The Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Divine Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium; was approved by the assembled bishops in a vote of 2,147 to 4 and promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1963. The document calls for the full and active participation of all the faithful. It called for the Mass to be celebrated in the language of the participants (the vernacular) as well as encouraged the faithful to participate more profoundly in the music that was sung during the liturgy. It reformed the structure of the scripture readings so that we actually read most of the bible during our Sunday services in a three year cycle. It profoundly changed the way that Mass was celebrated. It was welcomed by many, but it was also resisted by a very vocal minority.
I bring all of this up as I reflect on the passing of Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Paul VI pressed ahead with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and strongly encouraged the bishops throughout the world to enact these reforms even as they encountered resistance among the faithful. This resistance brought about one archbishop: Marcel François Marie Joseph Lefebvre C.S.S.p., S.S.P.X. to found his own style of church (the Society of Saint Pius X) which retained the Tridentine Mass which had been celebrated since the time of the Council of Trent. He was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1988 for consecrating four bishops against the express prohibition of Pope John Paul II.
This schism was a deep wound to both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Both sought to bring about a healing between the Roman Church and the SPPX. John Paul II allowed the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated under special conditions with the local bishop’s permission. Benedict XVI gave even more clearance for the old rite of the Mass to be celebrated. He was truly trying to heal the rift that had been brought about by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Benedict XVI was truly driven by a desire to bring about unity within the Christian community. He did some great work connecting with the Eastern Orthodox Churches as well as the Jewish community. He even made inroads reaching out to the Muslim community. With all of that he could not heal the rift within the Roman Catholic community.
Pope Francis came to the conclusion that Pope Benedict XVI’s attempt to restore unity to the Church was not effective, so he ended the great leniency of Benedict and called for the bishops of the world to once again be guided by the light of the Second Vatican Council. Many of the more conservative voices within the Church are saddened by this development, however Pope Francis is being true to the wishes of the Church Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. He continues the work of Pope Paul VI in the aggiornamento (brining up to date) of the Church.