[I might submit this post -- slightly edited -- to the Adoremus Bulletin.]
I've read a fair number of books about the reform of the Roman Rite that took place in the 20th century. Most of the reform (or at least, most of what I read about) centered around Vatican II and its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (henceforth SC). Admittedly, there was liturgical reform in the 1900's before then: Holy Week was revised by Pope Pius XII, and Pope Bl. John XXIII made a minor revision to the Good Friday prayer for Jews and added St. Joseph's name to the Canon. However, the reform that occurred from 1963 through 1969 (and continuing afterward) is what I've read about the most.
The books I've read that deal with this matter are "Reform of the Reform?" by Fr. Thomas A. Kocik, "Reform of the Roman Liturgy" by Msgr. Klaus Gamber, "Spirit of the Liturgy" by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and "Looking at the Liturgy" by Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. I have (but have not yet read) "The Organic Development of the Liturgy" by Fr. Alcuin Reid.
So this post is about my impression of the modern liturgical reform, specifically that which followed the promulgation of SC and resulted in the "modern Roman Rite", the "Novus Ordo Missae", the "Pauline Missal", the "Mass of Paul VI"... which we know today as the "Ordinary Form" or "Ordinary Expression", from the Latin used in Summorum Pontificum Art. 1: ordinaria expressio. I will describe (in my estimation) three good things and three bad things about this reform. Now, I will state up front that, as I have pointed out before, not all the changes that took place were mentioned in SC, so I will qualify my statements when I think it is necessary to avoid giving the wrong impression. I will also make suggestions which I consider to be organically inspired, growing "from forms already existing". [SC 23]
Good Thing #1 - Certain elements of the liturgy that had fallen out of use have been restored. [SC 50]
I am speaking specifically of the Prayer of the Faithful (also known as the General Intercessions) [SC 54], the Responsorial Psalm [MR 12], and the sign of peace. The homily was also incorporated as "part of the liturgy itself" [SC 52].
The Prayer of the Faithful. This is a genuine means of "full, conscious, and active participation" [SC 14] and a genuine exercise of the priesthood of the faithful: a way of uniting the prayers of the community to the prayer of the priest during his action of the Mass. By "genuine" I mean it is not a fabricated nor extraordinary need being filled by the faithful, but part and parcel of what constitutes our baptismal participation in the Mass [GIRM 69]. Since the Mass can be seen as one long prayer (in many parts), the prayers offered during the General Intercession should not be seen as an interruption or an after-thought or an "aside". Rather, we should recognize these prayers -- by which the faithful are interceding "for holy Church, for the civil authorities, for those oppressed by various needs, for all mankind, and for the salvation of the entire world" [SC 53] -- as being presented to God the Father along with the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. In other words, the intercessions are not over and done with when the priest gives his concluding line of prayer, but are now themselves like incense rising to God, now that they have been stated by His Church.
However, I think there is a danger of too much creative license with the Prayer of the Faithful. I think that the model of this prayer should be the Good Friday intercessions: the purpose of the prayer is announced, silent prayer follows, the intention itself is announced, the people affirm it as their own. A few things are accomplished here: first, the Good Friday intercessions won't seem so different (except for their greater solemnity and constancy); second, because there is a brief time of silent prayer for each intention in addition to the stated intention, there is increased "ownership" of these intentions by the faithful, so that it becomes not only the prayer of the parish but their prayer too; and third, the intercessions remain intercessory in nature. That third one is important, because this time is not meant for offering prayers of thanksgiving or adoration or penitence, but supplication; they are "petitions offered up for various needs throughout the world". [EP 16] These intercessions "are to be prepared and written out beforehand and in a form consistent with the genre of the prayer" [LI 3]. This means intentions should not be called out by people in the pews.
The Responsorial Psalm. St. Augustine and Pope St. Leo the Great made reference to this on occasion in their sermons and writings (according to Pope Paul VI), and it is another means of participation, by which we pray a psalm as the response of the Church to the First Reading. Perhaps this is unknown to most Catholics: it's not called "responsorial" because the faithful respond to each set of verses with a "response", but because it is, as a whole, a response to the First Reading! I don't know how many of the laity regularly pray the Liturgy of the Hours or otherwise get around to praying the Psalms; the Mass provides this opportunity, and we should make the most of it.
