Pope Paul VI on Liturgical Reform: The Difficult, Complex Debates


Pope Paul VI will be beatified this coming Sunday. In coming days, Pray Tell is running statements from Paul VI on the liturgical reform carried out at his mandate after the Second Vatican Council.

On December 4, 1963, Paul VI addressed the Fathers of the Council at the conclusion of the second period. Below are a few excerpts from his remarks regarding the promulgation of the document on the liturgy.

The difficult, complex debates have had rich results. They have brought one topic to a conclusion, the sacred liturgy. Treated before all others, in a sense it has priority over all others for its intrinsic dignity and importance to the life of the Church and today we will solemnly promulgate the document on the liturgy. Our spirit, therefore, exults with true joy, for in the way things have gone we note respect for a right scale of values and duties. God must hold first place; prayer to him is our first duty. The liturgy is the first source of the divine communion in which God shares his own life with us. It is also the first school of the spiritual life. The liturgy is the first gift we must make for the Christian people united to us by faith and the fervor of their prayers. It is also a primary invitation to the human race, so that all may lift their now mute voices in blessed and genuine prayer and thus must experience that indescribable, regenerative power to be found when they join us proclaiming the praises of God and the hopes of the human heart through Christ and the Holy Spirit.


The first achievement of the Council must be treasured as something that will quicken and put its imprint on the life of the Church. The Church is above all a worshipping society, a praying community; it is a people alive with the purity of conscience and devotion to religion that faith and the gifts of grace vitalize. We are now in the process of simplifying the forms of worship so that they will be better understood by the faithful and better adapted to the language of our times. Still, the Council in no way intends thereby to lessen the importance of prayer, nor to subordinate it to other concerns of ministry or activity. Neither is there any intent to deprive liturgical prayer of its expressive power or ancient beauty. The purpose rather is to make the liturgy purer, truer to the marks of its own nature, closer to the sources of its truth and grace, readier to serve as a spiritual treasury for the faithful.

For the successful achievement of these goals it is our wish that no one violate the order of the Church’s public prayer by introducing personal innovations or ritual novelties. We want no one by usurpation to lay claim to the power of the Constitution being promulgated today; all must await the publication of the relevant and clear norms on the liturgy and the lawful approval of those changes that will be provided by the postconciliar commissions established for the purpose. Let this preeminent prayer of the Church, then, resound in harmony throughout the world; let no one distort or pervert it.

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