Liturgy was the first topic debated at Vatican II and Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on Sacred Liturgy) was the the first document that was produced, but the ideas behind this document were the result of renewal that was already at work.
Mass was a passive activity for Catholics before the council but other activities were more participatory: benedictions, holy hours and rosary groups were well attended. Saturday confessions seemed as if they were mandatory (as a child I even remember participating in this). But mass itself, well that was something that Father did FOR us, not WITH us.
Vatican II changed that immensely. But English translations of the mass were already being given out so that people could follow more closely along. My dad had an old school one that he gave me a long time ago (and I still have). So the truth is that Vatican II made what was already happening a true possibility.
This was the first thing that the council looked at and they debated it for a long time with a small minority holding up the process. Finally Paul VI said they could end debate when they wanted to instead of letting this drag on. Essentially there were no rules early on about any of this. When they moved to end debate and bring this to a vote a loud uproar from the crowd erupted. The spirit of Vatican II wanted to get things rolling.
And so they made the change to have mass in the vernacular and to have the priest face the people. But those cosmetic changes–while huge really sprang from the desire for people to have a more active role in the central act of worship—the source and the summit of our faith.
Some will say that these changes happened too abruptly and that many were confused by it. I would say the following: It’s not that change happened to quickly but that all of the other things that the church had going on with regards to communal worship simply blanched in comparison. People also became more mobile and had less time for more than one service a week and fewer people put down firmer roots in a community because they were moving around so much. The parish drifted from being the center of community life and instead became more of an obligatory once a week checklist item.
How can we regain this sense of community –that people are indeed seeking–back again?
We spend 75% of our time maintaining buildings and programs. We make almost all of our decisions based on that because we want people in our buildings and participating in parish programs. But perhaps it’s time for the church to spend 75% of our time looking outward–meaning we need to go to the people instead of hoping that they come to us. How many neighborhoods have we changed? What kind of outreach are we providing to those around us? What allies can we make outside of our parish and how do we provide the same sense of ritual and liminal space outside of the four walls of the church that we also provide at mass?
All good questions. And this needs to start small and build and then it needs continually maintenance. So rather than spending so much time maintaining buildings and programs maybe we need to take ourselves out of this and into a more direct outward-focused ministry.
After all, if people can’t see us–then why would they ever make their way towards us? We’ve got a huge problem of marketing and it’s time for us, especially those of us in the laity to move the church into the world so that they see how we have been changed by it.
And doing that, together, as one church, just might change the world.