Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 41

Vatican website translation:

E) Promotion of Liturgical Life in Diocese and Parish
41. The bishop is to be considered as the high priest of his flock, from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent.
Therefore all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church; they must be convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full active participation of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers.

Latin text:

IV. De vita liturgica in dioecesi et in paroecia fovenda
41. Episcopus ut sacerdos magnus sui gregis habendus est, a quo vita suorum fidelium in Christo quodammodo derivatur et pendet.
Quare omnes vitam liturgicam dioeceseos circa Episcopum, praesertim in ecclesia cathedrali, maximi faciant oportet: sibi persuasum habentes praecipuam manifestationem Ecclesiae haberi in plenaria et actuosa participatione totius plebis sanctae Dei in iisdem celebrationibus liturgicis, praesertim in eadem Eucharistia, in una oratione, ad unum altare cui praeest Episcopus a suo presbyterio et ministris circumdatus.

Slavishly literal translation:

IV. Concerning fostering liturgical life in the diocese and the parish

41. The bishop is to be held as the high priest of his own flock, from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and [upon whom it] depends.

Thus it is proper for all to make of the greatest [estimation] the liturgical life of the diocese around the Bishop, especially in the cathedral church; holding themselves persuaded that the principal manifestation of the Church is held in the full and active participation of the entire holy people of God in these same liturgical celebrations, especially in the same Eucharist, in one prayer, at one altar, at which, surrounded by his presbyterate and ministers, the Bishop presides.

There seems to be a discrepancy between the Vatican website’s translation of the headings of Chapter One and the underlying Latin text. In the Latin text beginning at art. 21, Roman numeral three deals with the “instauratio” (renewal) of the Sacred Liturgy under four sub-headings: general norms (22-25), norms drawn from the communitarian and hierarchical nature of the Liturgy (26-32), norms drawn from the pastoral and teaching character of the Liturgy (33-36), and norms for adapting the Liturgy to the culture and traditions of peoples (37-40). Article 41 begins a new section devoted to the “fostering”(fovenda) of liturgical life (41-42) with Roman numeral four, but the Vatican website’s translation seems to place this segment as one more example of the renewal of the Sacred Liturgy. I think it should be clear that art. 21-40 provide the norms for renewing the Sacred Liturgy understood as a process involving the re-working of the liturgical books with their subsequent translation into the vernacular and adaptation to culture. Art. 41-42 provide guidance for fostering liturgical life by means of this renewed Liturgy.

Art. 41 makes a claim of great importance for the subsequent ecclesiology developed at Vatican II. A primary instantiation of the Church is found in the local diocesan church. The bishop (here presumably understood as the Ordinary of a diocese) presides over that local church, assisted by a college of presbyters (“presbyterio”) and a college of deacons (“ministri”). At liturgical gatherings, especially in the cathedral church and especially at Eucharist, the reality of the Church is powerfully actualized by the full and active participation of the baptized faithful, gathered with their bishop and their ordained clergy.

It may be of interest to the readers of Pray Tell to discuss in what sense(s) the Christian life of the faithful “derives from” and/or “depends upon” the ministry of the bishop. It may also be of interest to discuss how this model of episcopal-eucharistic ecclesiology finds confirmation and challenge in the other documents of Vatican II and how it has fared in the fifty years since Sacrosanctum Concilium was promulgated.


  1. One thing that springs to mind is the different attitudes that I find toward the Chrism Mass. Some clergy — and I seem to hear this from priesst more than deacons — see it as a burden, a kind of “command performance” that they go to, if they do go, so as not to incur the disfavor of the boss.

    On the other hand, many parishes bring their RCIA groups and they all seem to enjoy it very much. They find the sight of the clergy gathered with the bishop impressive in a good sense. Are they simply naive, or do they get something that some of the clergy miss?

  2. Sociologically there are really two churches in each diocese. The first is the church of the employees of the diocese (priests, religious, laity) along with the super-volunteers who spend enough time that they are actually like employees. I was part of this church in the 1980s when I was a voluntary member of a pastoral staff in a smaller diocese. We went to diocesan meetings. I served on a diocesan committee. I knew the Bishop personally. I took my mother to the Cathedral for the Chrism Mass.

    The other is the church of those who are not employees or super volunteers; I am now in this second category. Just being in a choir, or taking part of programs like Renew, or being a member of a pastoral council does not qualify people as super-volunteers. (However some people put enough of this together at the same time to become super-volunteers). In this large diocese I have never met the bishop, and only attended one Mass celebrated by the Bishop for an international conference. I have had very little contact with anyone downtown, or gone to many things sponsored by the diocese. The bishop simply isn’t a part of my life (as he isn’t part of the life of any of my relatives or neighbors, most of them don’t even know the name of their bishop and could not care less).

    For the last several years I have prayed for a new Pope and new Bishops rather than to continue praying for the pope and bishops. I did not give God any preference about how to find new people. Spiritual renewal is a perfectly acceptable way of getting a new person in my book.

    I am happy with the New Pope, but have decided not to resume praying for him by name. Francis has helped me be a little more specific about what a want in a New Pope and New Bishops, namely people who make the central Gospel values (love of God and love of neighbor with a preferential option for those who are most in need) at the center of their ministry to the church and the world. In other words the Pope and Bishops need to be good Christians first and foremost. So I have decided from now on just to pray for that and forget about who happens to be in office.

    I hope Francis keeps a loving and poor church that serves the poor at the center of his message. It would be far more helpful to my life than anything else that has come out of Rome or chancery offices.

    We need an ecclesiology that is more relevant to sociological realities, especially those of the vast majority of Catholics rather than just the employees.

  3. Fr. Joncas – found this article by John Thavis to be relevant to your questions:

    Relevant to the SC article:

    – “….focus on poverty and social justice issues, has launched a new phase of implementation of the Second Vatican Council.”
    – “….at the top are the problems of the Southern hemisphere”
    – “At the beginning of the last century, only a quarter of Catholics lived outside Europe; today only a quarter live in Europe and more than two-thirds of Catholics live in the Southern hemisphere, where the church is growing,”
    – “More collegial exercise of papal authority; not an exaggerated centralism…….bishop of Rome presides in charity – very important understanding for ecumenism, Orthodox, and the total church”
    – “Kasper said it was wrong to presume that “everything that happened after the council also happened because of the council,” and that the critics need to look more closely at more general social trends of that era”
    – “One reason Vatican II documents have “an enormous potential for conflict” is that compromise language was adopted on many crucial issues, opening the door to selective interpretation in one direction or another” (something Paul Inwood and awr constantly remind us)
    – “Vatican II teachings have given new impetus to life in dioceses, parishes and religious communities, especially through liturgical renewal, scripture study, etc.

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