V2b – Rupture

One of the huge comforts of my Christian life has been praying for the dead. I’ve been aware since I joined the Orthodox Church in 2002, continuing on into the Catholic Church, that I’m a major mess. When it comes to sins, I’ve got a good list. I require the mercy of God, and I will need the prayers of the faithful after me. I know that in the way I’ve prayed for the departed, I will be prayed for. Those prayers will be needed. In the recent Cancer Scare, this was brought home solidly: the comforting awareness of the prayers of those who love me will be my surety after my death.

Going a little Ranty here, but also nerdy. I love the Daily Office: it’s part of the Church’s liturgy that is most easily traced to pre-Jesus piety. The Jewish custom of recitation of the Psalms in a regular order as part of daily prayer carries over into the Church via the monastics. If you want to learn more about this, one of the best histories of the daily office (east and west) is Fr Robert Taft’s Liturgy of the Hours East & West. I love the Daily Office so much that I read nerdy texts about it… anyway…

In the Benedictine tradition, as well as in the use of the secular Roman office and in the high-church Anglican tradition, there’s a rite called “The Office of the Dead”. This is a specific set of Psalms and scripture readings intended to pray for the departed. Depending on the religious tradition, the content can be longer or shorter than the regular daily prayers. In many traditions, it is content added to the daily material, extending the usual daily rite (about 30 mins or so) to nearly twice the length.

Lest I get too nerdy, I’m just going to highlight 3 points:

1. In the usual, daily practice, each Psalm or Canticle will end with the “Gloria”, a brief verse of praise to God. This verse is also used at the beginning of each daily service. In the Office of the Dead this verse is not used at all. It is replaced by the “Requiem Aeternam”, a brief verse asking God to give rest to the departed.

2. In the usual, daily practice, each service begins with a hymn. In the Office of the Dead there are no hymns.

3. In the usual, daily practice, each service concludes with a short prayer called a “Collect” that sums up the intentions of prayer. In the Office of the Dead, the collect is specifically for divine clemency to be shown to the departed.

That was as it stood prior to the release of the Post-Vatican 2, Liturgy of the Hours. To this latter text I turned this morning for the Office of the Dead in prayer for a departed Bishop of our Archdiocese. I was mortified at what I found under that title, however. Taking again the 3 points…

1. The instructions for the office specifically said I should say the Gloria after each Psalm and Canticle and that the office should begin in the same way. The little verse praying for the departed was removed.

2. There were hymns of comfort for the living. “Christ is our hope”, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”, and “For All the Saints”.

3. There were several collects, but most folks would read the first, of course rather than dig in subsequent pages for “alternates”. The default collect was a prayer to “strengthen our hope that our brother/sister will share in the resurrection.”

There were literally no prayers for the dead in the Office of the Dead. Pardon my French, but WTF was the Committee thinking? How in the hell is someone supposed to find comfort in that?

I pictured a group of old men sitting around the office of the Cardinal in NYC (cuz that’s where LotH came from) in the mid-1970s saying “a prayer that God not condemn the departed might mean we, the living could be condemned. We don’t want to imply that, do we? It might scare people.

One other point: the older daily services (every day) ended with the same “Requiem Aeternam” so that each daily prayer ended with a reminder to pray for the dead – not just in the Office of the Dead, but always. This regular prayer is also missing from the newer rite.


V2a – Continuity


So, I confess I give Vatican II a bad rap sometimes – mostly because it’s what I’m supposed to do: a traddy convert from a conservative religious tradition. But I do enjoy most of the fruits of the Council, as long as they are applied with what Pope Benedict calls the “Hermeneutic of Continuity”, by which he means that we must assume in all Christian Charity that what was there in the faith before the Council is there in the Faith after.

The Liturgy, for example, should be in Latin and the Vernacular. The music should not be strummed. And there’s nothing wrong with a Rosary said while Mass is going on. The simple beauty of the Novus Ordo done right (see above), ad orientem, with full ceremonial, and beautiful music, is clearly the same Mass as the previous generations served.

What I didn’t know was the why of the Council itself.  Recently, listening to Fr Anthony and Fr Harrison on the Clerically Speaking podcast, I got a good bit more context.

A priest had shared with the Dominican Tertiaries that one priest known to him used to pass through the Roman Canon in the 1962 Missal saying, soto voce, “Wordy wordy wordy wordy…” we were shocked.  But listen to this podcast episode to hear more about the Liturgy of the Golden Age when the spiritual formation of clergy was nil.

Here’s a link to the show on SoundCloud. It’s linked to begin right at the important part (38:57 into the show). It goes from there to the end of the episode.

The conversation about what was happening in the last 100 years before the Council was, for me, earthshaking because the implication is that the issues we think of today as “caused by V2” were caused by the younger clergy coming though V2. CLergy who are implicated in the sex scandals were in formation before the council.

Continuity is a good thing… but continuity with the church before the 20th century and the spiritual poverty caused by the horrors of 2 World Wars.

So… yeah… it was a groundbreaking learning for me.

