ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
6. Just as Christ was sent by the Father, so also He sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit. This He did that, by preaching the gospel to every creature, they might proclaim that the Son of God, by His death and resurrection, had freed us from the power of Satan and from death, and brought us into the kingdom of His Father. His purpose also was that they might accomplish the work of salvation which they had proclaimed, by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves. Thus, by baptism men are plunged into the paschal mystery of Christ: they die with Him, are buried with Him, and rise with Him; they receive the spirit of adoption as sons "in which we cry: Abba, Father" (Romans 8 :15) and thus become true adorers whom the Father seeks. In like manner, as often as they eat the supper of the Lord they proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes. For that reason, on the very day of Pentecost, when the Church appeared before the world, "those who received the word" of Peter "were baptized." And "they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of the breaking of bread and in prayers . . . praising God and being in favor with all the people" (Acts 2:41-47). From that time onwards the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery: reading those things "which were in all the scriptures concerning him" (Luke 24:27), celebrating the eucharist in which "the victory and triumph of his death are again made present" and at the same time giving thanks "to God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15) in Christ Jesus, "in praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:12), through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This lengthy segment spells out the basic principles upon which the Church is established and the identities and functions of those who would lead it forward. Paragraph 6 begins with the action of Jesus’ sending forth the apostles “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Scriptural sources are clearly Acts 2, the dramatic descent of the Spirit upon the Apostles in Jerusalem and Peter’s famous sermon of baptismal repentance; and the Synoptic Gospels’ description of Jesus’ farewell and his commission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. If the Apostles are to bring the message of God’s deliverance, then the means of doing so are “sacrifice and sacraments.” There is no cited footnote for this phrase; it is an original text from the Council. The interesting word is “sacrifice;” one would normally assume that the term sacrifice is included in the sacrament of Eucharist. That it stands alone may give it several meanings. For example, it may refer to the apostles themselves, of whom it is believed that all twelve shed their blood as martyrs. It may refer to the overall faith necessary to enter sacramental life.
Or, does the word sacrifice refer to a term of longstanding in the Church, “the sacrifice of the Mass,” which implies a priority of the Eucharist in Catholic worship? In this paragraph, and throughout the document, there is some ambiguity about the relationship of the Eucharist with the rest of the Church’s prayer and sacramental life, a reluctance to say that the Eucharist is just one of the seven, so to speak. An entire segment of this constitution is devoted to the Eucharist, followed by “the other sacraments and sacramentals.” Again, looking at the paragraph there is a place of priority for Baptism as well; in fact, there is an organic relationship here between entering holiness (Baptism) and maintaining holiness (the breaking of bread, the Eucharist).
There is good historical basis for singling out Baptism and the Eucharist in the apostolic development of the Church. The few historical sources available agree that Baptism and Eucharist were the first two rites set in stone, so to speak. Roman sources identify Christians by their penchant for sunrise meal rituals; misunderstandings of this rite would lead enemies of Christianity to charge the community with cannibalism, echoes of John’s Gospel, Chapter 6, where Jesus’ enemies retorted, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
It is fair to say, then, that the Council fathers wished the establish to validity of the apostles by identifying them as “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and as Spirit-filled beings the apostles and their successors undertook baptism and Eucharist to celebrate the enduring presence of Christ until the end of time. Para. 6 describes what the Spirit effects in the baptismal “plunge” drawn from St. Paul’s writing, speaking of those being baptized as adopted as sons of God, able to call God “Abba,” the child’s typical appellation when greeting his daddy. The minister of Baptism, ordinarily an ordained cleric, does not baptize effectively of his own power, but because he is filled with God’s Spirit, received at the hands of the bishop, a successor of Jesus’ apostles by history and divine design.
