Little did I know how my life would change. In fact , on that fateful day some  50 years ago, long before the Internet age, I had no idea that anything had happened. But in far off Rome, the Second Vatican Council was issuing its very first document : the "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy" entitled "SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM" on , 4th December, 1963 - almost 53 years ago.

The world was still reeling from the news of the appalling assassination, of President John F. Kennedy only 13 days earlier and the murder of his believed assassin only 11 days earlier and the solemn , dramatic funeral of the late President only 10 days earlier. Little wonder the document did not have much public impact.

In fact, when the Bishops of the World were asked to make submissions Preparatory to the Council to its Secretariat, the Australian Bishops had no suggestions to make on the reform of the Sacred Liturgy.

Yet SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM was to be the first document issued by the Council, recognising the centrality of the Sacred Liturgy in the life of the Catholic Church. The document itself was very re-assuring, totally unsurprising - everyone reasonably well-read in matters liturgical expected the areas in which it suggested some reform might be required. But, like the Spanish Inquisition ( "nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!") nobody expected what followed, except for a few folk strategically placed who had an agenda which was NOT that of the Council Fathers.

Those with the Agenda  - not for reform , but for change had a hand in  drafting SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM and, as a result we find the document replete with phrases which left the door ajar for the " false spirit of the Council" to insinuate itself. 

Even so, the document the Council Fathers approved is remarkably solid and encouraging - the problem came to be that it was played fast and loose with, or simply ignored in significant areas.

It begins with high aspirations as one might expect  and the Introduction ends :

                                Holy Mass before Sacrosanctum Concilium

" Lastly, in faithful obedience to tradition , the sacred Council declares that Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigour to meet the circumstances and need of modern times."

This reasonableness and great respect for tradition in which the Liturgy had organically grown permeates the express will of the Council Fathers throughout the document. Chapter 1.1 is a careful analysis of the theological basis for the Liturgy and it speaks at 10 of the Liturgy as " the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows."

Chapter 1.II urges the promotion of Liturgical Instruction and Active Participation.This Instruction is to be especially directed at the Clergy and Seminarians, but also the Laity. In referring to " full conscious and active participation............ by all the people", the document fails to mention exactly what it means by this. There was no problem in the Latin in which the document is primarily written for the word "active" comes to us from the word used  in the phrase " participatio actuosa" in which sense it means " effective or full of life" the reference being understood as meaning completely involved in spirit and mind. However, it came to be used as if the Latin word had been "activa" which refers to physical activity.This would lead in a few years to much clericalizing of the Laity and a tendency to laicise the Clergy.

Chapter I.III  deals with the Council Fathers' ideas about "The Reform of the Sacred Liturgy". Noting that the Liturgy is composed of  
" immutable elements divinely instituted" and of " elements subject to change", they go on to say : " These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the Liturgy or have become unsuited to it." It goes on to establish Norms for the regulation of the Sacred Liturgy. After noting the the right of the Holy See and such delegations as it might make to Bishops to govern the Liturgy, the first thing it asserts is " Therefore no other person, even if he be a Priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.

Who could have guessed that this first and fundamental decision was to be perhaps the most abused in the decades that followed.

The document goes on : " Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them: and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing."

Later at 35.1 the document requires that there should be more readings at Mass from sacred Scripture, and that they should be more varied and suitable.

At 36.1 The Council Fathers specify :

" Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.Further at 36.2 Allowance is made to extend the use of the vernacular in the Readings and directives and in some prayers and chants.All of these variations were subject to the ultimate approval of the Holy See.

In 37 et seq. Norms for inculturation are set out.And at 43 et seq. Norms are given for the establishment of Liturgical Commissions, Institutes of Pastoral Liturgy and Commissions for Sacred Music and Sacred Art.

From 47 onward to 58 the document becomes more specific about how the revision of the Liturgy of the Mass is to proceed. Simplicity is extolled, "prayers of the faithful" are to be restored ,a suitable place is to be found for the vernacular " Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those arts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them. The possibility of Communion " under both kinds" is permitted in limited circumstances. Concelebration Of Mass is approved and a new rite for this is to be drawn up.

Chapter III deals with the other sacraments and Sacramentals, Chapter IV with the Divine Office and Chapter V with the Liturgical year. In each certain changes were mandated of varying degrees of significance. Chapter VI deals with Sacred Music and at 116 The Council Fathers decree:

" The Church acknowledges Gregorian Chant as specifically suited to the Roman Liturgy : therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."

Chapter VII deals with Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings. An Appendix deals with a possible reform of the Calendar and the possibility of stabilising the date of Easter.

That was the Document and this was the day it was promulgated.

The implementation of the SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM was entrusted to a Consilium headed by Archbishop Annibale Bugnini.But let us not talk about unpleasant things on this 50th Anniversary.

We can simply reflect, that sometimes things are being set in train that will profoundly affect the course of our lives and we don't even guess that it is being done.

No doubt all of us who were alive then were in just that situation.All that had been order and devotion, was about to become disorder, stress,distraction and confusion.And there were rapidly appearing more vacant pews at Mass on Sundays.None of it was the letter of the Council Document, it was all the false "spirit" of the Council.



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