Use of Vernacular In Worship Approved

December 10, 1962

The use of the language of the people in the liturgy was voted broad approval in the first session of the Second Vatican Council.

This was revealed in a commentary, accompanied by ample quotations from the actual text, published in the Vatican City newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

Before the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council, Catholics received the Eucharist by approaching and kneeling at the Communion rail. (CNS photo from The Pilot)

Before the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council, Catholics received the Eucharist by approaching and kneeling at the Communion rail. (CNS photo from The Pilot)

The commentary was written by Father Cipriano Vagaggini, O.S.B., liturgical scholar who is one of the “experts” appointed by Pope John XXIII to aid the work of the council.

The Benedictine priest, who is vice rector of Rome’s Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm, disclosed that the council Fathers voted to let such bodies as national and regional bishops’ conferences decide on the vernacular question. The decisions of these conferences need only confirmation by the Holy See.

Father Vagaggini’s article underlines point for point important elements of the preface and the first chapter of the “constitution” on the liturgy which were approved by the council Fathers on Dec. 7. There were 2,118 council Fathers present at that meeting. A total of 1,922 voted in favor of the text, 11 against, 180 in favor but with reservations, and 5 votes were void.

That part of the constitution quoted in L’Osservatore which refers to the use of the vernacular is Article 36 of the text, which reads:

“The use of the Latin language, except by particular dispensation, is to be preserved in the Latin rites.”

But since the use of the vernacular very often can be very helpful to the people in the Holy Mass or in the administration of the sacraments and in other parts of the liturgy, a larger role is conceded to the vernacular especially in the lessons, instructions, in some prayers and in some chants, according to the norms laid down in the following:

“It will be the right of the territorial authority … consulting, if the case suggests this, the bishops of the neighboring regions having the same language, to determine the manner and use of the vernacular language, with the reservation that their acts must be approved, that is, confirmed by the Apostolic See.”

The constitution will also allow bishops in certain places to adapt the culture and traditions of their people to the liturgy, according to Article 37 of the text, which L’Osservatore quotes as follows:

“The Church, when it is not a question of the Faith or the common good, does not intend to impose, even in the liturgy, a rigid uniformity. Moreover, it respects and promotes the characteristics and gifts of various races and peoples. It looks favorably on everything in the customs of these people that is not inseparably bound up with superstition and error, and, if it can, protects and conserves them. Thus sometimes it admits these customs into the liturgy itself, provided they can be harmonized with the authentic liturgical spirit.”

Commenting on the general rules which will govern the Church’s public worship in the future, Father Vagaggini said that one of the most important elements is contained in Article 22 of the text of the constitution in which it is established that the bishops themselves may effect reforms in the liturgy. This privilege is granted, according to the text, “to the various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops, as lawfully constituted.”

The Benedictine theologian drew on the text of the document for a definition of the liturgy. He said:

“The liturgy appears as the exercise of the priestly office of Christ, in whom, by means of outward signs, the sanctification of man is signified and, in different ways, brought about, and at the same time the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, Head and members, offers complete and public worship. …”

Father Vagaggini quotes the text as saying:

“The liturgy does not exhaust all the activity of the Church. …”

“Nevertheless, it is the summit toward which the actions of the Church tend and at the same time the font from which comes all its vigor.”

The principles upon which liturgical reform is to be based are then traced by Father Vagaggini in the four sections of the first chapter of the constitution. These are: general norms (Articles 22-25); norms based on the nature of the liturgy as a hierarchical and community action (Articles 26-32); norms based on the teaching and pastoral nature of the liturgy (Articles 33-36), and norms for adapting the liturgy to various cultures and traditions (Articles 37-40).

Concerning the section of the text dealing with the social character of the liturgy, Father Vagaggini traces these pivotal norms of reform:

— As far as is possible, the community form of the liturgy, with the attendance and participation of the congregation, is to be preferred to the individual or private celebration of liturgical service.

— Each participant in the liturgical drama plays all of his part and only that, and this pertains equally to the ministers, lectors, commentators and choir and people.

— The active participation of the people must be promoted, especially through the responses, acclamations and hymns, and this must be spelled out in the rubrics.

For this last point on this score, Father Vagaggini quoted from the text of Article 32 of the constitution: “In the liturgy, except the distinctions for liturgical office and honors due to civil authorities according to liturgical laws, there must be no regard for persons or conditions, either in the ceremonies or in external pomp.”

In this regard, the priest pointed to the practice in some countries of having various “classes” of funerals and weddings, and said the “intent of the Church” is to eliminate such things.

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One Response to Use of Vernacular In Worship Approved

  1. Pingback: Language Difficulties | tobulgaria

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