Mass Misunderstandings

Paper $20
256 pages, 6" x 9", bibliography, index

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Mass Misunderstandings

The Mixed Legacy of the Vatican II Liturgical Reforms

Whitehead, Kenneth D.

The first document enacted by the Second Vatican Council was its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the liturgical reform mandated by that document has probably had a greater impact on the average Catholic than any other action of the Council. That this liturgical reform has not in every respect been the unalloyed success hoped for by the Council Fathers, however, has only been grudgingly recognized. The liturgists and other Church officials responsible for implementing the reforms have had a vested interest in claiming success, even where there was evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, the many and sometimes abrupt liturgical changes made were bound to affect long-established modes of worship and devotion – not to speak of the drastic move from Latin to the vernacular which came shortly after the Council, and which necessarily entailed radical change in the Church’s worship.

In July 2007, Pope Benedict XVI signaled that the liturgical question needed to be revisited when he issued a motu proprio that allowed, some forty-plus years after the end of the Council, a wider celebration of the unreformed pre-Vatican-II Mass in Latin as an “extraordinary” form of the Roman rite. While the pope’s motu proprio was not a repudiation or cancellation of the Vatican II liturgical reforms — as some liturgists feared (and some traditionalists hoped) – it did indicate a sane and sensible papal recognition that liturgy must be developed organically, not “manufactured” by a “committee.” Above all, the pope recognized that the question of the liturgy must be approached realistically in the light of how the reforms have actually worked out, not of how some have imagined that they might or should have worked out. This book by Kenneth D. Whitehead, who has written extensively both on Vatican II and on the liturgy, explains Pope Benedict’s action in its proper context and describes the reactions to it, while making special reference to some of the pontiff’s own extensive previous writings on the liturgy. The author then doubles back to evaluate the Vatican II liturgical reforms generally – how and why they were enacted, what has actually come about as a result of them, and how and why a “reform of the reform” is now called for.

Kenneth D. Whitehead is a former career diplomat and federal government official who completed his federal career as an Assistant Secretary of Education in the Reagan Administration. His most recent book is: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: The Early Church Was the Catholic Church (Ignatius, 2000); he is co-author of The Pope, the Council, and the Mass (Emmaus Road, 2006); and editor, most recently, of After 40 Years: Vatican Council II’s Diverse Legacy (St. Augustine’s Press, 2007).