Summary: We need to understand what the Council Fathers intended for Liturgy, and the two things most people think they wanted which are not what they actually said they wanted.

Monday after Epiphany

7 January 2012

Sacrosanctum Concilium

The mission of the Church on earth is exactly the same as the mission of Jesus during His thirty-some years on earth. He was, and we must be, the fulfillment of the twin commandment of God: love God with all our hearts and love our neighbor as ourselves. So we see Jesus not only worshiping the Father in the synagogue and Temple, we also see Him cleansing the Temple when the Jewish leaders valued franchise fees from the vendors more than their divine calling to draw all humanity to right worship. But Jesus, the same God-man, also responded to the needs of hundreds from Galilee and the surrounding pagan territories. Matthew records that He healed them all. Love God with all our being and love our neighbor as ourselves–that is, with all our being.

The first document that came from the Second Vatican Council is also the one that has affected our lives as Catholics more than any other: Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Liturgy. It was 49 years old last month. If you ask the average Catholic of this or most other U.S. parishes what it did, they will probably say, “it substituted English for Latin at Mass and it gave us modern music when we worship.” Both of these popular notions are incorrect. If you read the document, you see that pretty quickly. To dispose of these two errors first, the Council Fathers wrote: Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. 2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters. 3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language. 4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above. And, with respect to music: 116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given first place in liturgical services. [The translation often seen–“pride of place”–is not accurate.]

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.

What did the Liturgy Constitution really intend? They wanted to make certain that everyone understood what the Liturgy is: the liturgy, "through which the work of our redemption is accomplished," [1] 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. It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek [2]. While the liturgy daily builds up those who are within into a holy temple of the Lord, into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit [3], to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ [4], at the same time it marvelously strengthens their power to preach Christ, and thus shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up among the nations [5] under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together [6], until there is one sheepfold and one shepherd [7].

If there is one phrase which, though misunderstood, represents the Council’s intention for the Liturgy, it is actuosa participatio, which is best translated “engaged participation.” It means that we are all at Mass, Sacraments, and the Hours, to be involved in worship, that is, we are to be present to the mysteries being celebrated, not mentally off in a fog thinking about something else, reading our Kindles, or outside having a smoke. “Actuosa” doesn’t mean “constantly acting,” or always doing something. It involves movement, singing, responding, communing, but most of all listening to the Word of God and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.

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