Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 16

After decreeing that teachers of liturgy in seminaries and their equivalents be appropriately prepared for their work in article 15, the Council Fathers in article 16 discuss the place that liturgical studies should occupy in these institutions of higher learning.

Vatican Website translation:

16. The study of sacred liturgy is to be ranked among the compulsory and major courses in seminaries and religious houses of studies; in theological faculties it is to rank among the principal courses. It is to be taught under its theological, historical, spiritual, pastoral, and juridical aspects. Moreover, other professors, while striving to expound the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation from the angle proper to each of their own subjects, must nevertheless do so in a way which will clearly bring out the connection between their subjects and the liturgy, as also the unity which underlies all priestly training. This consideration is especially important for professors of dogmatic, spiritual, and pastoral theology and for those of holy scripture.

Latin text:

16. Disciplina de sacra Liturgia in seminariis et studiorum domibus religiosis inter disciplinas necessarias et potiores, in facultatibus autem theologicis inter disciplinas principales est habenda, et sub aspectu cum theologico et historico, tum spirituali, pastorali et iuridico tradenda. Curent insuper aliarum disciplinarum magistri, imprimis theologiae dogmaticae, sacrae Scripturae, theologiae spiritualis et pastoralis ita, ex intrinsecis exigentiis proprii uniuscuiusque obiecti, mysterium Christi et historiam salutis excolere, ut exinde earum connexio cum Liturgia et unitas sacerdotalis institutionis aperte clarescant.

Slavishly literal translation:

16. The discipline of sacred Liturgy is to be held among the necessary and stronger disciplines in seminaries and religious houses of studies, and among the principal disciplines in theological faculties, to be treated under its theological and historical aspects, as well as its spiritual, pastoral and juridical [perspectives]. Teachers of other disciplines, especially of dogmatic theology, of sacred Scripture, of spiritual and pastoral theology, should take care, from the intrinsic exigencies proper to each subject, to expound the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation, so that the connection of each with the Liturgy and the unity of priestly instruction would clearly shine forth.


First of all, liturgy is to be ranked alongside other major disciplines in these institutions and not relegated to an auxiliary status. This does not mean that there must be an equal number of classroom hours devoted to liturgical studies as to the study of scripture, dogma, church history, etc., but that liturgical studies must be recognized as a significant component of a theological education.

Second, liturgical studies should encompass (at least) theological, historical, spiritual, pastoral, and juridical aspects. Thus students should become familiar with the sources and methods of liturgical theology, grounded in the axiom of Prosper of Aquitaine: “let the rule of praying establish the rule of believing.” They should be able to trace the history of the evolution of the various rites, perhaps with a special emphasis on their texts and ceremonies. They should be taught how to pray liturgically, so that their personal, group, devotional, and para-liturgical prayer might find its source and summit in the liturgy. They should be initiated into pastoral liturgy, learning how to wisely choose (in concert with others) the options proposed by the liturgical books best able to support the prayer of the particular community that is being served (and perhaps even learning how to critique these texts and ceremonies with a view toward the full, conscious and active participation of the faithful). Finally they should have a grasp of liturgical law, understanding what is demanded, permitted, untreated or forbidden in the legislation regulating the celebration of the liturgy.

Third, the Council Fathers propose that theological education, especially for seminarians, manifest a genuine unity founded in the exploration of the mystery of Christ and salvation history rather than simply present a random succession of self-contained topics taught only from disciplinary perspectives. They suggest that making explicit the connections between liturgical studies and the other theological disciplines may further the goal of a unified theological education.

Readers may want to discuss: 1) to what extent these conciliar decrees have been enacted in seminary curricula in the last 50 years (i.e., how have various territorial “Programs of Priestly Formation” integrated liturgical studies into the formal educational component of seminary life); 2) if there are omissions in the description of liturgical studies that may have come to light over the last 50 years that might be added (e.g., understanding of liturgical music, art, and architecture; engagement with social sciences to understand the sign systems being used); 3) to what extent this delineation of liturgical studies should guide the education of those outside of Orders who will have responsibility for guiding community prayer (e.g., lectors, acolytes, sacristans, directors of music, those responsible for the worship space and its artistic appointments) and, if so, how does this education take place.


