Rorate Caeli

The Mass of 1965: back to the future?
Why it is not an option

The Psalm Iudica (psalm 42): crossed out in 1965
One reason why many good-hearted people wanted a 'Reform of the Reform' is that some kind of reform was called for by the Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium ('SC'). Now that some of them have given up on the project of tinkering with the Novus Ordo, an alternative would seem to be going back to the 1962 Missal and using the Council's criteria to make the reform again. To undertake the Reform We Should Have Had. Fr Somerville-Knapmann suggests it might look like the transitional Missal of 1965. Fr Mark Kirby says very much the same thing with more detail.

The first thing to note is that this wasn't a new edition of the Missal, but just a set of provisional revisions made by the Instruction Inter Oecumenici. There was another lot in 1967, and then the new Missa Normativa came out in 1969. Inter Oecumenici says about itself that it authorizes or mandates that those measures that are practicable before revision of the liturgical books go into effect immediately.


Until reform of the entire Ordo Missae, the points that follow are to be observed: 

The most striking of these 'points' are that the vernacular is allowed for most of Mass (the rest followed two years later), a number of silent prayers are said aloud, the Psalm Iudica in the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, and the Last Gospel (and Leonine Prayers), have gone, and Mass is encouraged facing the people. It is interesting to note that, apart from the 'wider use of the Vernacular', none of these changes find direct support from the Council.

Rubrics erased in 1967

On these changes, what can one say? The animus against silence in the liturgy has undergone a complete reversal since 1965. Pope Benedict pointed out in one of his World Communication Day messages that

It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place...

In the Spirit of the Liturgy he says, of the silent prayers of the Mass,

The number of these priestly prayers has been greatly reduced in the liturgical reform, but, thank God, they do exist.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of 1965. (And see the FIUV Position Paper.)

Mass versus populum is, perhaps the aspect of on the reform which has come under the most sustained attack by those otherwise committed to the 1970 Missal. Cardinal Ratzinger's critique in The Spirit of the Liturgy is simply blistering. The FIUV Position Paper refers to a remarkable sermon of Cardinal Schönborn, preached to Pope John Paul II, all about the importance of worship 'obviam sponso', facing East: and Schönborn is no trad. Fr Michael Lang's book on the subject, with a foreword by Cardinal Ratzinger, reveals the seriously deficient historical scholarship which was used to support the versus populum position.

The Psalm Iudica and the Last Gospel are now back in the liturgy of the Anglican Ordinariate. The consensus of the 1950s and early 1960s that these were useless accretions to the operative Eucharistic liturgy has collapsed, even in the Congregation for Divine Worship.

On each of these issues the old consensus was based on a functionalist approach to the liturgy. You identify what the liturgy does, and clear out the bits which don't do it. The same era gave us functionalism in other areas of life too: functionalist buildings which eschewed decoration or even elegance, because these things aren't necessary for a building's function of keeping you warm and dry. It wouldn't be such a stupid idea if the theorists didn't have such a narrow view of functions. (Is that really all that buildings do?) But it's old hat now, in any case: it belongs in the history books. Are we really going to live by the discarded theories of the 1960s? Can't we benefit from all the scholarship which has been done since then?

Fr Kirby suggests that at the time the 1965 changes were understood as 'the reform', complete, but this is contradicted by the very text of the document implementing it, and by the fact that no new edition of the Missal was printed. He quotes the then Cardinal Secretary of State Cicognani as saying that: “The singular characteristic and primary importance of this new edition is that it [the revisions of 1965] reflects completely the intent of the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” Unless he was being deliberately misleading, or had been misled, Cicognani must surely have meant 'as far as it goes.'

Last Gospel: crossed out in 1965
Indeed, the poor mugs in the pews were deliberately misled by Cardinal Heenan (as he later admitted) to stop them rioting. But in those days ordinary Catholics did not have easy access to the official documents.

Again I have to disagree with Fr Kirby and Fr Somerville-Knapman about 1965's connection with the norms of the Council. As already noted it goes beyond them in some ways; in others it doesn't fulfil them. For example it hadn't caught up with the multi-year lectionary which SC explicitly mentions. Again, changes later justified by reference to the Council's talk of 'noble simplicity' and texts 'not difficult to understand', and the rejection of 'useless repetition', have not been applied in 1965; some came in 1967.

But it is no mystery why. 1965 represents not a purer level of the reform, before the bad people took over. It represents exactly what it says it represents: those changes which were easiest to implement, from a purely practical point of view. It didn't require the printing of a new Missal, the approval of new texts, or the construction of a complicated multi-year lectionary. It just needed few minutes annotating the old Altar Missal with a felt-tip pen. When Inter Oecumenici was issued work on the 'entire Ordo Missae' was already in progress. For example, the principles of the new lectionary were decided at a meeting of the Concilium in April 1964. Fathers! Get out your copies of Bugnini's Reform of the Liturgy and see for yourselves. It is recorded on p410.


As I noted at the start of this post, a major motivation for seeking solace in 1965, as with the whole Reform of the Reform movement, is the idea that, because the Council called for liturgical reform, we are obliged to show our loyalty to the Council by having a reform of some kind, even if it not the kind which actually happened. The loyalty to Mother Church here is noble, and I don't want to criticise that. But we must keep in mind two things.

First, the Council's Sacrosanctum Concilium is a compromise between what quite radical reformers wanted, and what the Fathers of the Council would accept. (The radicals were already practicing versus populum, handshakes at the kiss of peace, wide use of the vernacular and so on.) This means that we are never going to establish to everyone's satisfaction what the clear meaning of the document is.

Second, any proposal for reform is necessarily a matter of prudential judgement. The Council Fathers were not stupid, and their advisers were not evil. They were nevertheless subject to all the difficulties involved in hugely complex prudential judgements, where the ultimate consequences of different proposals are impossible to predict. The type of reform envisaged was something, remember, that the Church had never before attempted.

A massacre of signs of the cross in 1967,
and changes to the Words of Consecration
in 1969

In sum, we are not obliged under pain of sin to undertake a reform of the 1962 books because it was called for by the Council. If that were the case, Pope Benedict's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum would have been impossible. He not only allows us to continue to enjoy the ancient liturgy, but, in the letter accompanying it, he actually places an obligation upon us:

It behoves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. 

Photos: a mutilated Altar Missal, which I happen to own; there are many such in circulation, sadly unusable for liturgy. The owner tried to keep up with Inter Oecumenici in 1965, and Tres annos abhinc in 1967, and even the changes to the Roman Canon in 1969. The 1967 changes eliminated almost all the genuflections, signs of the cross, and the kissings of the Altar.

[Note: This is a stand-alone version of the concluding post of a series I have done on my personal blog, under this label. Due to its particular relevance in defence of the integrity of the 1962 Missal, it is also published here.]