Msgr. Charles Pope: A Look at the “Actual Mass” of Vatican II: the 1965 Missal (2015)

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“IteMissaEst” by Lumen roma – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

By Msgr. Charles Pope, January 28, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a cautionary article aimed at my traditionally-minded brethren saying, among other things, that we ought to be careful in identifying the Ordinary Form of the Mass (1970 Missal and beyond) as the “Mass of Vatican II.”  I will not reproduce that whole article here. I will only recall three points:

1. The Mass was already undergoing significant changes, beginning in the 1940s and picking up speed through the 1950s. More changes were planned by the Vatican before the Second Vatican Council was called.

2. The Second Vatican Council considered many issues, of which the liturgy was only one. The liturgical norms issued by the council were of a general nature and contained proposals that were far more modest than the substantial changes that happened in 1970 and beyond.

3. The Missal published in 1965 (of which I have a copy) incorporated many, if not most, of the insights from the council. The changes included in the 1965 Missal are more truly to be seen as those envisioned by the council than the far more sweeping changes incorporated in the Missal of 1970, a Missal that was designed by a smaller consilium of liturgists and actually surprised many of the bishops who attended the council.

Hence we do well to distinguish our concerns about the current form of the Mass. It is a poor stance to oppose an entire Ecumenical Council. Our concerns with the liturgy should stay in that arena, and we should work to correct abuses and encourage a reconsideration of the more modest reforms, even as we enjoy the privilege of celebrating the Mass using the Missal of 1962.

So let’s look at the 1965 Missal, the one that was actually published in the wake of the council and had its reforms in mind. Three introductory points will help:

1. There ARE changes in the Liturgy. The most significant is a wider (but not exclusive) use of the vernacular. Also significant is that the “Liturgy of the Word” was to be conducted facing the people and could be a task shared with qualified ministers. There was also some shortening of the prayers at the foot of the altar and the omission of the Last Gospel.

2. Otherwise, the general Mass remains unchanged. I don’t think a person from the year 1900, or even 1700, walking into Mass in 1966 would have been all that shocked. He would notice differences and hear less Latin, but the Mass would still be recognizable.

3. As for the Mass being celebrated “facing the people,” that seems to have proceeded on a track of its own. There is nothing in the rubrics or Ritus Servandus (Order of Celebration) of the 1965 Mass requiring the Eucharistic Prayer to be said facing the people. Even today, the rubrics presume that the priest is facing the altar and therefore must turn to face the people at certain points. My own memory is that Mass facing the people was introduced widely beginning in about 1967. It seems to have happened quickly throughout the country, but not in every parish or diocese all at once. I do not recall a big rebellion over it, and frankly a lot of people thought it was “neat” at first. As most of you know, I am not a fan of the Eucharistic Prayer being said facing the people. But the point here is to emphasize that the question of orientation proceeded on a track of its own and should not simply be associated with the Second Vatican Council (which merely permitted a practice that was already spreading) or with the Missal of a particular year. The current Missal still permits ad orientem, even though it is not widely practiced.

So, back to the 1965 Missal. Permit me now to give a more detailed description. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to look mainly at the “low” Mass rather than trying to include all the norms for a solemn or pontifical Mass. I will note the differences, but also what is unchanged.

Prayers at the Foot of the Altar 

The Mass began with the prayers at the foot of the altar. Neither the 1965 nor the 1962 or prior Missals ever called this part of the Mass “the prayers at the foot of the altar,” but that was their traditional description. Technically, they occurred before Mass had formally begun. Mass formally began when the celebrant ascended the altar, made the sign of the cross, and recited the Introit (Entrance Antiphon). Nevertheless, these prayers at the foot of the altar continued to be conducted in the 1965 Missal. There were a few changes, but overall they were minor. Here is a brief description:

1. The celebrant would bow or genuflect, as required, make the sign of the cross, and recite (in the vernacular or in Latin), “I will go to the altar of God.” The server or others responded “to God who gives joy to my youth.” Here, however, the full Psalm 42 was not recited, only the antiphon, much as had been the practice in the Requiem Mass.

2. The celebrant then bowed deeply and recited the Confiteor (in the vernacular or in Latin). The text used was still the traditional one, which mentioned Saints Michael, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul.

3. The servers recited the Misereatur (in the vernacular or in Latin) and then recited their own Confiteor. This was followed by the celebrant’s recitation of the Misereatur and then the Indulgentium (omitted today) along with the sign of the cross.

4. Going up to the altar and reverencing it, the celebrant said the Aufer a nobis and the Oramus te in a low voice (and only in Latin).

Thus we see that the main difference in the “prayers at the foot of the Altar” was the omission of the fuller verses of Psalm 42 and the provision that the texts could be conducted in the vernacular (with the exception of the private prayers of the priest which remained only in Latin).

The Mass continues (actually, formally begins)

1. The celebrant made the sign of the cross, read the Introit (Entrance Antiphon), and then recited the nine-fold Kyrie with the servers. However, if a schola (choir) sang the Introit and Kyrie, the celebrant would sing it along with them rather than reciting it privately. Latin or vernacular could be used.

This is significant because in the Missals of 1962 and before, the singing of the schola did not really “count.” The celebrant still had to say any texts that were sung. The 1962 Missal made provision for the celebrant not to recite the epistle and Gospel, but only if they were chanted by a cleric. But since the other texts were not ordinarily sung by clerics, the celebrant usually had to recite them quietly. This made the singing by choirs a kind of “window dressing” that had lost the ancient concept of different ministerial functions assisting the celebrant in the proclamation of the sacred texts. The 1965 Missal restored this ministerial function and did not require texts that were sung by choirs or readings that were recited by appropriate ministers, to be said again privately and officially by the celebrant.

