In 1959, Pope John XXIII saw a true need for liturgical renewal within the Roman Rite in accordance with the metaphorical principle of organic development, the aim of the Liturgical Movement endorsed by Pope St. Pius X. In authentic organic development, the Church listens to what liturgical scholars deem necessary for the gradual improvement of liturgical tradition, and evaluate the need for such development, always with a careful eye on the preservation of the received liturgical tradition handed down from century to century. In this way, continuity of belief and liturgical practice is ensured. As Cardinal Ratzinger wrote at the time, the principle of organic development ensures that in the Mass, “only respect for the Liturgy’s fundamental unspontaneity and pre-existing identity can give us what we hope for: the feast in which the great reality comes to us that we ourselves do not manufacture, but receive as a gift. Organic development was the symbol employed by the key figures in both the Liturgical Movement and hence in Sancrosanctum Concilium:
That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimate progress, careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral. Also the general laws governing the structure and meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults conceded to various places. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.
Thus as the Council convened in the fall of 1962, Pope John XXIII had it in mind not to reform the Roman Missal but to restore it, and articulate general norms for making the liturgy “better suited to signifying the mystery it celebrates.” The Holy Father was aware of the intimate connection between the liturgy and dogma, so intimate that reform of the liturgy could be salutary only to the extent that such reform would effect a deepening of dogma and a greater sanctification of the faithful. As peritus Fr. Ratzinger observed, the question of liturgical reform was pressing only for the Council Fathers from France and Germany, the two countries that in 1962 enjoyed theological leadership in the modern liturgical movement. Along with Belgium and the Netherlands, these countries pushed through the schema in spite of the less-than pressing need for liturgical reform at the Council.
Ominously, in 1960, Fr. Anibale Bugnini, professor of liturgy at the Lateran University, was given the position of Secretary to the Preparatory Commission on the Liturgy. In this position, he proved to be the prime mover behind the drafting of the schema to be considered by the Council Fathers, the very first of the schemata to be discussed. The document proposed a more active participation by the faithful in the liturgical actions, and in this, exposed its bias in favor of the pastoral concerns of the liturgical movement at the expense of contemplative participation consistent with genuine organic development. In its final form Sancrosanctum Concilium’s “participatio actuosa,” is more accurately translated actual (and not active) participation. To be clear — it is most certainly not the case, as is often said, that Vatican II introduced active participation into the liturgy. The best source for what the Fathers meant by participatio actuosa is Pope John Paul II:
Since the Liturgy is the exercise of the priesthood of Christ, it is necessary to keep ever alive the affirmation of the disciple faced with the mysterious presence of the Lord: “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21:7). Nothing of what we do in the Liturgy can appear more important than what in an unseen but real manner Christ accomplishes by the power of his Spirit. A faith alive in charity, adoration, praise of the Father and silent contemplation will always be the prime objective of liturgical and pastoral care.
In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, there was no question of new constructions or modifications of the Mass — only guidelines toward making it more effective in signifying the mystery it celebrates. The text of Sacrosantum Concilium was approved by the Council in December, 1962, and gave special emphasis to the “pastoral” aspect of the liturgy, reassuring the more traditional among the Fathers:
Lastly, in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy
holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that
she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. The
Council also desires that, where
necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and
that they be given new vigor to meet the circumstances and needs of modern
times. Mother Church
Here is reflected the Fathers’ belief that in the face of the modern world, new liturgical guidelines were necessary to more effectively proclaim the truth of the Christian message. The Fathers were no doubt also reassured by Article Twenty-three’s assertion that prior to any proposed revision of the rites, a sound “theological, historical, and pastoral” investigation should be made, with “no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.” Thus one would expect that after approval of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no major changes in the Mass would be forthcoming, but this was not to be. In retrospect, it seems difficult to comprehend just how the Church could remain true to “sound tradition,” to organic, authentic liturgical development while simultaneously revising the rites “to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.”
Hindsight reveals that the source of the problem of the Consilium’s fabrication of the liturgy in disregard for the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, was certain ambiguous passages in Sacrosanctum Concilium. These passages were included at the instigation of the periti in order that they might later be given a neomodernist interpretation by the Consilium when implementing the general principles of the document. In this, the Council Fathers were at the mercy of the periti, and could hardly have foreseen this deception. So it was that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was rendered dead on arrival following its passage, and did not serve as a foundation for the authentic liturgical reform John XXIII intended.