Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 35

Vatican website translation:

35. That the intimate connection between words and rites may be apparent in the liturgy:

1) In sacred celebrations there is to be more reading from holy scripture, and it is to be more varied and suitable.

2) Because the sermon is part of the liturgical service, the best place for it is to be indicated even in the rubrics, as far as the nature of the rite will allow; the ministry of preaching is to be fulfilled with exactitude and fidelity. The sermon, moreover, should draw its content mainly from scriptural and liturgical sources, and its character should be that of a proclamation of God’s wonderful works in the history of salvation, the mystery of Christ, ever made present and active within us, especially in the celebration of the liturgy.

3) Instruction which is more explicitly liturgical should also be given in a variety of ways; if necessary, short directives to be spoken by the priest or proper minister should be provided within the rites themselves. But they should occur only at the more suitable moments, and be in prescribed or similar words.

4) Bible services should be encouraged, especially on the vigils of the more solemn feasts, on some weekdays in Advent and Lent, and on Sundays and feast days. They are particularly to be commended in places where no priest is available; when this is so, a deacon or some other person authorized by the bishop should preside over the celebration.

Latin text:

35. Ut clare appareat in Liturgia ritum et verbum intime coniungi:

1) In celebrationibus sacris abundantior, varior et aptior lectio sacrae Scripturae instauretur.

2) Locus aptior sermonis, utpote partis actionis liturgicae, prout ritus patitur, etiam in rubricis notetur; et fidelissime ac rite adimpleatur ministerium praedicationis. Haec vero imprimis ex fonte sacrae Scripturae et Liturgiae hauriatur, quasi annuntiatio mirabilium Dei in historia salutis seu mysterio Christi, quod in nobis praesens semper adest et operatur, praesertim in celebrationibus liturgicis.

3) Etiam catechesis directius liturgica omnibus modis inculcetur; et in ipsis ritibus, si necessariae sint, breves admonitiones, a sacerdote vel competenti ministro, opportunioribus tantum momentis, praescriptis vel similibus verbis, dicendae, praevideantur.

4) Foveatur sacra verbi Dei celebratio in solemniorum festorum pervigiliis, in aliquibus feriis Adventus et Quadragesimae, atque in dominicis et diebus festis, maxime in locis quae sacerdote carent: quo in casu celebrationem diaconus vel alius ab Episcopo delegatus dirigat.

Slavishly literal translation:

35. So that the intimate yoking of rite and word might clearly appear in the Liturgy:

1) In sacred celebrations, a more abundant, varied, and appropriate reading of sacred Scripture should be established.

2) A more appropriate place for the sermon, as part of the liturgical action, as far as the rite allows, should be noted even in the rubrics; and the ministry of preaching is to be fulfilled most faithfully and properly. In fact this [the sermon] should draw its source in first place from the font of sacred Scripture and the Liturgy, as if an announcement of the wonderful works of God in the history of salvation or in the mystery of Christ, which is always present and operative in us, especially in liturgical celebrations.

3) Also more directly liturgical catechesis should be effectively offered in a variety of ways; and in the rites themselves, if it should be necessary, short spoken admonitions should be provided for the priest or competent minister, at least at more opportune moments, in prescribed or similar words.

4) A sacred celebration of the word of God should be encouraged on the vigils of solemn feasts, on some weekdays in Advent and Lent, and on Sundays and feast day, especially in places that lack a priest: in which case a deacon or another person delegated by the Bishop oversees the celebration.

Continuing their discussion of the norms arising from the didactic and pastoral character of the Liturgy, the Council Fathers offer four directives in the reform of the liturgical books.

First, they call for a greater engagement with sacred Scripture in the reformed rites. The revision of the Roman Rite Lectionary for Mass from a one-year cycle to a three-year cycle for Sundays and solemnities and a two-year cycle for weekdays is perhaps the most obvious response to this directive, but in fact each of the reformed rites demonstrates a more expansive use of sacred scripture in the appointed lectionaries. Some Pray, Tell readers have already questioned the wisdom of this directive (or, while accepting the directive, have questioned the wisdom of how these lectionaries have been constructed and received) and may wish to offer their reflections here.

Second, they call for an expanded role for preaching in the reformed rites; they also offer guidelines both for the central sources (Scripture and Liturgy) and content (the mirabilia Dei) of such liturgical preaching. Pray, Tell readers might wish to discuss how effectively such preaching has marked Roman Rite worship in the last fifty years.

Third, in addition to liturgical catechesis outside the actual times of celebration, the Council Fathers indicate that the reformed rites should include “monitiones,” both to guarantee the good order of the rite and to offer some basic instruction to those gathered on the meaning of the rites. Pray, Tell readers might want to discuss the criteria by which such admonitions should be constructed and delivered and how they have assisted liturgical prayer (or not) over the last fifty years.

