Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 3

Quare Sacrosanctum Concilium, de fovenda atque instauranda Liturgia quae sequuntur principia censet in mentem revocanda et practicas normas statuendas esse.
Inter haec principia et normas nonnulla habentur quae tum ad Ritum romanum tum ad omnes alios Ritus applicari possunt ac debent, licet normae practicae quae sequuntur solum Ritum romanum spectare intellegendae sint, nisi agatur de iis quae ex ipsa rei natura alios quoque Ritus afficiant.

Vatican Website Translation:

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.

Slavishly Literal Translation:

Wherefore the Sacred Council judges that the principles that follow concerning the promoting and renewing of the Liturgy are to be recalled to mind and practical norms are to be established.
Among these principles and norms there are some which can and ought to be applied to the Roman Rite and to all other Rites, [but] it is correct that the practical norms that follow are to be understood as applying only to the Roman Rite, except for those which from the very nature of the thing affect other Rites as well.

Article three is a transition from the doctrinal preamble appearing in articles 1-2 to the treatment of individual topics concerning the reform/restoration/renewal and cherishing/promoting of the Liturgy that will appear in the following chapters.

I think it is important for two reasons. (1) It sets up the pattern that will re-occur throughout the document of proffering doctrinal foundation for the particular practical norms, guidelines and exhortations the document offers. (2) It makes clear that, although the doctrinal foundations apply to all Catholic liturgical Rites, most of the practical norms, guidelines, and exhortations will only apply to the Roman Rite. This will be further developed in the next article, where I hope we will discuss why the Fathers felt it was necessary to declare the equal worth of the various Rites.


  1. One of the formative experiences for many of the bishops who attended the Council was celebrating the Eucharist in multiple rites. One session it might be the Roman Rite, another session it might be the liturgy of one of the Eastern Rite churches.

    It drove home the point that the universality of the Catholic Church does not necessarily depend on an absolute uniformity of rite. You sometimes hear folks complaining that the move to the vernacular meant that the Mass was no longer “the same” from place to place. The fact that multiple rites existed within a single Catholic Church meant that, on any given Sunday, the words that Catholics were using to worship God were not, in fact, always the same.

    1. @J. Peter Nixon – comment #1:

      I well remember a bishop telling me about the Ethiopian Rite, where the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the sanctuary in a hat — a hat that is being worn by the gift-bearer!

  2. Father
    With respect to the question 2 about reception of SC may I ask how the various rites have changed? I suspect that most North and South Americans and most West Europeans have negligible knowledge or experience of the non-Roman rites. Pray Tell is, presumably, mostly concerned with the Roman rite but readers, I for one, have much to learn about other rites. This might inform and enrich our understanding of our own rite. I realise that there is much that could be said. An introduction is all I suggest.

  3. Would just underline principles & norms; not rubrics first. IMO, too often it appears that things start with rubrics that are personal and biased. (for example, a few posts ago Fr. Ruff spoke about the unity of the EP and thus keeping the three acclamations the same musically. Yet, if you don’t see the unity principle, then liturgy can be impacted.) This also connects to your understanding of ecclesiology – would suggest that the articles reflect a consistent ecclesiology. Changing that, changes liturgy. Thus, concerns about mutual enrichment and unintended consequences.

  4. A few comments from Massimo Faggioli in True Reform

    At the beginning of the council in October 1962 it became evident that John XXIII considered the celebration of the liturgy every morning in St.Peter’s an essential part of the proceedings of the aula, although some important leaders of the aula (Cardinals Suenens and Montini) asked the Pope to cancel the Mass from the daily agenda of the council. p.29

    As a matter of fact, Vatican II was the first council that issued a document about the renewal of a particular rite like that Roman Rite that should have been debated and issued by a Synod of the Latin Church chaired by the bishop of Rome. p.32

    John XXIII was particularly aware of the importance of the diversity of liturgical rites in the Catholic Church when in April 19, 1961, he celebrated Mass in the Greek Rite and the Greek language for the episcopal consecration of Msgr. Acacio Coussa whom he appointed official for the Roman Curia congregation for the Eastern Churches. John XXIII was the first pope who celebrated in a liturgical rite different from the Roman Rite. p.34

    Chaves in his book Congregations in America maintains that Congregations are fundamentally cultural organizations transmitting religious culture. He points out that almost every congregation has a worship service in which there is some singing, a sermon, and they feature a lot of artwork.

    “Rites” are very cultural, and very important. However, they must be something more than mere decoration that can be changed like wallpaper. Today we will have a “Roman” liturgy; tomorrow we will have a “Byzantine” liturgy.

    I think of Rites as forms of spirituality. They are not the only forms of spirituality. For example the different religious orders are forms of spirituality. The basic analogy is the Gospels. We have four forms of the Gospel. Rites and religious orders as spiritualities expand our ways of understanding and experiencing the Gospel.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #5:

      I appreciate very much your stress on culture, and not simply culture at a broad national (USA, Italy, Brazil) or language-group (English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, etc.) level, but at the very local level of the congregation. As an interim pastor, one of the challenges I face in each new parish is to discern the culture of that place. Similarly, in helping them look at the challenges of this leadership transition, I also encourage them to examine their culture as well.

