The Council identifies the liturgy as that “which the work of our redemption is accomplished” and this is found most of all in the sacrifice of the eucharist. In regards to the reform of rites, she must remain faithfully obedient to Tradition and only revise the rites “carefully in the light of sound tradition.”
Chapter I – General Principles for the Restoration and Promotion of the Sacred Liturgy
The Sacred Liturgy is ultimately the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, “by His death and resurrection” and how He has freed us from the bonds of sin and the power of Satan. Christ works through the Church especially in the “sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister…but especially under the eucharistic species.” The earthly liturgy is a foretaste of heaven and the Church calls all, both believers and unbelievers, to the faith, to the repentance of sins, and to conversion. Priests must be well instructed and they must instruct their flock well also.
Reform of the Sacred Liturgy should be undertaken with great care “for the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted.” The authority to reform the Liturgy lies solely in the Church, that is, “the Apostolic See” and on bishops in those areas that they are given authority. “Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”
Chapter II – The Most Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist
Christ Himself instituted the Eucharist and gives us His body in an outpouring of Divine Love. His faithful should not be as strangers to this mystery, but should, through great devotion and full collaboration, take part. Those aspects of the Liturgy that are redundant or “were added with but little advantage” should be removed and those who have “suffered injury through accidents of history” are to be restored. Homilies are to be expounded from the sacred text. Masses can be celebrated in the vernacular in suitable places, but “nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”
Chapter III – The Other Sacraments and the Sacramentals
Sacraments are given to us to build us up in Christ and to sanctify us as well as to “give worship to God.” “Because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it.” As such, they do impart grace upon the faithful as well as properly dispose the faithful to receiving this grace. Sacraments and sacramentals can sanctify “almost every event” for those well-disposed faithful.
Chapter IV – The Divine Office
The Church is an agent for Christs priestly work and she does this not only through celebrating the sacrifice of the eucharist, but also “in other ways, especially by praying the divine office.” This is a longstanding tradition going back to early Christianity and it is made for the whole course of the day and night so as to unceasingly praise God. It also serves as a means to sanctify the day and as such, “the traditional sequence of the hours is to be restored so that once again they may be genuinely related to the time of the day when they are prayed.”
Chapter V – The Liturgical Year
The Liturgical year celebrates the whole life of the Churdh’s Bride, Jesus Christ. Within the yearly cycle, His whole mystery is revealed, “from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord.” In this cycle, the Church rightly honors His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, “who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her son.” So too does this cycle include devotion to the memory of the martyrs and saints, and those disciplines that helps form the faithful in Christ’s image.
Chapter VI – Sacred Music
Sacred music is a great treasure, higher than any other art because “as sacred song [is] united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.” This truth is spoken from Holy Scripture, the fathers of the Church, and the Roman pontiffs. Liturgical worship “is given a more noble form” when celebrated in song. This treasure, sacred music, is to be “preserved and fostered with great care.”
Chapter VII – Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings
Arts, by their nature, point man towards the beauty of God and are to be aimed ever more exclusively towards “the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.” The Church has always been a friend of art and helped foster it, but at the same time she has always reserved the “right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use.” The history of art should be taught to clerics so that they will better be able to preserve the gift of the sacred art.
This document is of great weight because the Divine Liturgy is of the greatest importance. My summary, as you’ll likely notice should you read the full text, does not draw out much of the controversial pieces; I’ve chosen to do that here.
First and foremost, I am intrigued by the callousness and animosity of the document against the Tridentine Mass which was codified by the Council of Trent and holds fast to the Roman canon which dates from the fourth century. If that is the case, why was the council so quick to “slash and burn” the Divine Liturgy as celebrated by many great saints for at least five hundred of years?
Take, for example, the following passage from paragraph 50 (all emphasis is my own):
“The rites should be…short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions.”
From paragraph 50:
“For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance; elements which, with the passage of time, came to be duplicated, or were added with but little advantage, are now to be discarded; other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the vigor which they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary.”
From paragraph 62:
“With the passage of time, however, there have crept into the rites of the sacraments and sacramentals certain features which have rendered their nature and purpose far form clear to the people of today; hence some changes have become necessary to adapt them to the needs of our own times.“
It seems that the Council Fathers were of the opinion that the Liturgy had many aberrations which creates the following dilemma: either the Liturgy as codified by St. Pius V was so full of human elements that it had to be dismantled wholesale by the Second Vatican II, or the Divine Liturgy saw many human elements added to it after Vatican II.
If the former is the case, why did the great saint confirm such elements especially given the criticisms of the Protestant Reformation? Wouldn’t it have been the time to remove from the Liturgy that which was false so as to cease the hemorrhaging of the Church and to restore Her to purity as Christ’s Bride? Further, Pope Pius V sought to restore that which was true to the Mass, but did not do so in a dismissive or violent way. He did not seek to create a new order of the mass, but to hold fast to that which had been handed down. This attitude seems in stark contrast to what the Sacrosanctum Concilium had to say about the Tridentine Mass.
Isn’t it much better to treat the Liturgy with great reverence and hold it as a precious gift? Take, for example, what Cardinal Gasquet said in 1890:
“Any rude handling of such forms must cause great pain to those who know and use them. For they come to them from God through Christ and through the Church. But they would not have such an attraction were they not also sanctified by the piety of so many generations who have prayed in the same words and found in them steadiness in joy and consolation in sorrow.”1
This also begs the question, what “new” discovery was made in the mid-twentieth century to justify the tongue-in-cheek argument that the Tridentine Mass was not true to Tradition and contained “useless repetitions”?
All that aside, it is extremely interesting to note that Sacrosanctum concilium states that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites”(36) and “the Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.”(116) If the rite is supposed to demonstrate unity, where are these unitive parts? With some exceptions, Latin and Gregorian chant have almost completely vanished from the Mass (at least here in America.)
Also, the primary purpose of the implementation of the Novus Ordo was “full and active participation by all the people”(14), yet, do we see this? Or, in a time when fully 10% of Americans are “Former Catholics”2 and only ~28% of self-identified Catholics attend Mass on at least a weekly basis,3 do we truly have “full and active participation”? Or, instead, do we have a wholesale abandonment of the faith?
Just some food for thought. I welcome your comments.
1 Davies, Michael. A Short History of the Roman Mass. 1997. Tan Books: North Carolina. 38.
2 Weddell, Sherry. Forming Intentional Disciples. 2012. Our Sunday Visitor: Indiana. 25.