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Online Edition
Vol. IV, No. 8
December 1998 / January 1999

The Mass of Vatican II

by Father Joseph Fessio, SJ

In his ad limina address to the bishops of the Northwest United States on October 9, the Holy Father said this about the liturgy: "The use of the vernacular has certainly opened up the treasuries of the liturgy to all that take part, but this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially the chants which are so superbly adapted to the genius of the Roman Rite, should be wholly abandoned."

Most Catholics do not realize that the Second Vatican Council specifically decreed that "the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin Rites" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 36.1) and that "steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those [unchanging] parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them" (SC 54. 1). Nor are they aware that the Council "acknowledges Gregorian Chant as specially suited to the Roman Liturgy" and that therefore "other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services" (SC, §116).

Most surprising of all, perhaps, is that the form of Mass that seems most clearly to have been intended by the Council -- one that preserves the use of the Latin language for the fixed parts of the Mass and gives a preferential option to Gregorian Chant -- is entirely permissible within the liturgical regulations of the Novus Ordo Missae, or New Order of Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

The Adoremus Hymnal contains all the texts and music, along with translations of the Mass Ordinary, to enable priests and parish congregations to celebrate Mass in this way. However, because there has been what Cardinal Ratzinger has called a "break" in the tradition in the manner in which the Mass is celebrated, most Catholics are unfamiliar with the Latin responses.

To help those desiring to learn to participate in "The Mass of Vatican II", i.e., the form of the Mass the Council Fathers seem to have had in mind, I prepared a booklet which includes everything necessary. It contains the entire Order of the Mass in Latin (with the Roman Canon, or Eucharistic Prayer I), along with an accurate translation to help understand the meaning of the Latin. (This translation is not approved for liturgical use and is meant as an aid to understanding the Latin.)

The simplest and most well known chant settings for the Ordinaries (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) are included, as well as the chant settings for the sung part of the Order of Mass itself as found in the Missale Romanum.

The celebrant can celebrate all or only some of the parts of the Mass in Latin. The moveable parts -- the prayers, readings and preface -- have not been provided, since these are available in the vernacular, and that is what the Council seems to have intended.

My experience is that it only takes a few weeks (assuming once-a-week use) for people to become familiar with the music and text so that their participation can be "full, active, and conscious".

The Holy Father's statement quoted above was part of his overall intent to assess the last thirty years of liturgical renewal "in order more confidently to plot our course into the future which God has in mind for his cherished people".

Clearly, the Holy Father is not proposing that all Masses be celebrated in Latin and with Gregorian Chant. But, just as clearly, he is suggesting that the Novus Ordo Mass should be available to the faithful in Latin and with Gregorian Chant, and that they should be familiar enough with it to participate actively when it is celebrated. For those who want to follow this "course into the future which God has in mind for his cherished people", the "Mass of Vatican II" booklet is an ideal help.

The "Mass of Vatican II" booklet can be ordered by contacting Ignatius Press.

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