By Justin McLellan, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Clericalization led to the separation of the clergy from the faithful in the church’s liturgy celebrated before the Second Vatican Council, said Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household.

In his Lenten reflection March 24, the cardinal told Pope Francis and officials of the Roman Curia gathered in the Vatican audience hall that Vatican II’s reform of the Mass was a return from “a relatively recent past to a more ancient and original one.”

Through descriptions of the Mass from St. Justin in the second century and St. Hippolytus in the third century, he said, “we obtain a vision of the Mass that is certainly closer to the reformed one of today than to that of the centuries behind us.”

“What happened? The answer is an awkward word which, however, we cannot avoid: clericalization,” Cardinal Cantalamessa said. “In no other sphere was it more conspicuous than in the liturgy” before the Second Vatican Council.

Over the centuries, he said, Christian worship and the Eucharistic sacrifice changed “from being an action of the people into being an action of the clergy.”

As an example, he noted how in the pre-Vatican II Mass, the anaphora — the prayer consecrating the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ — was said quietly by the priest in Latin behind a wall or curtain “out of sight and earshot of the people.”

Such a practice demonstrated an “evident return to what was going on in the worship” of the ancient Israelites when the priest entered the innermost chamber of the temple while “the people stood outside trembling, overwhelmed by the sense of God’s majesty and inaccessibility.”

The reformed liturgy, he said, changed how God’s holiness is manifested in the Mass, “no longer as a mystery of majesty and power, but as an infinite capacity of hiddenness and suffering.”

“Tremor and trembling still have a place in the new covenant,” he said, “but before what? Not God’s majesty, but his humility.”

Cardinal Cantalamessa said that another gift of Vatican II’s liturgical reform was “putting the epiclesis at the heart of the Mass, that is, the invocation of the Holy Spirit” when consecrating the offerings.

Still, in celebrating the reformed liturgy, he stressed the need to avoid “arbitrary and bizarre improvisations” and to “maintain the necessary sobriety and composure, even when the Mass is celebrated in particular situations and environments.”

The cardinal said that one reason he regrets the loss of Latin in the church is that songs, “which have served generations of believers of all languages,” are disappearing.