However, I would like to see the Gradual incorporated as well! Perhaps a "common ground" could be found, whereby the Responsorial Psalm is sung by everyone in an antiphonal setting; that is, the antiphon, the verses all together, and the antiphon again. This does not seem to be precluded by the current GIRM. The choir would sing the antiphons on their own (which would have a more complex melody); then they would sing the first half of a verse (or pair of verses) and the congregation would complete the verse (or pair of verses), and so on, until the antiphon is reached, which would be sung by the choir alone. Standard psalm tones could be incorporated for the verses, of course. The only real trick to this, though, is that the faithful would need to know the words of the psalm to be sung, but this does not seem insurmountable. It might cost a bit in printing, but I think the liturgical and spiritual riches would outweigh the cost! I'm not thrilled by a lot of modern Responsorial Psalm settings that are overly (and overtly) repetitious as if to say to the faithful "this is all you're going to say, so say it a lot!" I am referring to "refrains" that simply say the same thing two or three times.
The Sign of Peace. This gesture (known also as the kiss of peace or the pax) is present in the Divine Liturgies of the East, and is even present in Solemn High Masses in the Extraordinary Form. It is somewhat stylized in the older liturgies. This act is attested to in Scripture by Paul many times, but also by Jesus who tells us to make peace with our brother before offering a gift at the altar. It reconnects us with our brethren and reminds us that our relationship with God, especially during Mass, is not a private one. If we are comfortable being "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" [Heb 12:1] as we unite our spiritual sacrifices to the one offered by our priests, we must also be comfortable -- and at peace -- with so great a crowd of imperfect witnesses (of which we are all members) standing around us.
However, while the concept is fine, the execution leaves much to be desired. As Matthew 5:23-24 informs us, such an act should be done before the offering of gifts. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom places this act just before the recitation of the Creed; the people are one in Trinitarian love and one in Trinitarian faith. Pope Benedict XVI mentioned the possibility of moving the Sign of Peace in his post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (see n. 49 and footnote 150). The pax should also be given with greater reverence (it is the peace of Christ you are offering to one another, not the peace of men) and self-restraint; priests should not leave the sanctuary except with good reason on special occasions [GIRM 154], and there's no real need for someone to see just how many he can share the sign of peace with, nor go out of his way to give it.
The Homily. Making homilies mandatory on Sundays and other holy days of obligation [SC 52] was a superb idea and was, in fact, a realization of what the Council of Trent had prescribed. [Session 22, chapter 8]
However, as Pope Benedict XVI said in Sacramentum Caritatis n. 46, "Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved." I find it ironic that in the Extraordinary Form, where the sermon is not part of the liturgy, the priest will often remove his maniple and/or chasuble and speak profoundly Catholic words of instruction, while in the Ordinary form, where the homily is part of the liturgy, some priests remain in full vestments but miss the mark doctrinally, exegetically, and pastorally. Even worse is the delegation of the homily to the non-ordained, which the Church rightly calls an abuse. [RS 64-66] The homily is not just an exegesis of Scripture; through it, "the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded from the sacred text" [SC 52] and can even provide liturgical catechesis! [GIRM 13]
Good Thing #2 - A renewed call for participation in the Mass by the faithful. [SC 14]
Vatican II repeated the call for true participation that Popes Pius X, XI, and XII had raised before. This actuosa participatio is not just external, but internal as well. It is not limited to making acclamations, responses, and gestures, and assuming postures; it requires spiritual participation and a prayerful disposition. It reaches its culmination when Holy Communion can be received. Such participation existed before Vatican II, even without lay readers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and female altar servers and a choir next to the altar. It existed even when the Mass was chanted in Latin! However, although it existed, it was not always taken advantage of. Vatican II sought to reinvigorate the faithful by means of encouraging this active participation. If successful, the faithful would be united ever more closely to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
However, along with this participation (and indeed preceding it) was supposed to be the liturgical instruction of the faithful by their pastors. [SC 14, 19] It would appear such catechesis never took place in many parts of the Church; in some places it might even appear to have been replaced by unbridled innovations and fabrications of further means of involving the faithful without ever explaining the meaning of the participation proper to them. The trend to use (and overuse) lay ministers during the Mass, although it followed Vatican II, was not sanctioned by it. The vocation of the laity has always been to work toward the sanctification of the secular world; ministering in the Mass is the vocation of the clergy.
