Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 5

Caput I

DE PRINCIPIIS GENERALIBUS AD SACRAM LITURGIAM
INSTAURANDAM ATQUE FOVENDAM

I. De sacrae Liturgiae natura eiusque momento in vita Ecclesiae

5. Deus, “qui omnes homines vult salvos fieri et ad agnitionem veritatis venire” (1Tim 2,4), “multifariam multisque modis olim loquens patribus in prophetis” (Hebr 1,1), ubi venit plenitudo temporis, misit Filium suum, Verbum carnem factum, Spiritu Sancto unctum, ad evangelizandum pauperibus, ad sanandos contritos corde (8), “medicum carnalem et spiritualem”(9), Mediatorem Dei et hominum(10). Ipsius namque humanitas, in unitate personae Verbi, fuit instrumentum nostrae salutis. Quare in Christo “nostrae reconciliationis processit perfecta placatio, et divini cultus nobis est indita plenitudo”(11).

Hoc autem humanae Redemptionis et perfectae Dei glorificationis opus, cui divina magnalia in populo Veteris Testamenti praeluserant, adimplevit Christus Dominus, praecipue per suae beatae Passionis, ab inferis Resurrectionis et gloriosae Ascensionis paschale mysterium, quo “mortem nostram moriendo destruxit, et vitam resurgendo reparavit”(12). Nam de latere Christi in cruce dormientis ortum est totius Ecclesiae mirabile sacramentum(13).

Vatican Website Translation:

CHAPTER I

GENERAL PRINCIPLES FOR THE RESTORATION AND PROMOTION OF THE SACRED LITURGY

1. The Nature of the Sacred Liturgy and Its Importance in the Church’s Life

5. God who “wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), “who in many and various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1), when the fullness of time had come sent His Son, the Word made flesh, anointed by the Holy Spirit, to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart [8], to be a “bodily and spiritual medicine” [9], the Mediator between God and man [10]. For His humanity, united with the person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation. Therefore in Christ “the perfect achievement of our reconciliation came forth, and the fullness of divine worship was given to us” [11].

The wonderful works of God among the people of the Old Testament were but a prelude to the work of Christ the Lord in redeeming mankind and giving perfect glory to God. He achieved His task principally by the paschal mystery of His blessed passion, resurrection from the dead, and the glorious ascension, whereby “dying, he destroyed our death and, rising, he restored our life” [12]. For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth “the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church” [13].

Slavishly Literal Translation:

Heading One:

Concerning General Principles for Reforming/Restoring/Renewing and Cherishing/Promoting/Furthering the Sacred Liturgy

I. Concerning the nature of the Sacred Liturgy and its Import in the Church’s life

5. God, “who wills that all human beings be saved and come to the acknowledgment of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4], “speaking in various and multiple ways in the past to our fathers by the prophets” [Hebrews 1:1], when the fullness of time came, sent his Son, the Word made flesh, anointed by the Holy Spirit, for bringing good news to the poor, for healing the contrite of heart [cf. Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18], “fleshly and spiritual medicine” [St. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians 7:2], the Mediator between God and humanity [cf. 1 Timothy 2:5]. For his humanity, in the unity of the person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation. For in Christ “the perfect offering of our reconciliation came forth and the fullness of divine worship was bestowed upon us.” [Sacramentarium Veronense (Leonianum) (the Verona collection of libelli missarum): ed. C. MOHLBERG, Rome 1956, n. 1265, p. 162]

Moreover Christ fulfilled this work of human Redemption and perfect glorification of God, on which the divine great deeds among the people of the Old Testament shed a forelight, especially through the paschal mystery of his blessed Passion, of his Resurrection from the lower regions, and of his glorious Ascension, in which “by dying he destroyed our death and by rising he restored our life.” [Missale Romanum in use at the time of the Council: Paschal Preface] For from the side of Christ sleeping upon the cross arose the wondrous sacrament of the entire Church. [St. Augustine, Enarratio in Ps. CXXXVIII, 2 and the oration after the second reading of Holy Saturday in the Missale Romanum before the reform of Holy Week]

