A couple of weeks ago we saw how the liturgical renewal of Vatican II, especially the full active and conscious participation of the faithful, was to be accomplished primarily through instruction. This stands out strongly in contradistinction from the common impression many have, including priests, that Vatican II set out to significantly change the liturgy. This was clearly not the case as we have seen from the Council’s liturgical document when it indicated that the renewal of the liturgy was to come about, not primarily through change, but “by means of the necessary instruction.” Though this is true, it is also true that at least some change was necessary so as to help attain the goals of this liturgical renewal. We have now arrived at the point of the document that speaks about the norms by which such change is to occur.
Beginning in paragraph 20, we see that these changes are aimed at the restoration of the liturgy, not its renovation: “In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These […] ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy.” The Council, therefore, was not concerned with making things new, but with restoring that which had always been. We see this in the language that emphasizes, on the one had, unchangeable elements of the liturgy and, on the other hand, the need to address changeable elements which, over the passage of time have crept into the liturgy and are not in harmony with its inner meaning. The primary emphasis is not to be progressive, creating a new liturgy, but to be conservative, going back to the authentic roots and expression of the liturgy. Paragraph 23, though, does speak of the possibility of some forward looking or of some ‘innovations.’ However, it does so with great caution saying that this should not happen unless it can be demonstrated that it is required for the good of the Church and that such changes grow organically from that which is already present in the life of the liturgy.
Whether or not we are considering the restoring of the ancient liturgy or the possibility, under certain restrictions, of innovation, all of this is to be governed by the leaders of the church as indicated in paragraph 22. The first two sub points of the paragraph indicate who can develop liturgical norms. These include the Apostolic See (the Pope), the local bishop, and by certain groups of bishops (in the US, this means the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).
The third sub point of paragraph 22 indicates who cannot make changes to the liturgy: “no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” This simply means that I, or any other priest, cannot do anything that is not already in the liturgical texts of the church. If I add or change something on my own, then I stop becoming a minister of the church’s liturgy and start becoming the minister of the Fr. Nicks Show. The liturgy does not belong to me or any other individual member of the church. It does not even belong to the people of a particular era. It is the patrimony that has been handed down to us for two millennia and which has its origin in Christ himself.
Praised be His name, now and forever!