By FR. CLIFFORD HOWELL, S.J.
Pope Paul V1 has now promulgated the Council's first decree, hnnouncing reforms in the liturgy. Structural changes in the Mass will be decided in Rome, but local bishops' conferences have power to introduce the vernacular. When and how will the decree be put into force?
THE more one studies the
Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the more admirable does it seem.
It opens the door to almost every reform that liturgical scholars and practical liturgists are generally agreed on as desirable, and makes provision for many of them to be introduced in the near future.
Only a few years ago, these things looked like mere pipedreams, impossible of attainment in our own lifetime; now they are about to come true.
The Constitution is a tremendous achievement; it proves to the whole world that all this talk about "bringing the Church up to date" is not mere talk, but enlightened and purposeful discussion bearing fruit in action.
Where do we go from here ? From the many provisions of the Constitution there arise two questions of immediate interest to the general public: (1) What changes will be introduced into the Mass? (2) How much of it will be celebrated in the language of the people ? These questions, though related, arc distinct from one another.
Changes in the Mass are yet to he worked out by the postConciliar Liturgical Commission; they are a matter for Rome. Change of language, by this Constitution, is remitted to local conferences of bishops; it is a matter for the hierarchies of the various countries.
To express it otherwise: Rome decides the contents of the Missal; the bishops' conferences decide (within specified limits) which items from the Missal shall be in the language of their people. They will decide that for the reformed Missal when there is one; they already have the power to decide it for the unreformed Missal still in force. They are not bound to wait for reform before introducing the vernacular.
Reforms (I) REFORMS cannot possibly take place at once; the Council has ordered that the liturgical books shall be revised "as soon as possible," but this is bound to take time. How much time ? The answer is anybody's guess. It is my good fortune to know personally a large number of the world's leading liturgical scholars, and from what they have told me I maintain that, provided the right peope are put onto the postConciliar Commission, they could issue a new Missal within two years and a new Breviary within four.
So much of the work has been done already. For instance. all the scripture readings for the new Missal were worked out in detail by an international study-confer ence at Louvain in 1954; they have been lying in some pigeon-hole of the Sacred Congregation of Rites ever since, and merely need to be pulled out. But. as the CATHOLIC Hiseetn reported on November 2nd, "many bishops ate saying that unless the new commissions arc elected with no curial representation on them, the Council's work will remain
." undone •
This is because the excellent preparatory commissions were dissolved when the Council started; conciliar commissions were set up instead, and in them many of the former experts were replaced by Roman officials with no technical competence. I was in Rome myself throughout October. and was told by several experts still on the liturgical commission that the intrusion of these curial officials had "gummed up the works" considerably. It all depends, therefore, on whether the post-Conciliar Liturgical Commission deputed to revise he liturgical books is composed of real experts or not. If the experts arc going to be hampered by men appointed, not for their knowledge of liturgy, but merely on account of their rank or official position, then the work is sure to be held up. The same will apply to the regional and diocesan commission.; which, by order of the Council. are to be set up. The Constitution says they are to consist of "experts in liturgical science, sacred musk; and pastoral practice" (pars. 44).
(2) THE INTRODUCTION OF ENGLISH into the present unreformed Mass liturgy raises different problems according as the Mass is sung or said. (a) For High Mass the problems are exceedingly difficult, except for the Collect and Postcommunion, and the Epistle and Gospel. It will be quite feasible to sing these to the existing chants if our bishops decide to, approve a text. As regards Epistle and Gospel, they have already approved of both Douai and Knox versions for public reading: it might be that thcy will approve them for public singing until such time as they substitute the Revised Standard Version which, to the joy of many, they are said to be considering.
But the Proper and the Common raise such difficult problems in music that I do not see how anything worth while, could he done for a long time. A great deal of highly technical work is required before a text becomes fitted for being set to music.
It must have altogether special qualities which men skilled only in literature cannot judge properly. Literary experts will have to consult with musicians whose special sensitivities concerning rhythm and cadence, assonance and dissonance. balance and proportion of phrases and soon, would have J,.o be satisfied if the wedding of music to words is ever to result in good art.
This cannot but take a long time. And when all that is done, the composers have to produce music for the agreed texts; publishers have to print and distribute them: choirs must learn new propers, people must be taught new tunes for the common . .. so much is involved that it cannot be done quickly.
