Did you ever wonder why the Mass is structured the way it is? Latin-rite Catholics — 90 percent of us — have been celebrating Mass in the ordinary form we know today for about 45 years. That is longer than over half of today’s Catholics have been alive.
The Mass we know today has its roots in antiquity, but the nuts and bolts came about because of a strong liturgical renewal movement that began early in the 20th century and reached its zenith in the Second Vatican Council.
Liturgy was the first topic taken up be the council because, as one of the council fathers pointed out, liturgy is where Jesus’ redemptive act of salvation is lived every day.
CNS described the beginning of the council fathers’ work on liturgical renewal in its Oct. 22, 1962, dispatch from Rome:
The council press office said in a bulletin that the liturgy was scheduled as the first topic because the work of the council is directed primarily toward the task of an internal renewal of the Church.
The project on the sacred liturgy consists of a preface and eight chapters.
The first chapter outlines the general principles for renewal and promotion of the liturgy. It explains the nature and importance of the liturgy in the life of the Church and then deals with liturgical formation and with participation of the faithful in the liturgy, outlining the rules and general principles which must be respected for renewal and reform.
The first chapter ends with paragraphs concerning liturgical life in the diocese and in the parish and with ways of promoting pastoral action.
The second chapter deals with the mystery of the Eucharist, the Holy Mass and with sacramental concelebration. The third chapter is devoted to sacraments and to sacramentals and revision of the ritual. There also are paragraphs which deal with burial.
Chapter four deals with the Divine Office and other prayers. The fifth is concerned with the liturgical year and calendar. The sixth deals with sacred vestments and vessels. The seventh and eighth are dedicated to sacred music and art.
The council fathers discussed liturgical renewal of the church for over a month. The discussions were fascinating. They ranged from the use of vernacular — already in practice by the many of the Eastern and Oriental rites — to greater participation in the Mass by the faithful to the kind of music that should be used. The discussion ranged widely, but an amazing consensus emerged — amazing, that is, for 2,200 council fathers from all over the world.
The council’s work eventually became the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, one of the four constitutions decreed by the council.
You can follow the day-by-day discussion of the council fathers on the liturgy and learn why they made the decisions they did on the CNS blog, Vatican II: 50 years ago today. This year’s entries will continue through Dec. 8, the anniversary of the closing of the first session of the council.