Wherein We Snap & Play Guitar at Folk Mass

Christ the King Sunday, when it was instituted by Pius the XI in 1925, was placed on the Last Sunday in October. That made it a little awkward for Bible Readings (which still had to be doubled up) and for Calendar keeping. But it made perfect sense: it always came before All Saints Day and All Souls Day. You had Christ the King, and then the Saints, and then the Holy Souls.

Vatican II moved this feast to the last Sunday of the Church Year. This, happened in 1970 and, along with other things, cause d a bit of a kerfuffle with those who like Liturgy to stay the same for at least one generation at a time. But it dawned on me today that Christ the King has been in the new place, now, for 3 years longer than it was in the old place.

That tells us something perhaps rather hopeful about Vatican II and the liturgy that grew out of it. 

A friend of mine, who is Orthodox, asked me a pointed question about Catholic worship the other day. Thankfully it was in text, so I had a moment to pray before I replied.

Why, he asked, does most Catholic worship look like dressed-up Protestant worship?

Now, to be fair: I get it. This very question was why I didn’t enter the Catholic Church when I was running away from ECUSA. Even ECUSA (bereft of most things historically Christian) does the Western Liturgy rather better than many Catholic parishes. Orthodoxy, too, has a largely traditional liturgy. Yes, certainly, some of the modern recensions are from the era between the two world wars, and, yes, certainly, there are more things skipped in more places than one might care to admit, but it’s still kinda all there, although only New Skete (with its mid-1980s archaeological liturgy) comes anywhere near the glory of the great rites of Hagia Sophia. Still, even in the worst places, Byzantine Liturgy is rather more stately than not, rather more high church than not. 

Then there’s the Novus Ordo Missae of Vatican II – and all the things that happened that should not have happened: clown masses, folk masses, guitar masses, priest celebrating in their stoles without the rest of the vestments. (Face it, a “cassock-alb” plus a stole is liturgically the same as wearing only your underpants and a necktie to a wedding.)

So I honestly get it. The question is legit. And, implied complaining aside, it is coming from a place of love.

I prayed for help.

In 1967 the standard of Protestant worship was what is known as the Hymn Sandwich: 

  1. Entrance hymn, 
  2. Some prayers and Bible readings
  3. Offering (with music from the Choir and/or the Congregation) 
  4. Sermon (30 – 60 mins)
  5. Exit hymn

On a Communion Sunday (once a month, once a quarter, or once a year – if ever) the above would be slightly modified to have (usually) a shorter sermon and a brief communion plug-in before the last hymn.

This is still the standard in many denominations, although there are now “contemporary” service options, with overhead projectors, and extra instruments, some speakers and entertaining lighting.

Today, however in a vast number of Protestant congregations, from Methodist and Presbyterian, to ECUSA and Lutheran flavors, the style has changed. It may still be a hymn sandwich most Sundays (outside of ELCA and Lutherans) but the pastor is probably wearing only underpants and a necktie. That’s very new.

In ECUSAn and Lutheran worlds (which are in full communion, now) the style is a basic communion service that anyone who has gone to an RC Mass since the 1960s would recognize. This is a huge change. Read any of the liturgy books for Anglicans or Lutherans from before 1967 and you’ll see: they were hymn sandwiches. Highly decorated ones, yes, and very much more structured as liturgies than their fellow Protestants, yes, but hymn sandwiches. And communion was once a month in these times – or maybe always at the 8:30 Sunday service, but not at 11:00.

Communion suddenly became the center point of Protestant worship, just as it was for Catholics. From the outside looking in, 50 years after the fact, this totally escapes us.

Vatican II fixed that.

Did you know that the vast majority of Protestants use a three year Sunday lectionary that runs on the same cycle as ours, that it has most of the same readings (but not all) and that it replaced the absolute chaos that had preceded it? Some communities had lectionaries, but none were the same from denomination to denomination, but now, on any given Sunday, in most ECUSA, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and even some flavors of Baptist, you’re likely to hear much the same readings you hear in the Catholic Church.

In many cases, even the ones who had big blowouts for Reformation Sunday on the the last Sunday of October are celebrating Christ the King with us on the Sunday before Advent. A feast invented by the Pope in the early 20th century to combat Marxism and Fascism, is a common celebration in Catholic and Protestant worlds.

Vatican II fixed that.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that (as I told my friend) Vatican II has subtly evangelized the Protestant world. The question is not “Why do Catholic Masses look so Protestant?” but rather “How has it come to pass that 50 years after Vatican II most Christians in the world use the Vatican II liturgy, locally adapted?

Certainly the local folks in their underpants and neck ties don’t think they’re doing the Novus Ordo Missae, but they are. (And as of a few years ago, the Liturgy of the Hours – a.k.a. the Little Office of Paul VI – is essentially the standard format for all liturgical Daily Offices in the Protestant world, previously it was the BCP.)

Certainly if, for all eternity, Eagles Wings and Pass It On were lost in some great mental purification I would not weep (even if it involved the burnination of guitars). And if I never again hear a priest improvise an opening to the liturgy, I won’t care. If all hands raised or held during the Our Father were, tomorrow, chopped off by some divinely appointed Torquemada, I would, to be honest, ROFLMAO.

Burninating your guitars

Certainly there is a lot of theological work that still needs to be done, But the Holy Spirit has done a heck of a lot of work in 50 years. I think it’s ok to say he’s got this.