Closing Council’s First Session, Bishops Approve Liturgy Reforms

34th, 35th and 36th General Congregations
December 5, 6 and 7, 1962

The general meetings of the first session of the ecumenical council closed with an overwhelming vote of approval for the preface and first chapter of the project on the liturgy.

Bishops are shown at a Vatican II session inside St. Peter's Basilica. The council produced 16 landmark documents that transformed the church. (CNS file photo)

Bishops are shown at a Vatican II session inside St. Peter’s Basilica. The council produced 16 landmark documents that transformed the church. (CNS file photo)

During their final general meetings the — 34th, 35th and 36th (Dec. 5, 6 and 7) — the council Fathers also took a first step toward reducing the number of projects they will deal with at the council’s second session and continued their debate on the proposal on the nature of the Church.

At the last meeting the presiding cardinal — Achille Cardinal Lienart, Bishop of Lille, France — addressed greetings to the Fathers “inviting them to offer thanks to God for the assistance given them during this first session of the council.”

The council press bulletin reported that the Cardinal also “expressed his good wishes for the forthcoming Christmas festivities, both to those present and to cardinals and bishops absent for various reasons. He concluded with an expression of hope concerning the work which is to be done during the forthcoming months of interim before the beginning of the second session.”

Earlier, at the 35th general meeting, the council’s general secretary, Archbishop Pericle Felici, reviewed the work of the first session. He reported that during the first 34 meetings 587 Fathers had spoken from the floor and another 523 had made their observations in writing only. Altogether, he said, 1,110 Fathers had expressed their views on the five projects discussed at the first session. These were the proposals on the liturgy, the sources of Revelation, communications media, the unity of the Church and the nature of the Church.

The Archbishop also announced that Pope John XXIII had granted the Fathers two special faculties. First, he said, they were given the faculty of imparting the apostolic blessing to their people on their return home from the council, and, secondly, they and the priests accompanying them were allowed to celebrate Mass at any hour of the day or night on their departure from Rome and their arrival in their home nations.

The Fathers’ vote to accept the preface and first chapter of the liturgy project, subject to the Pope’s approval, was regarded as especially important because the first chapter contains the general principles for liturgical reform which are treated in detail in the project’s remaining seven chapters.

Among other things, it means that the Fathers have approved the introduction of vernacular languages in various parts of the Mass, adoption of certain local customs in liturgical rites and many other changes which all aim at bringing about the closer participation and identification of the people with the ceremonies and sacraments of the Church.

In casting their ballots, the Fathers were instructed to vote “placet” (in favor), “non placet” (against) or “placet juxta modum.” The council press bulletin said that the latter “is a vote which is in substance favorable but which requires within a definite time limit a written statement indicating the reason why it was given.

If by Dec. 31, 1962, the desired correction will not have been submitted to the secretary general [of the council], the vote ‘placet juxta modum’ will be considered a vote of ‘placet’.”

But since there was a tremendous majority favoring the preface and first chapter, Archbishop Felici announced that those who voted “placet juxta modum” need not submit their requests for amendment.

Results of the voting were 1,922 in favor, 11 against, and 180 “placet juxta modum.” There were five void ballots.

At earlier meetings the Fathers had voted for 33 amendments to the preface and first chapter of the liturgy project. The amendments put to a vote did not include numerous other changes of secondary importance and style.

The amendments voted on during the final general meetings — all of which were approved by large majorities — included a number on the language to be used in the liturgy and one on the first part of the Mass and the reading of the Gospel.

Another called for a revision of liturgical books, to be achieved by the efforts of liturgical scholars with the advice of the bishops.

One concerned the adoption of local traditions into the liturgy “when they are truly within the rules of an authentic liturgical spirit” and another had to do with “the competence of the bishops in stipulating certain adaptations in the liturgical books, always within the framework of the fundamental liturgical norms.”