Articles 5 – 13 provide a general theological consideration of the nature of the liturgy and its efficacy (5-7 [10]) and its importance in the life of the Church (8-13). Article 5 announces the centrality of Christ in salvation history, foreshadowed in the history and prophetic ministry of the Jewish people and extended by the Church. I will quote here Cyprian Vagaggini’s commentary on a central theological concept in article 5 – the paschal mystery; as a peritus working on the document, his insights are, I believe, especially valuable in trying to determine what the Council Fathers intended:

“In order to understand what this paschal mystery means, the following have to be considered together as constituting the one process of salvation which God in fact willed in the historical order: 1) Christ freely taking on himself the passion and death willed by his Father satisfied for our sins, meriting that thence divine life should be communicated to us. 2) At the same time he merited for his own human nature through his glorification to conquer in himself death and the very form of a humbled servant which he had willingly assumed at the Incarnation as the consequences of sin. From that time forward in that same human nature (body included) he along could communicate to others the divine life of which he had the plenitude. He had indeed done this beforehand already in his mortal life but in the form of a servant and in view of his future passion and death. 3) Therefore from his resurrection onward the human nature of the glorified Christ, his body included, as an instrument of the Divinity in the perfect possession and the full glorious exercise of his rights, communicates without ceasing divine life to the world. In this manner he makes us ‘pass over,’ especially through the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, or he makes us always more ‘pass over’ from spiritual death to divine spiritual life and in principle also to physical life. So he makes us like to himself and in a way makes the whole world like to himself dying and rising until the process be completed in the glorious resurrection of our body and in the restoration of a new Heaven and a new Earth.” The Commentary on the Constitution and On the Instruction on the Sacred Liturgy (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1965) 64-65.

18 comments

  1. The theological formulations of this section of SC express in a wonderfully concise way the fundamental truth that it is by the liturgy that the Church anounces the mystery of salvation which is both in and through Christ. This is a truth that is so often overlooked, not least by pastors of the Church. Perhaps this explains why poor liturgy is often so readily accepted in our communities without serious concern.

    Many of the strategies proposed for the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith do not speak directly of the liturgy and this would seem to be a very serious oversight. Surely the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church must be seen as the primary instrument of evangelization precisely because of the primacy of the liturgy which SC establishes at its outset? This would then mean, by implication, that all liturgy is also essentially pastoral in character as it is so intimately and evidently concerned with the salvation of souls.

  2. I wonder how many people in their own personal data, offering clues, have or haven’t ever heard from the ambo or in catechesis the following:
    “3) Therefore from his resurrection onward the human nature of the glorified Christ, his body included, as an instrument of the Divinity in the perfect possession and the full glorious exercise of his rights, communicates without ceasing divine life to the world. In this manner he makes us ‘pass over,’ especially through the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, or he makes us always more ‘pass over’ from spiritual death to divine spiritual life and in principle also to physical life. So he makes us like to himself and in a way makes the whole world like to himself dying and rising until the process be completed in the glorious resurrection of our body and in the restoration of a new Heaven and a new Earth.”
    Does the art of celebrating the Sacred Mysteries offer any clues to the priest and congregation about this profound truth?
    I would have to agree with Fr. Wadsworth: “This is a truth that is so often overlooked, not least by pastors of the Church. Perhaps this explains why poor liturgy is often so readily accepted in our communities without serious concern. ”
    It seems to me that the problems of poor liturgy lie precisely in not only the art of celebrating and by this I mean both the clergy and laity, but also in banal, happy clappy music/instrumentation, vapid homilies, over-emphasis on the personality of the priest and his entertaining, engaging abilities as well as the congregation’s and overemphasis on the horizontal aspects of the Mass which are experiences best left to the social hall or the country club.

  3. Call me pedant if you like, but the quotation from Ignatius of Antioch doesn’t mean ‘bodily and spiritual medicine’ but ‘physician of the flesh and of the spirit’ – yet another example of the unreliability of the translations on the Vatican website.

  4. I appreciate this thought-provoking post. It is good to be reminded of the fundamentals which can be easily forgotten in the hustle and bustle of parish life.

  5. This is one of those passages that I have to read multiple times in order to grasp. The linguist in me is frustrated by the passive voice, and so simply following the lengthy, twisting passages requires that I focus carefully to follow the logic of the writers. The theologian in me accepts the lengthy, twisting passages as attempting to carefully lay out — in technical language — various doctrinal positions, anchored in ancient theological discussions and debates. The poet/preacher in me is taken by some of the imagery with which SC5 attempts to reach the broader church.

