The inseparable tie between worship and the Scriptures was dramatically symbolized during the ecumenical council’s first week of deliberations [Oct. 23-30] when the book of the Gospels was solemnly enthroned prior to each day’s discussion of the liturgy.
The discussions were wide-ranging. Among the suggestions made in the course of the general sessions were these (Oct. 30):
- Local languages should be used instead of Latin in the teaching parts of the Mass.
- The Scriptural texts of the teaching parts of the Mass should be more varied.
- The laity of the Latin Rite should have the opportunity to receive Holy Communion under the appearance of both bread and wine instead of just bread.
- There should be provision for concelebration—the joint offering of the Mass—by priests of the West other than at Masses of ordination and episcopal consecration.
The liturgy was the first general topic taken up during the council. Discussion, all in Latin, brought participation by council Fathers from all continents.
At the sixth general session (Oct. 24), the Mass was in the Byzantine Rite, sung in Greek and Arabic, thus giving the Fathers an immediate realization of the fact that while the Church is catholic, her liturgy need not be uniform.
Attendance at the general sessions ranged from a high of 2,398 Fathers (Oct. 26) to a low of 2,257 (Oct. 30). The sessions of Oct. 23, 24 and 26—Thursdays are not working days for the council—were occupied with more general liturgical concepts.
While the general sessions are secret, the council press office continued to release information as to who took part in deliberations and referred in a general way to the problems being discussed.
It was during the second week of discussions that such questions as Communion under both species and extension of the choice of scriptural texts in the Mass were proposed.
The ninth general session (Oct. 29) saw the announcement of the names of the 90 members appointed to the working commissions by Pope John. The Mass that day was offered by Archbishop Paul Yamaguchi of Nagasaki and the Gospels enthroned by Melkite Rite Archbishop Philippe Nabaa of Beirut.
The bulletin said that “in order that the liturgy may bear fruit it is necessary not only that there be observed in liturgical acts laws for their valid and licit celebration, but also that the faithful should participate in it intelligently and actively.”
Acknowledging that the council Fathers had discussed the relative merits of Latin and of local languages in the Mass and the Sacraments, the bulletin spoke of the dual problem this way:
“There are reasons which militate in favor of Latin, inasmuch as its adoption has not only traditional values but it also has a true unifying effect. Furthermore, because of its logical precision, because of its concrete phraseology of legal terms, it is particularly suited for theology and dogma.
“It also has considerable psychological and ascetical values since it tends to make one speak in a logical and rational manner and prevents abandonment to sentimentalities and romantic evasions. It tends to give its user discipline of expression and of life.
“On the other hand there are important reasons which recommend the use of the vernacular in liturgical functions. First and foremost of these is the vernacular’s capacity to make liturgical rites accessible to the community of the faithful and favor, therefore, their active participation in the liturgy.
“The use of the vernacular reveals, moreover, the universality of Christendom, capable even in its un- changeability of assuming the values and traditions of the individual peoples, of all latitudes and all times, of the present and of the future.”
In reporting the general tenor of the council discussions, the press bulletin cautioned against presenting these discussions as arguments of one camp against another.
“It is not a matter of opposing positions but of a common and fraternal research through the free expression of different points of view, of liturgical practice always more suited for the realization, in the catechetical and pastoral planes, of the very ends which the Church sets for itself in carrying out its divine mission —the salvation of souls,” it stated.
The press bulletin reported at the close of the eighth meeting (Oct. 27) that the council had completed discussion of the first chapter of the eight-chap- ter proposal concerning the liturgy. It stated:
“The prolongation of the discussions on this chapter, which alone takes up a third of the entire proposal, is explained by the length and importance of the material contained . . . The principles of a general character which it contains reflect upon all of the remaining chapters and therefore require an especially thorough examination so that one may proceed more quickly in what will follow. The other parts are almost a practical application of this first part.”
The bulletin said that at the eighth session “the central argument of the speeches . . . besides that of the language to be used in the liturgy, had to do with the problem of making it easier for the faithful to participate actively in the liturgy. The problem applies especially to missionary territories, where it is felt with greater urgency and presents greater problems.
“It is not easy to choose from among the traditions and customs of individual peoples the more significant elements which can be introduced usefully and opportunely in liturgical worship. A profound ethnological, missiological and liturgical understanding, united with a delicate sense of balance and prudence, is required.”
The bulletin noted that speeches during the eighth meeting stressed that because of the teaching and pastoral nature of the liturgy, rites should be “simple, brief, easily and immediately understood, possibly also as regards the language used.”
It added that because of the liturgy’s communal and hierarchal nature, it is advisable “that whenever the rite permits, its celebration should be public and in common rather than individual and private. In order to promote active participation of the faithful it seems timely to give a considerable part of the liturgical action to participation of the community (words, chants and movements).”
