Ever Increasing Vigor in the True Spirit of Vatican II 12

The source and summit of our faith

It is widely assumed that the main goal of the Second Vatican Council was liturgical reform. Although that supposition is not entirely true, it is not entirely false, either. As in all things, Context is key.

To be sure, the four main goals of the Council, namely:

  • Renewal: to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful
  • Aggiornamento: to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change
  • Ecumenism: to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ
  • Evangelization: to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church

are presented at the outset of the Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” Sacrosantum Concilium. The initial paragraph of this document concludes, stating:

“The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy.”

One does not have to search deeply into the document in order to ascertain what those cogent reasons are. The very next paragraph tells us that the liturgy is “the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” Most notable, in this regard, is the specific emphasis the document places on the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist as the preeminent means “through which the work of our redemption is accomplished.”

In Sacrosantum Concilium, the Council makes it very clear from the beginning that the immutable foundation, from which all reform, renewal, or getting up to date, and every effort to evangelize or promote Christian unity flows, is Christ himself present in the source and summit of our faith, the Eucharist.

This is not a willy-nilly reform. To understand the thought of the Church, one must think with the heart of the Church; that is and always has been through, with, and in Christ as Alpha and Omega, ever present within his Mystical Body. In the Church, we are all part of that one Body, through our participating in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is none other than Christ himself. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (1324; cf. LG 11) and “the sum and summary of our faith: Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.” (1327) The Eucharistic Christ is the true Spirit of Vatican II.

The Church’s aim, “to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful,” vitam christianam inter fideles in dies augere, is eminently Eucharistic. Since this proposed “vitam augere” stems from the Bread of Life, the Council sought to give the faithful the proper means to participate more conscientiously and and fully in the liturgical life of the Church. That is why the Council Fathers saw it fit to propose adaptations to the liturgy.

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work. — Sacrosantum Concilium 14

Necessary instruction means education, and the liturgy itself educates. One of the problems that caused some confusion at the onset of liturgical reform was translation (tradere, tradere: the same word means both to translate and to betray). Please bear with me, I am going somewhere with this.

Translations involve interpretation. The intent is to transmit the meaning or spirit of the original text to the reader in another language in the most meaningful way. At times some of the original meaning can be lost in the translation. Unfortunately, the translator may unwittingly sacrifice the original intent of the text in order to convey the sense that he sees most fitting for the intended reader. Here is an example that ties in well with what we have been saying with regard to the Eucharist imparting ever increasing vigor into the life of the faithful through their participation in the liturgy.

Ite! Missa Est!

For years we heard the dismissal “Mass is ended. Go in Peace!” To the faithful in the pew, the message was clear: “Okay, it’s over. We can go now,” after the procession of course, and probably best to wait until after the music is finished — just to be polite.

That translation is imprecise. Incidentally, the word Mass, which we commonly use to refer to the Eucharistic Celebration, is derived from words of dismissal, Ite! Missa est! “Go forth! You have been sent.”

Sent, like apostles (the Greek word apostellein, means to be sent forth). In other words, after participating in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass and receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist, the Church sends us forth with the commission to be apostles. It makes sense, therefore, that the adaptations intended to allow greater participation in the liturgy, imparting “an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful,” so that they could extend the life of the Church as well-fortified, enthusiastic apostles.

“Vitam Christianam augere” — to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful. Latin packs a lot of meaning into just a few words. Once again, these words contain implicit reference to the Eucharist: the source and summit of our faith. Christian life grows when it receives its proper nourishment, through the Eucharist.

In sum, to understand the reforms of Vatican II, we need to understand it’s aims. The aims of Vatican II, must be understood within the right context. That context is only properly understood when we consider the heart of Church thinking, which always seeks accord with the heart of Christ and Christ’s heart is apostolic. The heart of our apostolic vigor, therefore, must be the heart of Christ himself. For he is the one who nourishes us, teaches us, and sends us forth to live the Gospel and extend his Kingdom with the witness of our lives, united to his.

We return to the Eucharist also, as Christ taught us, in memory of him. Our succes as apostles depends on our ability to bear this in mind: the vigor of Christian life will continue to grow and flourish to the extent that we continue to draw our strength from Christ in the Eucharist.


  1. I believe if Vatican II was removed from history, I, among many others, would never have been converted to the faith. In an ever-changing world, the Church, with that apostolic vigor must do what she can to save souls (without herself changeing, of course). I know many pre-Vatican II folk are not so happy with decisions that were made. But, speaking selfishly, I would never have found truth if truth was made so impossible for me to grasp, bound up in a different language and not made practicle or practicable to me. I see the Church opening her arms to the world and making herself more and more appealing, especially with the use of media and the internet. The Church can evangelize now more than ever, instead of being the perplexing, colorful, robed, Latin-speaking, spectacle, I once thought her to be (but, of course I now love all that I use to hate).

