Atlanta Archbishop Says Attitude Toward Liturgy Reform ‘Wide Open’

An American archbishop has described the debate on the liturgy at the ecumenical council as moderate and stated that the council’s attitude toward liturgical reform is “wide open.”

Meanwhile, a missionary prelate — Bishop Guillaume van Bekkum, S.V.D., of Ruteng, Indonesia — has come out in favor of using local languages in the Mass.

Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan of Atlanta, an elected member of the council’s Commission on the Sacred Liturgy, told English-speaking reporters covering the council that “there have been very few extremists in the debate. Every one of the speakers has conceded the merits of the other side.”

He denied reports in European newspapers that the U.S. Bishops are not interested in the liturgy. Neither are the American prelates adopting a unified position in the debate on the liturgy, he added.

Archbishop Hallinan spoke at the regular daily meeting Oct. 26 of the U.S. bishops’ press panel.

Asked how the council Fathers as a whole seem to feel about proposed changes in the liturgy, he replied: “The words ‘wide open’ would describe it best.”

He said he had been amused to hear bishops speaking in elegant Ciceronian Latin to defend the use of the vernacular in the liturgy. He also reported that the 10-minute limit on speeches, which council regulations ask the Fathers to observe if possible, was largely ignored.

But, he remarked with a smile, “a certain restraint is imposed on speakers by the expressions on everybody else’s face.”

He continued:

“Occasionally, a council Father who is scheduled to speak will get up and say: ‘Iam dicta sunt,’ meaning that what he had to say has already been said. There is then a feeling of applause in the council even if nobody actually applauds.”

Archbishop Hallinan reported that only one or two more speakers were scheduled to talk the following day on the first part of the liturgy proposals and that on the same day talks were expected to begin on the second part.

The liturgy commission, he said, had so far been dealing with procedural matters. But, he added, “we hope to get down to the meat soon.”

He said the U.S. bishops are meeting for informal study sessions on the liturgy and will probably do so for other topics as they are brought before the council. He emphasized that the bishops are not taking a unified line in the debates.

The Archbishop told reporters in regard to the difficulties they have met in covering the council that he hoped steps taken to allow fuller coverage would make their task easier.

In another press conference on the liturgy, Bishop van Bekkum spoke in favor of using local languages in the Mass. Also an elected member of the council’s Commission on the Sacred Liturgy, Bishop van Bekkum said there is a need “to speak more spontaneously.”

But he said that “spontaneity disappears when the faithful are faced with a foreign tongue.” He voiced hope that the language of his country as well as those of other Asian and African nations will become “sacramental languages.” If this were accomplished — through their introduction into the liturgy in general and the Mass in particular — he said, “a much more vital and rich liturgy will be achieved.”

Bishop van Bekkum was one of the main speakers at the international liturgical congress at Assisi, in September 1956. In his talk at that time he appealed for use of the vernacular in the Mass. He also urged the adoption of local customs and traditions into the liturgy wherever possible, and called for “restoration of the order of the diaconate to the laity.”

The 52-year-old Dutch-born Bishop told newsmen here that since 1956 his See has had a 24-man diocesan liturgical commission composed of four priests and 20 laymen.

“I considered my people much wiser than myself, especially the aged ones among them,” he said, “and so like a pupil I was always ready to learn whatever I could from them, especially whatever in their culture had possibilities of adaptation in the field of liturgy.”

Indonesians along with other Asians and Africans are concerned with the functions and meaning of their worship, he said. “Their celebration of a feast consists not only in hymns and prayers but rather in functions, that is, in all that the people do during the day or days of celebration. All these functions of the people make up the one structure of a people in worship.”

Bishop van Bekkum said that on arriving in Rome for the council he felt proposals for incorporating native customs into the liturgy would get little hearing. Now, he said, he is highly optimistic.

“I have learned that the experience we had in Ruteng has been multiplied hundreds of times over throughout Asia and Africa. And I have found a warm sympathy for these ideas among liturgical experts from the West.”

He said also:

“I promise to do all I can at the coming sessions of the ecumenical council so that the harmonious and homogeneous celebrations and rites native to Indonesia may not suffer at the hands of those who foster poor liturgical practices, religious intellectualism and religious rationalism. I shall work hard so that all these feasts may be transformed safely into Christ, so that they may be adopted by Him and by His Church.”

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