THE MASS AS
THE BEGINNING OF HEAVEN ON EARTH – PART II
A BRIEF HISTORY
LEADING UP TO THE REFORMS OF THE VATICAN II COUNCIL
I. In the early Church,
there were certain common elements, but due to the persecutions and
difficulty in transportation and communication, there was also a great
deal of variety.
A. The fact that
the Eucharist was celebrate early is clear from the First Letter of
St. Paul to the Corinthians, in which he makes it clear that he taught
them about the Eucharist during his first missionary journey to them,
about 42-44 A.D.
- Dr. Scott Hahn argues
in The Lamb's Supper that the phrases we use at Mass are also in the
Book of Revelation. He argues that, given the fact that the Book
of Revelation can best be understood as a liturgy (an in fact that it
takes place on a Sunday) indicates that these phrases were already in
place before that book was written. Likewise, then Cardinal Ratzinger
argues in The Spirit of the Liturgy that Pauline theology emphasized
that the heavenly Temple is opened on earth through the liturgy and
that that focus was the main point of Christian liturgy from an early
time. See The Spirit of the Liturgy 49-50; see 1 Cor. 3:16-17;
2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 219-22; Heb. 8:1-2, 9:23.
- There is likewise
plain evidence from home churches and from such sacred sites as the
tombs of the martyrs (e.g., in the catacombs) of altars upon which Mass
would have been celebrated.
- There is some early
evidence of how the Mass was celebrated, which gives the essential aspects
of the Mass to this day.
- In explaining the
overall faith to the Emperor about the year 155, St. Justin the Martyr
also described what Christians do at the Sunday celebration, now called
the Mass. The elements he listed are: (1) readings from the writings
of the apostles and prophets (now called the Old and New Testaments);
(2) a talk (now called the homily) by the presider (now called the priest)
challenging and admonishing the people; (3) prayers for others, now
called the prayers of the faithful; (4) the sign of peace, which is
now just before Communion; (5) the offering of bread and wine and water;
(6) the prayer of praise and glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
and giving thanks (now called the Eucharistic Prayer, from eucharistein,
the Greek word for thanksgiving); (7) the great Amen; and (8) the distribution
of Communion. See Apologia 1:65-67; Catechism 1345.
- Likewise, an early
Christian document, an early Christian leader called St. Hippolytus
wrote around 215 a text called The Apostolic Traditions, with
a Eucharistic Prayer that bears a lot of resemblance to one of the four
main options that we use today at the Mass. He clearly had a preface
to the prayer that begins, as our preface does with the dialogue between
the priest and the congregation.
II. When Christianity
was legalized in 312-313, many more liturgical books were published
and the different traditions of east and west began arising.
- At that time, different
customs were arising out of different areas of the Church. In
particular, there were five central sees in the Church: Rome, Constantinople
(the capital of the Eastern Roman empire), Antioch in Syria, Alexandria
in Egypt, and Jerusalem. From the later four sees developed what
we call the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, as well as the Orthodox
Churches. Rome led what would become known as the Latin or Western
or Roman Rite of the Church, which now includes most of the Catholic
- The Latin rite would
largely develop from Rome and the area around it, but the missionaries
to some further regions, such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland would develop
some of their own customs. And, while records are not clear, as
missionaries went off to barbarian lands, it does seem that the Mass
was adapted in certain respects.
- Records indicate
that, by the middle of the fourth century, and probably well before
then, many of the main parts of the Mass were in place, including the
opening prayer, readings from Scripture, the homily, the offertory,
the Eucharistic Prayer (including almost all of the first option for
the Eucharistic Prayer now), Communion, and the prayer after Communion.
- St. Benedict (480-547),
along with his sister St. Scholastica, founded the Benedictine order,
which would be the backbone of early medieval culture, as well as the
main order in the West until the late eleventh century. The Benedictines
would emphasize a slow careful liturgy, especially of the Liturgy of
the Hours (prayers that clergy and consecrated religious are vowed to
pray to this day), but also in the Mass. Overall, the Roman style
tended to emphasize simplicity, care, and subtleness in meditative fashion.
