Vatican II was the last straw that swept away the elegant construction that was the western liturgical tradition. But not how you think.
It has nothing to do with the vernacular or even with the move away from the Tridentine Mass. It’s about the final destruction of the balance and the mutual relationship between the Mass and Office, the links between the missal and the breviary. Because the classical Office is so little known these days, what happened is not fully known or understood. Here’s my take on things.
The western liturgical tradition is about the whole-body experience of the liturgical year. The seasons teach us and train us in the Christian affections. They do this through the rhythms of the Mass and Office. The way that this formerly worked was intimately connected to the use and application of Scripture. To remind, there were three biblical readings that really shaped things. One was the Gospel at the Mass. This was the primary key of the cycl. These readings were both selected to fit the season and, in turn, actively shaped the season. In connection with this was the Reading, also at Mass. (We’re used to calling this the Epistle because it predominately came from the Pauline or Catholic epistles but fasts had readings appointed from the Prophets.) The third was the reading at the Night Offcice. There, the whole of the Bible, excepting the gospels, were read every year. Again, these were keyed to the seasons. These were the main building blocks but interweavings happened from that point. The various texts of the Mass like the prefaces, collects, and benedictions incorporated elements from the Gospel and the Reading. During the week elements from the Gospel and Reading from the Mass of the Sunday would appear in the propers of the Offices. Bits of the Epistle would show up as Little Chapters; verses from the Gospel would appear as antiphons for the Gospel Canticles at Lauds and Vespers. Thus, the theological messages that grounded the seasons as found in the Sunday Masses were interlaced through the rest of the week in the Offices. The Scriptural content created the lived reality of the seasons as interpreted by the surrounding versicles, hymns, etc.
Hence, I repeat my charge: Vatican II was the last straw that wrecked this. It wasn’t the vernacular that did it in but the three year lectionary… Formerly the Mass and Office were on a common one-year calendar. No longer. The current ’79 BCP shows how the aftershocks effected protestant liturgies: We now have a three-year mass lectionary that is completely disconnected from our two-year office lectionary.
If the motu proprio does come out (yeah, here’s how this is connected to the previous post…) and restores a Tridentine Mass, will it also restore the Tridentine lectionary? Because if not, even the Roman traditionalists will face what we face now, a system wherein the appointed Gospel may have resonances with the rest of the Mass texts maybe once every three years but where it has nothing to do with the Offices.
Ah well–it was an elegant structure but was fundamentally a house of cards… The three-year lectionary seems to be here to stay. I wish we could recover again thesekinds of connections. There are ways but they would be complicated. Essentially, the next revision of theBCP would have to incorporate a three-year cycle of liturgies that wouldcohere with the three-year lectionary. Too, something would have to be done with the Office and with the Office lectionary.
Actually, though, it’s the Offices where something of the old system could be recaptured… Ever read the rubrics after the Offices carefully? Antiphons for the Psalms and the GospelCanticles are permitted, especially those that come from Scripture… You know what I’m thinking? A three-year “antiphonary” that would tie the mass readings into the Offices as antiphons. It’d be another book to juggle but I wonder what it would do to recapture our sense of the liturgical year…