HE OLD LATIN MASS had special rubrics for Masses said facing the people (versus populum) but such rubrics were unknown to most priests because Mass was seldom offered in that way. However, in the 1960s, this new form of celebration seemed to “spread like wild fire” even though the Second Vatican Council never mandated it. In fact, the Council never mentioned it!
Many people have wondered how such things came about, and I may have discovered a new “clue” from the BCL Newsletter (September 1965):
* * BCL Newsletter — September 1965
Did you notice this quote?
“Wherever it is reasonably possible, the altar must be turned toward the people. The seat of the celebrant when possible must be placed in the apse.” — Cardinal Lercaro, president of the Consilium, NCWC News Service, 6 March 1965, Foreign, p. 5.
FOUR EXPERTS have assured me this was simply Cardinal Lercaro’s personal opinion — no official document expresses this requirement. Remember that Pope Paul VI had set up the Consilium in opposition to the Sacred Congregation of Rites, causing great confusion. Furthermore, the Consilium meetings themselves were chaos. According to Cardinal Antonelli (who would know, because of his roles) many Consilium meetings didn’t even count the votes (much less record them), nobody knew if a simple majority or 2/3 majority was required, and even documents of great importance (like the new Eucharistic Prayers) were often passed out the night before the meetings!
Perhaps Cardinal Antonelli said it best when he made the following comment:
“Cardinal Lercaro is not the man to direct a discussion. Father Bugnini has only one interest: press ahead and finish.”