    Right now, it is the poet who speaks most clearly as I ponder this article, particularly this: “In Christ . . . the fullness of divine worship was given to us.”

    I find myself standing with Isaiah, as the seraphim around the throne sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” with the lintels shaking and the room filling with smoke. I find myself with John of Patmos, as the strains of “Worthy is the lamb!” fill the air. Following the tour of history and geography in Brian Wren’s Praying Twice, I find myself in ancient Roman households, newly-built medieval cathedrals, and modern worship spaces of all shapes and sizes. I find myself surrounded by German chorales, Latin chants, African call-and-response folk songs, and Asian hymnody.

    Worship is, says SC5, a gift of God. Like Christ himself, worship is the Word made flesh as the promises of God speak in our human voices and human actions. In its fullness, worship is a greater gift than we generally grasp, as we argue and debate, prescribe and proscribe how it is that we will worship. For it is in worship that we discover — more often see or admit or recognize elsewhere — that we are the very Body of Christ, announcing God’s love and grace to one another and to the world.

    The linguist in me can parse SC5 and the theologian in me can ponder, but it is the poet in me that is singing this morning.

  6. “The linguist in me can parse SC5 and the theologian in me can ponder, but it is the poet in me that is singing this morning.”

    This seems to me the perfect balance!

  7. “Perhaps this explains why poor liturgy is often so readily accepted in our communities without serious concern.”

    I think human beings trust the intellect more than they trust the poetry.

    For us to embrace liturgy as a prime tool for evangelization, we would have to lean on grace a bit more. The educational systems of the Church would seem to give a more sound footing for some–note the repeated times and places where the emphasis is on what is known and how these “facts” are transmitted. The English rendition of MR3 might be more of an offender in this regard than a supporter.

    Optimal liturgy draws in believers and seekers alike, beckoning people and drawing them closer. It makes them wonder in an uplifting way, not in an incomprehensible way.

  8. Whenever the sacred liturgy is celebrated well, the fruits of Christ’s saving death and resurrection are made manifest and accessible to those whose faith makes them ready to receive them. They needn’t trouble themselves with the kind of language with which bishops, theologians and liturgists have become comfortable. The disciples at Emmaus didn’t know anything about the paschal mystery, but their hearts were burning while he explained the scriptures to them and they experienced the grace of his death and rising when they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. We’re all so smart around here that we may have a tendency to forget that it is our task as disciples to make the grace of salvation available to people of every race, culture, gender, and level of intelligence. That’s why the rites were reformed……to make their meaning and significance more obvious. For the life of me, and I’m nearly 71, I cannot quite grasp why some still advocate for an unreformed rite which keeps the paschal mystery and its fruits obscured, hidden under the vail of a dead language, curious vesture, and an abundance of smoke. I can understand why some highly intelligent people prefer those rites based on their sophisticated understanding of theology, but for ordinary people? Don’t mean to offend. I am simply mystified.

  9. Re: Fr. Feehily’s comment at #9:
    Your comment certainly resonates with what at least some of the periti and the Council Fathers believed when they called for the reforming/restoring/renewing and cherishing/promoting/fostering the Liturgy. There was certainly a shift in liturgical catechesis which, prior to the Council, had sought to make the riches of the liturgy as it was celebrated available for the spiritual enrichment of the faithful especially through hand-missals, the dialogue Mass, assembly singing during the missa lecta, and commentaries such as that of Pius Parsch’s The Church’s Year of Grace or Gueranger’s The Liturgical Year. After the Council I think there was an initial hope that the reformed/restored/renewed rites would themselves communicate their spiritual content more clearly (without the veil of which you speak), but we have found that, even when/if they do, there is still a need for liturgical catechesis/formation. Part of our discussion might be to ask how much of that need stems from something missing in the reformation/restoration/renewal itself and how much from difficulties contemporary believers might have in engaging the symbolic/sacramental experience of the liturgy (a point Romano Guardini made in a famous letter to the German bishops’ conference in the 1960s).

  10. For the life of me, and I’m nearly 71, I cannot quite grasp why some still advocate for an unreformed rite which keeps the paschal mystery and its fruits obscured, hidden under the vail of a dead language, curious vesture, and an abundance of smoke. I can understand why some highly intelligent people prefer those rites based on their sophisticated understanding of theology, but for ordinary people? Don’t mean to offend. I am simply mystified.

