The Holy Eucharist: History of the Mass, part four Print
Year of Faith
Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

By Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB

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This is the final installment in a four-part series on the Eucharist.
20th Century

In the last segment of this history of Holy Mass, we noted the rise of the “Liturgical Movement” in the 19th century — an effort to achieve genuine and deep renewal of the sacred liturgy. In the United States, certain monasteries led the movement in a particular way, much as had been the case in Europe.

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Abbot Marcel Rooney's DVD series, “Reflections on Holy Mass” may be ordered through the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music, and Art via the institute’s Web site at or by phone at 608-203-6735.

But it soon spread to diocesan parishes also, although in a very limited way. A major turning point was the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (1939-1958).

Solidly orthodox in every way, he did accept many of the theological teachings about ecclesiology and the Scriptures from the renewal efforts of the 19th century (leading, for example, to his famous encyclical on the Church, Mystici Corporis) and not a few of the teachings in liturgical theology (leading, for example, to his famous encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy, Mediator Dei). It was his leadership that led ultimately to the calling of a new Council.

That was done by his successor, Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) in 1962, and came to be known as the Second Vatican Council. The first thing the Council dealt with was the liturgy. Its first document, the Liturgy Constitution (Sacrosanctum Concilium), states the aim of the entire Council: “This sacred Council… desires:

(1) To impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful

(2) To adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change

(3) To foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ

(4) To strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church …”

The very next paragraph takes up the liturgy, with a ringing proclamation as to its nature and purpose: “the liturgy . . . most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.”

Flowing from the Council came a genuine renewal of the form and structure of Holy Mass — with particular attention to the most ancient models of the Eucharistic celebration as sources for any change, not merely the medieval models.

But in addition, the Council called for renewal of all the sacraments and other aspects of liturgical life.

If the reader has stayed with us throughout this very abbreviated history of Holy Mass, that reader will recognize that Holy Mass has not always had the same form, the same language, the same texts, the same external embellishments in every age.

Rather, the Church has adapted the externals of its expression — while never losing sight of the essential core of what Jesus asked us to do at the Last Supper.

And so in every expression, the Church has always kept the memory of the Lord alive, along with essence of His Last Supper with His disciples. In future articles we want to reflect upon that core meaning in greater depth, all in an effort to help us not merely pray at Holy Mass, but also to the pray the Holy Mass itself.

Abbot Marcel Rooney, O.S.B., is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music and Art, resident in the Madison Diocese. The Institute is devoted to helping people understand more and pray better the sacred liturgy.