Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 47

The comments Pray Tell readers offers assessing our article-by-article reading of Chapter One of Sacrosanctum Concilium were not numerous, but I took from them the following conclusions:

1) that at least some readers would like the series to continue
2) that having the Latin text and at least one English translation should continue
3) that Jonathan Day might be called on to offer a “slavishly literal translation” of the Latin text (if he is interested in doing so, I’d invite him to contact me directly so we could discuss the practical ways in which this could be done)
4) that offering background information on the text as it was formulated for and by the Council Fathers is helpful
5) that offering some questions to trigger blog conversation is also helpful, although I should not be surprised if no one addresses them or if the discussion goes in other directions
6) that the articles should be posted more rarely (and therefore I’ll try once a week for Chapter Two)

We now begin our article-by-article reading of Chapter Two of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Vatican website translation:


47. At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.

Latin text:


47. Salvator noster, in Cena novissima, qua nocte tradebatur, Sacrificium Eucharisticum Corporis et Sanguinis sui instituit, quo Sacrificium Crucis in saecula, donec veniret, perpetuaret atque adeo Ecclesiae dilectae Sponsae memoriale concrederet Mortis et Resurrectionis suae: sacramentum pietatis, signum unitatis, vinculum caritatis, convivium paschale, “in quo Christus sumitur, mens impletur gratia et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur”.

Slavishly literal translation:

Chapter Two: Concerning the Most Holy Mystery of the Eucharist

47. Our Savior, at the Last Supper, on the night when he was handed over, instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his own Body and Blood, by which he would perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross through the ages until he should come [again], and so would consign to the Church, his beloved Spouse, the memorial of his Death and Resurrection: the sacrament of devotion, the sign of unity, the bond of charity, the paschal banquet, “in church Christ is consumed, the soul is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” [Roman Breviary in use at the time of the Council, On the Feast of the Most Holy Body of Christ, at Second Vespers, the antiphon for the Magnificat].

Having completed their articulation of the general principles underlying the restoration/reforming/renewal (instaurandam) and promoting/cherishing/fostering (fovendam) of the sacred liturgy, the Council Fathers now turn their attention to particular areas of liturgical reform. They begin with the celebrational forms of the Eucharist. As is the pattern in other parts of the document, they first offer a succinct doctrinal prelude (arts. 47-49) as foundation for their practical decrees (arts. 50-58).

Article 47 proclaims a Catholic understanding of the foundation of the sacrament of the Eucharist as a divine act (“Our Savior…instituted”) and therefore strictly sacramental; it emphasizes (without attempting to explain) the connection between Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Sacrifice of the Cross; it declares that the Eucharist is entrusted to the Church (without articulating the means by which that consignment is enacted); it acknowledges the Eucharist as a memorial of the Paschal Mystery (without attempting to explain the notion of zikkaron/anamnesis); it quotes St. Augustine in a series of appositive phrases highlighting different aspects of the Eucharistic mystery; and it concludes with a truncated citation of the prose text of “O Sacrum Convivium” ascribed to St. Thomas Aquinas.

Pray Tell readers will immediately recognize how dense yet balanced this paragraph is. It clearly confirms some of the theological reflection on the eucharist that had graced the late 19th and early 20th centuries: conceiving the Church as Grund-Sakrament, the development of a “theology of the mysteries,” the biblical movement presenting Jewish notions of liturgical memorial and how they impact Christian sacramental anamnesis, the patristic movement recovering multiple metaphors for the Eucharistic mystery. We might want to discuss: 1) how effectively have these foundational insights taken root among Catholic believers? 2) what ecumenical fruit have these insights borne? 3) what further developments in Eucharistic theology have taken place since the Council that we need to be aware of?


  1. How effectively have these foundational insights taken root among Catholic believers?

    In the suburban parishes where I have ministered and/or attended, attendance at parish-sponsored sporting events is often double or triple that of Sunday Mass. We all know the statistics: of self-identified Catholics 1/3 attend Mass never or rarely, 1/3 a few times a year (C&E, baptisms, weddings, funerals) and 1/3 with some regularity. That’s to say nothing of those millions who were once Catholic and have left the church. When I candidly asked one of our second grade parish school classes how many of them had been to a weekend Mass between Christmas and Easter, more than half had not.

