Many of us who were born in the early 1950s did not fully appreciate the treasure we had in the Traditional Latin Mass. Even those of us who were essentially "conservative" politically (and were thus not swept up in the wave of counter-cultural behavior and music which swept over our generation in the 1960s) were "open" to changes in the liturgy. After all, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the first document issued by the Second Vatican Council, called for some minor changes in the liturgy.
Perhaps the time had come to change some of the "accretions" which had built up over the years in the celebration of the Mass. Maybe it was important to have parts of the Mass in the vernacular so that we could "understand" it better, "participate" in it more fully and more actively. The discussion for the necessity of change for the sake of change (a recurring theme of the 1960s) provided a foundation for the Menshevik Revolution of 1965, a prelude to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1969.
God is very generous to us erring sinners. He gives us a lifetime to review our past predilections. It is clear in retrospect that the Ordo Missae of 1965, though certainly not the Novus Ordo of 1969, was itself a means of introducing instability and uncertainty into the celebration of the Mass in the Roman rite. The prayers at the foot of the altar were made optional (and could be recited in the vernacular), the beginning of a liturgy with more legitimate options and adaptations than there are approved rites within the universal Church. The wording of many of the formularies of the various parts of the Mass (collects, secrets, communion, postcommunion) were changed, beginning the process by which the Church would begin to express her unchanging doctrine less clearly, more ambiguously.
The average person did not notice. How could he unless he compared the texts side by side, something that he would not be inclined (or had the competency) to do. The average priest did not notice the difference in the texts. Indeed, some considered the change in orientation and the use of vernacular somewhat liberating. They did not have to read the first lesson and the Gospel in Latin before reading them in the vernacular. They could express "themselves" more fully in the Mass, paving the way for idiosyncratic and congregationally-based liturgies.
The mere act of reorienting the position of the priest in the celebration of the Mass did more to damage the sense of the priest as an alter Christus, whose personality and "celebratory style"were unimportant in making the God-Man incarnate on an altar of Sacrifice, than practically anything else ushered in by the Menshevik revolution of 1965. That which was without precedent in any of the approved rites of the Roman Catholic Church became commonplace, creating an ecclesiastical culture which would be receptive to a view of the Mass as a community-based exercised in self-affirmation rather than of the worship of the Father through the Son in Spirit and in Truth.
Some have argued that the Ordo Missae of 1965 was the fulfillment of the changes envisioned by the Council Fathers in Sacrosanctum Concilium, that it was nothing more than a natural expression of legitimate organic development in the liturgy. Others, however, argued that the changes made in 1965 were far from minor, although they were by no means as radically different as the changes designed by the members of the Consilium when they created the synthetic liturgy promulgated by the Missal of Pope Paul VI in 1969. However, the groundwork had been laid for the acceptance of change and instability as a regular feature in the life of Catholics who belonged to the Roman rite.
The institutionalization of instability by the Novus Ordo (and by the devolution of liturgical decision-making to national episcopal conferences and to agencies such as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy) could not have been possible unless there had been a gradual transition away from the Traditional Latin Mass to that which was totally new and innovative, all gratuitous claims to the contrary notwithstanding. The prayers after Low Mass began to disappear altogether in 1965. And though his contemporary disciples would be aghast at the statement, Blessed Josemaria Escriva Balaguer y Albas said publicly the removal of the prayers after Low Mass would do great damage to the life of the Church, the state of the priesthood, and the salvation of souls. The road to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1969 runs directly through the Menshevik Revolution of 1965.
The wreckage of the full-scale liturgical revolution is plain for all to see: a rapid decline in regular Mass attendance; loss of belief in the Real Presence; denigration of devotion to the Mother of God; the removal of the Crucifix and of the statues of saints from our churches; the replacement of the altar with a table; the use of unapproved liturgical texts and of outright improvisation as a normal feature of Catholic liturgical life. All of this prompted even Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, a Council father, to comment unfavorably as early as 1985 on what the liturgical "renewal" had wrought. Catholics hungered for stability from their mater and magistra. Unrelenting change and instability drove millions of Catholics out of the Church altogether and into the waiting arms of the world or evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant sects.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Tomorrow: Part Six: "Ecclesia Dei" motu proprio in 1988 was meant to afford stability.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives