Coming Up: Mediator Dei

In one of the Chant Cafe threads this week, Kathy Pluth brought out Mediator Dei to explore the notion of participation and to delve deeper into what the council bishops of 1963 might have been thinking when they emphasized active participation in the liturgy. I think what the pope taught in 1947 might shed some light on this. But in the main, I’m a skeptic on it having a great deal of meaning today.

The reason I say this is that it presumes that the 1963 attitudes were somehow superior than 1970/75, or that 1947 trumps 1963. The notion that traditional Catholicism had it right, and that we have eroded from those fine days.

In a way, those who look to the Patristic Era, or even the pre-Constantine Church as the rosy ideal, have fallen into the same trap. Different age. Different culture. Different context. What is best for the Church today, and for furthering the mission of the Gospel? That’s a matter for discernment. Not repeating the past.

The council bishops of 1962-63 rejected the schema presented by the curia. It would be my premise that they had their own sense of what the Church needed. Liturgy was the first major area to be tackled. And it was addressed in such a way to be a serious movement from the past. In a sense 1963 was the beginning, not the culmination or completion of that work. After Sacrosanctum Concilium, the vernacular very quickly moved to the forefront of concern for the Church universally. Not without problems, but also with undeniable positive fruits.

That said, I was challenged on a point about Pope Pius XII’s landmark encyclical letter Mediator Dei. I read it in grad school almost three decades ago. But yesterday I suggested that some of its content was “superceded in theology and practice.” I quickly reviewed some of the document this morning, and I would stand by that assessment.

This assessment is not that Pope Pius XII was incorrect, heretical, or just plain wrong. But the liturgy has continued on a vector of reform for two-thirds of a century since Mediator Dei. We can’t ignore that while the basic faith in Christ is unchanged, how we express faith in the liturgy has.

In the interests of exploring what seems to be a discontinuity, I thought I’d put the next few liturgy documents on hold and move this 1947 work to the top of the queue. I welcome any traditional Catholics reading to comment as we move through all 210 numbered sections of this encyclical letter. It should take us about four months, give or take. It’s a long document, well over 20,000 words. (After that we’ll hit up John Paul’s letter to artists, maybe in time for the canonization. Plus we’ll also crack into the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy.)

Over the next week, I’ll be charting out various larger sections and themes in MD to get the posts ready. If you try to read it, you’ll find it’s not set off into chapters and sections. I hope to set up a page to give some structure-at-a-glance. In case anybody wants to just pop in for their favorite liturgical topics and skip the rest.

Meanwhile, any preliminary chat on MD?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to Coming Up: Mediator Dei

  1. Brendan Kelleher svd says:

    Good choice in opting to take up Mediator Dei. Thought not directly linked to MD – indeed he doesn’t seem to even reference it, Alcuin Reed’s speech at this years Church Music Association of America, (referenced and linked on PrayTell, blog entry for Oct 23, the Pope’s Liturgical Example) has some interesting/ intriguing thoughts on liturgical principles. Overall the article shows the need, by offering a biased example, to engage the key documents from the magisterium on liturgical renewal.

  2. Jim McCrea says:

    I think that original intention, while valuable to know as a starting point, needs to be only part of the equation. Ongoing development and needs assessment should also be a critical factor.

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