      That said, I’m a bit confused by your last two paragraphs. In the penultimate one, you say that rites should not be changed like wallpaper; in the ultimate one, you say that having four gospels is a good thing for expanding our experience of God’s grace.

      Your last paragraph seems to challenge its predecessor. How is a spirituality that reads Matthew today, Mark tomorrow, Luke the next day, and John on the day after that different from a spirituality that uses the Roman liturgy today and the Byzantine liturgy tomorrow?

      1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #7:

        Peter, sorry to take so long to respond, but I realized I needed to elaborate my notions of “capital” through other comments on other articles before responding to you.

        In comment 374497 on the first article I saw both building (instauro) and body (foveo) as capital processes.
        However buildings and other modern organic like processes allow us to do easy changes that might not be well integrated (like changing wall paper) with either a communities or an individual’s developmental history.

        In making the analogy and using the Gospels as the basic model for spiritualities I had neglected to think out that many people do not experience the Gospels as spiritualities but rather as wallpaper. In my own case I experience the year of Mark as a Spirituality but not those of Matthew and Luke. I have studied Mark a lot on my own as well as in a small group. While pastors may know the Gospels that they preach as a whole, that rarely comes over in the preachings, i.e. people experience the gospels in pieces.

        The issue becomes more complicated since as I pointed out in comment 374503 on the second article, the forms of capital exist at both the personal and organizational levels.

        So the Gospel of Mark exists in myself as cultural capital (e.g. the shared understanding of it contained in the Collegeville commentaries and my discussion about them in small groups) but it does not exist very deeply in many members of the parish for whom it is more like the changing of the wallpaper for the yearly cycles.

        The lack of shared parish culture and existence of parish subcultures can be an advantage as well as disadvantage if the pastor encourages the people who study of the Gospel of Mark in a small group to become a leaven in liturgy planning meetings for the year of Mark.

  5. Re Peter Haydon’s comment @ #2: I’m going to wait until the next article and invite my colleagues to comment on how the Eastern Catholic rites have responded to Sacrosanctum Concilium, but I can point to two very interesting results for the Western Rites. The Ambrosian Rite (celebrated in Milan and its environs) engaged in a liturgical aggiornamento as well, making the riches of its liturgical tradition available in the Italian language as well as in Latin. I was privileged to study with one of the architects of its instauratio, Fr. Achille Triacca. The reformed rite is quite vigorously celebrated today and Pray Tell readers who use the iBreviary app can find the reformed Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours as one of their options. The so-called Mozarabic Rite has also been restored/reformed/renewed, but as far as I know, this has remained in Latin, with the major change being an expansion of the use of this rite from a single altar in the Cathedral of Toledo to many more places in Spain. I was also privileged to study with one of the architects of this instauratio, Fr. Jordi Pinell-y-Pons. While there are many shared texts between the Roman and the Ambrosian Rites, the Mozarabic is quite different, both in the structure of its Order Missae, the style of its chant, and the florid character of its liturgical texts. To have both of these Western Rites restored and employed for liturgical prayer is a great enrichment, in my opinion, of our Western liturgical heritage.

    1. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #6:
      Thank you Father.
      I suppose that with the development of the Ordinariate Rite there is one new variation coming.
      I have a suspicion that greater awareness of these other rites would take some of the heat out of the debates held here and elsewhere: it would be harder to argue that there is only one possible solution or correct approach. It might shed light on different ways of doing things and the meanings arising. Lucky you to have some knowledge. I was once at a Greek rite Mass and instructed by our teacher (the late Andrew Bertie, subsequently Grand Master of the Order of Malta) to stay silent as we would not know the responses.
      As an aside he taught Turkish to myself and another pupil having been chided by my father about this gap in his linguistic ability. There is always more to learn.

  6. article #2 says: in it that which is human is ordered and subordinated to the divine, that which is of action to contemplation, and that which is present to the city to come which we seek.

    Is the distinction in #3 between “principles” and “practical norms” an echo of this? Is that what “wherefore” means?

    I think there is a deeper meaning to #2 than that, but the relationship of order and subordination carries over in an interesting way. Is the specification of principles meant to encourage contemplation rather than just action? IOW “say the red, do the black” is insufficient; it addresses precise actions, but not the principles nor the contemplation they point to.

    (My last comment was about “therefore”; here I have moved on to “wherefore.” Where is this leading me?)

  7. It is interesting to think about this distinction between “principles” and “practical norms.” I sometimes encounter people who point to the specific directives of SC for the revision of the order of Mass — the inclusion of a homily and the prayer of the faithful, a very limited use of the vernacular, limited communion under both species, concelebration on some occasions — and say that this is all that should have been done and that anything beyond this was simply based on an illegitimate appeal to the “spirit” of the Council (of course para. 50 speaks of a broader need to reform the Ordo Missae, but this is not usually mentioned). So people will say things like, “SC never mentions Mass facing the people” or “SC does not recommend the composition of new Eucharistic Prayers in addition to the Canon.”

