Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 22

The first of the Constitution’s “general norms” declares on whose authority modification of the Liturgy may be done. This may be a good point to review the categories contra legem, pro lege, and praeter legem in reference to liturgical practices and discuss the development of liturgical customs as we have witnessed them over the last fifty years.

Vatican website translation:

A) General norms
22. 1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.

Latin text:

A) Normae generales
22. § 1. Sacrae Liturgiae moderatio ab Ecclesiae auctoritate unice pendet: quae quidem est apud Apostolicam Sedem et, ad normam iuris, apud Episcopum.
§ 2. Ex potestate a iure concessa, rei liturgicae moderatio inter limites statutos pertinet quoque ad competentes varii generis territoriales Episcoporum coetus legitime constitutos.
§ 3. Quapropter nemo omnino alius, etiamsi sit sacerdos, quidquam proprio marte in Liturgia addat, demat, aut mutet.

Slavishly literal translation:

A) General norms

22. 1. Oversight of the Sacred Liturgy depends upon the authority of the Church alone: indeed that is upon the Apostolic See and, according to the norm of law, upon the Bishop.

2. From the power granted by law, oversight of liturgical reality within established limits pertains also to lawfully constituted competent territorial groups of Bishops of varied types.

3. Therefore no other person, even if he should be a priest, may add, delete, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.

The first set of general norms clarifies the levels of authority by which changes in the form of celebration of the Liturgy may be made. Since the Liturgy is the patrimony of the universal Church, any changes in its form of celebration concern the universal Church. Overseeing the celebration of the Liturgy is first entrusted to the Apostolic See (and we can trace how in the weeks and years following the promulgation of SC the pope entrusted the revision of the liturgical books of the Roman Rite to the Sacred Congregation for Rites/Congregation for Divine Worship [and the Discipline of the Sacraments] and to the Consilium for Implementing the Constitution on the Liturgy). Interestingly, Bishops (presumably Ordinaries) are also given authority to oversee the liturgy in their own diocese (thus being able, e.g., to establish particular days of prayer or penitence for their local Church). The third entity given responsibility for oversight of the liturgy is the territorial bishops’ conference; some of the competencies of these conferences will be noted later in SC.

I would ask help from the readers of Pray Tell in the interpretation of 22.3. First of all, “sacerdos” frequently refers to both bishops (episcopi) and priests (prebyteri). Do these prescriptions bind not only priests (and a fortiori deacons and the laity), but also bishops who are not Ordinaries from changing the celebratory form of the Liturgy? I have not been able to find the root word for “marte” in the expression “proprio marte.” The Vatican website translation offers “on his own authority” and I have no reason to doubt that translation, but I would like to know what word the Council Fathers used and what its range of meaning might be.

Share:

13 comments

  1. I’d like to share what my friend and colleague David Pitt discovered about “proprio marte” in SC 22.3:

    “From what I can see, proprio marte comes from Mars. Alexander Adam’s Classical Biography (http://books.google.com/books?id=wuE_AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA245&lpg#v=onepage&q&f=false) suggests “by your own warfare or experience” and cites Ovid’s Ex ponto as an authority. Lewis and Short offer “by his own bravery” (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3Dproprius). My deskside Latin-English dictionary (Traupman) offers “suo Marte” under Mars, meaning “by his own exertions, independently.” Interesting, however, Stelten’s Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin has separate entries for Mars (the god Mars, war, battle, the planet Mars) and márte (with authority).”

    Since I only checked Lewis and Short when I wrote my commentary, I saw the reference to “by his own bravery,” but couldn’t see how that fit the context very well (perhaps because I had a prejudice against the transferred use of a pagan god’s name in this ecclesiastical document :-)). Anyway I am delighted and grateful to Pray, Tell’s readers for helping me track down this idiomatic usage.

  2. Allow me to observe of 22.2 that this is one of SC’s most important and groundbreaking paragraphs, with wide-ranging implications for how liturgy is regulated and shaped. It is also one which has been most severely retracted in practice in recent years.

    Before discussing it’s retraction, however, let’s just take a moment to marvel at the enlightened common sense that such decentralization represents. Of course, territories have common concerns. And of course, those concerns are best understood by those who live there, not by centrally placed Church bureaucrats who are living thousands of miles away.

    Of course, it builds up a sense of common work, mutual respect, and shared practice among bishops to collaborate at the local level. Of course it gives the faithful more confidence that their pastoral needs are being considered, and not simply dismissed because “if we can’t do it everywhere, of course we can’t do it here.”

    Liturgy has universal elements and concerns. But its practice is inescapably local. The leadership that exists on the local level ought to be the leadership that matters most directly.

    Alas what we have seen develop, as Fr. John O’Malley pointed out in his book What Happened at Vatican II, the polarity of center-periphery, briefly refocused by Vatican II to give more scope to the periphery, has been shifted back to the center to a very great degree. Too much, I sincerely believe.

    Nowhere is this shift more glaringly evident in the liturgical realm than in the provision of Liturgiam authenticam where it says the Holy See may prepare translations of liturgical texts ON ITS OWN if it doesn’t like what is approved on the local level.

  3. Joseph Gelineau used to say that we are united in what we believe, but not necessarily in the way that we express that belief. He would then go on to say that a liturgy that grew up in the Mediterranean basin may not be the best way of celebrating for people many thousands of miles removed from it — but then, of course, he was interested (as those in Rome are not) in the intersection of ritual and “local” culture.

    One of the most misused parts of the Constitution appears in this paragraph:

    3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.

    It was written at a time when everything was prescribed down to the last detail. Today, we have many legitimate options in the rites to an extent that the Council Fathers probably did not foresee, and many instances of “where pastoral reasons dictate” or “in these or similar words”.