  1. Father
    On question 2 I suspect that you have correctly identified a failing. The treasures inherited from the past seem to be insufficiently appreciated yet its value in teaching is great. The stories told in stained glass serve as aids to story telling for the simplest and for those more informed. Why, for example, is the story of the Good Samaritan in the same window as that of Adam and Eve?
    On question 3 it is possibly even more obvious that training is needed. So ofton one hears banal and badly chosen hymns chosen by choirmasters who are trying to help.
    Of course for this article, and article 15, the question is “Who are the experts to teach the teachers?”

  2. Well, I am surprised that no one has mentioned the fact that this paragraph has been routinely ignored in most seminaries over the past 50 years, despite the Plan for Priestly Formation and other documents subsequent to SC. The fact is that liturgy is manifestly not treated as an equal alongside other subjects of study. The amount of time it gets is derisory compared with the other major academic disciplines on offer in the course of seminary training. Typically a seminarian on a six-year programme will get one hour per week of liturgical history in Year 1, and an hour per week of practical instruction in Year 6. Nothing else. That is most certainly not putting liturgy on a par with other subjects.

    I recall that at one time, in addition to the usual academic liturgical studies, the Archdiocese of Chicago ran a liturgical practicum for all prospective priests towards the end of their time in seminary. This was a two-week intensive immersion in the practical aspects of liturgy. At the end of it, the students were examined, tested on their ability to preside effectively and their ability to preach. Failing this practicum meant quite simply that you didn’t get ordained. End of story. No argument.

    These days, I am sure that policy is no longer in place, but it has an analogy in medical training. No one would dream of licensing a doctor to practise if he was accomplished in all the specialized areas but had no real knowledge of basic anatomy. Liturgy is the “basic anatomy” of the ministry of a priest. To expect seminarians to pick up the art of presiding by watching seminary faculty is a policy doomed to failure. One sees generation after generation of priests who have modelled their presiding on what they have seen the seminary staff doing, and all the weaknesses and idiosyncracies are thereby perpetuated ad infinitum. In my opinion, all seminary faculty should undergo the same kind of practicum as Chicago used to have in place before they are allowed to preside at seminary liturgies.

  3. You are correct, Paul – implemented by Cdl Bernardin and in cooperation with LTP experts and in partnership with CTU, JSTU, etc.
    It was strongly supported by the Chicago pastors.

    Yes, dismissed years ago.

    My earlier comments on the prior article highlighted what you have stated.

    In addition and upon my own personal experience/reflection, it would have been extremely important if we had had input, profs who were lay for a different perspective (e.g. what would have happened if Rita Ferrone had been my prof or Paul Inwood?) No one responded to the difference between a prof educated in Rome vs. a prof with a PhD in Liturgy from Notre Dame, for example.
    The little liturgy taught today is also taught in a *bubble* – seminary profs who may have never had pastoral assignments or know only weekend warrior duty.
    If you only have a couple of courses over 4-6 years and a brief practicum at the end and the candidate decides to use his practicum time to prepare his First Mass as EF – he basically spends all of his time doing a *one time event* rather than learning basic liturgical leadership skills.
    Very few seminaries include any input from DMs active in parishes; there is little to no experience with parish liturgy committee; etc.

    The current model is very much *sink or swim* for the individual clerical candidate.

    Many seminaries today have moved internships to the mid or early years of graduate school – thus, you have seminarians in parishes but they are not deacons so fulfill the role of a glorified altar server – they can not preach; do sacraments; many are not EMs or even lectors. So, the goal or purpose is definitely not liturgical leadership in focus.

