The Catholic Sanctuary
and the Second Vatican Council

 by Michael Davies

The "Liturgical Experts" Take Over

Cardinal Heenan's reference to "liturgical experts" is crucial if we are to understand the reason for the orgy of destruction in our sanctuaries which followed the Council. Those who exercised the greatest influence during Vatican II were not the Council Fathers, the three thousand bishops and heads of religious orders who had come to Rome from all over the world, but the expert advisers they brought with them, referred to in Latin as the periti. Bishop Lucey of Cork and Ross stated explicitly that the periti were the people with power. [Catholic Standard (Dublin), October 17, 1973.] Cardinal Heenan warned that when the Council was over the periti were planning to use the Council documents in a manner which the Council Fathers had not envisaged. The documents were to be interpreted and implemented by commissions to be established after the Council. Cardinal Heenan warned against the danger of the periti taking control of these commissions, thus gaining the power to interpret the Council to the world. "God forbid that this should happen!" he cried-----but happen it did. [Ralph Wiltgen, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber (1967; rpt. Rockford, Illinois: TAN, 1985), p. 210.]

   Article 128 of the Liturgy Constitution provides a typical example. It reads:

The canons and ecclesiastical statutes which govern the provision of external things which pertain to sacred worship should be revised as soon as possible, together with the liturgical books, as laid down in Article 25. These laws refer especially to the worthy and well-planned construction of sacred buildings, the shape and construction of altars, the nobility, placing, and security of the Eucharistic tabernacle, the suitability and dignity of the Baptistry, the proper ordering of sacred images, and the scheme of decoration and embellishment. Laws which seem less suited to the reformed liturgy should be amended or abolished. Those which are helpful are to be retained, or introduced if lacking. 
Looked at with the benefit of hindsight this passage provides an open-ended mandate for drastic change. Read the passage carefully; all its objectives are admirable, and what possible reason could bishops who "did not suspect what was being planned by the liturgical experts" have had for objecting to it? Every Catholic must wish to see worthy and well planned sacred buildings. The bishops could not possibly have foreseen an epidemic of churches which resemble badly designed airport car parks. This is particularly the case in view of the safeguards which are listed in part 4.

 The commission established to implement the Liturgy Constitution was known as the Consilium, and it took the extraordinary step of asking six Protestants-----six heretics-----to advise them in drawing up their plans to reform the liturgy of the Mass, which has been the principal object of Protestant hatred since the time of Martin Luther. These Protestants played a very active part in all the discussions on the reform of the liturgy, as one of them confirmed in a letter to me. [Michael Davies, Pope Paul's New Mass (Angelus Press, 2918 Tracy Ave., Kansas City, Missouri 64109, 1980), Appendix III.]

 The fact that the Liturgy Constitution did not mandate any changes in the sanctuary did not in the least daunt the pseudo-liturgists once the Council was over and the bishops had returned to their dioceses. A seemingly endless series of documents was generated, and is still being generated, by the vast liturgical bureaucracy that has proliferated since the Council.


    Where changes in the sanctuary are concerned, the first mention is found in the "Instruction on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy" [Inter Oecumenici] published by the Sacred Congregation of Rites on September 26, 1964. This document is now generally referred to as the "First Instruction," as others were to follow. Paragraph 90 of this document reads:

       In building new churches and in repairing or adapting old ones, care must be taken to ensure that they lend themselves to the celebration of the Divine services as these are meant to be celebrated, and to achieve the active participation of the faithful.
The Instruction claims that this is a quotation from Article 124 of the Liturgy Constitution-----but it is not. The Liturgy Constitution refers only to the building of new churches and makes no reference whatsoever to repairing or adapting existing buildings. [Emphasis added]

   It is this one word, "adapting," inserted into the First Instruction, thus misquoting the Liturgy Constitution, which forms the basis of the altar-smashers' mandate.

Having stated incorrectly that the Council authorized the adaptation of existing churches, the Instruction goes on in the very next paragraph, No. 91, to state:

      It is better for the high altar to be constructed away from the wall so that one can move round it without difficulty, and so that it can be used for a celebration facing the people.
This is the first reference to Mass facing the people, and note well that it is only a suggestion that altars should be constructed away from the wall to make such a celebration possible. It does not actually recommend that Mass should ever be offered facing the people. In countries such as Holland, however, a veritable orgy of altar smashing was already underway, causing such scandal that in 1965 Cardinal Lercaro, President of the Consilium, found it necessary to write to the presidents of episcopal conferences stressing the fact that there was no pastoral necessity for Mass to be celebrated facing the people and expressing regret at the hasty and irreparable destruction of existing altars, violating values which should be respected. [Notitiae (journal of the Consilium), Rome, September- October, 1965; Bold text added by web master.]

On May 25, 1967, in the Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium published by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, it was stated specifically that "In adapting churches, care will be taken not to destroy treasures of sacred art" [par. 24]. I well recollect reading in the newsletter of a parish in southeast London an account of a
Protestant stonemason who had been heartbroken at having to smash an exquisitely beautiful marble altar in a convent and to replace it with what he described as "two great hunks of stone." As a true craftsman, he found the task utterly repugnant, particularly as he was sure that there is not a stonemason in Britain who could produce such superb work today. The worthy gentleman would have been even more surprised had he been told that this act of vandalism was intended to promote the renewal of Catholic worship. What sort of renewal can be implemented only by destroying the holy and the beautiful? To quote Dr. Duffy once more: "Iconoclasm was the central sacrament of the reform."


   The next significant document is the "General Instruction on the Roman Missal," published in April of 1969. Article 262 of this Instruction, while purporting to quote Article 91 of the First Instruction, actually misquotes it. Article 262 reads:

The high altar should be constructed away from the wall so that one can move round it without difficulty, and so that it can be used for a celebration facing the people.
   We thus have the suggestion found in the First Instruction, "It is better for the high altar to be constructed away from the wall" ["Praestat ut altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiuncturn . . ."] misquoted by omitting "Praestat ut" ["It is better that"] so that it becomes an implied command: "Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum . . ." ["The high altar should be constructed away from the wall . . ."]. The Liturgy Constitution was thus misquoted in the First Instruction, and the First Instruction is misquoted in the General Instruction. However, despite this misquotation, by no possible stretch of the imagination can Article 262 of the General Instruction be interpreted as mandating the destruction of existing altars to make possible a celebration facing the people. Interpreted in the light of the authentic text of Article 124 of the Liturgy Constitution, it can only refer to the construction of altars in new churches, not the demolition of altars in existing churches.


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