    Among the people who do attend Mass regularly, I’d estimate that 10% would have any substantial understanding of words like sacrifice, memorial, paschal banquet, and grace. They may or may not ever hear such words spoken in a homily, and only a tiny minority of dedicated churchgoers attend adult faith formation events or actively pursue any formational reading. Social and devotional gatherings, perhaps, but not likely anything where they’d hear words like sacrifice or memorial.

    Beautiful theological writings like this are of tremendous benefit to a handful of the faithful. But if you are asking about the average Catholic, not so much. Despite all of this, I am very optimistic and filled with hope for latent potential of the church–with a strong dose of reality for just how far we have to go.

  2. I agree with Scott: yet this paragraph seems to set out much the same as in my “penny” catechism 266 – 280.
    Perhaps in a desire to present anew the faith after the council the truth set out here was not taught to children as well as it should have been.
    As Fr Michael says the reasoning is not given. Perhaps this is wise as it would be open to challenge. Ultimately it is a matter of faith though reason may help us gain some understanding.

  3. I think that part of the problem Scott articulates, and I surely see the same here in Staten Island, is that homilists are so irrevocably wedded to preaching on the readings of the day. When do we in the pews hear the concepts presented here? Most of us are not going to adult faith sessions, few are reading about the Mass — because our hearts have not been touched by those preaching to us, letting us know we can find “a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”

    I wish that there were more preaching on the liturgy itself, as is permitted. Maybe that would help some of these “foundational aspects take root among Catholic believers.”

    1. @Terri Miyamoto – comment #3:
      Not only more preaching on the liturgy, but a concerted effort by pastors and parish leadership to show by example, the all-fired importance of the Paschal Mystery. Are parish sporting events scheduled on Saturday evenings and Sundays? During the Paschal Triduum?

      I had no problem living in an NFL city where 78,000 people tailgated and enjoyed a pro football game. Or that liturgical ministers might realign their Sundays to enjoy the festivities. Are they able to bring this reality of Christ where their friends are? Do we leaders expect and encourage that, and provide the tools–not just the inspired teaching for it?

      And importantly for churchfolk, are we able to communicate Christ by a positive attitude toward the cultural challenges of the day, showing in a gentle yet insistent way that Christ is indeed the path? Before I criticize the fun, I want to look at my own example and ask, “Did this show Christ most fully as I’m capable?”

  4. Terri, the same situation that Scott outlined (and the rest of us bemoan) certainly exists here in RI. Your observations on the homily certainly exist also. (although a homily, by definition, is breaking open the Scriptures of the day)
    As a musician, I find that sometimes these terms are brought to the attention of the assembly in the texts of the hymns and songs prayed at the liturgy. Michael himself has a beautiful piece called “Sacrifice of Praise” (“One people at Your altar offer sacrifice of praise”) There are others, but that is all I have time for right now. This is but one reason why our job as pastoral musicians is of great importance.

    1. @Linda Reid – comment #4:
      A homily, by definition, is not limited to the scriptures of the day. The GIRM #65 describes a homily as “an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day.” Universally when I bring this to the attention of clergy, they are surprised that they could choose to preach on some other Mass text, and that they were never taught this in seminary. I have yet to hear this happen in regular parish life. I would think that if we truly valued the Mass, we would be hearing more about it at the one time most parishioners are present.

      Note that I am not talking about turning Mass into a liturgy class, but reflection on the texts and actions in a reflective, mystagogical way.

      1. @Terri Miyamoto – comment #5:

        I think it is important to emphazise that the readings are the primary source of the homily. The GIRM paragraph #65 that you quote describes the homily as an exposition of some aspect of the readings OR another text from the ordinary or proper of the mass of the day. This seems to allow for the possibility that the readings might not be a source of the homily at all.

