Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first "Mass in Italian" to be ever celebrated, an event deemed important enough to be celebrated by the current Pope with a special commemorative Mass at the same church in Rome (Parrocchia di Ognissanti, Via Appia Nuova, 244) where it took place. The original Mass was celebrated by Paul VI on March 7, 1965 which happened to be that year's First Sunday of Lent. The repeatedly vandalized plaque now marking the event (see above) goes so far as to say that it was this event that inaugurated the liturgical reform decreed by Vatican II. (The text of the plaque says, "On March 7, 1965, His Holiness Paul VI, inaugurating the liturgical reform decreed by the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, deigned to celebrate in this temple the first mass in Italian language, amidst the emotion and joy of an entire people, forever faithful and grateful.")
The rite used by Paul VI was the so-called "1965 Missal", essentially the 1962 Missal but with the modernizations and simplifications laid out in 1964 by Inter oecumenici, which document came into force on the same day as the Pope's Italian Mass. (We use inverted commas because there never was an editio typica for the entire Roman Missal as reformed in 1964-1965.) The actual Mass celebrated by Paul VI itself served as the inauguration of the "1965 Missal". It would not have been entirely in Italian because Inter oecumenici mandated that the Orations, Preface, and the silent priestly prayers including the Roman Canon (which continued to be said inaudibly) were to remain in Latin. It also ordered that "Missals to be used in the liturgy, however, shall contain besides the vernacular version the Latin text". Messa in Latino recently published a few pages from a 1965 Italian-Latin Missal showing the bilingual Ordo Missae. (In the USA, vernacularization was already being implemented as early as 1964. The US Bishops' November 1964 document with rules for the use of Latin and the vernacular can be read here.)
Nevertheless it is not true, as is sometimes implied in blogs oriented to the "Reform of the Reform", that the 1965 Missal only allowed a modest use of the vernacular. The permission for the use of the vernacular in Inter oecumenici is sweeping and includes all the parts said or sung by the congregation:
57. For Masses, whether sung or recited, celebrated with a congregation, the competent, territorial ecclesiastical authority on approval, that is, confirmation, of its decisions by the Holy See, may introduce the vernacular into:
a. the proclaiming of the lessons, epistle, and gospel; the universal prayer or prayer of the faithful;
b. as befits the circumstances of the place, the chants of the Ordinary of the Mass, namely, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Benedictus, Agnus Dei, as well as the introit, offertory, and communion antiphons and the chants between the readings;
c. acclamations, greeting, and dialogue formularies, the Ecce Agnus Dei, Domine, non sum dignus, Corpus Christi at the communion of the faithful, and the Lord's Prayer with its introduction and embolism.
Granted, this same document (# 59) also stipulates that:
Pastors shall carefully see to it that the Christian faithful, especially members of lay religious institutes, also know how to recite or sing together in Latin, mainly with simple melodies, the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass proper to them.
However, there can be no doubt that the ecclesiastical authorities up to and including Paul VI knew that these reforms meant that Latin had been dethroned from its dominant place in the liturgy. What is more, he saw the "sacrifice" of Latin as the will of the Council, and this was while the Council was still ongoing. This is clear from his Angelus address on that same day:
This Sunday marks a memorable date in the spiritual history of the Church, because the spoken language officially enters the liturgical worship, as you have already seen this morning.
The Church has considered this measure right and proper - the Council has suggested and deliberated it - and this in order to render its prayer intelligible and make it understood. The welfare of the people demands this care, so as to make possible the active participation of the faithful in the public worship of the Church. It is a sacrifice that the Church has made of her own language, Latin; a sacred, sober, beautiful language, extremely expressive and elegant. She has sacrificed the traditions of centuries and above all she sacrifices the unity of language among the various peoples, in homage to this greater universality, in order to reach all.And this [also] for you, faithful, so that you may know better [how to] join yourselves to the Church's prayer, so that you may know [how to] pass from a state of simple spectators to that of participating and active faithful, and if you truly know how to correspond to this attention of the Church, you will have the great joy, the merit and the chance of a true spiritual renewal.And now let us also pray to the Madonna, we will pray to her still in Latin for now, so she can grant us this desire of an active and authentic spiritual life, and that she may grant us this reawakened sense of community, of fraternity, of the collectivity that prays together, of the people of God, so that we will certainly have assured to us the advantages of this great liturgical reform.
