Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 61

Vatican Website Translation:

61. Thus, for well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.

Latin text:

61. Itaque liturgia Sacramentorum et Sacramentalium id efficit ut fidelibus bene dispositis omnis fere eventus vitae sanctificetur gratia divina manante ex mysterio paschali Passionis, Mortis et Resurrectionis Christi, a quo omnia Sacramenta et Sacramentalia suam virtutem derivant; nullusque paene rerum materialium usus honestus ad finem hominem sanctificandi Deumque laudandi dirigi non possit.

Slavishly literal translation:

61. And so, the liturgy of the Sacraments and of the Sacramentals causes the effect that to the well-disposed faithful nearly every event of life might be sanctified by the divine grace pouring from the paschal mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, from which all Sacraments and Sacramentals derive their power; and there is almost no appropriate use of material things that cannot be directed to the end of sanctifying human beings and of praising God.

 

Having provided a concise theological vision of the sacraments in art. 59 and of the sacramentals in art. 60, the Council Fathers now assert that the liturgical celebration of sacraments and sacramentals is oriented toward making all aspects of human life holy insofar as the faithful do not place an obstacle to the proper grace-giving properties of the celebration.

Perhaps the most important assertion in the article is the claim that the Sacraments and Sacramentals draw their (spiritual) power from the Paschal Mystery, here described as the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, although in other contexts this mystery may also be described as comprising the Ascension and Sending of the Holy Spirit as well.

The final sentence of the article exhibits what might be called a Catholic “sacramental sensibility” concerning the world of space and time humans inhabit. (We should notice that a classical taxonomy of the liturgy includes the Liturgy of the Hours with its sanctification of time in addition to the Sacraments and Sacramentals in their sanctification of space/matter. Both sign-systems, obviously, involve the sanctification of human life.) Concluding this sentence is a reminiscence of the purpose of the liturgy as found in Tra le sollecitudini: “the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful” which has already been alluded to in art. 7.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss how effectively the insights and claims of this article have been communicated to the faithful, what implications they have for the proper celebration of the Sacraments and Sacramentals, or how they have been received in ecumenical conversation.

7 comments

  1. Is it this understanding – the sanctification of human life – that has given us the Book of Blessings, where often, although the title is the blessing of an object, the words actually bless the people using or benefiting from the object? I’m not sure this is well communicated to many Catholics. There seems to be a sense that a rosary is holy, or a cross is holy; or that a car or house is protected by a blessing, but I often hear a sense of objectifying such blessings. Maybe more in the sense of being consumers, rather than people who will be changed by them.

    Hmmm, I may be coming up with the subject of my next bulletin article.

  2. This extract from the message of Bishop Egan of Portsmouth on the Synod in Rome suggests that the insights and claims of article 61 have not been very well received. The story may be similar elsewhere. Here are figures.
    “My first hope for this Synod is that it will help our diocese towards a renewed appreciation of the demanding yet beautiful vision of marriage and family life that the Church presents us with. This is so evidently necessary today. Over the last fifty years, marriage, in which one man and one woman commit themselves to each other in life and love, ‘til death do us part’, has declined in our society while cohabitation has rapidly become the norm. In the Diocese of Portsmouth, for instance, in 1962 there were 1319 marriages, but in 2012, 566, and this, despite the fact that the estimated Catholic population of our diocese rose by 25%. We need to ask: How might we educate, form and support Catholics to embrace with joy the Church’s vision and to put it into practice?”

    1. @Peter Haydon – comment #2:
      Better positive examples, and more public support for this from bishops and priests. A good start would be to affirm, and in some parishes expand, the sacramental celebrations at Sunday Mass. Baptisms, yes, but even weddings.

      There’s also the opportunity when unmarried couples bring their children for baptism.

      And speaking of baptism, for those outside of Mass providing a good music ministry on a consistent basis. The institution has been concerned (and rightly so in some quarters) about the “correct” formula. Not so much concern for transforming a Sunday afternoon ceremony conducted by a tired cleric into a real expression of ars celebrandi.

      In one parish I served, I made a point of recruiting an accompanist and cantor for every baptism outside of Mass. I enjoyed playing many of them myself. I was touched (not by the gift) when a grandfather stuffed two $20 bills in my hand and offered an emotional thank-you for helping to make the liturgy special.

      Another pastor scheduled baptisms on the half-hour Saturday mornings (“No music, please.”), sometimes as many as four. What kind of liturgy seems to have the better hope of opening hearts of faith?

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #4:
        Thank you Todd.
        Our parish priest pointed out that most people like their spouse to be faithful to them. This accords with Christian teaching. It seems to me worth stressing that Christian ideals are worth seeking and need not be denigrated.
        As you say there may well be advantage in the clergy reflecting how important some of these private ceremonies are to the participants. Taking as an example a baptism it is a chance for all concerned to show acceptance of the new member of the family.

  3. The paschal mystery does include the Ascension and Pentecost, as evidenced by the structure of the liturgical year celebration of Lent-Easter.

  4. Fr. Joncas – haven’t thought this out completely but wonder if we need to focus on *communal actions* as the heart of article 61 – thus, moving away from an over-emphasis on *objects* or the prior thinking that *sacraments* were objects that delivered grace if certain requirements were met.
    Thus, this approach underlines a community approach to have most (if not all sacraments) celebrated by the local community (rather than a single family or even a small group of families). So, have experienced baptisms during Sunday community eucharist that resonate well with the local community (so much so, that the majority of baptisms were done during the eucharist vs. a decision for Sunday afternoon scheduled monthly). Weddings do seem to be the exception – one really has to underline/emphasize that the families present for this couple are the community (although our bilingual mass is the usual setting for marriage of older couples who have been together for years and the community welcomes this). This also gets into other debates around 1st communion (by family, class, separate catholic school vs. CCD, penance required before 1st communion; age for confirmation – is it really just a stage by age?)

    Some other points – find that lots of ROTR misses the complete paschal mystery….rather, focuses only on passion/death esp. eucharistic theology; same with reason for baptism (removal of sin only) or they limit sacraments as to God only rather than both/and (community of the faithful).

    In terms of the fuller approach to space/time/human behaviors/actions – not sure that parishes or even dioceses think in these terms yet. Too often we seem to hit upon *themes* rather than starting with basic human life and its stages, meanings?

    Just some random thoughts – others obviously have picked up on other aspects of article 61.

  5. The Paschal Mystery includes the burial of Christ, as evidenced by one of its earliest expressions in 1 Cor 15. And by the Triduum dedicating one of the three days to the time when Jesus was in the tomb.

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