Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 4

Traditioni denique fideliter obsequens, Sacrosanctum Concilium declarat Sanctam Matrem Ecclesiam omnes Ritus legitime agnitos aequo iure atque honore habere, eosque in posterum servari et omnimode foveri velle, atque optat ut, ubi opus sit, caute ex integro ad mentem sanae traditionis recognoscantur et novo vigore, pro hodiernis adiunctis et necessitatibus, donentur.

Vatican website translation:

Lastly, in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigor to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.

Slavishly literal translation:

Finally, faithfully observing tradition, the Sacred Council declares that Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged Rites of equal right and honor, that it wishes to preserve them into the future and to promote them in every way, and that it desires that, when it should be done, they should be revised with careful integrity to the understanding of sound tradition and given new vigor for the circumstances and needs of today.

Following on article 3, this article declares that all presently recognized Catholic Rites share a fundamental equality of honor, that they are also to be cherished/promoted/fostered as the Roman Rite, and that, if these Rites are to be renovated, such renovation should be done in the light of (their own) authentic tradition in order to engage contemporary worshipers.

First, note that the original draft referred to all Rites “vigentes” (lawfully in use), but that this was changed to “agnitos” (lawfully acknowledged) in order to hold open the possibility of the development of new Rites. Second, the Council explicitly rejects an opinion that the Rite used by the Roman church, whose bishop enjoys universal primacy, was likewise preeminent among the other Catholic Rites; practically, this had led to quite a few attempts to “Latinize” some of the Oriental Rites. Finally, it is up to the appropriate leadership of the Eastern Rites themselves to determine whether and to what extent their Rites need renovation in the light of the principles articulated by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

I am somewhat familiar with the post-Vatican II renovation of the Maronite Rite (proper to dioceses of Lebanon and Lebanese communities) that has attempted to remove some of the Latinizing accretions to their liturgy and restore their liturgical patrimony. I hope that members of the Pray, Tell blog would inform us of where such renovation might be in the case of other Eastern Catholic Rites and what the reactions to such renovation has been over the last fifty years.



  1. “. . . it is up to the appropriate leadership of the Eastern Rites themselves to determine whether and to what extent their Rites need renovation . . .”

    Michael, where do you see this in SC4? I don’t disagree that this would be a good thing, but I’m not seeing it in the article here.

    What hit me first about this article is that it is not so much about the liturgy per se, but about who has the authority to make decisions about it.

    Note the contrast between direct address and the passive voice. First, the direct:

    “in faithful obedience to tradition, the Sacred Council declares . . .”

    “holy Mother Church holds . . . and wishes to preserve . . . and foster . . . ”

    “The Council also desires . . .”

    On the other hand, all the language about revisions is in the impersonal passive voice: “where necessary, the rites be revised carefully . . and that they be given new vigor . . .”

    To me, the article is most concerned with how any revisions are done (“carefully in the light of sound tradition”) and why they are done (“to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.”). It says nothing about who will make the decisions about what is “sound tradition” and what constitutes the “circumstances and needs of modern times.”

    Given the history of the recent missal translation, I think I am not amiss in suggesting that the final arbiter of the how, why, and what is not the local communities — whether national bodies, language groups, religious orders, or (as you suggest) the leadership of the Eastern Rites — but the Vatican.

  2. I think that, for the Roman rite, the answer to Peter Rehwaldt’s question about the final arbiter will be found in paragraph 22 when we get there. In the previous paragraph we gather that the bulk of the document is for the Roman rite only.
    Presumably the equal right and dignity is based not on the numbers who use the rite but on the scholarly and spiritual values of each rite. I can quite see why it would have been imprudent to imply anything else.
    This may be the best point to remind readers of the suffering of Christians in Syria, Iraq and Egypt where Islamic extremists seem determined to exclude Christians from their fair place in society. In the Holy Land the poor Palestinian Christians have also to contend with the Israelis. They particularly need our prayers and support.
    One way we can do so is to buy the official rosary of the Sanctuaries of Lourdes which are made in Bethlehem (Librairie des Sanctuaires, Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes
    65108 Lourdes Cedex
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    Another is to support the Holy Family Hospital

  3. Re Peter Rehwaldt’s comment #1: You are correct that I went beyond the text of article 4 in stating that the revisions of the Eastern Rites should be in the hands of the leadership of the Eastern Rites. I think that’s because I knew that that was how “ad mentem sanae traditionis” came to be interpreted, i.e., that the ancient tradition was that the leadership of a particular Rite was responsible for its liturgical formulation (even though, on occasion, this could be stormy, as seen, e.g., in changes proposed by leadership to the Trisagion at one point in the Byzantine Rite’s history that led to rioting and a restoration of the original text).

