Introduction to Sacrosanctum Concilium

Sacrosanctum Concilium (Latin original, English translation) was the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 4 December 1963, it passed by an astounding margin given the controversy that erupted over the liturgical reforms less than a decade later, with 2,147 voting for and only 4 against. I’d be interested in finding out who those 4 were.

In the interest of full disclosure of my own biases, I think the liturgical reforms were a terrible idea all around: an exercise in hubris, narcissism, and impiety, ill-conceived and wretchedly executed, with enduringly bad consequences for the Church. I think there is nothing more sublime this side of Heaven than a well-sung high Mass, and the two weeks I spent attending a daily low Mass at a small Augustinian priory on the East Coast provided me with more spiritual nourishment than I’d received the preceding two years. All that said, I attend the ordinary form of the Mass almost exclusively due to the lack of readily-available options.

It’s hard to take a measured view of Sacrosanctum Concilium. One is tempted to blame it for everything that went off the rails in the 70s, though of course it recommended far more measured changes than were implemented. It certainly did not recommend the whole-hog slaughter of the ancient Missal indulged by the ultramontane Paul VI, who badly transgressed the vision of the Council and who is personally responsible for much of the insanity (including the wholesale liturgical abandonment of Latin) improperly laid at the feet of Sacrosanctum Concilium. On the other hand, the document itself doesn’t escape blame, as I will show, proceeding on the basis of a few highly questionable assumptions that reflect the theological and liturgical prejudices of its primary authors.
Perhaps the worst damage done by Sacrosanctum Concilium, was the tone which it set for the rest of the Council. If nearly 2,000 of organic liturgical development was now up for revision, after all, what wasn’t?

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