|Pope Francis celebrates Mass during his visit to All Saints Parish in Rome March 7. He was marking the 50th anniversary of the date in 1965 when Blessed Paul VI publicly celebrated Mass in Italian for the first time in accordance with the norms established by the Second Vatican Council. CNS photo/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters
ROME. Allowing priests to celebrate Mass in the language of the local congregation rather than in Latin allowed the faithful to understand and be encouraged by the word of God, Pope Francis said.
“You cannot turn back, we have to always go forward, always forward and who goes back is making a mistake,” he told parishioners after commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first time a pope celebrated Mass in the vernacular following the Second Vatican Council.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord for what he has done in his church in these 50 years of liturgical reform. It was really a courageous move by the church to get closer to the people of God so that they could understand well what it does, and this is important for us: to follow Mass like this,” he said as he left Rome’s Church of All Saints March 7.
On the same date in 1965, Blessed Paul VI publicly celebrated Mass in Italian for the first time in accordance with the norms established by the Second Vatican Council.
At the same time, the priests and people of the Diocese of Nashville were adjusting to the Mass in the vernacular.
“Everybody was pretty much glued to the book because nobody knew what the responses were” in English, said Deacon Marty Mulloy, the pastoral associate at St. Ann Church in Nashville. It was similar to a few years ago when the Church started using a new English translation of the Mass and people were reading along with new versions of prayers and responses, he added.
Father Pat Connor, who had been ordained in 1961, was serving as Bishop Joseph Durick’s master of ceremonies at the time the changes in the liturgy were implemented. Although he spent the first years of his priesthood celebrating Mass in Latin with his back to the congregation, he had been learning about and following the discussions about changing the liturgy since he was a seminarian in the 1950s.
The priests who had been his teachers in the seminary were scholarly men who were well versed in the positions of many of the French theologians who would be influential at the Second Vatican Council, Father Connor said.
And Bishop Durick, who had attended some of the sessions of Vatican II, was a strong supporter of the Council and the changes that flowed from it, including the changes to the Mass, Father Connor said.
Not everyone was as enthused with the changes, he said.
“People don’t just enthusiastically jump toward change,” Father Connor said. “The faith was a very important thing to them,” and was an island of calm during a turbulent time in the culture, he said. They discovered that the island was being engulfed by the same type of changes they were experiencing elsewhere, Father Connor added.
Among the changes that were ushered in by Vatican II, changing the Mass to the local language and moving the altar so the priest could face the people were the things that hit the typical Catholic hardest, said Deacon Mulloy.
Msgr. Albert Siener, the longtime rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, was hesitant about some of the changes, Father Connor said. “But he was a true man of faith and a true man of the Church and when the Church said do it, he did it.”
One day, Father Connor came home to the Cathedral where he was in residence and found Msgr. Siener building a new altar. “He personally, by his own hand, built a plywood altar,” Father Connor recalled.
After the Sunday Masses, they would haul the plywood altar back into the sacristy where it would stay through the week until the next Sunday and then they would haul it back out, Father Connor said.
The priests had to help the laity understand and adapt to the changes, Father Connor said.
“For the most part, everybody realized it was so much more meaningful, not only to the priest but for the lay people,” to celebrate the Mass in the local language, Father Connor said. “You weren’t just somebody who listened, but you began to participate more.”
The increased participation in the Mass was a big change for everyone, agreed Deacon Mulloy. “We’re not spectators watching father offer Mass, we are offering Mass with him, although he has a special role.”
In his homily during the anniversary Mass, Pope Francis said people need to be able to connect the liturgy to their own lives.
“The liturgy isn’t something odd, over there, far away” that has no bearing on one’s everyday life, he said.
“The church calls us to have and promote an authentic liturgical life so that there can be harmony between what the liturgy celebrates and what we live out” with the aim of expressing in life what has been received in faith.
He said the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” defined the liturgy as “the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit.”
While the liturgy is, in part, about doctrine and ritual, its real essence is to be “a source of life and light for our journey of faith,” he said.
Going to church is not just about observing one’s duty and “feeling right with a God who then must not be too ‘bothersome’“ afterward in one’s daily life, he said.
People go to church “to encounter the Lord and find in his grace at work in the sacraments the strength to think and act according to the Gospel,” he said.
“Therefore, we cannot fool ourselves, entering into the Lord’s house and, with prayers and devotional practices, ‘covering up’ behaviors that are contrary to the demands of justice, honesty and charity toward others,” Pope Francis said.
Authentic worship and liturgical celebrations should lead people toward “a real conversion” of heart by letting them hear “the voice of the Lord, who guides them along the path of rectitude and Christian perfection.”
Just like Jesus sought to “cleanse” or purify the temple by driving out the moneychangers, people must continue to be committed to “the purification and inner cleansing of the church,” the pope said, so that it can be a spiritual place and not a superficial place of worship “made of material sacrifices and based on personal interests.”
The pope said he hoped that commemorating the first papal Mass in the vernacular rather than Latin would remind people that the house of God is meant to be a source of spiritual strength, where they can hear His word and feel “not like foreigners but as brothers and sisters” who are united in their love for Christ.
Andy Telli of the Tennessee Register contributed to this report.