repeatedly in Latin (one example is the parable of wise and foolish virgins that was read at EVERY feast day for women saints). The revised lectionary exposes Catholics to virtually the entire Bible, saturating them with the Word of God.

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