Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pope Paul VI - An enigmatic figure

I am continually surprised by Pope Paul VI. On the one hand, he authored encyclicals like Humanae Vitae and Mysterium Fidei, and preached about the Church's understanding of the Nicene Creed (in the speech Solemnia hac liturgia, on the "Credo of the People of God"). On the other hand, he was responsible -- directly or indirectly -- for some of disappointing liturgical changes that took place following the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

For instance, whereas the bishops of the Council affirmed that "the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites" (n. 36/1) and that "steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them" (n. 54) and that "Gregorian chant ... should be given pride of place in liturgical services" (n. 116), five years later Pope Paul VI lamented the loss of Latin (and subsequently Gregorian chant) as practically necessary sacrifices of the liturgical reform:
It is here that the greatest newness is going to be noticed, the newness of language. No longer Latin, but the spoken language will be the principal language of the Mass. The introduction of the vernacular will certainly be a great sacrifice for those who know the beauty, the power and the expressive sacrality of Latin. We are parting with the speech of the Christian centuries; we are becoming like profane intruders in the literary preserve of sacred utterance. We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant.

We have reason indeed for regret, reason almost for bewilderment. What can we put in the place of that language of the angels? We are giving up something of priceless worth. But why? What is more precious than these loftiest of our Church's values?


But, let us bear this well in mind, for our counsel and our comfort: the Latin language will not thereby disappear. It will continue to be the noble language of the Holy See's official acts; it will remain as the means of teaching in ecclesiastical studies and as the key to the patrimony of our religious, historical and human culture. If possible, it will reflourish in splendor.
In an effort to reverse the immediate and regrettable obliteration of Latin from the Mass, he presented a gift to the bishops of the Church in 1974 (less than five years since the promulgation of the Pauline Rite): a booklet of a minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant for the faithful to be familiar with, Jubilate Deo. One wonders to whom the bishops "re-gifted" this booklet; it does not appear to have been received well (if at all). His hope that Latin would "reflourish in splendor" did not come to pass within his lifetime.

Anyway, this brings me to the latest gift/surprise from Pope Paul VI: his first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam, promulgated in the midst of the Council (in August of 1964, three months before the promulgation of Lumen Gentium, the Council's Constitution on the Church). The topic is the Church. I've only just started reading it (not like I don't have a hundred other things on my reading list) and already I can tell it will not be a disappointing read.


Matt said...

Hi there japhy,

I went and read the rest of the makes me sad. In almost the same breath he laments what is taking place but then says has hopes for it.

On the other hand it reminds of being told to put on a fake smile for the camera. I don't get the sense he believes the positives he is talking about regarding the new mass.

japhy said...

Yeah, his two November addresses (the other -- earlier -- one is here) are not very encouraging. The earlier one is more positive, I would say, but the problem is that he ends up explaining (and defending, in a way) the revised liturgy with language that was becoming less and less prevalent in those (and future) days:

"The Mass of the new rite is and remains the same Mass we have always had." (whereas many afterwards were pleased to state that the new rite was a very different rite indeed!)

"The unity of the Lord's Supper, of the Sacrifice on the cross of the re-presentation and the renewal of both in the Mass, is inviolably affirmed and celebrated in the new rite just as they were in the old. The Mass is and remains the memorial of Christ's Last Supper."

"Only the manner of offering is different, namely, an unbloody and sacramental manner; and it is offered in perennial memory of Himself, until His final return."

"[The faithful] will likewise share in the mystical reality of Christ's sacramental and propitiatory sacrifice."

And he also says things that are a little hard to accept, given the later knowledge of how the Consilium operated and how rampant liturgical experimentation was between 1965 and 1975: "It is not an arbitrary act. It is not a transitory or optional experiment. It is not some dilettante's improvisation. It is a law. It has been thought out by authoritative experts of sacred Liturgy; it has been discussed and meditated upon for a long time. We shall do well to accept it with joyful interest and put it into practice punctually, unanimously and carefully. This reform puts an end to uncertainties, to discussions, to arbitrary abuses."

He also admits that "the rite and the relative rubric are not in themselves a dogmatic definition. Their theological qualification may vary in different degrees according to the liturgical context to which they refer. They are gestures and terms relating to a religious action—experienced and living—of an indescribable mystery of divine presence, not always expressed in a universal way. Only theological criticism can analyze this action and express it in logically satisfying doctrinal formulas."

Matt said...

Reading your comment makes me feel even worse. It also makes me feel bad for the Paul VI himself. By all accounts he was a holy man. His words are odd though to say the least.

I guess now knowing the history of what happened and its aftermath we can see just how unfortunate the whole ordeal was.

I've started to go to daily mass at a local ordinary form parish (which I am really enjoying) but honestly if I was any closer to my Personal Parish run by the FSSP I would choose that instead. It is a much richer experience for me and there is no question about it.