    Agree with your medical training comparison and would add that ordained clerics would benefit from some type of on-going certification that involves annual update trainings and exams with PIP feedback. This could replace the current *verbal* canon law game of episcopal permission via *faculties*.

  4. Re: Mr. Haydon’s comment at #1. I agree that “teaching the teachers” is a real concern for the on-going liturgical renewal/reform/restoration of the Roman Rite. I admire the bravery of the Council Fathers in calling for teaching liturgical studies from theological, historical, spiritual, pastoral, and juridical perspectives. To me, this suggests a team approach to such teaching, whether in the seminary or in other institutions of higher learning, since expertise in all of these areas is rarely found in a single person. (I hold advanced degrees in liturgical studies from Notre Dame University in Indiana [USA] and from the Pontificio Istituto Liturgico at the Ateneo S. Anselmo in Rome, but I’m very aware that my expertise is primarily in liturgical history [with a concentration in patristic and Carolingian period liturgical practices], liturgical theology, and social sciences applied to liturgical studies.) Fortunately I have always been able to preside and preach in a variety of liturgical settings so I have some grounding in pastoral liturgy, but I would never have the pastoral expertise of, e.g., my good friend, Maryknoll Fr. Joe McCabe, who taught and celebrated liturgy in Africa [Tanzania, if I remember correctly] and was then sent to pastor a community in Siberia, celebrating liturgy in a completely different language and ethos. As I grow older I hope I’m developing a deeper understanding of the spiritual dimensions of the liturgy, but I confess a lack of deep formation in the canonical dimension of liturgics, but again rejoice in friendships with such experts as Fr. Kevin Seasoltz, OSB, who can supplement my ignorance. So even though by training I would be qualified to teach in a seminary setting (and have) I would be much more valuable as part of a team of educators in liturgical studies.

    1. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #4:
      Thank you Father
      I know that the Latin Mass Society runs training courses for the EF and many of those who attend finds that it helps them with the OF. The FSSP also has training material.
      Possibly the perceived preferences of these two bodies is offputting to some who might appreciate the experience.
      May I offer the thought that there will be a time when the person is ready to learn. For some that may be a few years after ordination as the young priest becomes aware of the gaps in his understanding. So I think that Bill has a point there.

  5. Re: Bill de Haas’ comment at #3. One of the great maxims I learned from my teacher Ralph Keifer (a layman) at the University of Notre Dame back in the 1970s was “always try to approach your imaginative reconstruction of the liturgical experience from the point of view of the people in the pews (or for those architectural settings without pews, of those outside the presbyterium.)” Since so much of the surviving historical textual evidence concerns the minutiae of clerical and quasi-clerical liturgical activity, it was a salutary reminder to try to imagine how the liturgy was experienced by the various participants (e.g., Why is Tertullian as a layman so concerned about the “Amen” to the Eucharistic Prayer in his First Apology?). How wonderful it could be for our seminarians (and frankly for anyone who wishes to lead public worship in whatever capacity) to pray with communities employing other Catholic rites (here in the Twin Cities we are blessed with Byzantine, Ukrainian and Maronite Catholic communities), with the Roman Rite celebrating in EF and OF forms, with the Roman Rite OF form as inculturated by native American Catholics, Asian Catholics, Spanish-speaking Catholics, etc., from the point of view of the “person in the pew.” (Personally I would extend this to worship with, e.g., Mennonites and Quakers, Presbyterians and Baptists, Lutherans and Episcopalians, the Orthodox and the Armenians, but that would raise other issues.) Notice that this is not so much to form the seminarians in their leadership roles in a particular rite, but to give them a sense of the breadth of the liturgical traditions available to Catholicism (and to Christianity). I think it is quite possible to be suitably proud of one’s own heritage while deeply appreciative of the astonishing variety (Catholic) Christian worship has developed over the centuries. But I think the major problem is that there is so little time in the few years of seminary formation to do so much.

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