RORATE CÆLI: Intentions Abandoned and Ignored: Cardinal Montini at Vatican II, Sixty Years Ago Today

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Sixty years ago today, Cardinal Montini gave a spoken intervention on the floor of the Council, in which, with the benefit of hindsight, we are given a window into the post-conciliar liturgical reforms and how Sacrosanctum Concilium would be applied by the future Pope and the Consilium ad exsequendam.

RORATE CÆLI: Intentions Abandoned and Ignored: Cardinal Montini at Vatican II, Sixty Years Ago Today

The 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (11th October 1962) has recently passed, accompanied with the usual panegyrics and plaudits, this time round with the addition of so-called “synodality”. Indeed, we should, so the Pope says, “return to the Council’s pure sources of love… rediscover the Council’s passion and renew our own passion for the Council.”

I thought, then, that it would be perfectly in keeping with the Pope’s words to look at what the Council Fathers actually had to say about the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, taking as an example the man who would be elected as Supreme Pontiff in 1963: the then-Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Cardinal Montini.

Sixty years ago today, Cardinal Montini gave a spoken intervention on the floor of the Council, in which, with the benefit of hindsight, we are given a window into the post-conciliar liturgical reforms and how Sacrosanctum Concilium would be applied by the future Pope and the Consilium ad exsequendam. In this speech, we can see a via media expressed by Montini: he wishes Latin to be preserved in the “priestly parts” of the liturgy, but vernacular for the “didactic parts”; damaging “innovations” are to be avoided, but “prudent” and “wise” changes to the liturgy are necessary for the “men of our age”. 

Of course, this ‘middle way’ did not come to pass: Montini’s own conviction that “the Liturgy was instituted for men, not men for the Liturgy”, as well as his principle that “the greatest pastoral efficacy may be given to the Sacred Liturgy”, would seem, in the end, to have overruled almost every other consideration, and opened the way for exactly the sorts of “fickle, damaging innovations” he declared himself to be against in 1962.

Still, with regard to Montini’s via media, others would express similar intentions about, for example, the question of Latin and the vernacular, and notably it was what the Council Fathers were specifically told that Sacrosanctum Concilium nn. 36 and 54 meant:

[A]rticle [36], as it is in the schema, is the best way to follow the via media between the two extremes… (Relatio, General Congregation XXXIV, 5th December 1962: AS I.4, p. 285

Regarding article n. 41, now n. 54… Others judge that the entire Mass is to be said in the vernacular. But exiling Latin from the Mass contradicts the principle already established in article 36… Rather, we ought to walk by the via media… (Relatio, General Congregation XLIII, 8th October 1963: AS II.2, p. 290)

That these intentions were later ignored and abandoned by the Consilium and Paul VI should prove, contrary to various recent assertions (notably Desiderio desideravi, n. 31), that to question the post-Vatican II reforms is in no way to “reject” the Council, whatever that means! And it should be remembered, particularly over the next year when, no doubt, much will be written about “the Council” and the “spirit of Vatican II”, that the Acta Synodalia demonstrate the accuracy of Cardinal Ratzinger’s words in 1976:

The problem of the new Missal lies in its abandonment of a historical process that was always continual, before and after St. Pius V, and in the creation of a completely new book, although it was compiled of old material, the publication of which was accompanied by a prohibition of all that came before it, which, besides, is unheard of in the history of both law and liturgy. And I can say with certainty, based on my knowledge of the conciliar debates and my repeated reading of the speeches made by the Council Fathers, that this does not correspond to the intentions of the Second Vatican Council.

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Giovanni Battista CardinalMontini, Archbishop of Milan
Spoken Intervention on Sacrosanctum Concilium

Given at the Second Vatican Council,
General Congregation IV, 22nd October 1962

Latin text: Acta Synodalia I.1, pp. 311-313
Translated by Matthew P. Hazell, with emphases

May I also, as metropolitan of the region of Lombardy and moderator of the Ambrosian rite, openly pledge that I approve the proposed schema as to its substance, and ask this very large group of Fathers to favour the principle on which, it seems to me, the whole schema is based: the principle that the greatest pastoral efficacy may be given to the Sacred Liturgy.

