17th General Congregation: Council Discusses Liturgies, Liturgical Year

17th General Congregation
November 12, 1962

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council will be in recess from two and a half weeks before Christmas until four weeks after Easter.

The second session of the council will begin May 12 after a 22-week interval, and will last seven weeks, until June 29, the feast of SS. Peter and Paul. The dates were announced to the council Fathers by Archbishop Pericle Felici at the 17th general congregation of the council.

The current session concludes Dec. 8 after eight weeks of meetings.

During the five-month absence from Rome of the bishops and other council Fathers, however, the special council commissions will continue to work.

Father Edward Heston, C.S.C., a spokesman for the American bishops’ press panel, said that the commissions concerned with subjects not yet debated in the council — and this includes the vast majority of commissions — will probably “prepare the way for conciliar discussion in the light of discussions in the first session.”

Father Heston said the procedure of the second session itself will probably be revised in the light of the experience of the session now in progress.

The council Fathers devoted most of the 17th general congregation to the fifth chapter of the project outline on the Church’s public worship. A few references were made to the remaining three chapters of the project. Chapter five deals with the liturgical year.

The regular council bulletin stated that “much was said of the need for reawakening in the faithful respect for holy days of obligation.” The council Fathers also noted, the bulletin said, that respect for the Sunday observance is made difficult by the necessity to work on Sundays — not only in highly industrialized Christian countries, but in non-Christian countries too.

The bulletin reported suggestions that Advent and Lent be restored to their original significance and penitential character. The suggestion was also made to reduce further the liturgical rank of some saints’ days for this purpose.

“Many fathers spoke on penance in general, which is necessary for the expiation of sin, and on Lenten penance in particular, which is a necessary preparation for the spiritual resurrection of Easter,” the bulletin said.

“The opinion was expressed that traditional forms of penance could be adapted to the requirements of modern life and to the conditions of particular regions, making use of forms of penance which would seem to correspond better to the needs of souls.”

Council speakers also touched broadly but not in detail on what the communique described as “the rather complex question of a perpetual calendar and of a fixed date for Easter.”

(Father Frederick R. McManus of the Boston archdiocese, American bishops’ press panel member who as a liturgical scholar is one of the papally appointed “experts” of the council, said the question of reforming the general calendar and that of fixing the date for Easter are quite separate. He said the problem of a calendar for universal use is “largely a civil question on which the Church might indicate its feelings.”

(But he expressed doubt that the Church or the council would attempt to reform the calendar on its own.)

The council’s communique said such broad questions as liturgical vestments and instruments, sacred music and sacred art were also deliberated by the council Fathers.

Speeches concerning sacred music and art put special emphasis on mission countries, it said. The speeches also touched on the veneration of images, special festivities in honor of the saints, local customs and traditions that could be adopted by the Church, and the value of adapting vestments, vessels, chants, images and church buildings to the mentalities of different peoples.

Reference was made to the possibility of beginning study of a possible code for the liturgy, the council bulletin disclosed.

The communique said that “in the liturgy, it was said, objects, including art, should be used for the salvation of man but not for man’s personal service. In this respect, the hope was expressed for the increase of the number of schools of sacred art which might be capable of educating artists to a truly Christian vision of life. …” Among the 21 council Fathers who spoke during the 17th general meeting were Jaime Cardinal de Barros Camara of Rio de Janeiro; Maurice Cardinal Feltin of Paris; Laurean Cardinal Rugambwa, Bishop of Bukoba, Tanganyika; Archbishop Corrado Bafile, Papal Nuncio to Germany; Bishop Joseph M. Marling, C.PP.S., of Jefferson City, Mo.; Bishop Victor J. Reed of Oklahoma City and Tulsa; and Bishop Russell J. McVinney of Providence.

Antonio Cardinal Caggiano, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was the presiding officer of the session, and the Book of the Gospels was enthroned on its candle-lighted altar by Archbishop Octavio Beras of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The opening Mass was sung in the Old Slavonic language by Bishop Josip Arneric of Sibenik, Yugoslavia. For the Mass — which was of the Roman, rather than the Byzantine Rite, but using an ancient translation from the Latin — Bishop Arneric used a Missal printed in the ancient Glagolitic alphabet.

Old Slavonic is used instead of Latin in the liturgy of several Yugoslav dioceses of the Roman Rite. It traces back to the conversion of the Western Slavs by SS. Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century. The use of Old Slavonic in the Roman Rite fell into disuse in the late Middle Ages, but was recognized by the Council of Trent in the 16th century. The liturgical books were revised under St. Pius X and their use made more widespread by Pope Pius XI.

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