The bulletin stated that the Fathers who spoke “emphasized that the natural center of the liturgical life is in the dioceses and parish, and that it is therefore obviously necessary to take care with special diligence in all functions which take place in the cathedral with the participation of the bishop and in parishes where the priest acts in his stead.”
Noting that the entire first week of discussions had been devoted to the liturgy proposal’s preface and first chapter, the bulletin stated: “It is impossible to foresee how much longer work will continue on the present proposal, since the list of council Fathers who have requested permission to speak is still rather long.”
It was also announced that the Council Presidency and the Secretariat for Extraordinary Affairs met (Oct. 26) to study various problems involved in the progress of the council’s work.
The council sessions opened each day at 9 a.m. It was announced (Oct. 24) that there would be a recess for the first four days of November—the first and second being All Saints’ Day and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, and the fourth, a Sunday, being the fourth anniversary of the coronation of Pope John XXIII.
The sessions regularly began with Mass, which was followed by the enthronement of the Gospel book on the special table with lighted candles on either side.
The day the Mass was in Greek and Arabic—celebrated by Melkite Archbishop Philippe Nabaa of Beirut, Lebanon—Archbishop John J. Krol of Philadelphia performed the ceremonial rite of enthroning the Gospels. Both Archbishops Nabaa and Krol are undersecretaries of the council, and the Philadelphia prelate was the celebrant of the conciliar Mass the previous day (Oct. 23).
The days of discussions saw the council press bulletin note that “special emphasis was given to the part [of the prepared program] regarding the goal of the liturgy in strengthening the spiritual life of the faithful.”
The opening Mass for the Oct. 25 session was offered by Bishop Dieudonne Yougbare of Koupela, Upper Volta.
The eighth session (Oct. 27) opened with a Mass offered by Archbishop Miguel Miranda y Gomez of Mexico City. The Council Presidency recommended that all speakers be brief and concise. Twenty-three council Fathers from 12 countries spoke.
Among the council Fathers who gave addresses— and, following the rules, presented Latin copies of their remarks to the council’s general secretariat as they spoke —were many prominent churchmen.
The day Archbishop Krol offered the Mass (Oct. 23), Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, was the presiding officer. Among the speakers were James Francis Cardinal Mclntyre, Archbishop of Los Angeles; Joseph Cardinal Ritter, Archbishop of St. Louis; and a number of other Princes of the Church, including Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, president of the council’s Doctrinal Commission on Faith and Morals; Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, Archbishop of Palermo, Italy; Jaime Cardinal de Barros Camara, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro; Maurice Cardinal Feltin, Archbishop of Paris; William Cardinal Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster; Juan Cardinal Landazuri, O.F.M., Archbishop of Lima, Peru, and Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch.
Albert Cardinal Meyer, Archbishop of Chicago, was among the speakers during the next general session (Oct. 24). Twenty-one council Fathers spoke at the seventh general session, among them the Abbots president of the Benedictine Congregations of England, Germany and France.
For the 10th session (Oct. 30), Bishop Jacques Mangers, S.M., of Oslo offered the Mass in the presence of 2,257 Fathers. Bernard Cardinal Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht, presided, and Archbishop Casimiro Morcillo Gonzalez of Saragossa, Spain, placed the Gospels upon the altar-throne.
The press bulletin said later that the work discussed had included the prepared introduction recalling “the Last Supper and the command given by Christ to the Apostles that the divine paschal Supper be renewed until the consummation of time, and remain through the Church the great sacrament of devotion, the source and model of unity, the sacrifice of praise, the pledge and symbol of the heavenly feast.”
The bulletin said the Fathers had discussed the Mass, particularly “seeking and suggesting means of facilitating for the faithful the knowledge of the single parts of the Mass and a more intimate participation in it.
“The Fathers again expressed their lively interest in adapting certain aspects of the liturgy to the mentality and traditions of the peoples of non-Western culture. Reference was made to the use of the vernacular in the teaching parts of the Mass. Hope was expressed for a broader choice of Scriptural texts.
“Speeches were also made concerning Communion under two species, and of concelebration in certain special cases approved by the bishops of a place.
“Regarding concelebration it was noted that this is still done, not only in the Oriental Church, but also in the Western Church, in the ordination of priests and the consecration of bishops.”
Seven cardinals and 16 other churchmen spoke during the 10th general meeting. They included Valerian Cardinal Gracias of Bombay; Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity; Cardinal Alfrink, and Michael Cardinal Browne, O.P., former Master General of the Dominican Order, and Bishop Charles H. Helmsing of Kansas City- St. Joseph, Mo.
From Council Daybook: Vatican II, Sessions 1 and 2, Floyd Anderson, ed. © 1965 by The National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. Used by permission of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the successor organization to the NCWC. All rights reserved.