The most we can hope for, I think, is that principles will have been settled for the Propers, and new texts and tunes will have been produced for the Common by the time the post-Conciliar Commission has produced a new Missal. (For the reforms, though likely to change the texts of the Propers, arc not likely to change the Kyrie. Gloria, Sanctus Benedictus and Agnus Dei. It would be safe to go ahead with work on these. The Nicene Creed may well be replaced by the Apostles' Creed). And so, unless we are granted English for the Collect and Postcommunion and for the Epistle and Gospel, I think we shall have to get along with the High Mass as it now is, until the new Missal comes out.
(h) For Low Mass, however, the prospects are much brighter. No doubt the ideal would he that the texts to be recited in English at Low Mass should be the same as those sung in English at High Mass. And if such texts cannot be brought into existence for a long time it would seem, at first sight, that nothing much could be done about Low Mass either. That would be a dreadful prospect, an intolerable delay which would engender widespread disappointment, impatience and sense of frustration. For it is the Low Mass which is pastorally a matter
Fr. CLIFFORD HOWELL
of urgency; nearly all priests and people are concerned with Low Mass nearly all the time.
Solution Fortunately there is a quite easy solution. However ideal, it is not absolutely necessary that English texts recited before the Mass is reformed should be identical with those to be sung after the Mass has 'been reformed. Inevitably there will be a transitional or experimental period. When the reforms are promulgated, then a provisional text could be changed for a definitive text. And it is not at all difficult to introduce a provisional text when this is merely to be recited, not sung. The requirements for a spoken text are not nearly so exacting as for a sung text: any version likely to be acceptable in speech could easily be brought into use. Even if it be not a perfect text, half a loaf is better than no bread. It would be worth using a good (even if imperfect) text at Low Mass during the time when the experts are striving to think out the "perfect text" to be introduced into all Masses, both High and Low. when the reforms come out. If this is permitted. nobody could reasonably complain about delays, or grumble that "nothing is happening in spite of the Council's decisions." Something would be happening as much as could he done in the circumstances; knowing this, people would then he content to wait patiently till the new Missal is promulgated. But where is. the "good" text to come from 7 And how might it be introduced ? There already exist at least two—some would say four — published missals containing translations which may fairly claim to he good English. If our bishops saw fit. to approve of one of these for public use, we could go into action within a month. For it wouldonly take
about a month for the publisher of
the chosen text to produce-in immense quantities and thus cheaply —cards bearing the approved version of those texts which the bishops would allow the people to say.
Every parish priest would buy one copy of the "approved missal", for his altar, and enough of these cards for his people. At Low Mass he would have his big Latin Missal and also his small " approved missal."
From the former he would read all those parts which thc bishops decide he is to retain in Latin; from the latter he would read whatever the bishops would permit
him to say in English. If the church is large he would need an altar microphone to make himself heard without undue strain — but most large churches have one nowadays. The people would simply read their permitted texts from the would do it q cardsand wuite well provided that pauses are marked. There would be certain anomalies in this procedure (e.g. the priest reading scripture with his back to the people), but they would not matter much for the interim period, and would be eliminated when reforms are promulgated. In any case we have suffered these anomalies so long that it would not really hurt to suffer them a bit longer. especially when buoyed up by the knowledge that they are but temporary. The main point is that a plan like this is entirely feasible; though not ideal. it would work at once. and would be enormously preferable to what we have now.
Versions A slight modification of this plan would have even greater advantages. Suppose the bishops approved a different published missal for each ecclesiastical province ? Then four versions would he temporarily in use throughout the country. And this could be exceedingly useful. For experience shows that texts which look all right in print do not always sound so well in practice.
It is only by trying them out for some time that one can determine if the texts " wear well," flow along nicely, have satisfactory cadences and suitable divisions of phrases. By trying out four versions simultaneously the bishops would be able to see, or rather hear, for themselves which of these four is the best: they could obtain opinions from many priests and laity; they could judge which features, even of the best version. still stand in need of improvement. Having reached a decision, they could then suppress the other three. and leave one in possession till the new Missal conies out. Moreover. such experiments could be of great value to the commissions of "experts in liturgical science. sacred music and pastoral practice" charged with the task of striving for the "perfect text" to be set to music and introduced into Masses both High and Low when the reforms arc promulgated. With such experiepee to dress on, they might achieve the "perfesi text" more surely and quickly than seems likely at present. Arc all these things but pipedreams ? The other pipe-dreams came true ! Let us hope and pray that our bishops. on whom we depend for everything. may think well of a plan like this, or even think up something quicker and better.