The rubrics did not speak of going to the epistle (right) side of the altar, but neither did the 1962 Missal. Nevertheless, traditionally, these prayers were said to the right side of the altar.

Though silent on this point, the rubrics presumed the celebrant was at the altar. However, through the late sixties it would seem that these rites after the prayers at the foot of the altar and after the reverencing of the altar moved to the sedilia (chair). The 1965 missal, however, made no mention of this as an option.

2. If the Gloria was to be recited the celebrant was directed to go to the middle of the altar and begin the prayer there. Again, if it was sung, he was not to recite it privately but was encouraged to sing it with others. Latin or vernacular could be used.

3. The Collect – Turning toward the people, the celebrant said, “The Lord be with you,” and they responded, “And with your spirit.” Here, too, this could be said either in Latin or the vernacular (using the proper translation). He then said, “Let us pray” and said or sang the Collect (opening prayer). The 1965 Missal provided approved English translations of the Collects of the 1962 Missal that were quite accurate. And the prayer could be recited either in Latin or the vernacular.

The Liturgy of the Word – The new lectionary did not exist, and thus the 1965 Missal made use of the readings contained in the 1962 and prior Missals. The main difference was that approved vernacular versions of the readings were now available and could be used. The readings were conducted as follows:

1. Epistle – The Ritus Servandus states regarding the epistle (I translate here from the Latin), “In Masses that are sung or recited with the people participating, it is desirable that the readings be sung or said by a lector or suitable minister, in the ambo or in the chancel, with the celebrant seated and listening.”

2. The Chants (Gradual and Alleluia) that followed were sung either by a schola, or by the people, or they were read by the lector or minister in the same place (however, at the end, he did not come to the celebrant for a blessing).

3. The Gospel could be sung or said by a deacon or by another priest. “If however the celebrant reads, sings, or says the Gospel, he … ascends to the footspace of the altar and, profoundly bowing, says the Munda cor and the Dominus sit. He then proceeds to the ambo or chancel and sings or says the Gospel … in the end kissing the book and saying the per evangelica dicta … “

4. The Homily was given and the Creed could be said by the celebrant either at the altar (in the traditional way) or at the chair. He recited the Creed with the people.

5. The Prayers of the Faithful were restored as an option. They could be led in the ambo, at the chair, or at the altar. The celebrant said, “The Lord be with you,” and the people responded, “And with your spirit.” The celebrant said, “Let us pray.” And then, if there were prayers of the faithful, they were read, otherwise the celebrant moved on to read the offertory antiphon.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist – From this point on, the Mass was largely unchanged. Briefly, here are some highlights, with special reference to the few changes that were made:

1. The traditional offertory prayers were still said, and only in Latin (Suscipe Sancte Pater, Offerimus tibi). So, too, were the other prayers unaltered, again only in Latin (Deus qui humanae at the mixing of water and wine). Just prior to the washing of the hands, the In spiritu humilitatis was said. The Veni sanctificator was not yet dropped.

2. For the washing of the hands, the traditional prayer Lavabo inter innocentes was still said in its entirety (Psalm 25) and the Suscipe sancta Trintitas had not yet been dropped. All these prayers were said in Latin.

3. Pray brethren – Kissing the altar and turning to the people, the priest said the orate fratres but could do so in the vernacular.

4. Prayer over the Gifts – Turning back, the celebrant said the prayer over the gifts, which could be either said or sung in the vernacular or in Latin.

5. The preface (and there were some new ones in the 1965 Missal) could also be said or sung either in the vernacular or in Latin.

6. The Sanctus could also be said or sung in the vernacular or in Latin.

7. The Canon of the Mass was still at this time only the Roman Canon, and it was prayed entirely in Latin.  Most of the gestures and postures remained unchanged with the exception of the multiple signs of the cross at the Per Ipsum (Through Him and with Him and in Him … ).

8. The Our Father could be said using Latin or the vernacular. So, too, the “embolism” (Deliver us O Lord), Pax Domini (but the people did not exchange the peace). The Agnus Dei could be said or sung in English, but the private prayers of the priest remained in Latin and were unchanged.

9. Lord I am not Worthy – After receiving his own communion, the priest led the people in their own “Lord I am not worthy” and it was still said three times.

10. Communion – The longer formula once said by the priest for each communicant (Corpus Domini Nostri … ) was shortened to “The Body of Christ.”

11. The Prayer after Communion could be read in the vernacular.

12 The Ite Missa est could also be said in the vernacular.

13. The Final Blessing was given in Latin or the vernacular.

14. The Last Gospel was omitted.

Briefly then, here is the 1965 Missal. To lovers of the 1962 Missal, it probably still represents too much change (for example, read HERE). But it was far from the more radical changes that came later, changes that removed so much more and added so many new elements such as multiple Eucharistic Prayers, etc.

While it is hard to argue that the new lectionary  is problematic, I remain open to the criticism that the 1970 Missal introduced a “hermeneutic of discontinuity” and that it also flowed from that sort of rupture that the 1960s brought. We do well to see the 1965 Missal as a bridge back to the more modest changes envisioned by the council and as a template for the kind of cross-pollination that Pope Benedict wished for when he spoke of the two forms influencing each other.

This video provides a look back at 1967 in a crazy Elvis movie. But it depicts a kind of estuary where there were still signs of Tradition but also of the radical changes under way in that era. The 1965 Missal barely saw the light of day before the liturgists were at it again, ending with all sorts of additional changes. They were wild and crazy times and I remember them well. Sadly, at the time, with radical changes everywhere, very few of us woke up to the damage that was being done until it was largely done.