Finally, the Council Fathers encourage the development of celebrations of the Liturgy of the Word, distinct from the celebration of the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, or other sacramental activity. Perhaps one can deduce from the text that these “Bible Vigils” were intended primarily for mission situations in which no priest was available to celebrate the Eucharist, but that is not explicitly stated. I think it is fairly clear that this directive of the Council Fathers has not been “received” by the worshiping Church in the time since the Council. Pray Tell readers might want to discuss this situation and whether or not it would be of value to attempt to resurrect such celebrations of the Liturgy of the Word for the future.

12 comments

  1. I’ve got to say that I’ve never really gotten the whole “bible vigil” thing. Why no promote the Liturgy of the Hours instead? What advantage were these bible vigils supposed to have over the official liturgy of the Church?

    As to the three year lectionary — no complaints here. I think it is, on the whole, quite brilliant.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #1:

      Perhaps “bible vigil” is no longer the right term, but celebrations of the Word are very common: both in the formation of catechumens and in parish-wide catechesis preparing for the sacraments of penance, first communion and confirmation. I preside at a number of these celebrations each year in various parishes.

      Celebrations of the Word are also excellent opportunities for preaching by trained laypersons.

    2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #1:

      I have the reverse opinion to that of Fritz: The LOH was very poorly reformed for lay people, while Bible Services offer many advantages for developing a substitute for the LOH.

      Although I have prayed various forms of the Divine Office since late childhood, I have not used the current LOH or recommended its use until the advent of DivineOffice.org. With the web site I would recommend it to individuals and small groups as a way to follow the Divine Office easily without much hassle.

      The disadvantage of the LOH is that the readings are all in the Office of Readings and are arranged there more for personal reading of clergy than group or congregational prayer. The Anglican Model with two readings at Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Byzantine Model of multiple readings on feasts days at Vespers are much better. All these offices also follow much more the “cathedral” rather than the “monastic” model despite their greater use of scripture readings.

      My favorite Anglican service is that of Nine Lessons and Caroles for Christmas Eve and that seems to me the perfect model for Bible Services, i.e. alternating readings and hymns with prayers and litanies interwoven. (Perhaps only Six Lessons for 60 minutes)

      I would expand the “when no priest is available” from “deacons” to “lay ministers” and make these primarily services provided by laity for the community at large rather than just internally for Catholics, and make them the centerpieces of the New Evangelization.

      Like the Nine Lessons model I would have some hymns sung by the congregation, some familiar but difficult hymns by the choir, and some new hymns by the choir. It should be a place where people from the community come and sample the finest the parish has to offer musically.

      It should also be the place where through readings and prayers, the larger community can meet the lay leaders of the parish. I would avoid anything like a homily but would use brief commentary introducing the lessons and hymns as a way to feature the depth of lay talent we have in our parishes. Mormons who do a good job of making converts have shown that meeting people near one’s own level is the way to go

      In the Little Rock (LitPress) Parish Bible Study model I would replace the large group lecture or video once a week with a weekly Bible Service. The Little Rock Model also has 20 minutes of daily bible study along with a weekly small group meeting. I would provide a social hour after the Bible Service where bible study members, parish members, and community members can get to know each other and talk about the Bible Service and Bible Study.

      I found that many Catholics who have experienced Protestant Bible Study find the methodology of Little Rock and the use of lay facilitators a very valuable alternative. Pastors are the leaders of Bible Study in many of their churches. While they typically know their Bible much better than our clergy, it also becomes apparent that it is very much based on their opinion rather than on the more scholarly study of the Little Rock method which does not make the facilitators into experts. We do have a good Catholic alternative for Bible Study and we certainly have the musical heritage to construct some awesome Bible Services.

  2. I confess that I am somewhat baffled on the lack of comments made on article 34 and the present article.

    Perhaps the thread in which readers positioned themselves on a scale of attitudes toward the EF and the OF has made a discussion of the particulars of SC no longer of interest: the EF people simply doesn’t believe in what SC taught or believe that what it taught could be/should be implemented with little or no change in the received rites. The OF people are baffled that the EF folk could claim that their unreformed rites embody the reforms called for by SC since they perceive the EF as filled with “useless repetitions,” a paucity of proclaimed scripture, linguistic barriers to the full, conscious and active participation of the faithful, etc.

    Perhaps the conclave draws more interest.

    Perhaps the areas for discussion I have tried to provide for each article do not spark interest. If so, I will gladly cede this task to someone else. I could then conclude our article-by-article examination of SC with the end of Chapter One (art. 46). We would have examined the fundamental rationale and general norms articulated in the document. Someone else could take up guiding the discussion.

    A deeper question is: Has this experiment in trying to find common ground based in conversation on the text of SC failed?

    1. @Michael Joncas – comment #3:
      No Father, please keep at it. The need to see what the document says continues.
      Common ground may be hard to find. Teasing the meaning out of the document does not require agreement on how it should be followed.
      Readers may be silent for many reasons.
      Thank you for your efforts.