    Nevertheless, this subclause is still used by some to beat priests over the head when they use their pastoral common sense. These people seem to want priests to be as they were before, liturgical robots mindlessly carrying out an antique ritual with unvarying exactitude and precision. And yet those days are long gone, if indeed they ever existed. Sacramenta propter homines and all that.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #3:
      3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.

      When a priest makes use of the “in these or similar words” or exercises legitimate options, he’s not acting on his own “authority,” he’s operating within the liberty/authority granted him by the liturgy (or, by those who developed the liturgy).

      Besides, 22.3 doesn’t exist in isolation; it’s part of 22 as a whole, which deals with the regulation/oversight of the liturgy. And 22.3 was repeated in the post-conciliar liturgical documents and responses, against the growing tide of experimentation.

      1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #4:
        JP – would suggest that you miss Paul Inwood’s broader point which SC articulated.
        Reformed the Trentan experience of *STBDTR* – primary principle is that liturgy is a *living, communal experience* and the presbyter needs to use pastoral common sense – it is more than just choices.
        If you skip over, minimize, or dismiss the primary principle, then you start with lesser directives, rubrics, etc. IMO, that turns the liturgical principle upside down.

        Yes, this means that we live today with a constant tension – liturgy has an order, history, form, choices, and rubrics and you can find examples of either extreme – too much experimentation and too stilted and rigourous practice that diminishes communal liturgy.

        IMO, your phrase *growing tide of experimentation* can be construed incorrectly – factual history reveals that there was a period of experimentation (some of this encouraged and technically legal) but by 1973, this was coming to an end through papal, episcopal conferences, and increased impact of seminary/on-going education. (why I disagree with your comment – *growing tide of experimentation*)
        Does this mean all experimentation or poor pastoral decisions were eliminated – by no means. If anything, this article is both/and – undue emphasis on either sub-section distorts the liturgical reform and principles. Just saying….

      2. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #4:

        My point was that when this text was promulgated there were in fact no legitimate options of the kind that we take for granted today, so it referred to a situation which no longer obtains. The fact that we are in a very different situation today has not prevented people from berating priests for not sticking to what these people happen to think are the only permissible options. I’m talking about the “Tsk! Tsk! Father left out a comma this week — disgraceful! I’ll delate him to Rome immediately” brigade of zealots who are often ignorant of what the Church actually permits.

        Anyone drafting a 2012 version of SC would no longer need to include this particular subclause because of the changed situation, but it is to be hoped that they would still emphasize the role of episcopal conferences which has been so emasculated in recent times by the Roman Curia and even by the present pope.

    2. @Paul Inwood – comment #3:
      Paul wrote “…this subclause is still used by some to beat priests over the head when they use their pastoral common sense. These people seem to want priests to be as they were before, liturgical robots mindlessly carrying out an antique ritual with unvarying exactitude and precision.”
      I think this teaching is more than a subclause. Perhaps the injustice of a celebrant violating this pointed and clear directive from the council would be more apparent if one imagined a celebrant abruptly reviving the “Prayers at the Foot of the Altar” in one’s parish celebration, adding the EF offertory prayers, or introducing the Last Gospel. Maybe the celebrant’s “pastoral common sense” inspired him to read all the readings himself, to incense the altar during the singing of the “Gloria” in the manner of solemn vespers, or to introduce the Litany from the first part of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy to his celebration in place of the penitential acts in the missal.
      I’ve never understood how a progressive who typically recognizes the dignity of the laity would fail to see how clericalist any suggestion of a celebrant modifying the Church’s liturgy on his own authority really is. The only explaination I’ve been able to discern is that some laity may want to modify the liturgy themselves and do so by finding a sympathetic cleric who is willing to introduce their designs into the celebration by addition or subtraction. They then tell themselves that their own tastes are an implementation of the general will.

  4. Daniel McKernan : @Paul Inwood – comment #3: Perhaps the injustice of a celebrant violating this pointed and clear directive from the council would be more apparent if one imagined a celebrant abruptly reviving the “Prayers at the Foot of the Altar” in one’s parish celebration, adding the EF offertory prayers, or introducing the Last Gospel. .

    I scarcely need to point that this is precisely what some priests did when they reintroduced the EF (before Summorum Pontificum) against the wishes of their parishioners, who were then forced to find other sources of spiritual nourishment.

  5. Paul wrote: “I scarcely need to point that this is precisely what some priests did when they reintroduced the EF (before Summorum Pontificum) against the wishes of their parishioners, who were then forced to find other sources of spiritual nourishment.”
    Don’t you forsee the possibility that the above could simply be an excercise of “pastoral common sense”?

  6. Thanks, JP – also, in other post, thanks for the explanation. My approach (poorly stated) in terms of the *unknown hand* was in reference to the complete translation process – latin to english or, in some cases, back to latin. Point – we now know that in the 2011 process, it wasn’t until the latin was translated that the processors realized that they had gotten the *original* latin. wrong. It goes both ways.
    Would still like to know about the *unknown hand* – whether replacing a latin word or in the translation….wonder what the purpose was given that EPIII was being developed.

  7. When I did the first draft of the SC translation in the Tanner-Alberigo version, I did my Lewis and Short homework, and drew the same sort of blank as Fr Joncas. Partly because we needed to go for alternatives on grounds of copyright, and partly because I thought it a kite worth flying, I proceeded as if marte had a connotation of aggressive hostility, and I offered ‘disruptively on his or her own’–in other words, allowing some room for appropriate, sensitive variation. There were other, less ambiguous and rare phrases that the document could have used; reading it this way gives us something pastorally defensible and that acknowledges how any following of norms will imply some sort of distinction between what is and is not binding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *