Catholic Church of Montreal > Publications > Info Archives > MARCH 2015 - The Liturgical Reform of 1965: 50 years of Masses in English

MARCH 2015 - The Liturgical Reform of 1965: 50 years of Masses in English


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On March 7, 1965, Pope Paul VI celebrated the first Mass in vernacular in the Roman parish of Ognissanti officially opening the door to the adoption of new liturgical reforms. This change took place a few months before the last period of the Second Vatican Council. In his homily recorded in the Osservatore Romano, the Holy Father stressed the importance of this reform which asks us to participate in the great dialogue between God and man.

"Now the fundamental rule is to pray understanding the individual sentences and words, to complete them with our personal feelings and to melt them with the soul of the community, that unites with us.

Contrary to what we might believe, the transition did not take place overnight but gradually. As a first step, in February 1964, the Readings and the Gospel were recited in the local language. On March 7, 1965, the first Sunday of Lent, the liturgical reform came into effect in Catholic churches around the world. In Montreal as elsewhere, Latin yielded its place to English, French or the languages of the various cultural communities. Thenceforth, only the Canon of the Mass retained its Latin form.

Over several months, the Archdiocese of Montreal had prepared the implementation of this liturgical reform. The Commission diocésaine de liturgie de Montréal was entrusted to prepare this transition. Under the chairmanship of Father Henri Gagnon, the Commission assisted the clergy in the realization of this change. In January 1965, the Archbishop of Montreal, Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, celebrated the first Mass in French on the territory of the province of Quebec before hundreds of priests who attended a priestly meeting on the future changes. In his address, Cardinal Léger expressed his happiness to see the first fruit of the Council be the subject of these study days.

Following this first experience, some parishes were selected to conduct experimental celebrations with lay groups. As a result of these Masses, practical suggestions were recommended by the Commission diocésaine de liturgie to the parishes of the diocese. We invite you to read these suggestions below. They reflect the desire of the Commission to propose ways to facilitate this transition. It is interesting to observe that some of these suggestions, such as the opening hymn, are now well anchored in our habits. Other elements, such as the rite of sprinkling, are no longer systematically found at the beginning of each celebration.

The liturgical reform of 1965 was generally well received although it certainly unsettled both the clergy and the laity. Paul VI wanted precisely to shake the passivity of the faithful and thus bring them out of a certain spiritual indolence. In 1967, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith approved the English translation of the Roman Canon and thus opened the door to the complete celebration of Mass in English. Today, the celebration of Mass in English is no longer surprising and has become familiar to all. In Montreal, only the Saint-Irénée-de-Lyon Mission continues to use the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. Their offices are always held in Latin.

On the agenda

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Mass celebrated in Italian by Pope Paul VI, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass at the Church of Ognissanti on March 7, 2015.

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