    Father, a very well spoken, almost poetic post. As expected, we’re going to not agree because of the nuances of strategic words we use in the discussion. For example: * some still advocate. Many people are now advocating for the first time in their worship lives, including myself at 61. This doesn’t factor in for you?
    * unreformed rite which keeps the paschal mystery and its fruits obscured.. I believe that to say that after 7-7-07, that the 62 Missal hasn’t had portions that have indeed been mitigated. That’s a quibble, but the rite is ever-evolving, no? Isn’t the OF, itself, prima facie, evidence of same? And, again, per the discussion of Dcn. Bauerschmidt, is it possible your assessment of a mystery obscured results in cognitive dissonance in that the mystery could also be championed by those who find the mystery cognitively effective and enhanced?
    * …
    hidden under the vail (sic) of a dead language, curious vesture, and an abundance of smoke… I wonder how this sequence would play in our Eastern Rite Churches with their iconostases, even more elaborate vesture rich in tradition and iconography? And, if you pause to think about it, this whole series of posts by Fr. Joncas amounts to a distillation of a quite living language found in the most central of ecclesial documents, the one “catholic” language. And given the prominence of the symbolism linking prayer to incense, the diminution of your term seems somewhat…

  11. Per Fr. Joncas – “……something missing in the reformation/restoration/renewal itself and how much from difficulties contemporary believers might have in engaging the symbolic/sacramental experience of the liturgy (a point Romano Guardini made in a famous letter”

    Some thoughts:

    “The vast majority of people make choices more out of the myths they live than out of the abstract principles they have learned. That is why it is so essential to become aware of the stories we live, the larger stories which we daily tap into and which give us the real backdrop for our most personal choices, good or bad.” (Tad Guzie, The Book of Sacramental Basics.)

    “In many adult learning situations, we wish to do more than simply ‘hand out information.’ We want to shape attitudes, to challenge prejudices and faulty presuppositions. Often, however, these attitudes and prejudices lie in the unconscious. Often they are unexamined; yet carried as so much ‘baggage’ which influences the student’s judgments and conclusions. Story telling plays an important role in enabling the course to contact and shape the unconscious.”

    The iceberg metaphor also helps to explain in modern terms an aspect of the ancient philosophical axiom, “quidquid recepitur, ad modum recepientis recepitur” (Whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver). Psychologists tell us that “people receive new ideas only in terms of the ideas they already have.” For example, during a theology course the new ideas presented in the course are received by the students according to their “under the iceberg” previous theological understandings — not, as it would seem, according to the intention of the professor.

    At the time of the Second Vatican Council the Church in the Constitution on the Church and the Constitution on the Liturgy and other documents (myth) changed its self understanding from “institution” to “People of God” (mythos). This change in self-understanding demands a corresponding change in Church ritual.

    Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue, standing for Communion rather than kneeling, kneeling for the Eucharistic Prayer rather than standing, holding hands, or extending hands in the orans position rather than folded hands during the Lord’s Prayer, moving the tabernacle from the center of the high altar — these are not just changes, these are ritual changes. Kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, Kneeling for Communion, etc. one must know what the implications are when making ritual changes in these areas. When we discuss issues such as “hands during the Lord’s Prayer” (folded, holding hands, orans, etc.) we must realize we are not simply discussing an action, we are discussing a ritual action.

    Fr. Joncas – suggest that ritual and myth are very powerful. Changing ritual is felt differently by folks (some may intuit a threat and resist; others may intuit hope and welcome). Thus, I read Fr. Jack’s description and it resonates but find Mr. Cuthbert’s reply to be off putting and rude because it dismisses someone’s personal ritual.

    As you request, would posit that, in general, the Catholic Mythos changed due to VII; as did the ritual. The majority welcomed this mythic change but a small minority continues to resist. Yet, we know that an uninformed *mythic understanding* can eventually lead to ritual breakdowns. Thus, poor liturgy creates poor ritual and vis versa. Wonder if the liturgical mythos lost its priority in the 1980’s leading to a loss of focus; attention; education (both priests and parishes); and if the *liturgy wars* as manifested on the ground by changes in pastors & bishops; differing liturgical styles and principles of presiders; increased centralization of liturgical decisions such as SP, LA, ICEL, etc. haven’t created confusion.