Good Thing #3 - It introduced the vernacular into the Mass. [SC 36]
The use of the vernacular in some places of the Mass seems appropriate to me, as it did to the Council Fathers. The General Intercessions are one place where this seems acceptable, since they are the petitions of the local parish (albeit on behalf of the whole Church). Reading Scripture in the vernacular can be helpful, provided it doesn't eliminate the ability to chant the readings, and the translation is (of course) an accurate one. I would even consider the use of the vernacular for the Collect and Post-Communion prayers, although I would prefer to keep the Super Oblata and the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin, in order to create a continuous block of Latin prayer from the Orate, fratres through to the reception of Communion! I can accept this seeming inconsistent, though, to have two proper prayers in the vernacular and the others in Latin; it may not be the best solution.
However, we have had too much of a good thing. The vernacular has bullied Latin out of the Mass, and these vernacular translations are not always accurate. This leads to a concern that people praying the Mass in one language might be saying a substantially different thing from people praying the Mass in another language. It also impedes what many people would consider to be their active participation when they are in a foreign land. If an English-speaking Catholic with no knowledge of Tagalog is present at a Mass being celebrated in Tagalog, they very well might say the responses (if they can keep track of their place in the Mass) in English, and perhaps in a low voice. This is clearly inferior to an external participation whereby they can say the responses in unison with the rest of the congregation, in one clear voice. If Latin were retained (or reintroduced, as the case may be) for the Ordinary of the Mass, this universal participation would be more clearly manifested. As for the argument of "I don't know Latin", the Church is not asking us to know Latin, but merely to know the responses and a few common chants. If you know the place of these chants in the liturgy, and you know their vernacular translation, you know what they mean, and the only obstacle is the pronunciation of the Latin.
Bad Thing #1 - The theological reform that accompanied it.
The alteration of the teachings of the Church was, of course, was never the intent of the Council Fathers. Pope Bl. John XXIII said in his address at the opening of Vatican II that the purpose of the council was "to transmit [the whole of Catholic doctrine] in all its purity, undiluted, undistorted"; he continued to say that the Council was not convened "to discuss certain fundamentals of Catholic doctrine, or to restate in greater detail the traditional teaching of the Fathers and of early and more recent theologians". He called the Council for the purpose that "this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else."
And yet, with every altar rail torn out, with every word of Latin purged, with every altar turned around, and with every tabernacle hidden from sight, the truth of that old adage was proven again and again: lex orandi lex credendi: the law of prayer is the law of belief. With a variety of texts for the priest to use, we can conceivably never again use the Confiteor, and thus fail to invoke the Communion of Saints which we claim to believe in the Creed. The priest might never again use the Roman Canon, opting instead for Eucharistic Prayer II, the shortest one, which absolutely pales in comparison. The texts provided alongside the traditional ones rarely match them in theological richness. In the United States, there's even an entirely new Collect provided, found no where in the Latin Missal!
Even when the Ordinary Form is celebrated in a "traditional" manner -- using the Confiteor and Kyrie, using the Roman Canon, standing ad orientem, and chanting the Ordinary and Propers in Latin -- it does not present the faith with equal precision and clarity to the Extraordinary Form. The priest no longer stands at the steps and asks God for mercy and forgiveness (and the people likewise) before approaching the altar. The prayers have been "neutered" of certain themes. The word "soul" is conspicuously missing from the Mass for All Souls on November 2nd, and the Collect no longer prays for the faithful departed but for us.
The new Lectionary, while providing an abundance of Scripture, has been neutered as well. The important passage from 1 Corinthians where St. Paul warns the faithful about unworthily receiving Holy Communion (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-29) has been excised from the readings for Holy Thursday and Corpus Christi. With all the Scripture added to the Mass, what with multiple-year cycles and an additional reading on solemnities, why did the Scripture previously proclaimed at (and contained in) the Mass have to suffer loss?
Why are we keeping the faith from the faithful?
Bad Thing #2 - The extent to which the reform was carried out.
Many changes to the liturgy that have occurred since Vatican II have laid claim to the Council's "spirit" while ferociously disregarding its "body". So many Catholics think these changes were initiated and supported by Vatican II, but the documents tell a rather different story. Pope Benedict, in his 2005 Christmas address to the Curia, contrasted the false "hermeneutic of discontinuity", which sees the Council documents as compromises that need to be courageously overcome to discover their true intentions, with the "hermeneutic of reform" which exists within the tradition and life of the Church and therefore interprets the documents of the Council within that living tradition, not as a departure from it.
