Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 33

Vatican website translation:

C) Norms based upon the didactic and pastoral nature of the Liturgy
33. Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful. For in the liturgy God speaks to His people and Christ is still proclaiming His gospel. And the people reply to God both by song and prayer.
Moreover, the prayers addressed to God by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people and of all present. And the visible signs used by the liturgy to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or the Church. Thus not only when things are read “which were written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4), but also when the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer Him their rational service and more abundantly receive His grace.
Wherefore, in the revision of the liturgy, the following general norms should be observed:

Latin text:

C) Normae ex indole didactica et pastorali Liturgiae

33. Etsi sacra Liturgia est praecipue cultus divinae maiestatis, magnam etiam continet populi fidelis eruditionem. In Liturgia enim Deus ad populum suum loquitur; Christus adhuc Evangelium annuntiat. Populus vero Deo respondet tum cantibus tum oratione.

Immo, preces a sacerdote, qui coetui in persona Christi praeest, ad Deum directae, nomine totius plebis sanctae et omnium circumstantium dicuntur. Signa tandem visibilia, quibus utitur sacra Liturgia ad res divinas invisibiles significandas, a Christo vel Ecclesia delecta sunt. Unde non solum quando leguntur ea quae “ad nostram doctrinam scripta sunt” (Rom 15,4), sed etiam dum Ecclesia vel orat vel canit vel agit, participantium fides alitur, mentes in Deum excitantur ut rationabile obsequium Ei praestent, gratiamque Eius abundantius recipiant.

Exinde in instauratione facienda generales normae quae sequuntur observari debent.

Slavishly literal translation:

C) Norms from the didactic and pastoral native quality of the Liturgy

33. Even if the sacred Liturgy is especially the worship of the divine majesty, it also contains great instruction for the faithful people. For in the Liturgy, God speaks to his people; Christ announces the Gospel to this point. In fact the people respond to God both with canticles and with prayer.

Moreover, the prayers directed to God by a priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people and all those standing about. In addition the visible signs, which the sacred Liturgy uses for signifying invisible divine realities, have been determined by Christ or by the Church. Whence, not only when those things which “have been written for our instruction” (Roman 15:4) are read, but also when the Church either prays or sings or acts, the faith of the participants is fed [and] their minds are raised up unto God so that they may present rational worship to Him and may receive His grace more abundantly.

Therefore in enacting the restoration/reform/renewal the general norms that follow ought to be observed.


As the Council Fathers continue their listing of the general norms that are to guide the restoration/reform/renewal of the liturgy, they turn from their consideration of those norms based on the hierarchical and communal nature of the Liturgy to those based on its pastoral character and potential for instruction. Following the pattern found in other sections of the document, a doctrinal preamble provides a rationale for the guidelines that follow.

Some may hold that art. 33 opposes worship of the divine to instruction of the faithful, but in fact the document recognizes that as long as liturgical worship is conducted using human sign-systems it will inevitably have cognitive-intellectual and emotional-value content. The concern seems to be that the focus of Liturgy remain on the praise of and thanksgiving to the living God (in the context of which human beings come to inhabit, commit to, and understand [to a certain extent] the Kingdom of God) rather than turning the focus of Liturgy to intellectual or ethical instruction of the faithful without a doxological context. Thus homiletic preaching should be distinguished from a classroom lecture or a political stump-speech, liturgical music from merely aesthetic pleasure or inculcating political anthems, liturgical ceremony from dramatic spectacle or group free-for-all.

Pray Tell readers may wish to explore how the instructional and pastoral character of the liturgy is manifested in the EF and OF of the Roman Rite and how it has been experienced by the faithful over the past five decades.



  1. I think this paragraph underlies the aspect of the NO which the 1962 enthusiasts regard as the “horizontal” dimension of the Sacred Liturgy. I don’t recall any catechetical aspect of the former rite growing up even though I was for some time a Missal user. I did learn from the manner in which Mass was offered that worshipping God should be done with dispatch. I also learned that the Mass was offered by the priest for me and for all souls, living and deceased, but especially for the deceased souls of purgatory. I learned that there must have been something so superior about the use of Latin that it justified not using a language which the people understood. I learned that the priest enjoyed a holiness to which I could never aspire, unless of course I became one. I learned that there was something so special about priests and altar boys that they were the only ones worthy of being at and around the altar where Mass was offered…..the rest of us were separated from them by the altar rail. I learned that receiving Holy Communion was not expected, but that I should go to confession as often as possible.

    When considering all of the above “lessons” from the TLM in view of SC and the manner in which Mass has been celebrated according to the reformed rite, I am grateful for having acquired through it so many new lessons about the church and its nature, worship and its nature, the call to holiness, the importance of the worthy and frequent reception of Holy Communion, etc. etc. My conclusion is that the so-called horizontal dimension is an essential one and needn’t at all be out of harmony with the vertical dimension.

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