The second half of the paragraph elaborates the meaning of Eucharist, which is described as communal and regular proclamation “of the death of the Lord until he comes again.” It is often overlooked that the nature of the Mass is forward looking, with watchful waiting “until he comes again.” I wrote last week that when the Second Coming occurs, there will be no need for sacraments, but the Church has always lived in the “in-between times” when sacramental actions of the Lord have served as his presence among us now.
Para. 6 describes the Eucharist as Biblically dependent, originally upon the Hebrew texts which explained the nature of Jesus’ human tenure, and then later upon “the teaching of the apostles,” the letters of Paul and the oral traditions that would become the Gospels. It then speaks of celebrating Eucharist as “the victory and triumph of his death again made present.” The reference here is to the blessing of the bread and wine and the sharing of this sacred meal. Finally, the Eucharist is described as an act of “praise in his glory….” The word “eucharist” itself comes from the Greek “to give thanks” or “thanksgiving.”
As we progress further, it will become clearer that when the Council fathers spoke of liturgical and sacramental reform, their attention is riveted upon the Eucharist because it is the regular gathering of the Church, in head and members, where the central body of our faith is celebrated. The full reform agenda of other sacraments will be based upon principles of Eucharistic celebration, which serves as the hub from which all other Christian prayer radiates.
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
5. God who "wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4), "who in many and various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets" (Heb. 1:1), when the fullness of time had come sent His Son, the Word made flesh, anointed by the Holy Spirit, to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart , to be a "bodily and spiritual medicine" , the Mediator between God and man . For His humanity, united with the person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation. Therefore in Christ "the perfect achievement of our reconciliation came forth, and the fullness of divine worship was given to us" .
The wonderful works of God among the people of the Old Testament were but a prelude to the work of Christ the Lord in redeeming mankind and giving perfect glory to God. He achieved His task principally by the paschal mystery of His blessed passion, resurrection from the dead, and the glorious ascension, whereby "dying, he destroyed our death and, rising, he restored our life" . For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth "the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church" .
I am not treating Paragraph 4, in which the Council invites the other Catholic rites to follow the example of the Latin Roman rite in the renewal of the sacred liturgy. I am progressing to para. 5, which is the first of the “general principles” of sacramental life. Fittingly enough, the Council returns to the essence of Christianity, that God became man to redeem and glorify human life through the presence of the man we have come to know as Jesus of Nazareth. The text embodies the two pillars of belief, the Incarnation (God became man) and the Redemption (God redeemed man).
I am struck by the fact that the Church, in its first contemporary steps to liturgical/sacramental reform, is following the same course as theologians of the other Church disciplines, notably the moralists. It is no accident that moral theology was thrust into a new trajectory by Bernard Haring’s The Law of Christ in 1954. In his autobiography written the year of his death (1998) Father Haring observes that “Christocentrism is a key concern in all my efforts in reforming moral theology.” (p. 75) Vatican II, in nearly all its ventures, reflects an awakening to the centrality of the Bible and the Christ who is revealed there, hence the rich Biblical documentation of our text at hand.
Since many Café readers were not around for Vatican II, it is a very fair question to ask why the Jesus of the Bible was missing, so to speak, in the Church’s worship prior to Vatican II. In fairness, Vatican II was not resuscitating a corpse when it set about the work of sacramental renewal. Sacraments were celebrated with devotion in many cases, and Church doctrine assured their effectiveness. Perhaps a good way to describe a typical 1950’s Catholic reaction to sacraments—my own, in fact—is “verbal assurance.” With confession, for example, I could count upon the fact that I had been absolved or forgiven of a sin in the eyes of God. I was taught this by my parents, the religious of my school, my priests, and my Baltimore Catechism. The ultimate guarantor of the process was an infallible Church founded by Christ who is known to us historically in the four Gospels.