These changes have actually hindered Sacrosanctum Concilium from being carried out:
for one thing, Latin and Gregorian chant are missing from most parishes; in the United States, they've been replaced by a flawed vernacular translation and music in any other conceivable style. The Council did not envision this catastrophe, [SC 36, 116] but sadly, Pope Paul VI conceded that the revised liturgy would cause us to "lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant" and give the vernacular language the primacy. [General Audience, Nov. 26, 1969] His gift to the bishops of the Church in 1974, Jubilate Deo, a handbook of chants in Latin representing the minimum repertoire a parish should know, fell through the cracks, it seems.
Other innovations, such as the abundance of lay ministers and the resurfacing of Communion in the hand, have blurred the line between the ordained and non-ordained. Communion in the hand reappeared as an abuse, and in the end, despite acknowledging that the universal norm is receiving on the tongue, an indult was allowed to permit reception in the hand where the illegal practice prevailed, a loophole that was certainly abused in the following years.
The composition of numerous new texts -- a dozen Eucharistic prayers, multiple Penitential Rites, and the Memorial Acclamation in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer -- was not called for, and one wonders if "the good of the Church genuinely and certainly require[d] them". [SC 23] Along with this came a general sense of creativity and improvisation; the 1985 English Missal provides additional texts and prayers not found in the Latin Missal, and often contains a rubric allowing the priest to use "these or similar words". (Even the Latin 2002 Missal contains such permissions, although only four times, and only during the liturgies of Palm Sunday, the Chrism Mass, and the Presentation of the Lord.) Such an invitation inevitably leads to exercising creativity where it is not permitted, such as in the Eucharistic Prayer.
It is as if the Mass as the Church prescribes it is simply not good enough and must be "massaged" by the priest in order to make it "relevant" to his parishioners. In place of "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world", we hear a variant based on the day's Gospel reading (or on the priest's homily). Are the words of St. John the Baptist simply irrelevant today? And instead of being told that "Happy are those who are called to His supper", how many of us hear "Happy are we who are called to His supper"? While the change may seem minute and insignificant -- and in that case, why even make such a change? -- it describes a closed community rather than a universal one, and might even suggest that all present are fit to receive Holy Communion. Perhaps the most embarrassing result of ad libbing prayers of the Mass is that the faithful don't know when the prayer has ended and their response is expected!
This attitude of constant innovation begs the question: if a centuries-old tradition can be discarded in the span of a few years, why should a 40-year-old tradition last through next week?
Bad Thing #3 - The discord it created between the Extraordinary and Ordinary forms.
The Latin Rite of the Mass as it was celebrated for over a thousand years was slowly being reformed and fine-tuned through the centuries. It produced hundreds of saints, inspired numerous religious orders, and exhibited truths of the Catholic faith in the face of heresies. But to hear some modernist reformers tell the story, you would think it was a spiteful machine designed to keep the laity silent and stupid and the clergy rich.
The tension that exists in the Church today between those who prefer the Ordinary Form and those who prefer the Extraordinary Form manifests itself in many ways. Sometimes this is a healthy tension that some, such as Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, refer to as a "gravitational pull" between the two forms, by which they edify each other. But sometimes this tension is dreadfully unhealthy. Because the two forms of Mass appear so different, some people have a hard time recognizing both of them as expressions of the same faith; consequently, either form has been called un-Catholic, and adherents to either form have been called heretics. The silence of the Extraordinary Form seems to be emptiness to people who are used to the Ordinary Form, and the audible prayers of the Ordinary Form seem to be deterrents to private prayer to people who are used to the Extraordinary Form. The differences are not only superficial but substantial at times; people form factions; people leave parishes to avoid abuses. This disunity is a lamentable outcome from a liturgical reform whose purpose was "to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ." [SC 1]
It can be stated truthfully that the Extraordinary Form is in need of reform; Sacrosanctum Concilium provides the means of effecting that reform. What is left to the Church over the next several decades is the organic implementation of this reform, building up this earthly liturgy to better reflect the heavenly liturgy, for the reverent worship of God the Father through the Most Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ His Son, and for the sanctification and edification of the faithful. Lessons can surely be learned from the Ordinary Form and the intermediate rites that existed between 1963 and 1969. No longer should the children receive stones instead of bread.