Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 19

Vatican website translation:

19. With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally, taking into account their age and condition, their way of life, and standard of religious culture. By so doing, pastors will be fulfilling one of the chief duties of a faithful dispenser of the mysteries of God; and in this matter they must lead their flock not only in word but also by example.

Latin text:

19. Liturgicam institutionem necnon actuosam fidelium participationem, internam et externam, iuxta ipsorum aetatem, condicionem, vitae genus et religiosae culturae gradum, animarum pastores sedulo ac patienter prosequantur, unum e praecipuis fidelis mysteriorum Dei dispensatoris muneribus absolventes; et gregem suum hac in re non verbo tantum, sed etiam exemplo ducant.

Slavishly literal translation:

19. May pastors of souls diligently and patiently foster liturgical instruction as well as active internal and external [liturgical] participation/engagement of the faithful, according to their age, condition, style of life, and rank of religious culture, [thus] completing one of the foremost offices/tasks/duties of a faithful steward of the mysteries of God; and let them lead their flock in this matter not only by word but also by example.

Having considered in turn the liturgical education and formation of seminarians and their equivalents and of active clergy, the Council Fathers charge the clergy with the liturgical education and formation of the laity in article 19, a process that I have earlier entitled a “trickle-down” theory of liturgical formation. Note that they categorize “actuosa participatio” as having both external and internal components. They wisely remind pastors that there is no “one size fits all” liturgical education/formation program, but that initiatives in pastoral liturgy must take into account worshipers’ wide variety of educational backgrounds, interests and depth of catechesis/mystagogy. Finally they insist that pastoral liturgy will be ineffective if it remains a matter of “do as I say, not as I do” among the clergy.

Readers of Pray Tell might want to consider: 1) how effectively clergy have undertaken this liturgical education and formation task in the last fifty years, especially if there are any trends that can be recognized; 2) what means have been tried and found effective for such education and formation of the faithful and what means might be tried; 3) to what persons or institutions the clergy might delegate this responsibility (I think, for example, of the extraordinary work women religious did in liturgical education and formation of students in Catholic schools and what catechists have wrought, working in various settings); 4) what we might think the ideal and the minimum education/formation necessary might be for various categories of the faithful: general worshipers at various ages; singers and instrumentalists in church music ensembles/choirs; directors of music ministry; lectors/readers (those charged with the proclamation of God’s Word in liturgical settings); servers/acolytes; ministers of holy Communion; ushers/ministers of hospitality; those responsible for the visual adornment of the place(s) of worship; planning team members; parish liturgy committee members, etc.; 5) how this liturgical  education/formation can be best undertaken and achieved in today’s circumstances.


  1. My own impression, which I’ve heard echoed at various times, is that the generation of pastors and associate pastors who ran parishes at the time that the reformed liturgy was first introduced, were not particularly well prepared to lead it at a grass-roots level. My impression is that, over the years, priests who have had more recent seminary formation have gotten progressively better at promoting the liturgy.

    Whether some seminaries do a better job of this than others (both inside and outside the US), I’m not in a position to say.

  2. I couldn’t disagree more, Jim, because when I was ordained in ’73, everything in my seminary formation prepared me to devote myself to helping parishioners to participate in and offer the Mass. Priests ordained in the last 15 years include more than a few who appear to be trying to restore the priest to a position of superiority. Just my take.

  3. Jack, I’m glad to learn that your formation was good. But my own impression – which is simply that, my personal impression – of what happened in the early days of the reform was based on my own parish experience, which for the most part was not of newly-ordained priests whose formation was aligned to the reforms of Vatican II, but of parishes led by pastors whose own seminary formation was in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.

  4. Let’s be real — most Catholics aren’t going to come out for any “extra” sessions, so what they’re taught has to come at Sunday Mass. I think most priests are missing an opportunity to help people appreciate and participate in the liturgy because they preach only on the scripture readings. I sometimes read about a homily that draws on the collect, or the preface, or the eucharistic prayer, but I go to Mass a lot and I’ve never heard one. Help us see that their is so much that can be fruitful in the rest of the Mass, then maybe we won’t be tuning it all out. I don’t mean as a class in the middle of Mass, but as a homily, reflecting on the texts or the actions and showing how they make a difference in our lives.

    1. @Terri Miyamoto – comment #4:
      I wish that more sermons were on the readings rather than personal or public policy (political if you like) musings. I quite agree that the sermon is the main teaching opportunity and the newsletter, which may not be read, the second source. You are quite right that a comment on the proper prayers would be good to draw them to the attention of the people.
      The fact that not all will read material in the newsletter is no reason not to use it to have Mass notes explaining the prayers and hymns sung as well as supporting notes on the readings. Between that and explaining parts of the Mass and parts of the catechism there is no shortage of matter to report. A passing refeence in the sermon might encourage the people to read the newsletter even if that is in Mass. A sort of passive participation perhaps.

  5. Newsletter/bulletin articles are great. useful use them a lot – I have one whole page in the bulletin I have to fill up every week. There’s a mountain of material: articles, pamphlets, multi-part series… if I ordered just a sample of everything I’d be crowded out of my office. But I don’t see U.S. Catholics, having had access to all this, have for the most part benefited in their liturgical education. I agree with Peter, that a reference from the homilist might create more visibility.

    This, surely, is a fruit of the council, isn’t it — the widespread availability of well-written educational material aimed at the laity. I don’t remember the implementation of the reformed liturgy in the 60s and 70s, but my mother and others I’ve asked tell me they did not get material to help explain. Imagine that now! Think of the crates of pamphlets put out last year for the new missal — I wonder how much of a difference it made?

  6. There’s always the “You can lead a horse to water” problem. Can’t force-feed education. Pastors can make parishioners aware of what is offered to them and available. One thing some local priests are doing is sending out a weekly Constant Contact newsletter via that email “blast” system. Parishioners need to sign up for it, but once they do, they’re hearing from the pastor every week besides while they’re in church. A good teaching opportunity in addition to the homilies and bulletin articles. And, of course, classes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *