The Second Vatican Council and the Lectionary—Part 3: The First and Second Sessions of the Council (1962-1963)

Posted August 11, 2017 5:49 pm by Matthew Hazell

The Second Vatican Council and the Lectionary—Part 3: The First and Second Sessions of the Council (1962-1963)

Note: This is the final part of a three-part series. Part One, on the antepreparatory period, can be found here, and Part Two, on the preparatory period, can be found here.

The Second Vatican Council was solemnly opened on 11 October 1962, with Pope John XXIII’s declaration Gaudet Mater Ecclesiae. [1] Discussion on the Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (hereafter SC), began on 22 October 1962, and would continue throughout the first and second sessions of the Council until its solemn promulgation by Pope Paul VI on 4 December 1963. For the purposes of this short series, we are not so concerned with the history of the Council itself, or of all the discussion that was had over SC; there are many books and articles that examine various aspects of both of these. [2] We will be looking specifically at what the Fathers had to say about the lectionary, and the question of its potential reform.

Before we begin our brief examination, it should be noted that the Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II for the first two sessions (ten volumes) are absolutely vital reference material for anyone wishing to read exactly what was said on the Council floor about the constitution on the liturgy (along with any written submissions of the Fathers). I have previously made these freely available at NLM: the Acta Synodalia (hereafter AS) for the first session can be found here, and those for the second session can be found here.

The opening of the Second Vatican Council (October 1962)

Using the AS, I have also prepared a compilation of the interventions of the Council Fathers on what would become SC 51 (as well as paragraphs 24 and 35):

Lectionary Reform at the Second Vatican Council: The Latin Text of the Interventions of the Council Fathers Regarding Sacrosanctum Concilium 51, 24 and 35 (PDF)

The draft of SC presented to the Council Fathers at the 4th General Congregation (22 October 1962) had the following to say about the lectionary:

38. [Lectiones in Missa]. Ut fidelibus cum mensa eucharistica etiam ditior mensa verbi Dei paretur, thesauri biblici largius aperiantur, ita ut, decursu plurium annorum, praestantior pars Scripturarum sanctarum populo praelegatur.

[38. [Readings at Mass]. In order that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word together with the eucharistic table, the treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that, through the running of more years, a more representative part of the sacred Scriptures will be read before the people.]

We have already seen that, in the Central Preparatory Commission, this paragraph of the draft schema was not particularly controversial, and not much commented upon. The same could be said of this paragraph at the Council. There were a total of six in aula interventions at the 10th General Congregation [3] and two at the 12th General Congregation [4], along with 13 written submissions that mention this section of SC. [5] Other issues, such as the proposed reform of the Ordo Missae and the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy, understandably got far more attention from the Fathers. Be that as it may, there is still some interesting variation in these interventions, as not all of them are uniformly positive, and there are multiple proposals about the suggested reform.

Stanislaus Lokuang, bishop of Tainan (Taiwan), suggested that plurium annorum be changed to unius anni, for the very practical reason that otherwise the Missal would either have to be published in multiple volumes or it would be very large, and this would be “very difficult for the missions” (valde difficile pro missionibus). [6] In the course of a longer intervention, Agostinho Lopes de Moura, C.S.Sp., bishop of Portalegre-Castelo Branco (Portugal), said that, although paragraph 38 seemed good in principle, it did not seem to please all sides (non videtur undequaque placere). [7]

Though a couple of Fathers made specific reference to how many years they thought plurium annorum should be (always two or three) [8], there were differing opinions on what this would mean in practice. Alexandros Scandar, bishop of Lycopolis (Egypt), suggested a three reading system, with the first reading being from the Pauline Epistles, the second from the Catholic epistles, and the third from the Gospels, thereby excluding the Old Testament from consideration [9]. However, José Souto Vizoso, bishop of Palencia (Spain), suggested the three reading system that would later be implemented (Old Testament, Epistle, Gospel), commenting that “it seems opportune to me to restore this former custom” (opportuna mihi videtur restauratio pristini moris). [10]

Simon Landersdorfer, bishop of Passau (Germany), suggested something very much like Heinrich Kahlefeld’s proposal in the Preparatory Commission on the Liturgy (which we have seen in Part 2 of this series):

Regrediunter ad antiquissimam Ecclesiae Romanae consuetudinem, quae tempore S. Gregorii Magni in evangeliario suo pericopas posuit non pro die dominica tantum, sed etiam pro feria 4, feria 6 et pro sabbato. [11]

[There could be a return to a most ancient Roman custom, that of St Gregory the Great, where Gospel pericopes are assigned not only for that Sunday, but also for the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.]

Several other Fathers were happy to leave most of the specifics to a post-Conciliar commission, to bishops’ conferences, or to individual bishops themselves. [12]

Council Fathers and periti leaving St Peter’s Basilica (c. 1965; photo: Lothar Wolleh)

At the second session of the Council, an amended version of chapter 2 of the draft liturgy schema was presented to the Fathers (8 October 1963; General Congregation 43), with the paragraph on the lectionary now numbered 51 and in the form we know it today in Sacrosanctum Concilium:

Quo ditior mensa verbi Dei paretur fidelibus, thesauri biblici largius aperiantur, ita ut, intra praestitutum annorum spatium, praestantior pars Scripturarum Sanctarum populo legatur.

[The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.]

The two main changes are the deletion of the words cum mensa eucharistica etiam, and the replacement of decursu plurium annorum with intra praestitutum annorum spatium. In the relatio given to the Fathers by Jesús Enciso Viana, bishop of Mallorca (Spain), [13] these changes are explained as follows:

Difficultates vere paucae, quae huic articulo oppositae sunt, procedunt ex timore nimis protrahendi Missae celebrationem. Non tamen agitur de multiplicandis lectionibus in eadem Missa, sed de maiori varietate lectionum per annum vel per annos obtinenda. Et ne expressio « plurium annorum » videatur periodum nimis longam, scripsimus « intra praestitutum annorum spatium ».
Verba « cum mensa eucharistica etiam » omissa sunt, ne ideam de duplici mensa iteraremur. [14]

[There were few true difficulties here; those that there were against this article proceeded from the fear that the celebration of Mass would be exceedingly prolonged. Still, this [article] does not urge the multiplication of readings in the same Mass, but rather to obtain a greater variety of readings during the year or years. So, lest the expression “more years” be seen as a very long period, we have written “in the course of a prescribed number of years”.
The words “together with the eucharistic table” have been omitted, so that the idea of the two tables is not repeated.]
[Cf. SC 48]

Since these amendments were not substantial, they did not receive an individual vote on the Council floor. The emended chapter 2 as a whole received 1,417 placet votes, 36 non placet votes, and 781 placet iuxta modum (i.e. “yes, but…”) votes at the 47th General Congregation (14 October 1963). [15] This was 78 placet votes short of the required two-thirds majority, and therefore the chapter had to be reworked once more. Paragraph 51 was unchanged by the time the Fathers again voted on the chapter as a whole at the 71st General Congregation (20 November 1963), this time receiving 2,112 placet and 40 non placet votes. [16]

In conclusion, it is worth noting that, among all these interventions, not one Father seems to have any radical rearrangement of the existing cycle of readings in mind, or that they thought that the existing cycle would disappear completely in any future reform. Granted, it could be argued that some of their suggestions tend towards that direction, but the mind of the Council Fathers seems to be that a pastoral augmentation and expansion of the existing readings was desirable, especially for the catechetical benefit of the Christian faithful [17], and perhaps also allowing for some flexibility on certain occasions and at certain times of year. This is also, as we have seen in the preceding parts of this series, in keeping with the general feelings of the bishops and prelates as expressed before the Council.

As Dom Alcuin Reid rightly points out:

[R]egardless of what experts may have hoped that the Council would approve, or may even have read it as approving, then or afterwards, an accurate reading of the Constitution is one that is in accord with the Council Fathers’ intentions expressed in aula and the consequent explanations and redactions of the Conciliar Liturgical Commission which were again considered by the Fathers before the text was finally approved and promulgated. [18]

In this light, then, the post-conciliar reform of the lectionary may be in accord with the letter of SC 51 on a very basic level, but it would seem to be an open question as to whether it is truly in the spirit of SC 51 and in accord with the intentions of the Council Fathers.

Notes

[1] An English translation by Joseph Komonchak can be found here (PDF).

[2] For example (and this short list is by no means exhaustive!): Agostino Marchetto, The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: A Counterpoint for the History of the Council (University of Scranton Press, 2010); Giuseppe Alberigo (ed.), History of Vatican II (5 vols.; Peeters, 1995-2006); Ralph M. Wiltgen, The Inside Story of Vatican II (TAN Books, 2009); Roberto de Mattei, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story (Loreto Publications, 2012); Serafino M. Lanzetta, Vatican II: A Pastoral Council (Gracewing, 2016). Recent bibliographical surveys of works on Vatican II have also been carried out by Massimo Faggioli: “Council Vatican II: Bibliographical Survey 2010-2013”, Cristianesimo nella Storia 34.3 (2013), 927-955; “Vatican II: Bibliographical Survey 2013-2016”, Cristianesimo nella Storia 37.3 (2016), 675-716.

[3] From the following Fathers: Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J. (President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity), Custodio Alvim Pereira (archbishop of Lourenço Marques, Mozambique), Stanislaus Lokuang (bishop of Tainan, Taiwan), Paulus Rusch (apostolic administrator of Innsbruck-Feldkirch, Austria), Karmelo Zazinović (auxiliary bishop of Krk, Croatia), Bernhard Stein (auxiliary bishop of Trier, Germany).

[4] From the following Fathers: André Perraudin, M. Afr. (archbishop of Kabgayi, Rwanda), Agostinho Joaquim Lopes de Moura, C.S.Sp. (bishop of Portalegre-Castelo Branco, Portugal).

[5] From the following Fathers: Pedro Arnoldo Aparicio y Quintanilla, S.D.B. (bishop of San Vicente, El Salvador), Marino Bergonzini (bishop of Volterra, Italy), Raphaël Bidawid (bishop of Amadiyah [Chaldean], Iraq), Joseph Fady, M. Afr. (bishop of Lilongwe, Malawi), Charles Henry, C.S.Sp. (archbishop of Onitsha, Nigeria), Simon Konrad Landersdorfer, O.S.B. (bishop of Passau, Germany), Sergius Méndez Arceo (bishop of Cuernavaca, Mexico), Eduard Nécsey (apostolic administrator of Nitra, Slovakia), Dragutin Nežić (bishop of Poreč i Pula, Croatia), Alexandros Scandar (bishop of Lycopolis [Coptic], Egypt), José Souto Vizoso (bishop of Palencia, Spain), Cesar Gerardo Maria Vielmo Guerra, O.S.M. (vicar apostolic of Aysén, Chile), Antonio Gregorio Vuccino, A.A. (titular archbishop of Aprus).

[6] Cf. AS I.2, p. 34.

[7] Cf. AS I.2, p. 125.

[8] Namely André Perraudin (per spatium duorum vel trium annorum: AS I.2, p. 123) and Dragutin Nežić (per cyclos 2-3 annorum: AS I.2, p. 257).

[9] Cf. AS I.2, p. 269.

[10] Cf. AS I.2, p. 274. On the question of whether three readings was ever the custom in the Roman Rite, see Gregory DiPippo, “The Ambrosian Lectionary and the Reform of the Roman Rite” in Joseph Briody (ed.), Verbum Domini: Liturgy and Scripture. Proceedings of the Ninth Fota International Liturgical Conference, 2016 (Smenos Publications, 2017), pp. 212-225; also idem“Did the Roman Rite Anciently Have Three Readings” (17 November 2013).

[11] Cf. AS I.2, p. 244. Landersdorfer does not specify whether the cycle would work in a multi-year manner similar to Kahlefeld’s proposal, but this can probably be inferred from his ex corde assentio to paragraph 38.

[12] For example: Custodio Alvim Pereira (Conferentia episcopalisAS I.2, p. 32), Paulus Rusch (Conferentias episcoporumAS I.2, p. 36), Karmelo Zazinović (Liceat episcopo ergoAS I.2, p. 41), Bernhard Stein (Commissio exsecutivaAS I.2, p. 50), Gregorio Vuccino (Ordinarium, with the rationale that they would libidinosas inventiones praecavendas (!): AS I.2, p. 286).

[13] Cf. AS II.2, pp. 290-308. A synopsis of the proposed draft and the emended text of chapter 2 can be found before the relatio, on pp. 280-289.

[14] Cf. AS II.2, p. 301.

[15] Cf. AS II.2, p. 520. Note that there were also 8 null votes. The votes on the individual amendments to chapter 2 can be found in AS II.2, pp. 329, 335, 338, 342, 360, 384, 435.

[16] Cf. AS II.5, p. 631. As this was, in effect, the final version, placet iuxta modum was not given as an option for this vote: it was a straight yes or no.

[17] This comes out especially in some of the longer interventions; that of Karmelo Zazinović or Bernhard Stein, for example.

[18] “After Sacrosanctum Concilium – Continuity or Rupture?” in Alcuin Reid (ed.), T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), p. 305.

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