Don't step back on Vatican II reforms

By  Bernard Daly, Catholic Register Special
  • March 28, 2008

{mosimage}Recently it would appear that top Vatican officials are joining the attack on liturgy changes approved by Pope Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council.

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, challenges widespread use of the vernacular, priests facing the people and communion in the hand.

In a June, 25, 2006, interview with La Croix daily newspaper in Paris, Ranjith’s target was the  full use of the vernacular language at Mass and turned altars. More recently, in his preface to a book by Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan, Ranjith questions communion in the hand.

He argues that these changes are not approved by the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. This of course is true. The constitution deals with general principles. Paul VI slowly approved specific changes after the council closed in December 1965.

Ranjith often notes that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, made similar points in a foreword to a 2003 book by the English Oratorian U.M. Lang. Then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “To the ordinary churchgoer, the two most obvious effects of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council seem to be the disappearance of Latin and the turning of the altars towards the people. Those who read the relevant texts will be astonished to learn that neither is in fact found in the decrees of the council.”

Ranjith says “it is clear that despite certain ‘steps forward’ to make the liturgy the vehicle of a true ecclesial renewal, there have also been some ‘backward steps.’ These are especially those changes in the liturgy that were effected hastily without proper research or due reflection.”

This can only mean that Ranjith thinks Paul VI approved changes “hastily without proper research or due reflection.”

Unfortunately, most bishops who joined Paul VI in the slow renewal process, such as Bishop Albertus Martin and Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter in Canada, are dead. We must pray that some of their successors will act vigourously to defend Paul VI and the liturgical renewal he approved.

Fr. Gilles Routhier of the Laval University theology department has made a career of researching how Vatican II was received in Canada. Regarding liturgical changes, he argues that any abuses that occurred locally happened mainly because changes, such as use of the vernacular, took so long to come into effect, and not because they were brought in too hastily or without due reflection. In Canada, by far the majority of Catholics welcome the renewal.

Of course, attempts to explain past events in absolute terms can never fully satisfy everyone.

As for the future of liturgical renewal, Archbishop Piero Marini, who recently ended long service as the head papal liturgist, makes a crucial point in his new book, A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal. He points out that no place in Holy Scripture is God pictured standing behind His people, calling us to turn back to the past.

Even in calling us to abandon old sins, God is urging us forward to a new life. Old liturgical forms and practices had their glorious days, and now is the time to keep the Vatican II renewal moving forward in the direction Paul VI approved.

(Daly, now living in Toronto, is publisher emeritus of The Catholic Register. He also worked for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops for 35 years.)

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