Thursday, February 24, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 16

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 16


A man whose first language was Spanish attended a lecture about the Second Vatican Council, usually called “Vatican Two”. After the talk he asked “Who is this Betty Cantu and why did she write all those documents?” True story.

In recent thrilling episodes we learned all about American exceptionalism. The descendants of the Puritans genuinely believed that God had made them a superior race, entitled, even obliged, to Christianize the world. The 19th century Americans lost their Puritan faith, but somehow managed to retain a belief in their own exceptionalism. American exceptionalism certainly seemed vindicated when, at the end of the Second World War, American armies occupied much of Europe and Asia. Having defeated Hitler and Hirohito, it seemed that America was all that stood between the “free world” and Stalin. At least that’s how we saw it. Much of the world agreed. To be modern was to be American. Elvis Presley, blue jeans and big American cars followed in the wake of the troops. The post-war world fell in love with all things American.

The desire to be fully American and to share in that wonderful “modernness” was certainly a big part of my childhood. I remember the admonitions to patriotism regularly doled out by the Irish nuns who taught me to read and write. The flag hung near the cross in every classroom in my grade school. It was the fifties! Communists were everywhere. To be foreign, to be un-American, was to be dangerous. It was all hula-hoops and plastic covered furniture and modern architecture. My family hadn’t spoken German at home since the First World War. And with the election in 1960 of the most exceptional American, John F. Kennedy, we Catholics were finally as American as could be.

Then the council. Twenty-six hundred bishops attended the council, accompanied by their periti. Periti are theological experts, or so it is claimed. I have heard the Second Vatican council called the council of the periti, because at times it seemed that the periti, not the pope nor bishops were running things. Father, later bishop, Anibale Bugnini was one such peritus. Pope Pius XII appointed him Secretary to the Commission for Liturgical Reform, so he was a natural to head the committee for the reform of the Catholic liturgy during and after the Second Vatican Council.

In 1964, Pope Paul VI named Bugnini Secretary of the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy, usually just called “the consilium.” Bugnini was certainly a special kind of Catholic priest. I doubt that he would have been at all uncomfortable during the French Enlightenment. Bugnini’s secretary, Abbot Boniface Luykx reports that “Bugnini once told Archbishop Malula (Cardinal Archbishop of Kinshasa,Congo) that the norm for the liturgy and for Church renewal is modern Western man, because he is the perfect man, and the final man, and the everlasting man, because he is the perfect and normative man.... adapting to Western culture is the great work in Church liturgical reform and renewal, and in theology, and in all other aspects of Church life... Secularization was, for him, a necessary process, something the Church needed to accept and embrace... He held to the modern philosophical view that man is made without God, and does not need God.”

Regarding his plans for the reform of the Mass, he was quoted by the Vatican newspaper, “L’Osservatore Romano,” as saying “We must strip... from the Catholic Liturgy everything which can be a shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren... the Protestants.” So ecumenical were Bugnini and the spirit of the times that six Protestant clerics helped rewrite the Mass of the Catholic liturgy. Enough Catholic theology was removed from the Mass that Brother Max Thurian (one of the six consultants) believed that Protestants could use the text without difficulty. Bugnini reasoned that, if Protestants said that Mass was not a real sacrifice, then we would just have to agree with that. We should take all the words out of the Rosary that are not from the Bible. Pope Paul responded, in effect, “Are you out of your mind?” The first versions of the reformed Mass were such radical departures from Catholic tradition that they were refused by the pope and the bishops. Words referring to the sacrificial nature of the Mass were reintroduced and the texts were finally published.

Another important conciliar idea: collegiality. Collegiality has always been part of Catholic teaching, but was emphasized by the council. It is the idea that bishops share responsibility for governing the Church with the pope, but always in submission to the papal authority. The idea was not new, but the encouragement of Episcopal conferences was new. (These are national or regional bishops’ conferences. They have nothing to do with the Episcopalian Church. At least they aren’t meant to.)

A new Mass and collegiality! At the time it felt like the Church was catching up with the times and that the superior American form of government, democracy, had at long last arrived, or even returned to the Church. After all, scholars and liturgists regularly told us that we were simply returning to the practices of the early Church. The council was just scraping off the medieval barnacles that weighed down the bark of Peter. We were going back to the Church as Jesus had planned it, before popes and stuffy rules and boring liturgies. Wait... we’ve heard this all before! It was called the Reformation!


PS No one should think that I don’t like or approve of the Pauline liturgy (the Mass that most of us go to on Sunday). When it is done by the book, it is really very beautiful. It is the silliness of the improvisers that I am trying to explain. The so called “New Mass” is Mass, as is the so called “Old Mass.” The Holy Spirit knows what he is doing despite all the loons who say that the current Mass and the present popes are not valid. I believe that in the Second Vatican council, the Holy Spirit anticipated a world that we did not even imagine. Who of us in 1960 could have imagined cell phones and personal computers and E-mail? The problem is not and never was the council. The problem is the vultures who used the “Spirit of Vatican II” as a smoke screen for their own arrogance and sometimes for their own immorality. But what about Bugnini and that crowd? Remember the Biblical principal that God works all things for the good, though we might not understand that good at the time. As Joseph said to his brothers. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20) Pope Benedict seems to be in the process for “reforming the reform.” It is the height of arrogance to say, as many aging progressives do, that the Pauline Mass is untouchable. As we look back on both the successes and the failures of the post conciliar era, we need to be honest with ourselves.


  1. Dear Rev. K-I-A,

    I don't get the "Betty Cantu" comment. Can you please explain that one?


  2. Over 2 years late. Betty Cantu=Vatican II