Rita Ferrone’s examination of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, of the Second Vatican Council is part of the Paulist Press’ “Rediscovering Vatican II” series, which seeks to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Vatican II. Though short, this is nonetheless a great introduction into the study of this document, the history leading up to it, and the post-conciliar period since the Second Vatican Council met from 1962 to 1965. The Liturgical Movement which started in the 19th-century with Abbot Prosper Gueranger and the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Solesme of France slowly spread to other monasteries and countries. The reforms proposed by this movement received papal support, especially in the persons of Popes St. Pius X and Pius XII, leading to the call of reforming the liturgy as an important agenda item for the Second Vatican Council. The liturgy was the first topic dealt with by the Council, which produced the document Sacrosanctum Concilium. Approved by the bishops 2,147 for and only 4 against, this marked a major change in the Catholic Church the ramifications of which continue to this day.
Ferrone explores the major concepts of the document - first the Paschal Mystery, which returned the Church to the thinking of not only of the passion and death of Christ but also the resurrection, which had been de-emphasized prior to Vatican II. The next concept is that of the liturgy as the “summit and source” of the Church’s life, helping believers go out into the world to live the Christian life and providing a time to praise God and be in his presence in Word and Sacrament. According to the third concept, all Christians are to participate fully and actively and not like they had done before. Before Vatican II, people did not exactly know exactly what was going on at Mass since it was in Latin. Many did their own devotions, and most could not hear what the priest was saying. Sometimes a choir performed songs that the congregation did not participate in. Vatican II changed this.
The next concept says that all should carry out their proper roles during the liturgy. That means the ordained act in their particular roles as bishop, priest, or deacon. The non-ordained are to perform their roles as cantors, organists, servers, readers and other ministries, and to actively participate during the liturgy even if they do not have a ministry to perform. The fifth concept talks about inculturation, which recognizes that the Church is not only made up of Europeans but also people from other places with different cultures. The next concept is the renewal of the books, music, art, and artifacts of the liturgy, involving the creation of a new order of the Mass in the vernacular, receiving communion under both kinds (bread and wine), to use the idea of “noble simplicity” in regard to music and art works like vestments, statues, and other items. The final concept deals with education and formation, which encourages seminaries to have classes on the liturgy and for classes and conferences to be available for the laity. These concepts are important since the document to which they are connected holds the high rank of permanent law.
Ferrone analyzes the history of the implementation of Sacrosantum Concilium. A group called the Consilium was commissioned to implement the liturgical reforms and create the new books and other items needed. The Consilium had to deal with Vatican opponents to the reforms. Ferrone evenhandedly discusses the good and the bad of the early days of the liturgical renewal. Some did not want to change, so they went into schism by following Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X, while others went to the other extreme - experimentation was allowed, but some went too far, having the presider/celebrant dress up like a clown, including balloons and such. For those who did not live during the days after the Council and wonder what happened, this chapter informs the reader about those confusing days; this reviewer was too young to remember that period of time. It would seem that much of the confusion has ended, but refining and better understanding what the liturgy is all about is now needed.
In the final chapter, Ferrone reviews the seven major concepts and discusses how they are faring today. The concept of the Paschal Mystery has been greatly accepted by most Catholics. The liturgy as the “summit and source” of Christian life has not overwhelmingly been accepted, evidenced by low Mass attendance. Full, active and conscious participation in the liturgy has been accepted by a good number of Catholics; one does not see private devotions going on during Mass. Most people are paying attention to what is going on, and many are actively involved either by conducting various ministries or actively participating with or without aids such as missals and hymnals.
Catholics in various countries are able to incorporate some of their cultural traditions and ways of celebrating into the liturgy. One of these, most importantly, is celebrating the liturgy in the vernacular. In the sixth concept of the renewal of the liturgical books, Ferrone says that things moved quickly and now have slowed down. Refining and correcting is now happening as a normal progression. In the last concept, she notes that seminaries still need to have more classes on liturgy, and that there should be classes and conferences for all Catholics made available. Much progress has been made since Vatican II, but the work of implementing Sacrosanctum Concilium has not ended.
Ferrone provides a great introduction into the study of the document on the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council by presenting the seven major concepts of the document and how they are or are not implemented in the liturgy. Her historical summary of pre- and post-Vatican II with the liturgy is enlightening. Endnotes, a bibliography for further reading and study of the subject and an index are provided. Although there are no illustrations, the cover features three pictures of the Council in session, the centermost of which is of an Eastern rite liturgy during the Council. This book is highly recommended to those studying liturgy.
Rita Ferrone has a master of divinity from Yale University. She lectures on liturgy at conferences and at other national settings. She is the author of On the Rite of Election (2007) and of Sourcebook for Sundays and Seasons (2005).