Thursday, 16 November 2006

Cardinal Heenan on the Vernacular

I recently found this interesting extract from an account of the First Session of Vatican II by John Carmel Heenan, then Archbishop of Liverpool and soon-to-be Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. He states that, in the debate surrounding the vernacular liturgy, many undecided bishops were won over by the testimonies of bishops behind the Iron Curtain, who saw liturgy as a catechetical tool in the absence of Catholic schools, universities, etc:

In general terms it can be said that the English-speaking bishops tend to oppose the use of the vernacular in the liturgy. The probable reason is that we have all around us evidence of the failure of Protestant churches, despite their vernacular and their beautiful choirs, to attract worshippers. It has always been the boast of Catholics that wherever in the world they go they are at home at Mass…But our apprehensions seem to be shared by comparatively few abroad. The Italians, for example, display surprisingly little heat in this controversy. It would, of course, make comparatively small difference to their faithful whether the Mass were in Latin or Italian.

Germans tend to favour the vernacular partly because they have so wonderfully developed popular singing and, generally speaking, the participation of the faithful in the sacred liturgy. The People’s Mass has long been a feature of the Church in Germany and is the envy of like-minded Catholics elsewhere. But it is possibly more difficult than enthusiasts realise to introduce this kind of disciplined participation to English congregations. Community exercises are easily taught in schools and other communities but there are formidable difficulties in attempting to organise English adults.

A second reason why the Germans advocate the vernacular is that a far larger proportion of their priests and people are interested in the ecumenical movement. They believe that Christian Unity will be promoted if the obstacle of Latin is removed. What is true of most (but not all) of the German bishops is also largely true of the French, Belgians and Dutch.

Personally I entered the Council with a fairly open mind. I was determined to oppose the abolition of Latin but prepared for certain vernacular concessions to be made. Others had come with much more pronounced views. Some intended to resist any advances by the vernacularists. Some, on the other hand, were determined to have done with the whole Latin tradition of the Mass…My guess is that if on the first day of the Council a vote on the vernacular had been taken it would have been defeated by about two to one. But our vision was to be extended by what we heard from bishops with whose home circumstances we had been acquainted at third hand from our reading. I refer, especially, to those from Communist countries and from the least developed mission fields. Bishops from the Balkans rose to describe the Catholic educational system that had once been theirs. Parochial and convent schools, grammar schools and Catholic universities. All this was now destroyed…There now remained only one way of teaching and that was through the liturgy. Since informers and secret police were active even sermons were not always a safe method of instruction. But through the liturgy a Catholic teaching could be provided. It would mean, of course, that the shape of the liturgy would have to be altered. The first part of the Mass would obviously be conducted near the people. Much wider selections from the Scripture for the Epistles and Gospels would be required. But here was the chief hope of preserving an instructed Catholic laity. Hundreds of bishops altered their mind after a single such speech as this.

(from Heenan, Private Notes on the Vatican Council)

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Anonymous Andrew said...

Well we can all see the "springtime" renewal that a wholly vernacular liturgy has brought us!

6:05 pm  
Anonymous northern cleric said...

"A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes", ed.Scott M.P. Reid, is an interesting read re the aftermath.

9:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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3:39 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Father,

I recently had to complete a blog assignment for a class and just happened across yours (I searched on "Catholic"). Please feel free to check my blog and tell me what you think. Take care and God bless.

3:39 am  

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