Vatican II: Hear the Difference

The 20th century was a period of great liturgical renewal and reform, especially between 1955 and 1980. In the United States alone, those twenty-five years saw two new Lutheran hymnals (and a move towards liturgical unity across the Lutheran denominations), a revised Book of Common Prayer, and the first official vernacular translations of the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The liturgical changes came as the result of a surge in historical research beginning in the 1800s. Indeed, Lutherans of a certain age will remember the old Common Service Book, used for some four decades (1918-1958), but the basic order of service was put together in the 1880s.

In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, liturgical scholars were part of the driving force behind the Second Vatican Council and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The resulting changers were staggering. The chalice was restored to the laity, the priest turned towards the people (versus populi, as opposed to facing east, ad orientem), and the Mass was celebrated in the language of the people.

As a result of these staggering changes, it can be all to easy to assume that Vatican II marks a stark break — as though the pre-Vatican II liturgy looked exactly like the Tridentine Mass celebrated in Rome in 1570 and the reformed liturgy came about suddenly in 1969.

If you’ve ever lived through a liturgical change or tried to build a comprehensive liturgical library,* though, knows that these changes don’t happen spontaneously. “Interim” liturgies are put forward for use on a trial basis, new practices are introduced slowly at the parish level, and old traditions are slow to fade. Many of these interim forms are lost to history; after all, not every idea has the staying power of the Kyrie.

In the Roman Catholic Church, these liturgical changes occurred frequently throughout the 1960s. New orders were authorized three times over the decade.

But even if you’re able to track down the missals, hymnals, or even a bulletin from the time period, what did these liturgies look like on the ground?

Writing at PrayTell, Fritz Bauerschmidt has compiled a series of recordings from a parish in Southbridge, Massachusetts. The audio files show the numerous changes that came and went in the wake of Vatican II.


*Everyone collects something; I collect prayer books, missals, and liturgical manuals. I’m (too) proud to say my Lutheran liturgical collection spans a full century.

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