  4. Whenever there are two values in tension, we tend to go back and forth, emphasizing one, then the other. We see that all the time: is software easy to use, or is it flexible? Do we want our children to be protected from harm or learn how to be independent? Over and over this happens.

    The desire to balance “the light of sound tradition” with “the needs of modern times” classically brings us right back to the same place. We humans don’t seem to be able to do the balancing act very gracefully, do we? Maybe it’s just pie-in-the-sky to expect to be able to land someplace that manages both harmoniously and simultaneously. So, rather than expecting to find just the right combination of new and old, we need to be light on our feet, and be careful not to let either become so entrenched that it smothers the other. Maybe this document is inviting us to into a dance between tradition and change that forces us to feel less ownership of the liturgy _as_it_is_ and more responsibility for fostering it _as_it_could_be.

    The problem is, that takes a lot more effort and flexibility than most of us have. Is it possible to expect that the “person in the pew” is up to this balancing act? Whatever we (the Church) do, we need to make sure that the balance, as it changes, doesn’t steal prayer from the people. This is the part of my job (as a liturgy director in a parish) that is most challenging.

  5. May I quibble with Fr. Joncas’ “slavishly literal” translation from “ubi opus sit” on.

    I would translate: “[The Council wishes that] where it is necessary [the rites] be carefully recognized (=authorized, edited) entirely anew to the understanding of sound tradition and be given (=produced) with new vigor for today’s circumstances and needs.”

    Implications: recognoscantur is related to agnitos in this article and the recognitio of RM3. But I believe recognovit is also used as a near synonym for edidit.

    Ex integro connotes “entirely” as well as “from a blameless viewpoint”.

    In other words, thorough scholarship may question and redefine “the way it has always been.” Resourcement may entail aggiornamento. Peter Rehwaldt may be right as to who has final say, but I think expert scholarship is inevitably involved.

  6. Reading the document this way, a bit at a time, really brings to light how the thread of reform runs through it. Paragraphs 1, 3 and 4 refer to a reform or a revision of the liturgy. And Paragraph 2 provides context for that thread in its depiction of a church that is in tension with the world, still becoming, not at rest, not complete.

  7. But already in the meetings of the liturgical preparatory commission of April 1961 the issue of the adaptation of the liturgy was connected to a deep understanding of the renewed, and at the same time ancient, structure of the Catholic Church with the bishops (and not Rome) at the center of the regulating mechanism of liturgy. The preparatory text of the liturgical commission came from one of the American members of the commission, John Quasten, who stressed the importance of giving back to the individual bishops and the gathering of bishops of a region the authority in liturgical matters. True Reform p. 63-64

    Faggioli puts great emphasis upon this as the proper role of bishops and a better model for ecclesiology than some balancing of power between Rome and bishops conferences. I agree. Until I read his book, I had been unable to see any real role for the bishop(s) in today’s modern world.

    The role that bishops spend most of their time doing, being CEO of the diocesan corporation could be better done by lay people.

    The notion that bishops share “teaching authority” with Rome has not proved workable. Rome was uncomfortable with the Latin American Bishops and liberation theology, and the American Bishops and their pastorals on the economy and nuclear weapons. If bishops are “teachers” then their selection will continue to be limited to being from the very small number of priests who want to please Rome.

    Clearly the experience of the last fifty years has shown that it will take a long, long time (like centuries) and a lot of talent to develop an American liturgy that does well by the resources of our language, our music, our cultures as well as by the universal resources (Ressourcement) of Scripture, our liturgical traditions (including Eastern since we have the largest collection of Eastern people outside their native lands) and theological understandings of the liturgy .

    The bishops leading such a long term project need to be totally different bishops!

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