The five last amendments voted on at the 35th general meeting, the council press bulletin said, dealt with “the value of the celebration of Mass, even if celebrated privately; the competence of episcopal conferences in matters of liturgy; local customs to be approved by bishops; the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion, marriage and funerals outside one’s own parish, to be permitted only for reasonable causes; the institution of a liturgical commission by competent territorial ecclesiastical authority.”

A move was made at the 34th general meeting which may lead to a reduction of the projects to be taken under consideration by the Fathers.

A folder was distributed to them listing the 20 different topics which, including those already covered, represent the total material to be submitted for their decision during the council.

At last count there were 73 projects reported ready for the council agenda, although only a small part of these have actually been put in the hands of the council Fathers. These projects, the council press bulletin said in explaining the list that had been distributed, could be reduced to 20 topics.

During the first session two projects — one from the Preparatory Commission on Oriental Churches, another from the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity — and part of another-from the Theological Commission — had been ordered to be combined into a single project on church unity.

The distribution of the folder on the 20 topics suggested that similar action might be taken in the future on similarly related matters.

The council press bulletin stated that a synthesis of the topics was made “so that, if it is judged opportune, they may be reduced to general principles, and so that related matters among them may be brought together with greater unity.”

Discussion of the project on the nature of the Church, De Ecclesia, continued through the three last general meetings.

At the 34th meeting, a speaker urged that a clear distinction should be made between what is changeable and what is unchangeable in the Church. Another said that a more precise statement should be made on relations between the pope and the bishops. He said that this is especially important because it would complete the doctrine on the pope defined at the First Vatican Council (1869-1870).

One Father, the press bulletin reported, said the project should include a statement on “the great nobility and sanctity of the married state, and above all on its important role in the Mystical Body.”

The following day a speaker expressed the wish that the project be composed in two parts: one to be a document of doctrine and the other an exposition of the doctrine from a pastoral, missionary and ecumenical point of view.

The press bulletin quoted another speaker as saying that “our times have urgent need to see the evangelical teaching of poverty realized with increasing depth. The project should therefore place in better evidence the close bonds between the presence of Christ in the Church and the presence of Christ among the poor.”

At the last general meeting, the press bulletin said:

“Hope was also expressed in today’s general congregation that the project De Ecclesia be considered the center of the work of the council. Speakers called the attention of the council Fathers to various aspects in the doctrine of the Church, such as charity, which is the true soul of the Mystical Body of Christ as well as the source of unity and the principle of the equilibrium between what is juridical and what is spiritual, what is doctrinal and what is pastoral, what is authority and what is obedience.”

It was also stressed that the Gospel should be seen as “not only a book of spirituality but rather the genuine source of the doctrine on the Church, in order that the desired renewal may consist in subordinating ecclesiastical organization to evangelical ends and to purify it of defects in order that it may be an authentic sign of that which it represents.”

The bulletin reported that “some of the Fathers expressed the wish that the concept of the traditional unity of the Church in the East be taken into greater consideration, through which, in respect of the diversity, perfect union with the Church of Rome may be attained. There would be unity, therefore, in the plurality of the churches in union with the Roman pontiff.”

“Others hoped that in the reworking of the project there might be emphasis, together with the central point of the Mystical Body, also on other essential Biblical figures which refer to the Church, for example, that of the Spouse of Christ and that of the People of God.”


The long recess between the first and second sessions of the ecumenical council will allow for a thoroughgoing review of the controversial policy of granting only limited information about the council to the press.

Some of the bishops have expressed interest in reviewing the policy which results in the generalized news releases issued by the council secretariat. At least one American bishop is known to have submitted a written recommendation calling for a review of the secrecy rule. He made the recommendation in the course of the council Fathers’ deliberation of the mass communications media.

But general discussion of the question is still in the informal stage. Bishop Albert R. Zuroweste of Belleville, Ill., who is a member of the American bishops’ special council committee on communications, said that some bishops from the United States discussed the secrecy rule informally. But he said no petition had been drawn up and no specially constituted body of bishops had been established in connection with the movement to grant the press greater access to council news.

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