- Pope St. Gregory
I, who reigned from 590-606 and would become known as Gregory the Great,
launched a massive reform of the liturgy to make the liturgy more standardized
and reverent. Thus, for example, he developed what would be called
Gregorian chant to increase the prayerfulness of music during the Mass.
- As the Western Roman
Empire vanished and its influence declined, the Mass took on various
styles in the different nations that were forming in Europe. There
was centrally the simpler, sober Roman rite, as well as the more emotional
Gallic (French) rite, the more earthy Gothic rite in what is now Germany.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of education and books, there was a great
deal of irregularity and sloppiness in the liturgy. Edmund Bishop
wrote in his famous book Liturgical Historia (1918), the state
of things at the accession of Charles the Great (769) may be summed
up in two words: liturgical anarchy."
- As the Middle Ages
progressed, there were times of renewal and time of decline, sometimes
with both mixed together.
A. Charlemagne (reigned
769-814) took a great interest in liturgical reform as a part of his
drive for ecclesial and social reform.
2. In order to
unite his people, who were from very different areas (the Germanic,
Frankish and Lombardian peoples), he made Latin more clearly the universal
language, both of society and of liturgy. From this time on, Latin
became the general language of the Mass.
- He promoted the
use of more standard liturgical books and tended to prefer the more
solemn Roman rite, although he did not make any one rite universal.
- Overall, with his
collection of scholars in Aachen and his court generally, there was
a liturgical renewal, not only in his realms, but throughout Europe.
- However, with the
faltering of the Carolingian renaissance in the later ninth and early
tenth centuries, liturgies once again became more haphazard and less
- The Holy Roman Emperors
Otto I, II and III (912-1002) began exerting more authority over the
clergy and making the liturgy more precise again. As the eleventh
century dawned more monarchs were taking an interest in the liturgy
and standardizing it according to their national customs. At first
the Popes favored this change because, with the difficulties in communication
and transportation, they had found it difficult to take charge of individual
dioceses, especially those far away.
- However, starting
in the eleventh century, the Popes began taking more personal charge
of the bishops and the liturgy, especially with the renewals sponsored
by Pope Gregory VII (1073-85). In addition, the Benedictines began
a great renewal, especially with the leadership of the monastery at
Cluny. This effort led to greater renewal, but also clashes with
the monarchs and nobles as the issue arose of who controlled the liturgy.
- In the high middle
ages (about 1000-1300) the great wealth and learning led to magnificent
churches and cathedrals, and especially the flourishing of Gothic architecture.
The clergy became more educated and liturgies generally more precise,
but there was some tendency to ostentation and focus on who presented
the most elaborate church, vestments, or music. There was great
pageantry and an emphasis on hierarchy in the liturgy.
- In reaction
against this tendency, some religious orders, such as the Cistercian
and Franciscan orders, tried to make their liturgies more simple.
Pope Innocent III (1198-1206), arguably the most powerful Pope of the
Middle Ages, supported this simplification. He and his successors
desired also a much more precise, standard liturgies
- There were
national characters of the liturgy, such as English, French, German,
Spanish, in addition to the central Roman style.
- In the fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries, many crises such as the Hundred Years' War
(1337-1453), the Black Death, the displacement of the papacy in Avignon
(1305-77), followed by the Great Schism (1378-1417) diverted attention
from the liturgy and learning generally. There was still great
piety as public preaching and devotions continued to flourish.
But there was also a lot of superstition in the public and laxness in
the spiritual life. For example, in some areas there was an obsession
about relics and some very erroneous preaching on the power of indulgences.
