Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part IX

A multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.  We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part IX: General Principles of Reform …continued

So far the Council Fathers have taught that Liturgy is an expression of our theology and of our faith in Christ, as well as a means of encountering Him today. That’s why it’s important for us to participate fully — body and soul — in the Liturgy, especially the Mass, where we are nourished by the Word and the Eucharist to become evermore the Body of Christ, the Church.

It’s for this very reason that “Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the whole Church” (no. 26). No one can ever be refused attendance to any liturgical celebration (obviously except for cases of disturbance, safety, or sacrilege). That’s because Liturgy concerns “the whole Body of the Church” (no. 26): “the holy people united and arranged under their bishops” make visible the unity of the Church and, through Liturgy, build it up (no. 26).

That’s not to say that there is no room for ‘individuals’ in the Liturgy: we don’t participate as a mob. Rather, each one of us participates “in different ways, depending on [our holy] orders, [our] role in liturgical services, and [our] actual participation in them” (no. 26). And we are to “carry out all and only those parts which pertain to [our] office” (no. 27), “with the sincere piety and decorum demanded by [our office] and rightly expected of [us] by God’s people” (no. 28); this is an essential factor of active participation. But no special distinction is to be made as regards private persons other than what liturgical law states regarding Holy Orders, liturgical function, or civic honours; no one is to have, or be perceived as having, privilege in Liturgy (no. 32).

However, to properly carry out our offices and participate actively in the Liturgy, we must “be deeply imbued with the spirit of the Liturgy” (no. 29). We need to know more than just the external ‘rules’ of Liturgy; we need to understand the meaning, the theology, the symbolism, and the intentions behind these rules and the various actions and gestures we carry out. If we don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing, then we’re not participating actively, not engaging in the prayer and worship that is Liturgy.

With this in mind, the Constitution lists a few ‘tools’ to help build active participation: “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalms, antiphons, hymns, as well as by actions, gesture and bodily attitudes. And at the proper time a reverent silence should be observed” (no. 30).

Active participation is more than just being present in body and physically doing: we must also be present in mind and spirit, aware of what we’re saying and doing so as to do it with awareness and intentionality. (To be continued…)

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