By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Nov. 29, 1964, probably does not stand out in American Catholics' minds as does Nov. 22, 1963 -- the day President John F. Kennedy, the first, and so far only, Catholic president, was assassinated.
But that date, the First Sunday of Advent, ushered in the first of a series of wide-ranging changes in the Mass. Instead of having his back to the people, the priest faced the people. And Mass was not just being "said," it was "celebrated" -- and not all in Latin, but with parts of it in the vernacular.
It was just the first step toward the "full, conscious and active participation" by the laity in the church's liturgical life as mandated earlier that year by the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
By 1970, the new Order of the Mass, which brought about further changes, was published.
There was not merely an "epistle" from the New Testament prior to the Gospel, but an Old Testament reading, as well as a responsorial psalm between Old and New Testament readings, with a three-year cycle of Sunday readings and a two-year cycle of weekday readings.
The fasting period before one was permitted to receive Communion, previously shortened in the 1950s from midnight to three hours (three for solid foods, one hour for liquids), was lessened further to one hour for all food intake.
Communicants no longer knelt down at a rail to take the host, but continued to stand. The U.S. bishops, with approval from the Vatican, permitted reception of the host in communicants' hands. The 1969 General Instruction on the Roman Missal permitted Communion under "both species," meaning bread and wine. The bishops, again with Vatican approval, had allowed this in U.S. parishes under limited circumstances as early as 1965.
More Massgoers receive Communion now. There is a debate over whether that is the result of the relaxed fasting rule, Catholics feeling they have a right to the Eucharist, or a lessened sense of sin that leads some people to receive Communion when they should not.
With no Latin liturgies, there also was no longer a distinction between "high Mass" and "low Mass."
Choirs started coming down from the choir loft in the rear of the church and sang alongside or in the sanctuary in full view of the assembly. The music changed, too.
In keeping with the tenor of the times, the "folk Mass" sprang up primarily with guitar-driven ensembles. Following on its heels were gospel Masses for black Catholics, polka Masses for Polish-American Catholics, and others singing in the mother tongue of their ethnic group.
"With the emphasis on greater participation, the placement of the choir became an issue ... in animating the sung prayer of the assembly," said Peter Finn, assistant director of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, based in Washington.
A torrent of new music written and published since Vatican II resulted in a flood of "worship resources" in the pews, including missal aids and/or hymnals printed on newsprint, plus hymn books for various musical genres.
The sign of peace was inserted into the Mass between the Our Father and the Lamb of God.
"It's always been a part of the Roman liturgy. It was often exchanged between a bishop and his deacon and subdeacon at the Mass," Finn said. "Its application to the full assembly was a way of reviving an ancient custom or a circumstance in which the custom was spread to the whole assembly after the Second Vatican Council."
With liturgical changes came many more roles for lay people. Beyond the surge in the number of choirs, the laity could be lectors -- a role previously reserved for priesthood candidates -- as well as liturgists and eucharistic ministers, today called extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.
Even ushers, who had passed around the offertory baskets and monitored the Communion lines for generations, were now being counted upon to be ministers of hospitality, giving a warm welcome to newcomers and longtime parishioners alike.
The Saturday Mass itself was another innovation. The 1967 Vatican document "Eucharisticum Mysterium" (Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery) declared that, in cases of "pastoral necessity," Sunday Masses could be celebrated on Saturday evenings. The thinking was that families could fulfill their Sunday obligation and have Sunday free for family activities. Over time, the demographics of those attending Saturday Mass has changed, and the congregation is often older than that for Sunday Masses.
In the wake of the council, it was not uncommon for wedding Masses to feature a reading from, say, Khalil Gibran's "The Prophet," or to be celebrated outdoors during the 1970s.
Outdoor weddings may still be conducted with the permission of the diocesan bishop, according to Msgr. James Moroney, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Liturgy. But after what he called "a spirit of experimentation that was appropriate for the time," Scripture readings at weddings again became the norm.
The "paraliturgy," a kind of prayer service that in some ways resembled Mass but did not include the consecration of the Eucharist, and the "holy hour," another devotional practice that sometimes included eucharistic devotion, supplanted older pietistic practices such as rosary recitations, novenas and the Forty Hours devotion.
"In any place in the history of the church where we've emphasized participation, it has sometimes come at the cost of contemplation," Msgr. Moroney said.
Another significant development was the communal penance service, often drawing hundreds into churches for Scripture readings, a homily, examination of conscience and prayers, followed by an opportunity for individual confession and absolution, or in some cases general absolution.
Church law provides for general absolution only under limited circumstances and with the condition that a person make an individual confession within a reasonable period of time.
In 1988 the U.S. bishops adopted a one-month rule as a criterion for when general absolution can be used: When a bishop is faced with the question of whether to allow general absolution in a particular situation in his diocese, one criterion he should use is whether, in his pastoral judgment, the penitents would otherwise not have access to the sacraments for at least a month.
Forty years after the close of Vatican II, some of the most passionate debates among Catholics, from the laity to cardinals, still revolve around liturgical issues.
Vatican II proclaimed the Eucharist as "the source and the summit of Christian life," Msgr. Moroney said, so "it is absolutely right (that) the place for disputations and victories to be clear is at the source and at the summit."
The Eucharist, he added, is "the source of everything and the summit of everything, and it's going to be a place where everything we embrace and everything we disdain stands in crystal clarity."