Half a century ago, Pope Paul VI imposed a liturgical reform on the whole Church in the name of the Council which had just ended: thus was born the “Mass of Vatican II.” It was immediately rejected by two cardinals and, since then, opposition to it has not weakened. This sad anniversary is an opportunity to retrace its history.
Before considering the liturgical reform of Paul VI and the new mass, it is worth going through the history of the Roman missal, because his reform claims to be the homogeneous development of the past. Which is absolutely questionable. The historical step back makes it easy to see.
The first and second parts of this historical overview recounted the development of the Roman missal, then the work of the Council of Trent and Pope Saint Pius V, up to the sixteenth century. Let us now consider the evolution of the liturgy in the period that followed.
The 17th century
The diffusion of the Tridentine liturgy was general at first. But in the second phase, the awakening of particularisms provoked a certain return to the division which reigned before the Council of Trent, especially in France.
This country gladly accepted the Roman books issued by the Council of Trent and even contributed to the beginnings of liturgical studies.
But, in the last third of the 17th century, a neo-Gallican movement began to emerge, which Dom Guéranger rightly described as being of a “liturgical deviation.” It was, moreover, almost exclusively in France that this attack on the liturgical unity promoted by the Council of Trent developed.
Some bishops, inspired by Jansenist or Gallican sentiments and contrary to the liturgical law in force at that time, wanted to reform the missal, the breviary, and the other liturgical books. They modified, added to, deducted from, and composed new liturgical texts. The authors, sometimes the least recommendable, were invited to compose breviaries and missals into which it was easy to slip in their mistakes or, more simply, to manifest their spirit.
The ritual of Alet, the Vienna breviary, the missal and breviary of Paris and several other dioceses were reworked and, in more than one case, Jansenist or Gallican errors crept into these books.
French Diocesan Missals in the 18th Century
Another drawback was the introduction of significant differences between the dioceses, so that at the time of the French Revolution, the confusion was at its height.
However, there was never any question of touching the Ordo Missæ of the Tridentine Missal. This concern was such that the bishop of Troyes, a nephew of Bossuet, unleashed a tempest in 1736 when he decided to say the Canon submissiori voce (in a lower voice than the other parts of the Mass) instead of secreto (in a low voice) and proposed to remove the cross and the candlesticks from the altar.
The French or Romano-French diocesan missals were published between 1680 and 1840, in a rather anarchic manner. Of the 139 dioceses in France in 1790, 57 dioceses had had a special liturgy since the end of the 17th century and more than 80 dioceses had abandoned the Roman liturgy by the eve of the Revolution. This wind of reform gave birth to two families of Missals.
One Model is the Paris Missal of 1738
This Missal remains in continuity with the Roman Missal. Ordinarily, the readings and collects are not modified. On the other hand, while they took it easy with the Gradual and the secrets, the post-communions, and the commons of the saints; the masses ad diversa (for special circumstances) would undergo substantial changes. The number of prefaces was increasing: prefaces for Advent, Holy Thursday, the Blessed Sacrament, dedication [of a church], All Saints, Patron Saints and for the dead. They still remain in force today in the dioceses of France.
The 1738 Paris Missal alone was adopted by more than 50 dioceses in the 18th and 19th centuries, but most were published under their respective names with local variations.
Less widespread were various "themed missals" inspired by the Troyes Missal of 1736. The forms were chosen according to the Gospel, which usually remained identical to that of the Roman Missal. But for the rest, they presented more radical changes and increasingly distanced themselves from the Roman Rite. The point of view was often moralistic as the bishops then being more attentive to morality than to dogma.
While the influence of Gallicanism or Jansenism in this French adaptation of the Tridentine spirit should not be exaggerated, the unity desired by the Council of Trent was compromised, at least in France.
In addition, the influence of the spirit of the dawning Enlightenment and rationalism led certain minds to much more modern concepts: liturgy in the vernacular, simplification of the rites to return to a primitive purity, the search for “authenticity” against a so-called ritualism, active participation of the faithful, elimination of lives of saints considered mythical, and decreases in Marian veneration and reverence towards the papacy.
In this way, Pierre Jounel could write that the Vatican II reforms are largely dependent on the liturgical book revision movement of the 17th and 18th centuries. But what he wrote as a compliment was actually an accusation.