In fact, this was the operational ecclesiology of the Church in all matters of faith and morals, including sacraments. The bedrock text of Church apologetics was Jesus’ empowerment of Peter (Matthew 16:18) and his assurance that he would be with the Church for all time. (Matthew 28:20) The difficulty with this Biblical interpretation of Church structure is its dependence upon certain Scriptural texts at the expense of others. This is a classic case of “living by the sword and dying by the sword.” If the Gospels of Jesus Christ are indeed the root of who we are, then they must be taken in their totality, with the full intent of the divinely-inspired authors. Para. 5 is a good example of the Church’s theoretical and pastoral shift of emphasis in understanding Jesus, away from an “ultimate authority” and toward the cosmic event of God, fulfillment of the past and promise of the future.
In terms of sacraments, Vatican II establishes the root of their existence in God’s becoming flesh. Our text at hand cites numerous New Testament texts that provide an overview of the meaning, history, and consequences of God becoming flesh in the human Jesus. Footnote 13, from the Tridentine Holy Saturday rite prior to the Council, is a reminder that the ultimate sacrament is the Church itself. When the world beholds the Church, or any portion of it including its individual members, ideally it beholds the Christ, acting in the manner spelled out above, i.e. bringing good news to the poor, reconciling, bearing witness to God’s love by the laying down of its own life. There is something utopian about all this, which is precisely why, in the economy of God’s plan, there is a Church acting collectively to bring specificity to this love, as Jesus gave specificity to his Father’s love by his words, deeds, and sacrifice on the cross.
Jesus works among us in ways we cannot imagine, but as a church we gather to fixate upon seven concrete realities of his life among us—that he empowers us with the Holy Spirit, for example, or feeds us the bread of eternal life. The Vatican II reforms were intended to renew and restore these worship events in a fashion that their signs and symbols would enhance the possibility of understanding and partaking, not hinder them. To hear the proclamation of the Word of God in one’s own tongue is a very good example. Next week the Council turns its attention to the “what happens” in sacramental experience.
Given the content of Paragraph 5, I would be remiss if I did not note this weekend’s Feast of Christ the King. This feast marks the end of the Church year, but more importantly, it embodies the omega point of the Christ event, the fullness of his glory. It has been a staple of catechetics that with Christ’s second coming in glory, the need for sacraments shall cease, which gives us pause as to the value of what we now celebrate symbolically in Eucharist and the sacramental rites.
I am going to be away today giving a workshop on Catechetics and Human Development at a Catholic school in Orlando. I have missed the last few days of posting here at the Café as I was preparing my outlines. I noticed that some of the references, books, and even theories had gone out of date. I was reminded that even some of our best work has a limited shelf life, and some of my material had passed the expiration date.
I hope and expect to be back on the beam with regular posts on Monday. Today I will be with a fine group of Catholic professionals who will be privately praying that my expiration date comes sooner than later :)
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
3. Wherefore the sacred Council judges that the following principles concerning the promotion and reform of the liturgy should be called to mind, and that practical norms should be established.
Among these principles and norms there are some which can and should be applied both to the Roman rite and also to all the other rites. The practical norms which follow, however, should be taken as applying only to the Roman rite, except for those which, in the very nature of things, affect other rites as well.
Section 3 is the third of four introductory statements leading into the theological principles and guidelines for Catholic sacramental worship. The second paragraph here is a reference to the Council’s teaching vis-à-vis the multiple rites of the Roman Church. There are about two dozen Eastern Rite Churches in communion with Rome. Paragraph 814 of the Catechism teaches “holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions. The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church's unity.” In his description of the Council Xavier Rynne commented that at various times in the proceedings the Mass per each of these rites was celebrated with the entire body of the Council fathers.
The Council tread cautiously in its liturgical dealings with these Churches precisely because their sacramental rites date back to the first millennium and predate the final division of Eastern and Western Christendom, the excommunication of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, in 1054. There was and is a theological and historical heritage connected to these rites that constitutes something of the very nature of the Church itself. Section 3 alludes to the challenge of unity. When, as Catholics, we pray for “Church Unity,” this is not limited to ultimate union with, say, Lutherans, as desirable as that may be. The full nature of Church unity is oneness with a segment (segments) of the world that perceives reality in different constructs and signs.