During the Mass itself, he began his homily thus:
The now new way of praying, of celebrating Holy Mass is extraordinary. The new form of the liturgy is inaugurated today in all the parishes and churches in the world, for all masses followed by the people. It is a great event, which will have to be recalled as the beginning of a thriving spiritual life, as a new effort in corresponding at the great dialogue between God and man.
Further liturgical simplifications were introduced in May 1967 through Tres abhinc annos (which also permitted the Canon to be said aloud and in the vernacular). Additional prefaces and Eucharistic prayers made their appearance in May 1968, and the period from April 1969 to November 1971 saw the process of the introduction and imposition of a New Missal on the entire Roman Rite. In parallel with the textual and ritual reforms, de facto full vernacularization of the Mass went ahead as the episcopal conferences and their liturgists came up with their own measures. The 1965 requirement that Missals should include the Latin text beside the vernacular ceased to be enforced c. 1970. In June 1971 the Congregation for Divine Worship issued a notification conceding that the entire Mass and Office with or without the people (i.e. including the Mass and Office said in private) may be said in the vernacular, and today the vernacular exercises unchallenged dominance in celebrations of the "Ordinary Form" of the Roman Rite. Online directories of "OF" Masses that are entirely or mostly said in Latin are incomplete, but all indications point to these being rarer than the Traditional Latin Mass.
The Mass of Paul VI on March 7, 1965 did not only showcase the vernacular. As the pictures of the Mass clearly show it also involved liturgical novelties that would soon become widespread in the Catholic world. We give way here to the more capable pen of Father Benoît Wailliez and Alain de Beaugrain in describing the "first Italian Mass", its novelties, and their significance. The following description comes from their article Liturgie: quelle est "la bonne interprétation du Concile"? published in Pour Qu'Il Règne, May/June 2014 edition. The main author is a priest of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) who did not intend to write any controversial words, but made the academic effort to present a historically accurate exposition of this historic Mass and its environment.
On the First Sunday of Lent, 1965, Paul VI wished to mark in a memorable way the entry into force of the first liturgical norms of application of the Second Vatican Council, that was still not over. In order to do it, he chose to celebrate not in a patriarchal basilica of Rome, but in a simple parish. The event has a considerable impact in Italy, not only because it was the first celebration of the pope in a regular parish, but also because this Mass was the defining moment of a national effort to "put the Council in practice." In the February 2014 issue of Vita Pastorale, Bishop Luca Brandolini, true spiritual heir of Abp. Annibale Bugnini, tells that between the promulgation of Inter Oecumenici, on September 26, 1964, and its entry into force, on March 7, 1965, he visited not fewer than fifty Italian dioceses in order to ensure that these "1965 rules" be put into practice. On the morning of the "great day", on March 7, 1965, Bugnini and Brandolini roamed together through the Rome city center in order to see by themselves how these new rules were being implemented. Cardinal Lercaro, Archbishop of Bologna, had made an intervention in the national television on the preceding Thursday in order to explain how to "implement the Council" in the liturgical area. In the essence, the texts of the 1962 Missal still remained intact (the new missal is dated only from 1969-1970), but numerous important rubrics had changed, even though these first reforms consisted above all in passing from Latin to the vernacular language, with the exception of the canon, and in the celebration turned to the assembly, the liturgy having now become something of the people. In such a context, the visit of the pope to a simple parish, with a celebration facing the people and in Italian, could only be understood as the crowning of this vast effort of "putting the Council into practice". ...
It is unfortunate that this event has raised so little interest outside of Italy and that so few photographs of it have been made public. In order to truly understand the general disposition of the setting, it is necessary to look into the parish album, which is possible during a visit to Rome. In these parish images, one can see that the High Altar and its Tabernacle had been hidden behind large drapes, which served as a background to the new layout. A monumental crucifix was placed on top of these drapes. The table-altar on top of its wooden support had been installed in front of the stone communion rail, that is, on the outside of the Sanctuary. Since no kind of movable communion rail had been installed in front of this new altar, there was not anymore any separation between the latter and the nave. These characteristics will be easier to observe in a few months, because the Ognissanti parish has prepared since 2012 a great event to celebrate, on March 7, 2015, the 50th anniversary of this historic day, along with a conference and the publication of a book including a great part of the hundreds of photographs taken on that day.