        The USCCB document “Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily” would seem to contradict this and place the scripture as the basis for the homily and allows for using other texts to illustrate the biblical message:

        “A proper focus on the Lectionary readings as the prime source of the homily does not in any way preclude the homilist’s illustrating the implications of the biblical message also through reference to the orations of the particular Sunday liturgy, to elements of the Creed, to the Eucharistic Prayer, or to Church teaching found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or other Church documents.” P.18, qouting: See Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 52; Dei Verbum, no. 24; CIC, c. 768; and CCEO, c. 616.

  5. Dear Friends, In the light of the above discussion I would like to call Pray, Tell readers attention to “We Preach Christ Crucified: A Conference on Catholic Preaching” sponsored by the John S. Marten Program for Homiletics and Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame and held there 25-27 June 2012. Video recordings of the five keynotes, 16 workshops and two homilies are available on YouTube by entering “Notre Dame preaching conference” in the search line. A book containing this material edited by Fr. Michael E. Connors, C.S.C., the director of the program, is presently in preparation by the Liturgical Press.
    I mention this because I gave one of the workshops entitled “Preaching From and For the Liturgy” which attempted to explore somewhat practically what catechetical and mystagogical preaching from the texts and gestures of the liturgy might involve.

    1. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #9:
      Thanks, reviewed a few so far. Yet, may I suggest that your post questions:

      “We might want to discuss: 1) how effectively have these foundational insights taken root among Catholic believers? 2) what ecumenical fruit have these insights borne? 3) what further developments in Eucharistic theology have taken place since the Council that we need to be aware of?”

      were redirected fairly quickly by the commenters and have focused on homily – readings/liturgy; is it either/or….both/and; etc.

      Different perspective from your post questions:
      – euchrist and foundational insights…..what about the shift from clerical, latin, purely sacrifice, minimal participation to communtiies that understand and celebrate eucharist as a communal meal marked by active participation in song, chant, breaking/sharing under both forms; use of well trained ministers/lectors/music leaders. These communities value and understand that eucharist is the center and where the church gathers; understands and celebrates, at times, baptism, confirmation, sacrament of the sick, RCIA, children’s liturgies, use of the comprhensive options in the sacramentary. (Given this, can we really go back to a church of the EF?)
      – there are parishes that continue to celebrate Christian Unity – boards of churches that share and organize social outreach; some unity prayer opportunties, study, etc. Better ways to prepare folks for marriage with different faiths.
      – the three year lectionary and RCIA has impacted parishes – this may not be to the degree and depth that some want but, in an unreflective way, it has marked our catholic communties.

    2. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #9:
      Thank you for that reference. The talk is wonderful!! As you pointed out, it addresses the comments seen here. I would love to point my pastor toward it, but one has to be so careful about these things. I don’t want to insult him or make him think his homilies are not good!
      I think the point I was making was aligned with your suggestion about preaching on the chants/hymns.
      I would heartily recommend taking the 56 minutes to listen to this presentation! I found it enlightening and inspiring.

    3. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #9:
      Fr. Joncas,
      Thanks for directing us to the conference and your talk. I didn’t view all of the presentations. I noticed that the document Fullfilled in Your Hearing was addressed in one or more of the presentations. Was there any attention paid to the new USCCB document “Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily”? Are you really suggesting that there can be a homily without any reference to the scripture readings-at all?

  6. Thanks for the responses from those who chose to view the materials from the 2012 preaching conference.
    Re: comment #12: While some attention was paid to “Preaching the Mystery of Faith,” it appears that it will be discussed even more in the 2014 ND conference on “Preaching and the New Evangelization” (
    Re: my talk at the 2012 conference: Remember that I said at the beginning of the talk that I was a substitute for my friend, Fr. Ed Foley, whose provocative title was “Preaching Without Scripture.” I deliberately chose to change the title for my presentation to “Preaching From and For the Liturgy, because I believe it is nearly impossible in a liturgical context NOT to be influenced by the scriptures proclaimed when engaged in the preaching event. The central focus of that liturgical preaching, however, may on occasion (as the documents suggest) be on the texts and gestures of the liturgy itself or on the event being celebrated (e.g., preaching about the life of a saint on his/her feast day); this doesn’t mean that one ignores the scriptures, but that the focus of the preaching as a proclamation of God’s action in our lives for which we (at Eucharist) give praise and thanksgiving may be predominantly elsewhere.

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