The Council would address the relationship of the Latin Roman Church with the Eastern Churches in full communion with Rome as well as the Orthodox Church, but not specifically in Sacrosantum Concilium, choosing to direct its teachings on the specifics of worship to the Latin Roman Church.
Section 3 makes mention of two distinct types of teaching: principles and practical norms. This is a critical point that might be overlooked by a new reader, because it has been very much overlooked by those of us who have possessed the document over the past half-century. Section 3 teaches that the nature of the document is “promotion and reform” of the liturgy itself, to be implemented by “practical norms.” In practice, the Council is revisiting the understanding of sacraments themselves, and considering this understanding, would authorize examination of each rite in view of the Church’s full understanding. The Council would undertake study of the principles; reforms of the rites would be taken up by post-Conciliar and national bodies such as the new model of national conferences of bishops.
The first principle of worship, of course, is faith. One of the venerable maxims of Church history is lex orandi, lex credendi, loosely, the law of prayer is the law of faith. Everything that the Church is, everything she teaches, flows from her prayer; liturgy is the Church’s religious and psychological self-understanding. Reform of the Church’s self-understanding is a daunting deed; the Council fathers needed two years to find the right language. Moreover, Sacrosanctum Concilium is the first of the promulgated Vatican II documents. This may have been a strike of administrative good luck, or it more likely manifested a collective desire of the fathers to express in the unique teaching moment of the Council exactly what the Church believes itself to be.
The question has been raised—with great passion in some circles—how one can apply the process of reform to an institution founded by Christ and whose validity is professed every Sunday in the Nicene Creed? There are many ways to answer this concern, not the least is with the Church’s own history. Vatican II was preceded by a Vatican I, and before Vatican I the Church met on nineteen previous occasions, not counting the “Council of Jerusalem” in 50 A.D. recorded in Acts 15. Every Council I am aware of met in response to a challenge of identity and self-understanding.
The challenges that led Pope John XXIII to announce the summoning of a council in 1962 were matters of the past and the future. Two World Wars, the Holocaust, and the spiraling nuclear arms race were proof enough for Pope John that the Gospel was not being preached effectively in the Roman Communion, nor in other members of the Christian household. Catholic sacraments lay at the heart of this problem: as the self-expression of the work of Christ, Catholic worship was not effecting a moral awakening powerful enough to stem the free reign of rage, hatred, and opportunism that had so recently ravaged the world.
Pope John understood, too, that the success of the Church in any future rejuvenation rested upon its ability to make its message clear in word and deed. He was truly the first post-Enlightenment pope to publicly acknowledge that the starting ground of discourse in the West was not denominational identity. His own correspondences went out to “men of good will,” not specifically Roman Catholics, not specifically Christians. The agnostic, the atheist could just as easily accept this pope as a man with something important to say.
The work of Sacrosantum Concilium, as the Church’s statement of liturgical self-identity, was nothing short of relearning how to talk about Jesus through worship in a manner that was both true to its roots and to its new world now capable of total annihilation. With the hindsight of fifty years it is possible to see how hard it was to produce this statement, and even more so to put it in practice. As I noted above, the inheritors of liturgical reform planning probably missed the point that changing the location of the altar in church is not the same as offering one’s self upon that altar, which is the heart of Christ’s action in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Martin Luther, among others, was right in his definition of the Church as semper reformanda, or “always in need of reform.” As a member of that Church who shares in its sacraments I know that my own interior attitude of heart must be in the right place, always seeking reform. But I also need an environment where that interiority can be fed by Christ’s saving work, which is why I turn to the Church for the rites to affect that reform in me. Progressing through the Council’s teaching on worship, I am eager to find out what we are doing right, and what we are doing wrong, because I think I’m not alone in admitting that it doesn’t always click like it should.