Paul VI on liturgical reform

In view of the canonization of Pope Paul VI, the pope of liturgical reform, in October, Pray Tell is occasionally  publishing some of his most significant statements on liturgical reform. This helps us understand the Church’s understanding of liturgy, and also reflect on how far we have to go in implementing the teaching more fully!

1. It is unavoidable that at the beginning there should be some confusion and uneasiness. It is simply normal that a spiritual and practical reform that affects ingrained and devoutly observed religious practices should cause confusion and that it should not always please everyone.  2. But a bit of explanation, preparation, assistance kindly given have quickly quieted uneasiness and made people understand and like the new order of things.  3. We should not think that after a while there can be a return to the former, undisturbed devotion or apathy. No, the new way of doing things will have to be different; it will have to prevent and to shake up the passivity of the people present at Mass. Before, it was enough to assist; now, it is necessary to take part. Before, being there was enough; now, attention and activity are required. Before, everyone could doze or perhaps even chatter; now all must listen and pray. We are hopeful that soon celebrants and people can have the new liturgical books and that their literary and typographical quality will be no less worthy than that of the former books. The assembly becomes alive and active; taking part means allowing the soul to become attentive, to enter into the dialogue, to sing, to act. The unity of a community action, consisting not only of outward gestures but also of an inner movement of faith and devotion, invests the rite with a special power and beauty. The rite thereby becomes a chorus, a concert; it takes on the rhythm of giant wings, soaring toward the heights of joy and of the divine mysteries.

(General Audience, March 17, 1965)



  1. Very powerful words. But how can we do this effectively?
    After all these years some are still assisting rather than participating. While there is no magic bullet I’d like to hear about ways people have helped facilitate the transition to full, active, conscious participation.

  2. These words are so stirring! I think doing it well means that it is not the sensibility of the Priest, or the Music Director, or the liturgy director that counts, but that of the people who participate. This takes a sustained effort at assessment: are the homilies touching people? Is the music engaging them, not just entertaining them? Do they feel a part of the rites? Finding this out is not easy at all–much easier to plan, and then see if it went off without a hitch, rather than discover, even if carried off perfectly, was this destined to be a dud? This is the crux: whom to ask and how? And it calls for patience as well, especially for musicians. A music director will rehearse a piece with the musicians during the week, brush it up Sunday morning, and then hear it a couple of times Sunday during liturgies. That’s five times as often as the person in the pew heard it…assuming you get weekly attendance. How then to keep music fresh for the musicians, without constant change the puts the people in spectator mode? Finally it takes commitment. It means not telling people what things “mean”. A beautiful post-communion meditation simply sends the wrong message: it says “Now listen up! Here’s what you are to make of all this.” Sorry: that’s for them to decide! Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Paul VI!

  3. There are different levels of participation, and different levels of comfort.
    When I was a kid, I just hated it when people were bullied by the parochial brass to move forward, sing louder, hold hands etc…… It was mortifying to deal with.
    Sometimes, attentive presence is quite enough. A response sung sotto voce may be more meaningful than blared out reflexively.
    Invite, don’t intimidate.

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