    Anyhow, those are my rambling thoughts – as good as it’ll get for being Tuesday.

    God love you all!

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I might have been a little misleading in my Sunday article, unwittingly, that I was going to gripe and vent on the negative aspects that followed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. My intention, rather, is to focus on where we are now, how we got here, and where we are going as a living and vibrant Church. Most Catholics today would agree with you, as do I, that the changes the Church made after the Council have brought more people into the fold and, ultimately, strengthened the Church body as a whole. You put it very nicely when you said: “In an ever-changing world, the Church, with that apostolic vigor must do what she can to save souls (without herself changeing, of course).” In these articles, I want to emphasize the relevance of what has not changed, indeed, what was only reaffirmed more boldly, as the impetus behind any effective change the Church has made over the past 5 decades. The immutable force is Jesus Christ, the Rock on which our faith is founded. To put it more abstrusely — He is the living ontological foundation from which the life of the church emanates and diffuses itself into the world. He makes all things new.

      • Amen! Our Blessed Lord met different peoples with different parables and outreach because the gift He was preparing was not for Jews alone, but also for the gentiles, without once changing His mission. The West would have him as a philosopher, and the East would have him as a worldly king. Today, many would have him as little more than a great teacher. His Church must act as Christ acted, meeting all wherever they are, but never changing its mission. So much more could be said, but I have a crying baby! God’s love!

    • Thanks for weighing in, Travis. Certainly, there is a lot more to be said in this regard, but the essentials are clear. Our focus and modus operandi always has to be Christ-centered, which always runs contrary the world’s way of seeing and doing things. We are called to be a sign of contradiction: in the world but not of the world. God bless!

  2. At the Blue Mosque, last August, in Istanbul, after seeing the prayer hall and the niche facing Mecca:

    Me: Excuse me, Mr. Guide, can I ask a question?
    Guide: Why yes, of course.
    Me: When the Imam leads the faithful in prayer, which way does he face?
    Guide: Why, towards Mecca, of course.
    Me: The same way as the faithful?
    Guide: Yes, of course.
    Me: Do the faithful think he is turning his back on them?
    Guide (sadly looking at the crazy American), no, of course not, why do you ask this?
    Me; Oh, thank you, just an an intra-Catholic Church thing.

    • Very insightful joke, Woody! When I talk about “Aggiornamento” on Thursday, I will use Cardinal Ratzinger’s (now BXVI, of course) reflections in Spirit of the Liturgy to address this point. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I have to disagree that the problems with the post Vatican II liturgy only extend as far as the translation that came about after from the Novus Ordo Latin.

    I think we have to acknowledge, despite how uncomfortable it might make us as true followers and apostles of Christ wishing to adhere to and trust His Church, the reality that the majority of the prayers which were held for thousands of years were reformed in a way to make them more inclusive in less detailed about our theology, certainly less poetic in any language. This in no way compromises the authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals because, unfortunately, the men that the church is made up of have the legitimate authority to promote a liturgy the form of which is a discipline that is not as beneficial (as evidence in the past 40 years of translating “Credo” as “We believe”.) as it could be. This was certainly not the will of Leo XIII, Pius X-XII with whose overquoted statements I won’t bore you (there much more to the point that many moderns), I will go directly to Benedict the 16th in the preface of Msgr Gamber’s book “The Reform of the Roman Liturgy”: “One statement we can make with certainty is that the new ordo of the Mass that has now emerged would not have been endorsed by the majority of the Council Fathers.” (Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, p.61). This book that was endorsed and prefaced by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. In the preface of this book Ratzinger added: “What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it – as in a manufacturing process – with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product. Gamber, with the vigilance of a true prophet and the courage of a true witness, opposed this falsification, and, indefatigably taught us about the living fullness of a true liturgy.” Also consider the following from John Cardinal Henry Newman who was certainly not unaware of the rumblings desiring change: “But as regards ourselves, the Clergy, what will be the effect of this temper of innovation in us? We have the power to bring about changes in the Liturgy; shall we not exert it? Have we any security, if we once begin, that we shall ever end? Shall not we pass from non-essentials to essentials? And then, on looking back after the mischief is done, what excuse shall we be able to make for ourselves for having encouraged such proceedings at first?” -Blessed John Henry Newman, On Alterations in the Liturgy

    Before anyone simply dismisses me as a radical traditionalist I would simply ask yourself whether you have even ever read the older 1962 liturgy’s prayers for yourself in English translated from the Latin. If you have not, I am working on a project available here for you to take a look. (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ApJYzVlKKY7AdFFSaHBfemJzR3A3UHJhNHZENW5JSncZ) If after reading through and seeing the comparison between the two missals and you do not agree with me that there is quite a different expression and emphasis on theology between the two texts, then I cannot help you. If you on knowledge that there is a difference in emphasis and theology you should ask yourself should there be? Does there need to be in order to bring others into the church? I tend to believe that the true doctrine should be easily accessible to everyone everywhere.

