By Barb Arland-Fye
For Catholics under age 50, Sunday Mass has always included Old and New Testament readings in their native language, a homily, lay readers and extraordinary ministers of Communion. But these and other elements of the liturgy that many Catholics take for granted grew out of a seminal document approved 50 years ago to encourage the full, conscious and active participation of the assembly.
On Dec. 4, 1963, Pope Paul VI promulgated the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, known in Latin as Sacrosanctum Concilium, the first document the world’s bishops approved during Vatican Council II (1962-65). To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, The Catholic Messenger is publishing a series of articles exploring key themes of the document.
This project is aimed at educating readers about the theology of Sacrosanctum Concilium while focusing on the changes that “those in the pew” would have noticed the most. Each writer will examine a particular topic as it relates to the Council’s call for the “faithful to be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy” (SC #14). Topics the Messenger will cover:
• Worship in the vernacular (the native language or dialect spoken by ordinary people of a country or region);
• Liturgical calendar — renewal of the liturgical calendar; returning Sunday to its place as the primary feast day and simplifying the calendar of saints;
• Sacred Scripture — which provides the foundational story of the liturgy, the reason why Catholics come to the table of the Lord, and enriches the rituals of the sacraments; this article also explores the lectionary, which contains the three-year cycle of readings from the Old and New Testaments;
• Preaching — Sacrosanctum Concilium emphasized the homily’s connection to Scripture readings and liturgy, making the Word relevant in the lives of today’s Catholics;
• Music — Sacred song forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy; the purpose of sacred music is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful (SC #112);
• Ecclesiology — Catholics’ understanding of what it means to be Church deepens through full and active participation in the liturgy: “the liturgy daily builds up those who are in the church … At the same time it marvelously enhances their power to preach Christ …” (SC #3);
• Social justice — “The link between participation in the liturgy and the sacraments logically leads to engagement with the world and social justice” (“A Pastoral Commentary on Sacrosanctum Concilium,” pg. 30).
The decision to renew the liturgy did not occur in a vacuum; a liturgical movement began in the 19th century and continued gaining momentum leading up to the Second Vatican Council.
“The liturgical movement had contributed greatly to the reform of the liturgy by refocusing the Church’s attention on the Paschal Mystery as the primary element in liturgical theology and practice,” observes Father Joshua Brommer in “Imbued with the Spirit of the Liturgy.” The liturgical coordinator for the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., explores 10 insights about the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and its impact, which many readers would find helpful.
He notes early on that Vatican II didn’t break from the enduring Tradition of the Church; rather, “…the Council was called to articulate the unchanging truths of the faith in a way that better reached the hearts of modern men and women, inviting them to share more deeply in the life of the Church” (pg. 9).
“Basic principles do not change. Our interpretation and application of them are what need to be renewed,” observes Sister Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS, in “A Pastoral Commentary on Sacrosanctum Concilium”(pg. 78). Her observation is in keeping with Pope John XXIII’s reasons for convening the Second Vatican Council. The soon-to-be saint believed the Church needed to return to its source (ressourcement) and then to renew the traditions, symbols and thoughts to respond to the times in which Catholics live.
The effort to provide greater, active participation of Catholics in the liturgy had its contentious moments. Permitting greater use of the vernacular in the liturgy — altering hundreds of years of tradition — was a hotly debated topic. “There were some bishops present at the Council who contended that Latin, even if it was not understood by most, was what gave Catholics their identity” (“A Pastoral Commentary on Sacrosanctum Concilium,” pg. 31).
Liturgy, as something done only by clerics, and repetition of prayers and actions that had long ago lost their purpose were among the things to be shed in liturgical renewal. The Order of the Mass was revised to promote better understanding of the parts of the Mass and their interconnectedness.
Sacrosanctum Concilium inspired the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RICA), and called for better catechesis on the liturgy and the seven sacraments. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy prompted reform of the Divine Office, renamed Liturgy of the Hours, and encouraged this communal prayer to be prayed by all Catholics (not just clergy and religious orders) as a way of sanctifying each day.
The Catholic Messenger hopes through this series on Sacrosanctum Concilium that readers will gain a renewed appreciation for the liturgy as a celebration of a community of faith experienced in and outside the church walls.
By Barb Arland-Fye