- In reaction
to these abuses and excesses, such movements as devotion moderna sprung
up, along with the popularity of such books as The Imitation of Christ,
The Cloud of Unknowing and Piers Plowman, which emphasized
more an inner renewal
IV. In response to the
Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent promoted a liturgical reform
that would make the Roman liturgy standard in the Latin rite.
- Some abuses regarding
the veneration of saints and uses of indulgences were largely was started
the Protestant Reformation. However, the attempts at change spread
to the wholesale rejection of the notion of the Mass, the priesthood,
veneration of saints, and the like. The early Protestants (but
not Church of England) tended to focus on a simpler liturgy, simpler
churches, and less or no hierarchy.
- In response to the
legitimate concerns raised, but determined to defend the true faith,
the Council of Trent (1545-1463) set forth 15 decrees and related canons
to clarify the faith and organize and reform practices across the board.
- In 1551, the Council
issues the Decree and Canons on the Eucharist, which emphasized as a
matter of infallible dogma the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist
under the appearance of bread and wine, and the fact that Christ is
fully present under either species, as long as that species (bread or
wine) continues. The canons also upheld the rightfulness of the
reservation of the Eucharist in the tabernacle and Eucharistic adoration
- In 1562, the Council
issued the Decree and Canons on the Mass, which both upheld the ancient
doctrines and practices, but also made some accommodations to the demands
for a more accessible Mass.
- Thus, the Council
strongly upheld the Mass as the true representation of the sacrifice
of Christ and of great assistance to the faithful, both living and dead.
It also upheld the rightfulness of Masses offered for the dead and in
honor of the saints. Likewise, it upheld the use of such things
as incense, fine vestments, and some prayers prayed in low voice by
the priest to emphasize the mystery of the Mass.
- The Council considered,
but decided against, allowing the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular.
The reason was that, in the midst of so much change and rebellion against
the unity of the Church, the Council decided that there was need for
the universal language to be maintained in the Mass. However,
in Chapter VII of the Decree, the Council did recommend that the priest
or another official make more efforts during and after the Mass to explain
- The Council did
recognize that "many things have already crept into [the Mass] which
are alien to the great dignity of the sacrifice." To restore
that dignity, the Council issued such rules as: forbidding the demand
of offerings for the celebration of the Mass (although freewill offerings
could be accepted); forbidding the superstitious near worship of relics
and the like; forbidding "wandering" or scandalous priests to celebrate
the Mass; prohibiting secular or even worse scandalous music in churches;
and encouraging people attending their own parish church for Masses.
The Council also authorized the standardization of the liturgy.
- The Council also
called for the establishment of seminaries, which would train all future
priests so that they would know the faith and be able to celebrate the
Mass and other liturgies properly. Up to that time, most priests
were simply trained in an apprentice-like system by other priests, who
may or may not have given proper instruction.
- Shortly after the
Council, the Popes, and especially St. Pope Pius V (1566-72), implemented
its decrees, including a standardization of the Mass and other liturgies.
- In Quo Primum
Tempore (1570), St. Pope Pius V made the Roman rite, later called
the Tridentine rite the standard for all diocesan churches in the Latin
rite, although religious orders could keep their own form of the liturgy.
This rite, described in the Missale Romanum, would prevail until
the Vatican II Council with relatively few changes.
- This rite strongly
emphasized the unity of the Church and the permanence of the Mass.
The Tridentine Mass also reduced the number and variety of saints being
celebrated, but continued their honor in the Mass and on the calendar
(usually several a day.) In this way and several others, there
was also a focus on the Mass pointing the way to heaven.
- There was not much
emphasis on the participation of the people or on preaching. It
was thought that the people could be more prayerful if they did not
have as much to say. And preaching usually occurred more outside
of Mass when the emphasis was not as much on mystery and sacrifice.
- Between the Council
of Trent and the Vatican II Council, there were also a number of other
movements leading up to the later reforms.