In fact, the schema seems to highly recommend this, because of what is affirmed in paragraph n. 5, namely: “Although the sacred Liturgy does not include the whole sphere of the activity of the Church, it is nevertheless at her centre, which is the Divine Eucharistic Sacrifice, the summit to which all things must be directed, and at the same time from which all things proceed.” [1]

Therefore, in this outline of the sacred Liturgy, viewed as a whole, there is a true balance, I think, between two sentences which equally serve the pastoral purpose of the Council, namely:

1. The schema is not of the kind to yield to those who want to introduce innovations with fickleness of mind and at their own discretion, or, worse still, cause damage to those highly esteemed things, divine and human, that are contained in the sacred Liturgy and which have been transmitted to the Christian people over the course of many centuries, preserving the authentic unity of this tradition as regards its substance. Those who follow the Ambrosian rite wish to present themselves, in a particular way, as faithful in regard to this.

2. Further, the schema does not favour the opinion of those who assert that the rite must be completely unchangeable, or who adhere too much to the ceremonies handed down by history, preferring the form in which the worship is expressed over the essentials signified by this very form.

And so the proposed schema appears to effect its purpose, so that it is constantly attached to two things: the essence of the Liturgy itself, which must be completely defended and preserved, and its traditional or historical form, that is, the way in which the celebration of the divine mysteries is, as it were, clothed; this form can indeed be changed, but prudently and wisely, and for more suitable reasons revived. The schema thus in no way diminishes the divine patrimony of Catholic worship, received from our forefathers, but it permits and recommends that the post-Conciliar commissions to be established – in which even bishops who are pastors of souls must be present – render this same patrimony more clearly, so it is more comprehensible and useful to men of our age, to whom, as shepherds, we are bound by duty out of conscience.

Indeed, on account of our burden, for which we must protect the tradition of ecclesiastical forms, we may not detract from the even greater obligation that we owe to both God and Christ, as well as to the Christian people and men of our times. For we know that this society of ours, in so much crisis when it comes to religion, can still come today to Christ, to the Church, and to salvation, especially with the help of the liturgical word.

The following is to be examined: especially when it comes to the language to be used in worship, that the use of the ancient language handed down by our ancestors, namely the Latin language, should for the Latin Church be firm and stable in those parts of the rite which are sacramental and properly and truly priestly. This must be done so that the unity of the Mystical Body at prayer, as well as the accuracy of the sacred formulas, is religiously observed. However, as far as the people are concerned, any difficulty in understanding can be removed in the didactic parts of the sacred Liturgy, and the faithful also given the opportunity to express in comprehensible words their prayers, in which they call upon God.

We must not forget Saint Paul’s eloquent teachings in 1 Corinthians 14, that is to say, he affirms that he who prays in the Church must understand with his mind what he utters with his mouth, and must answer “Amen” knowing what he is saying. The Liturgy was instituted for men, not men for the Liturgy. It is the prayer of the Christian community; if we desire that this community not abandon our temples, but that they may willingly approach them, and there have the interior life of the soul formed and express their faith worthily, the hindrance of a language that cannot be understood, or is appropriate for only a very few, must be removed, prudently, but without delay or hesitation. Whatever does not attract our people to participate in divine worship but alienates them from it is to be examined, as is excellently stated in n. 24 of the constitution. [2]

The sentence of Saint Augustine himself is not in vain, which warns: “better that linguistic experts should find fault with us than that people should not understand” (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 138, 20).

Likewise, the principle of reducing ceremonies to a simpler form seems commendable to me, not in order to diminish the beauty and rich meaning of worship, but to ensure that the brevity of the ceremonies may be properly considered and that repetitions and all complications are avoided; the liturgical reform here announced is supported by this principle, very appropriate and in keeping with the character of the men of our age, even pious and faithful ones.

Now I would like to add some particular observations in writing, which are proposed to the relevant commission, especially concerning the liturgies of the religious orders; for I wish that, on p. 169, after n. 32, [3] mention should be made or a new paragraph introduced about these liturgies, properly revised if necessary, of exempt religious, [4] due to their historical importance and spiritual dignity. Dixi.

Translator’s Notes

[1] This paragraph would later be added to, and split over SC, nn. 9-10.

[2] Equivalent to SC, n. 36.

[3] Equivalent to SC, n. 41. The page reference is to the printed copy of the draft liturgy schema given to the Fathers.

[4] See 1917 Code of Canon Law, Can. 488, 2°, and passim; also, 1983 Code of Canon Law, Can. 591.

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