Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 79

Vatican website translation:

79. The sacramentals are to undergo a revision which takes into account the primary principle of enabling the faithful to participate intelligently, actively, and easily; the circumstances of our own days must also be considered. When rituals are revised, as laid down in Art. 63, new sacramentals may also be added as the need for these becomes apparent.
Reserved blessings shall be very few; reservations shall be in favor of bishops or ordinaries.
Let provision be made that some sacramentals, at least in special circumstances and at the discretion of the ordinary, may be administered by qualified lay persons.

Latin text:

79. Sacramentalia recognoscantur, ratione habita normae primariae de conscia, actuosa et facili participatione fidelium, et attentis nostrorum temporum necessitatibus. In Ritualibus recognoscendis ad normam art. 63, etiam nova Sacramentalia, prout necessitas expostulat, addi possunt.
Benedictiones reservatae perpaucae sint, et in favorem tantum Episcoporum vel Ordinariorum.
Provideatur ut quaedam Sacramentalia, saltem in specialibus rerum adiunctis et de iudicio Ordinarii, a laicis congruis qualitatibus praeditis, administrari possint.

Slavishly literal translation:

79. The sacramentals are to be revised, for the sake of holding them to the primary norm of conscious, active, and easy participation of the faithful and with the necessities of our time considered. In revising Rituals according to the norm of article 63, even new Sacramentals, insofar as necessity demands, can be added.

Let there be fewer reserved blessings, and in favor of Bishops or Ordinaries.

Let there be provisions made that certain Sacramentals, especially in those yoked to special circumstances and according to the judgment of the Ordinary, can be administered by lay people having the appropriate qualities spoken of before.

Having treated the revisions of the sacramental rites, the Council Fathers now turn to the reform of the sacramentals. They declare that not only in the ritual celebration of the sacraments, but also in the sacramentals (presumably understood as liturgical rites established by the Church whose effects occur ex opere operantis) a primary desideratum is the participation of the faithful. Instead of the usual adjectives modifying this participation – full, active, and conscious – we have a new triad containing two of the previous modifiers – conscious and active – with a new modifier – “easy.”

Those with access to sacristies built prior to the Second Vatican Council, may discover there a copy of a special indult by which Franciscans had the right to bless and erect one of the Sacramentals, the Stations of the Cross, in a given worship space. Similarly, Carmelites were authorized to bless and invest people with another sacramental, the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Council Fathers removed these permissions from religious orders and reserved the formal oversight of sacramentals to those who served the Church as bishops and ordinaries.

Finally, among the responsibilities an Ordinary has in overseeing the liturgical life of his diocese, is his decision whether or not to allow lay people administer particular sacramentals.

Readers of Pray Tell might want to discuss: 1) the prevalence of sacramentals in the worship life of Catholics fifty years after Sacrosanctum Concilium; 2) what new sacramentals might be proposed for use in various cultures (e.g., the burning of sweetgrass in certain Native American cultures); 3) any contemporary sacramentals that might violate the norm of “conscious, active and easy” participation by the faithful.


  1. I think it’s a reach to say that Sacrosanctum Concilium “The Council Fathers removed these permissions from religious orders and reserved the formal oversight of sacramentals to those who served the Church as bishops and ordinaries.”

    Inter oecumenici published by the Consilium on 26 September 1964 is what actually modified it. This occurred by mandate of the Holy Father and implemented only with His specific approval.

    They certainly did suggest few reserved blessings, but this was implemented by the Holy Father, NOT the Council Fathers. Furthermore, they were also speaking about reserved blessings to the Bishop, not just the orders.

    Relevant text:


    76. For the blessing of candles on 2 February and of ashes on Ash Wednesday just one of the prayers for these in the Missale Romanum suffices.

    77. The blessings in the Rituale Romanum tit. IX, cap. 9, 10, 11, hitherto reserved, may be given by any priest, except for: the blessing of a bell for the use of a blessed church or oratory (cap. 9, no. 11); the blessing of the cornerstone of a church (cap. 9, no. 16); the blessing of a new church or public oratory (cap. 9, no. 17); the blessing of an antemensium (cap. 9, no. 21); the blessing of a new cemetery (cap. 9, no. 22); papal blessings (cap. 10, nos. 1-3); the blessing and erection of the stations of the cross (cap. 11, no. 1). reserved to the bishop.

    This Instruction was prepared by the Consilium by mandate of Pope Paul VI, and presented to the Pope by Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, President of the Consilium. After having carefully considered the Instruction, in consultation with the Consilium and the Congregation of Rites, Pope Paul in an audience granted to Cardinal Arcadio Maria Larraona, Prefect of the Congregation of Rites, gave it specific approval as a whole and in its parts, confirmed it by his authority, and ordered it to be published and faithfully observed by all concerned, beginning on the first Sunday of Lent, March 7, 1965. –

  2. Excellent point, though one should point out that Universe Ecclesiae modifies this by demanding adherence to the law in effect in 1962 should one be using these for those attached to the Sacraments in the older rite.

  3. Did the Second Vatican Council order a changing of the sacramental formulas to exclude the blessing of the object used in the sacramental, as is found in the new book of blessings? If not, where did this come from? And doesn’t it change the substance of what sacramentals were believed to be prior to the 20th Century? It seems to me like the Council Fathers wanted to keep the sacramentals and even create more; not abolish them as they were before. What say you?

  4. I really am not one to gripe about the post-Conciliar liturgical revisions, but I’ve got to say that I find the Book of Blessings to be on the whole awful. It seems to be one of the most ideologically driven of the revisions–i.e. rather than respecting how people and objects were blessed in the past, it is dominated by the idée fixe that one should never bless an object, but only ask for blessings to be bestowed on the person or people who uses the object. I’m sure that those who hold this theory have fine reasons for doing so, but I am also pretty sure that liturgical revision should not be dominated by someone’s theory.

    It’s almost enough to make me use the phrase “organic development.”

  5. The Book of Blessings is filled almost entirely with invocative blessings – omitting almost all constitutive blessings entirely.

    Though, ironically, I think they left the blessing of a wedding ring alone and it is still a constitutive one.

    I think Fritz pegs it here.

  6. Thanks to all for their clarifications, especially those of Mr. Orbitz.

    In my defense, however, I’d point out that when I identify the work of the Council Fathers in revising some liturgical usage, I use it as shorthand to point to the process they initiated that culminates in documents of authorization. So I have said in earlier posts that the Council Fathers authorized modifications in the Roman Rite Order of Mass, knowing full well that those actual modifications resulted from the work of the Consilium and the Congregation of Rites, that Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution “Missale Romanum” authorized the document presented to him, including a change in the verbiage of the institution narrative, and that the Congregation for Divine Worship promulgated the document.

    As I read the text of SC 79, the Council Fathers 1) called for the revision of the “sacramentals” section of the Roman Ritual; 2) requested that all revisions of this section be done so that “conscious, active and easy” participation by the faithful could take place; 3) made room for new sacramentals to be developed and take their place in particular Rituals; 4) sought that the number of reserved blessings be reduced; 5) directed that reserved blessings be associated more with bishops/ordinaries than with (unnamed) other ecclesial persons or institutions; 6) and indicated that the right to administer certain sacramentals be extended to designated lay people.

    My questions centered on HOW the Council Fathers’ intentions were embodied and the wisdom of that embodiment fifty years after SC was promulgated, in the opinion of Pray Tell’s readers.

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