While waiting for March 2015, it is possible to have a more detailed notion of the situation by taking into consideration, in the parish, the conference granted by Dom Ildebrando Scicolone, OSB, on March 7, 2014, and by meeting longtime parishioners who were present at the historic mass of Paul VI. This way, one learns that this Church of All the Saints did not have an altar facing the people before the pope's visit; only the High Altar existed, including a Tabernacle that had, since its origins, had on top of it an immense statue of the Sacred Heart, which prevented any celebration facing the people. The wooden table-altar used on March 7, 1965, was brought in by the Vatican services and the Pope's visit truly was a watershed moment, because, from that date onwards, the parish ceremonies were celebrated in Italian, facing the people, on this movable altar placed outside the Sanctuary, with no separation from the nave. In other words, by coming to personally celebrate on March 7, 1965, Paul VI had drawn the road ahead. As the explanatory brochure "The Church of Ognissanti in Rome", available at the church, says, ten years later the sanctuary had a definitive rearrangement, in order to make permanent the new layout: "the previous altar was replaced with a new one, inspired by the conciliar reform: a single block of gray marble, original and plain." We have taken interest at the question of the orientation because Paul VI had celebrated "turned to the people." Since Antiquity, the churches had been oriented in the original sense of the term, that is, turned to the Orient. The traditional sense of the liturgical celebration is not therefore "with the back to the people", but "ad Orientem", that is, towards the place where the sun rises, the symbol of the resurrected Christ. Now, in certain Roman basilicas, the so-called "Constantinian" ones, the priest has celebrated [incidentally] facing the people. In reality, these churches are "occidented", that is, turned towards the southwest (or in that general sense), so much so that, in order to celebrate towards the East, the priest celebrates, since forever, towards the entrance doors. Since the church of Ognissanti is turned towards the southwest, couldn't we say that Paul VI, by celebrating towards the people, had in a general sense celebrated "ad Orientem"? After close exam, no element in the documents that the parish has preserved, not in the conference that it has organized to celebrate the memory of this mass, involves the direction of the celebration as having been chosen as "ad Orientem". Moreover, Paul VI himself did not make any mention of it. His intent was thus certainly to celebrate towards the people. In fact, in the general audience of March 17 , he expressed the notion that the liturgical prayer is addressed to the people, because he was pleased with the fact that, thanks to the liturgical aggiornamento, "the priest at last speaks to the faithful."
Pope Paul VI also gave communion to the faithful who were standing:
This was no accident; during the General Audience of March 17, 1965 Paul VI issued a scathing attack against the critics of the liturgical reform, and he explicitly includes among his targets those who criticize communion while standing. His remarks go beyond the critics of the liturgical reform and engages in a number of stereotypes of the faithful who attended Mass in the pre-Conciliar era, stereotypes startlingly similar to what liturgical progressivists have not ceased to repeat ever since.
Intentionally celebrating the Mass facing the people, displacing the altar from the sanctuary (and in fact doing away with a tangible "sanctuary" in the traditional sense), covering up or removing the high altar, the use of a "table-altar", communion no longer received while kneeling ... we are often assured by "conservative" writers that these had nothing to do either with Paul VI or Vatican II, and in fact became widespread only years later, and against the express will of both. However, the records of this Mass and of Masses publicly celebrated by Paul VI in the years immediately after 1965 show that he was at the vanguard of these changes. This is ironic given the tendency in some Reform of the Reform circles to point to the "1965 Missal" as the way to resacralization and the return to tradition for the wider Church -- a Missal whose very birth was attended by many of the innovations now deplored by these same circles.
Equally of note is that these innovations, which many in the Reform of the Reform camp assert have nothing to do with Vatican II because these are not mentioned in the actual text of Sacrosanctum Concilium, were already taking place in Rome itself, with the Pope's own endorsement and in his presence, long before the Council ended on December 8, 1965.