(right click to refresh this page)


The Foundation of the Novus Ordo Mass in the

Second Vatican Council 1962-1965

From the book:

The Rhine Flows into the Tiber

Rev Dr. R.M. Wiltgen, S.V.D.

Adapted and paraphrased from the book by

Peter C. Holiday



Site Map

Adoption of the Schema on the Liturgy and its Implementation


The largest and most influential group at Vatican Council II was made up of council fathers from countries along the Rhine River: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands---and from nearby Belgium.


A well-known member of the Commission on the Sacred Liturgy, Archbishop Franz Zauner, an Austrian, was the logical choice to report to the Fulda Conference in August, 1963, on the progress made by the commission.  The goal of the liturgical commission had always borne in mind during its discussion of the amendments proposed by council fathers, that its goal was to produce a text which would be assured of gaining the support of two thirds of the council assembly.  For that reason, Archbishop Zauner explained that many desirable points had been omitted.   He cited the use of the vernacular in the breviary.  However, he pointed out that all important issues that could be considered necessary for liturgical progress had been accepted and that the schema as drawn up by the commission consequently deserved the support of all.


Archbishop Zauner continued to explain that in its meetings, the commission had run into special difficulties regarding the language to be used when sacred rites were solemnized in song.  After lengthy discussion, the commission decided to sidestep the issue, giving not even an implicit decision in the matter.  Subsequently, the council left the bishops free to use either Latin or the vernacular when sacred rites were solemnized in song. Archbishop Zauner’s hopes that the council fathers would endorse the revised text, were amply fulfilled at the second session. The schema was adopted by a vote of 2159 to 19, and took place on the morning of Friday, November 22, 1963 (the date of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy--Ed.).  It was the 60th anniversary of a document issued by Pope St. Pius X, which launched the whole liturgical movement.


In an interview after the vote, Archbishop Zauner told Father Wiltgen that four important aims or principles were reflected in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy:

1. "The first is that divine worship must be a community action; that is, that the priest should do everything with the active participation of the people, and never alone."  The use of the vernacular he said was a necessary condition for such participation.


2. A second principle was that the faithful must be enriched by Sacred Scripture directly, and not only through sermons.  "Every function, including the marriage rite, will now include readings from Sacred Scripture."


3. The third principle was that, through liturgical worship, that people should not only pray but also learn.... the pace at which life moved was so rapid that if the faithful did not receive instruction at Mass they often had no time for it at all.


4.  The fourth principle applied specifically to mission territories.  "Where there are tribal customs involving no superstitious elements, these may now be introduced in the liturgy," said the Austrian prelate.  This process, known as adaptation, "may be carried out only by the authority of an episcopal conference assisted by experts from the linguistic areas concerned.  Approval by the Holy See is required before such adaptation may be put into effect."


The final formal vote took place on December 4, 1963, the closing day of the second session, in the presence of Pope Paul VI.  In his address, Paul VI said that the new Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy would simplify liturgical rites, make them more understandable to the people, and accommodate the language used to that spoken by the people concerned.  There was no question of impoverishing liturgy the pope said; "on the contrary, we wish to render the liturgy more pure, more genuine, more in agreement with the Source of truth and grace more suited to be transformed into a spiritual patrimony of the people."  Ballots had meanwhile been distributed, and the council fathers were asked to vote for or against the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  The vote was 2147 in favor, 4 against; and the announcement was greeted with an outburst of applause.  Pope Paul then rose and solemnly promulgated the Constitution. Once more, applause filled the hall.


Some, like Archbishop Zauner, believed that the Holy Father would put the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy into effect immediately.  Instead, Pope Paul VI announced that there would be a vacatio legis, or suspension of the law, until February 16, 1964, the first Sunday of Lent, in order to facilitate implementation.  Later, a Benedictine liturgist, Father Salvatore Marsili, in an interview with Father Wiltgen, said that the vacatio legis or Motu proprio, was "a disaster."  He thought that the Motu proprio had "closed-up" the Constitution on the Liturgy.


Father Salvatore Marsili continued: "Everyone on the Liturgical Commission was aware", he said, "that three separate versions of the document had been prepared for Paul VI.  The one which eventually reached the Pope had been so thoroughly altered by Archbishop Pericle Felici, (past member of the Ante-Preparatory Commission, the Central Preparatory Commission and the Fulda Conference) the present Secretary General of the Vatican II Liturgical Commission, that in part, it even contradicted the Constitution as promulgated."  Unfortunately, Pope Paul, relying on Archbishop Felici, had permitted the publication of the text.


On March 2, 1964, the official text of the Motu proprio as it was to appear in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis was issued as a brochure for distribution to bishops.  Fifteen revisions had been made.  To many council fathers, those two sheets of paper were a symbol of their victory over the Roman Curia (Sacred Congregations-Ed.).  On March 5, 1964 L'Osservatore Romano announced the establishment of a Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy as promised by Pope Paul VI in his Motu proprio.  The most surprising name of all of this commission was Archbishop Pericle Felici, who had altered the Motu proprio; causing an embarrassment to the Holy Father. The appointment of Archbishop Felici had been promoted by Father Annibale Bugnini, C.M. the Secretary of the Pontifical Preparatory Commission on the Liturgy, who would become Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, who would later be a major figure in the post-Vatican II composition of the liturgy of the yet-to-be-named Novus Ordo Mass, or Mass of Paul VI (as would Archbishop Pericle Felici as then President of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Liturgical Texts).


Early in the writing of the schema, the Secretary General of the Liturgical Commission, Archbishop Pericle Felici, had promoted it over the doubts of Gaetano Cardinal Cicognani, President of Liturgical Preparatory Commission and brother of the Secretary of State, Cardinal Amleto Giovanni Cicognani. Without his signature, the schema was blocked and he had doubts about signing it.  The Secretary General of the Liturgical Commission, Archbishop Pericle Felici, who reported regularly on the progress of the schema to Pope John XXIII, explained to the Pope the difficulty he was having with Cardinal Gaetano Cicognani, even though the required majority of the commission had already approved it. Pope John called for his Secretary of State, Cardinal Amleto Giovanni Cicognani (Vatican Secretary of State, 1961 to 1969 and Cardinal Gaetano Cicognani's brother). Pope John told him to visit his brother and not return until the schema was duly signed.  On February 1, 1962, he went to his brother's office and found Archbishop Pericle Felici and Father Anabale Bugnini in the corridor and informed his brother of Pope John's wish.  Later a peritus of the Liturgical Preparatory Commission stated that the old Cardinal was almost in tears as he waved the document in the air and said, "They want me to sign this, but I don't know if I want to."  He laid the document on his desk, picked up a pen, and signed it.  Four days later he died.

Jesus to Nancy Fowler,

"You have divided My Mass. You have gone too far. 

605. You Have Gone Too Far (November 16, 1994)



Site Map