Academic journal article The Hymn

After Vatican II: Are We All Protestants Now? or Are We All Catholics Now?

Academic journal article The Hymn

After Vatican II: Are We All Protestants Now? or Are We All Catholics Now?

Article excerpt

The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) met from 1962 to 1965, and so 2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of opening of the great reformist council.

I will summarize how the council brought about changes not only in Catholic worship, but also indirectly in Protestant worship, with the result that there is much ecumenical convergence today between Catholic and Protestant worship and music.1

Then I will attempt to explain why, fifty years later, the Catholic Church is in a state of crisis about the meaning of the Second Vatican Council and the implementation of the council's liturgical reforms. Since Catholicism and mainline Protestantism have grown so close together in the past half century and have had such an influence upon the life of each other, this crisis is bound to be of interest to Protestants as well as Catholics. As Lutheran liturgist Gordon Lathrop recently wrote to Catholics, "What happens to you, happens to me, as both Tertullian and St. Paul would say."2

Finally, I will explore one particular controversy which well exemplifies Catholicism's liturgy crisis: the attack on singing congregational hymns from the ecumenical repertoire at Mass. As we will see, small but growing forces in U.S. Catholicism are opposed to such hymnody.

Ecumenical Convergence about Worship5

There's no mistaking the similarity between many of the worship reforms of sixteenth-century Reformers such as Luther, Cranmer, and Calvin and those of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965): worship in vernacular, simplification of ceremonies and rituals, scripture- based preaching, engagement and involvement of laity, and, especially important to readers of this journal, increased congregational singing. Essentially, the fathers (i.e., bishops) of Vatican II decreed a fundamental transformation of Catholic worship to make it less clergy-dominated and more communal and participative.

So dramatic were the changes to Catholic worship after Vatican II that some Catholics worried that their beloved Church had become Protestant. A great-aunt of mine was especially troubled by the increased emphasis on congregational singing. She complained, "'Watch and pray,' Our Lord said. He didn't say 'Watch and sing.' I go to Holy Mass to pray. Why do they want me to sing?" As an undergraduate student at Saint John's University in the 1980s, I learned from a theology professor, a Benedictine monk, that Martin Luther was, in a sense, a "silent father" at the Second Vatican Council. At Saint John's Abbey in the years immediately after Vatican II (I wasn't a member yet), the monks sang Luther's great hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" so often that a monk finally rose at a chapter meeting to protest, tongue in cheek, "If we sing that hymn here one more time, I'm turning Lutheran. They only sing the hymn once or twice a year, not every other Sunday."

But it wasn't only the Roman Catholic Church that changed because of Vatican II. The Catholic council had an unexpectedly strong effect upon mainline Protestant worship. As Catholics simplified their liturgy and cleared away the accumulated accretions of centuries that had obscured the central liturgical symbols and action, Protestants rediscovered the language of ritual and symbol, and retrieved elements once thrown out by the Reformers, or in some cases, elements advocated by Reformers but later eliminated from Protestant practice. To be sure, the Protestant liturgical movement predates the Second Vatican Council, but the council gave additional energy to the movement.

With Vatican II, Catholics officially joined the ecumenical movement Protestants had long been involved in. Protestants graciously welcomed their new ecumenical partners and looked with great interest and sympathy at the Catholic liturgical reforms. If the Catholic Church could be so innovative in radically altering its worship, if Catholics could be so humble in admitting (implicidy at least) that the Reformers rather than Council of Trent had been right about some important things in the sixteenth century, then Protestants could respond in kind, reexamine their own worship practice, and look more kindly upon Catholic traditions. …

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