A. At about the same
time as the Council of Trent, the Baroque period of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries emphasized a notion of glory and splendor at Mass,
with polyphony music, very elaborate vestments, fine artwork and architecture,
and the like. On the one hand, this emphasis did draw greater
enthusiasm. On the other hand, there was a tendency for the pomp
and ceremony to obscure the importance of worship and conversion.
- The monarchs and
nobles of Europe, whose power was rising once again, began to get very
interested in the liturgy again. On the one hand, they supported
the building of churches, the composition of music, schools and missionary
activities. On the other hand, they tended to get too involved
in controlling the liturgy, with such things as insisting on places
of great prominence and giving the clergy sermons to preach.
- In the so-called
Enlightenment era of the eighteenth century, there was more of an effort
1. For example,
in Germany, while the Mass continued in Latin, more popular German songs
2. In Tuscany
in 1786, Bishop Scipione De' Ricci and Prince Leopold called the synod
of Pistoia to call for reforms. Liturgically, it called for such
things as vernacular in the Mass and only one altar in each church to
focus everyone's attention on the Mass. Unfortunately, the synod
also made several heretical pronouncements, as well as some ridiculous
proposals, such as the elimination of perpetual religious vows.
As a result, the entire effort, including some legitimate liturgical
ideas, became discredited.
3. In addition,
the missionaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries tried to
accommodate local customs. Some accommodations, such as more local
vestments and longer preaching were allowed. Other accommodations,
such as using rice bread, were forbidden.
- In the nineteenth
century, there was a great rise in devotions, and especially Marian
devotions (including the appearance at Lourdes and the Dogma of
the Immaculate Conception.) In addition, the Benedictines, especially
Solemnes, France, and Beuron and Maria Laach, Germany, promoted a more
reverent, ancient liturgy that would reflect the timelessness of the
Church in the midst of a changing world. There was also a great
effort to explain the liturgy to the people more, especially as literacy
- As the twentieth
century dawned, there was a great deal of interest in a liturgical renewal
that would get the people more involved.
1. Dom Lambert
Beauduin (1873-1960) of the Benedictine monastery in Mont Cesar
in Belgium, emphasized the active participation of the faithful at Mass,
especially in his 1914 book Liturgy in the Life of the Church
Odo Casel (1886-1948), abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Maria Laach
in Germany emphasized the fact that the Mass is a timeless mystery that
brings about a current transformation. The people thus must respect
the unity and mystery of the Mass, but also actively make it their own.
3. In 1918, Fr.
Romano Guardini (1885-1968) , a priest of the diocese of Mainz, Germany
wrote The Spirit of the Liturgy, in which he emphasized the delightfulness
of liturgy, emphasizing that, like all of the most joyful things, it
is not meant to be "practical," but rather enriching of the spirit.
- The Popes authorized
and encouraged a renewal of participation in the Mass and understanding
1. Thus, in 1903,
Pope St. Pius X issued the moto proprio Tre Le Sollecitudini,
he focused on Church music and encouraged the active participation of
the faithful, especially in that context. In 1905, he encouraged
frequent communion in the decree Sacra Tridentina Synodus.
And in 1910, he published Quam Singulari, which lowered the age
of First Communion to 7. In that year he also allowed the "dialogue
Mass," which involved more participation by the faithful.
2. In Mediator
Dei (1947), Pope Pius XII focused on liturgical renewal and the
active participation of the faithful. In that encyclical, he also
insisted on a more reverent form of the Mass, avoiding either an aura
of rountineness or experimentation not specifically authorized by the
Church. In the 1950s, he restored the Easter Vigil to her previous
prominence and reduced the Eucharistic fast to three hours to allow
more frequent reception of Communion, as well as lessen the burdens
Thus, when Pope John XIII called for the Vatican II Council, he appointed
one of the commissions to work on the liturgy. That effort would
eventually lead to the first Vatican II Council document, Sacrosanctum
Concilium, which promoted the reform of the liturgy, but in a way
that would respect its ancient traditions.