The Vatican II Bandwagon
The euphoric spirit of Vatican II generated a bandwagon effect during the Council itself, and when a bandwagon rolls along it takes tremendous strength of character to avoid jumping aboard. Those who do resist the temptation must face the prospect of appearing isolated and irrelevant as they are left behind while the bandwagon thunders away on its triumphant progress, overflowing with passengers, ecstatic at their sense of relevance. What a lonely figure Archbishop Lefebvre must have made when he let the conciliar bandwagon pass him by; but the despised and hunted Athanasius was a lonely figure too, and there was no bishop more lonely than St. John Fisher when he placed his head upon the block for failing to board the episcopal bandwagon that proclaimed Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church in England. But who, it is interesting to reflect, appears relevant today: the bandwagon bishops of the fourth and sixteenth centuries, or Saints Athanasius and John Fisher?
Christianity is not a religion which can compromise and survive. Its Founder died on the Cross; thousands of its members were expected to die a cruel death in the Roman arenas rather than burn a small bowl of incense before the stature of the emperor. One can well imagine many of those now claiming to interpret "the spirit of Vatican II" condemning these Martyrs for their lack of ecumenical spirit!
In 1965 we were witnessing an almost hysterical stampede among priests in number of countries to celebrate Mass versus populum, facing the people. As I will show, there has never been so much as a recommendation that this should be done in any Vatican document, simply recommendations that altars should be constructed in a way that would make such a practice possible. But the practice itself has not been recommended, let alone made mandatory. It was not recommended by the Council; it has no precedent in Tradition. Why was it done? I have little doubt that since the Council, tens-----if not hundreds-----of millions of dollars have been squandered throughout the world in vandalizing beautiful sanctuaries to make a versus populum celebration the norm. The only explanation I can give is that it represented a bout of mass hysteria among the clergy. Many of those who adopted the practice are, I am sure, totally orthodox. I know that hundreds of parish priests read The Angelus, and almost all of them will celebrate Mass in this way. I hope that what I have written will not offend them, and I am certainly not condemning them for they behaved in a normal, understandable and predictable manner. Everyone seemed to be celebrating versus populum so they did so too. If asked why, they would probably answer: "It seemed a good idea at the time."
The Lercaro Letters
The next documents to which I will refer do not seem to be very well known. Cardinal Lercaro, President of the Consilium, was alarmed at the liturgical anarchy which was becoming widespread in 1965, before the Council had even concluded! He issued a warning against unauthorized innovations, which he described as noxious and which God would not bless. He feared that these arbitrary experiments would offend the piety of the faithful and compromise the official reforms. Sadly, the concern he showed seems to have been similar to that displayed by Luther who eventually adopted all of Carlstadt's innovations, so a good number of the noxious initiatives undertaken without authorization in the mid-sixties were eventually made official: priests said the entire Mass in the vernacular-----this was legalized; they gave Communion in the hand-----this was legalized; laymen distributed Holy Communion-----this was legalized.
In his letter Cardinal Lercaro made special mention of what he termed a "general movement to celebrate verus populum". He stressed the fact that the practice was not necessary for pastoral efficacy, and condemned the hasty, ill-thought out changes in the sanctuaries of existing churches to the irreparable harm or other values which also required respect.
The Cardinal's letter had little or no effect, and on 25 January 1966, he wrote once more to the presidents of episcopal conferences stressing that Mass facing the people was not necessary for active participation, and that account must be taken of artistic and architectural considerations. All this, remember, was over three years before the promulgation of the New Mass, but liturgical anarchy was widespread.