HY DID VATICAN II happen in the first place? The liturgical reforms were not a surprise, as we learn from this book by Bishop Gracida, who was ordained to the priesthood in 1959. I think it’s fair to say that a major reason was an attempt to achieve a higher degree of participatio actuosa, and that’s what I’m writing about today.
Consider the following pages from a Roman Catholic Hymnal (CANTIONES SACRAE, 440 pages) published in 1878 by Father Joseph Mohr:
This was no fluke, as demonstrated by these pages from a 1913 American hymn book. The only difference is that Fr. Mohr’s prayers and hymns are in Latin, as they were intended for Jesuit colleges where the young men were learning Latin. 1
Again, these hymns would have been sung during Low Mass:
I don’t believe I’m alone when I say it seems jarring to see encouragement of hymn singing rather than joining with the priest in the actual prayers of the Mass. I feel that many bishops who voted for Sacrosanctum Concilium wanted to get away from this type of thing, because they wanted the congregation to pray along with (or sing) the actual liturgy.
THE GREAT IRONY, OF COURSE, is what happened after Vatican II. While the bishops had wanted to help the faithful enter more deeply into the ceremonies and prayers of the Mass, the complete opposite happened. These days, 99% of Catholic Masses include a bunch of songs that have nothing to do with the formularies of each feast. This was partially done because composers found out they could make money by substituting their own translations for the Church’s official ones. Another very damaging aspect was a decision by the USCCB Liturgy Committee, which ruled that the GIRM is not a binding document and can be ignored when it stipulates that permission is required to replace the Mass Propers. 2
FUN FACT : Until a certain year, priests attending papal audiences were required to wear a ferraiolo, and Bishop Gracida once described how he had to scramble desperately to obtain a black one before the photograph shown at the top.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Father Mohr explains that the prayers are for “youths acquainted with the Latin language” [juvenes latini sermonis gnari]. By the way, Fr. Joseph Mohr (1834-1892), a remarkable priest and musician, is treated extensively by Fr. Robert Skeris in Divini Cultus Studium (1990) beginning on page 162.
2 Some have even argued that obtaining permission from a bishop is virtually impossible and only a fool would be so silly as to try to follow the GIRM—but I’ve never found that argument plausible.