Y NOW, MOST OF US have seen the video showing Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio (who would later be elected Pope Francis) celebrating Mass with ginormous walking puppets. To be completely honest, I find videos like that troubling. 1 When we see discouraging fruits of Vatican II reforms, it can be difficult to understand why liturgical reform was desired in the first place. In my view, however, there were improvements that could be made to the liturgical situation before Vatican II—and let me give two examples.
First of all, I believe there was often needless space between Altar and congregation. Many centuries ago, this was not the case—and soon we’ll publish an article with a superb explanation by a perspicacious priest. But leaving that aside, over the centuries it became common for the Altar to be extremely far away (JPEG) from those attending Mass. I have assisted at Mass in Europe where the priest was so far away I had no idea what was going on. I believe the Fathers of Vatican II wanted congregations to take a more active role during the Holy Mass, and excessive space between ceremonies and people is not a good thing. 2
Secondly, I believe we can always do a better job of helping our congregations participate. For example, many choirs will visit the René Goupil Website and download the Dies Irae sheet or rehearse using the video posted there. But what about the people? Of those who remembered to bring a hand-missal to Mass, do all know how to use it? Does it contain a literal translation, or “poetic” (rhyming) incomprehensible doggerel? The Dies Irae is one of the most powerful prayers we have; indeed, I can’t think of a more powerful one. How difficult would it be for ushers to make sure every participant was offered something like this before a Requiem Mass begins?
Otherwise, people might listen to a very long chant without any clue what it’s about.
Did many use a missal before Vatican II? I’m convinced they did—but we can always do better. To give one example, hand-missals for the laity were almost non-existent in the Philippines before the council.
Speaking of congregational comprehension, here is a wedding booklet I was recently sent:
That’s for the Ordinary Form, but some parts are in Latin, as Sacrosanctum Concilium mandated. Do you see how every effort was made to explain the Mass, especially since many in attendance were not Catholic? Do you agree this is an elegant booklet that shows what can be done when the spirit is willing?
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 We should perhaps remember that Pope St. John Paul II also presided at Masses where equally scandalous things took place.
2 As someone who served as an altar boy for many years, I always loved being right up next to the ceremonies. Although there’s also something peaceful and holy about sitting privately in one’s pew.