    It seems to me that this paragraph’s mention of both practical norms and principles implies that not only the practical norms laid out in the document need to by implements, but also that the principles laid out need to be embodied in a comprehensive liturgical reform. We might discuss whether all of the actual particular reforms were wise or not, but it seems pretty clear to me that SC in no way intends that reform be restricted to the particular practical norms stipulated in the document.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #10:
      Deacon Fritz
      I think that you are spot on. Part of the challenge is that we live in a world of ever increasing regulation where laws give rise to regulations and in turn guidelines all of which are examined critically to identify what is mandated or forbidden. In the church there are those who try, perhaps with excessive zeal, to identify all rules and guidance and risk exclusive focus on these. On the other hand others seem to take pleasure in flouting the rules and making up the text and actions as they go along.
      So this series seems to be well chosen and run.

  8. I completely agree with Deacon Fritz at #10. Perhaps part of our future discussion will be attempting to discover both what “principles” and “practical norms” have developed over the last 50 years with some evaluation AND what “principles” and “practical norms” might be good trajectories for the next fifty.

    Re Mr. Haydon at #9: I suspect that liturgists will classify the Anglican Ordinariate Liturgy (for want of a better term) as a “use” of the Roman Rite, much as the original Book of Common Prayer identified the “uses” of Sarum, Hereford, Bangor, Lincoln, and York as “uses” of the Roman Rite, i.e., variants of the Roman Rite for a particular diocese and environs. There are enough changes in fundamental structures among the Roman, Ambrosian, and Mozarabic Rites to classify them as separate rites (e.g, Ambrosian Evening Prayer begins with a Lucernarium that as far as I know has never been part of Roman Rite Liturgy of the Hours, although there have been some recent experiments in attempting to graft it onto Evening Prayer).

    1. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #12:
      Once again thank you Father.
      I suppose that the even use of the Gradual, as issued by Solesmes, would seem unusual to most of our parishes.
      Incidentally I understand that in France a number of local varieties applied even in the C19th. Sadly the modern experience in France seems particularly poor which may partly explain why the SSPX is so strong there.

  9. While I have no doubt that the principles and practical norms of SC led to the development of the revised Roman Missal and the revision of the other sacraments and official prayers of the Church and that these official decisions are normative, legitimate and valid, I do get uncomfortable making “principles and practical norms” infallible or unchangeable even if from a council or from the pope himself in authorizing the various revisions. Isn’t that the heart of what is going on today, questioning what some seem to put forth as infallible and unchangeable “principles and practical norms of Vatican II” and the subsequent develops in the so-called spirit of these two things that we still experience today?

  10. “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.”

    A question stemming from my naivety on such matters… Have there been movements/authorizations to celebrate, for instance, the Mozarbic or Ambrosian rites, according to rubrics as they stood before they were reformed in light of the applicable principles and norms of the council?

    1. @Jeff Rice – comment #14:

      There’s a fairly well established community around the “traditional” Ambrosian rite. This was in the news quite a bit recently due to the death of one of its proponents, Msgr. Angelo Amodeo.

      Given the smaller size of the Mozarabic rite, there’s not been much “traditionalist” activity associated with it.

      There’s been a bit more activity associated with the Rite of Braga than with the Mozarabic rite. We had a Low Mass celebrated here in New York City a few years ago by a visiting Bragan priest.

      There’s been a fair amount of activity, which has picked up since Summorum Pontificum, surrounding preserving the Dominican Rite (which, rather than being reformed after Vatican II was dropped.) The rite is also used by the French Fraternity of St. Vincent Ferrer.

      I believe there is also a (in regular standing) traditionalist Norbertine group in France. Some Norbertine houses have also preserved occasional celebrations of their rite, including the priory in Chelmsford, UK.

      The Carmelite Monks in Wyoming use the Carmelite rite and there are occasional celebrations by O.Carm. Friars elsewhere, such as recently in Troy, NY.

      Various Benedictine houses have preserved Benedictine usages. Similarly the Franciscans of the Immaculate will, I suspect, be invovled in preserving Franciscan usages. A Cistercian house in Germany returned to their 1962 customaries and liturgy a while back as well. Benedictine, Cistercian, and Franciscan usages are less different from the Roman Rite than the other usages listed above.

    2. @Jeff Rice – comment #14:
      Oh, and to answer the question about authorizations, as Shawn Tribe wrote in the post about the Troy NY Carmelite celebrations linked above:

      The answer is found in paragraph 34 of Universae Ecclesiae, the instruction on the implementation of the same motu proprio:

      The Rites of Religious Orders

      34. The use of the liturgical books proper to the Religious Orders which were in effect in 1962 is permitted.

      There are further provisions regarding conventual Masses, etc. The situation is more complicated with the Dominicans, who also have a permission from the Holy See for the use of their 1965 Missal. (There’s a similar permission still in effect in England because of the unrevoked “Agatha Christi indult”.)

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