    The original liturgical movement started in the 20s as an attempt to make the laity more educated about the liturgy that it currently has-to encourage active participation as Pope Pius X ORIGINALLY stated. This movement was hijacked by those who believed, as the late Prof. Hilderbrand remarked, to bring the liturgy down to man’s level rather than raise man up to understand the divine liturgical tradition that had been given.

    Many reformers who had a Modernist agenda within the church understood how important the reform of the liturgy would be in adjusting the theology today way they would like it-a less detailed theology –one that is much more inclusive. I cite the famous words of Bugnini which revealed his disposition towards adjusting theology in favor of those who are not currently within the Church:

    “L’orazione 7° reca il titolo; ‘Per l’unità del cristiani’ (non ‘della Chiesa’, che è sta stata sempre una). Non si paria più di ‘eretici’ e ‘scismatici’, ma di ‘tutti i fratelli che credondo in Cristo’…

    Gli studiosi penseranno e mettere in luce le fonti bibliche e liturgiche da cui derivano o alle quali si inspirano i nuovi testi, elaborati col cesello dai Gruppi di studio del ‘Consilium’ E diacomo pure che non di rado lavore è proceduto ‘cum timore et tremore’ nel dover sacrificare espressioni e concetti tantocari, e ormai per lunga consuetudine familiari. Come non rimpiangere per esempio ‘ad sanctam matrem Ecclesiam catolicam atque apostolicam revocare dignetur’ della settima orazione? E tuttavia l’amore delle anime e il desiderio di agevolare in ogni modo il cammino dell’unione ai fratelli separati, rimovendo ogni pietra che possa constituire pur lontanamente un inciampo o motivo di disagio, hanno indoto la Chiesa anche a quiesti penosi sacrifici.”

    Getting off of the topic of liturgy I would like to just present this general quote about the purpose of Vatican II.

    “Our task, our primary goal, is not a discussion of any particular articles of the fundamental doctrine of the Church, nor that we repeat at greater length what has been repeatedly taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which we think to be well known and familiar to all. For this a Council was not necessary. But at the present time what is needed is that the entire Christian teaching with no part omitted, be accepted by all in our time with fresh zeal, with serene and tranquil minds, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council. It is necessary that as all sincere cultivators of the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic reality ardently desire that the same doctrine be more fully and deeply understood that consciences be more deeply imbued and formed by it; it is necessary that such certain and immutable doctrine, to which we owe the obedience of faith, be scrutinized and expounded with the method that our times require. One thing is the deposit of faith and the truths contained in our venerable doctrine, another thing is the way they are announced, with the same meaning and the same content.”

    -Pope John XXIII Opening of Vatican II (L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 6 June 2001, page 9)

    • John, before I even got through the first line of your comment, I got stuck on the work only. I’ll go back and check what I wrote to make sure that I did not say what you were implying in your first statement, and then I’ll go back and read your assessment; but I first wanted to just point out right off the bat what caught my eye, giving me the impression that interpretation might be an issue here. Sorry if I jumped the gun with hasty reply to your comment here. I’ll see in a moment if that is the case.

    • Okay, now, having read through your comment, I have no other disagreement than the one I raised in my last comment — where you apparently took to me to be saying way more than what I actually said (I’m comfortable being up front with you on this, because I believe I have a fair understanding of where you are coming from; we’ve been following each others blogs for quite some time now — thanks for contributing, by the way, with additional information, including the off-site links). That aside, …

      A question was raised to me in a comment on an recent post regarding the problem of translation. I explained there that there are basically two broad approaches to conveying meaning in translating texts. While there are many variations between these two extreems, one approach tends toward the most literal word-for-word translation and seeks precision in conveying meaning; the other tends toward sentence-for-sentence translation and seeks to accomodate more to the language into which the meaning is to be conveyed. There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. The trick is to try to balance both to avoid a translation that sounds either too forced or too watered down.

      To the point, the 1969 translation tended more toward the sentence-for-sentence approach, which was more customary in revised Biblical translations at the time, because it sought to convey the sense of the text in a way that fit the current use of modern English. The very fact that that translation is no longer in use would seem to imply either that the vernacular has changed so drastically in only 40 odd year that the translation became outdated (unlikely) or that the Church felt that too much of the intent of these liturgical texts was lost in that translation, and therefore, it needed to be revised. Obviously, the latter.

      But as you pointed out, the problems do not extend only as far as the translation. Doctrine is conveyed in many, many ways. I was focusing on translation as one of the factors involved in that transmission. The fact that the translation needed revision in less than 50 years after its promulgation suggests that it was probably not handled in the most suitable way according to the procedures, some of which are specified in SC, the document in question. That in and of itself seems to imply more fundamental problems, like the ones you tried to point out, which in turn says…

      It’s a complicated issue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s