  3. One of the greatest aspects of the liturgical reform was the expansion and organization of the lections, which is not to say the organization would not benefit from further refinement. Traditionalism-oriented musicians gripe about the ruin of the cycle of propers, complaining that if we want more Scripture we should celebrate Matins/Office of Readings, but that’s the tail wagging the dog, most especially given that the Scripture portions in the propers were more form than substance in the actual experience of most pewsitters at most Masses.

    The goal of the homily has been a worthy one, but one that will take many more generations to achieve. Unfortunately, in newer priests I am witnessing a greater reliance on pious exhortation and catechetics of a formulaic RDA kind. Which is no better than the solipsism and egoism at the other end of bad homiletics (please, please, homilists, do not tell me (i) what a struggle you had coming up with a homily, and (ii) how you came up with your homily idea. The homily is NOT about you. Show, don’t tell.)

    * And even expansion: for example, including Joshua 3 in the Vigil of Easter or Pentecost rather than only being read in a feria once every other year…..

  4. No, Fr Michael, please don’t stop! This has been really fruitful for me. I will admit that since I neither remember the unreformed liturgy nor do I have an outcry of desire for the EF at the parish where I work, I can’t really compare pre- vs post-V2 liturgy. So sometimes it’s hard to come up with comments or questions. I actually appreciate that these threads have mostly been peaceful.

    As far as bible vigils, I have to agree that the purpose of them has been implemented pretty widely even if they don’t look like expected in the 60s. We include some sort of scripture reading and reflection in most parish gatherings. Sometimes it’s around a question of the week and the attendees discuss the scripture. Sometimes it looks like a liturgy of the word with either a clergyman or lay person offering reflection. But the point is that parishioners expect to hear something from the bible– often. And this has sparked interest in bible study and a desire to understand more. Or at least a feeling that, as a Catholic, you should want to know more even if you can’t or won’t.

  5. Fr Joncas

    Consider that weather may consume the attentions of folks in different regions. Please keep at it. Your series has been the best at PT.

  6. I am grateful for these responses. I had not thought of the toll that the weather might be taking on people’s energies. That may be because we Minnesotans tend to take 6 – 12 inches of snow in a single storm as closer to the norm than not :-). That doesn’t mean that we don’t pray for those whose lives are disrupted by such weather.

  7. “Has this experiment in trying to find common ground based in conversation on the text of SC failed?”
    I don’t think it has failed at all. As was stated earlier, the comments on these topics have been , for the most part, very civilized and helpful, as have been you suggestions as to where the discussion might go. I too do not frequent EF liturgies so I cannot really comment with any authority as to a comparison.
    But I have noticed that the topics that get the MOST comments are the one where the respondents are “drawing battle lines” so to speak. To use a sports analogy, it’s rather like a fight on a baseball diamond between 2 players and then the players from both teams all rush into the fray! Then the comments really pile up!!
    So please, let the discussion here continue, as it is a bright spot for me…
    I agree with Fr. Ron that Bible Vigils, under the name of “Liturgy of the Word” have flourished to an extent, but most folks still don’t think they have been to “church” unless they receive communion. In my parish, Evening Prayer and Liturgy of the Word have yet to get a large following.
    I also echo Karl in that the art of the homily needs yet to come into it’s own. I have heard some excellent ones, but I have also heard many more not!

  8. I have been studying SS for a class. I was completely stumped by 35. (2). Having been to many Tridentine masses, I have never perceived any indication that the priest didn’t know where [PLACE] in the liturgy the sermon fits in. I looked at the Latin, which didn’t do much for me. Then I looked at the German, which I am quite intuitive with, having spent a year there as an exchange student.

    >>Da die Predigt ein Teil der liturgischen Handlung ist, sollen auch die Rubriken ihr je nach der Eigenart des einzelnen Ritus einen passenden ORT zuweisen. <<

    Where Ort translates locus from the Latin into German. Now, in English, place is not always literal.
    'In the first PLACE, why are you using German?'
    'If you were in my PLACE, you would have consulted the German as well.'
    So I see 'place' in the English and think they mean the correct 'time place', the part of the Liturgy when the sermon is delivered. But in German, for those figurative senses, you would use 'Stelle'.
    'An Deiner Stelle wuerde ich Deutsch nie nachschlagen' (If I were in your place, I would never look up the German.)
    But Ort is syntactically equivalent to 'location' – appropriately, a term derived from locus. It ONLY means the literal ‘where’. Just like in English, you wouldn't say, 'If you were in my location, you would read the German translation.' That would be sheer nonsense.

    So: what did they actually mean? If the rubrics had not been mentioned in the very same sentence, the 'place' as in 'placement in the order of events' might be plausible. But the rubrics never lacked that detail, did they? Or did they? But if they meant 'place' as in 'importance of place', that wouldn't be in the rubrics, would it? The rubrics only tell the priest 'do the black, say the red.' They don't give him a hierarchy of priority, as if certain elements are optional – at least not with regard to the sermon – or do/did they indeed provide that?

    So then we are left with location…but that is also ridiculous. Is the priest required to preach from the pulpit only? And if so, it that actually *more* restrictive than the Extraordinary Form?

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