  12. “The majority welcomed this mythic change but a small minority continues to resist.”

    This is true, and resonate beyond personal experience. Sociological studies since the 70’s, and polling among the laity as to the reverence in which they hold church leaders. It is not surprising that only ince in the last sixty years did the Catholic laity regard their institutions (bishops) more highly than our Protestant sisters and brothers regarded theirs–1975–and it;’s been all downhill since.

    I suspect that many Catholics were prepared for the next logical steps in the new mythos. But that didn’t happen in the 80’s, like it was aiming. I suspect that the hermeneutic of resistance (not rupture) began to take hold, and for the last thirty years has defined us Catholics. I think we are in the last gasp (I hope) of something like the post-conciliar Arian resistance. Rather than JPII and B16 being heretics (far from it, I think they’re just fearful) they’re at the forefront of a retreat from the important post-conciliar principles of evangelization, ecumenism, liturgical reform, and others. I do think we’ll see a thaw. I hope it’s not like the Catholic retreat from China in the early 17th century, however.

  13. The linguist in me can parse SC5 and the theologian in me can ponder, but it is the poet in me that is singing this morning.

    As Andrew Greeley has argued, religion works as poetry, i.e. that certain words and images combine with our experiences to create meaning.

    However the difficulty is that we all don’t like the same poetry, and hence the great arguments over music and translations. Many people want to impose their poetic tastes upon everyone else. And then people begin to substitute prosaic parsing and theological arguments for the liturgy.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #15:
      True.

      And yet, a generous spirit can acknowledge the quality of an aspect of liturgy even if it is not within one’s taste. For example, I know many people who love the smell of fresh-brewed coffee but don’t drink it themselves.

      If there is a basic commitment to quality and beauty, I think people can appreciate that aspect, even if it does not lie within a sphere of personal choice.

      Where the English translation of MR3 has run off the conciliar rails, is that it exemplifies an abandonment of spiritual discernment and trust: a closed and jealously guarded process that furthered the agenda of people who seem close-minded to the conciliar mythos. At worst, a wholly un-Christian and cynical effort, largely variant from SC 5.

  14. Fr Michael
    I agree with you and the comments above that this seems to be a well written paragraph. It seems to show how the earlier paragraphs were not so well written. We have long sentences that are a challenge to translate. We also have, it seems to me, a pushmepullyou approach. So paragraph 2 gives a series of contrasting views of the church (divine / human, present in the world / not at home there etc) and this perhaps starts the chain of reasoning that leads Fr Jack Feehily above to a view does not understand that of Charles Culbrerth above.
    I would cite the observation that paragraph 1 does not explain how the need to reform liturgy flows from the objectives set and paragraphs 3 and 4 indicates the need for non-Roman rites to be changed without indicating who is to do this. I think that later in SC we will find other paragraphs that are not clear and allow our readers to differ sharply on the correct meaning of the requirements. Indeed Paul VI, JPII and now BXVI have each felt it necessary to add teaching on the Eucharist and liturgy and had documents of instruction issued warning of dangers of abuse.
    With luck this reading SC slowly together will help us to a shared, and improved understanding and show my hypothesis is wrong. Do keep at it.
    Note: a pushmepullyou is an animal in the stories of Dr Dolittle that faces in two directions at the same time. Some of our readers may have missed reading this in their youth. It is not too late.

  15. ” Psychologists tell us that “people receive new ideas only in terms of the ideas they already have.” For example, during a theology course the new ideas presented in the course are received by the students according to their “under the iceberg” previous theological understandings — not, as it would seem, according to the intention of the professor.”

    This is very telling quote – it says (to me) that no matter what the document actually says about renewal/restoration etc…., or what words, with their many nuanced meanings were used or what the intentions of the Council Fathers were (and they were many and varied), the clergy and the faithful will receive these changes in the light of where they already are and in light of their current understanding of the liturgy and it’s purpose.
    We can readily see this in the opinions expressed thus far, not only in this thread, but in many of the threads posted. People can look at the same sentence or even phrase and tease different meanings from it, depending on where they are in their faith life, beliefs, intellectual life or personal tastes!

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