Category Archives: Liturgy

Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XXVII (Final)

This is 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 XXVII: Chapter VII: Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings, continued

Abbey church of Westminster Abbey, Mission, BC.

Abbey church of Westminster Abbey, Mission, BC.

Sacred art — music, architecture, paintings, furniture, etc. — isn’t for it’s own sake; it’s always subservient to the Liturgy and to the Faith. It’s purpose is to help us enter more deeply into prayer, to raise our hearts and minds to contemplate the mysteries of God, and to teach us about the Faith. Hence, the nature and purpose of the Liturgy is the measure by which any work of art is evaluated in order to be called ‘sacred’.

These works of art should seek for noble simplicity rather than sumptuous display (no. 124). As the current General Instruction for the Roman Missal explains, the nobility and beauty of vestments, furnishings and art are found more in the quality of their materials and construction than in their outward decoration (see no. 344). The sacredness of these objects comes from their use, not their beauty or value. Nevertheless, these objects should reflect the beauty and value of the sacred actions for which they are used.

Therefore, the laws that govern the provision of material things involved in sacred worship are to be revised (no. 128). Especially those that refer to the worthy and well planned construction of sacred buildings, the shape and construction of altars, the nobility, placing, and safety of the eucharistic tabernacle, the dignity and suitability of the baptistery, the proper ordering of sacred images, embellishments, and vestments (no. 128).

The Council Fathers also insisted that the use of sacred images in churches for the veneration of the faithful be maintained, but that their number should be moderate and their relative positions should reflect right order. For otherwise they may create confusion among the Christian people and foster devotion of doubtful orthodoxy (no. 125). Sacred images are praiseworthy and useful to the faithful, but they’re not more important than the sacred mysteries celebrated in church. There shouldn’t be multiples of the same image (i.e., only one image of Divine Mercy), and there’s a hierarchy among the images themselves: images of our Lord are of the highest importance, then those of Mary and Joseph, then those of the other Saints. Titular or patronal Saints should have a greater importance than other Saints. In the same way, it wouldn’t be logical for the Priest’s chair to be larger and more elegant than the Altar.

Station IV - Jesus Meets His Mother, Chapel of St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, AB.

Station IV – Jesus Meets His Mother, Chapel of St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, AB.

Consequently, it’s desirable that schools or academies of sacred art should be founded… so that artists may be trained. For, prompted by their talents, [and] desire to serve God’s glory…, [they] should ever bear in mind that they are engaged in a kind of sacred imitation of God the Creator, and are concerned with works destined to be used in Catholic worship, to edify the faithful, and to foster their piety and their religious formation (no. 127).

Seminaries are also to include courses about the history and development of sacred art, and about the sound principles governing the production of its works, so that Priests themselves will be able to appreciate and preserve the Church’s venerable monuments, and be in a position to aid, by good advice, artists who are engaged in producing works of art (no. 129).

This concludes our review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the sacred Council’s first document, and perhaps the one that has most impacted our lives since.

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

This is 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 XXIV: Chapter V: The Liturgical Year, continued

As discussed in previous segments, the entire Liturgical Year hinges on the Paschal Mystery, annually at Easter and weekly on Sunday; our whole faith-life revolves around the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. The Council Fathers sought to help us rediscover the importance, beauty and spiritual wealth of the Liturgical Year.

As we saw, they restated our obligation to attend Sunday Mass (no. 106) and directed our hearts and minds towards the feasts of the Lord (no. 108). But the they also wanted us rediscover the true meaning of the sacred Seasons, especially Lent:

…by recalling or preparing for Baptism and by penance, [Lent] disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the Word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the Paschal Mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the Liturgy and by liturgical catechesis. Hence: a) More use is to be made of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy. Some of them which were part of an earlier tradition are to be restored…

  1. b) The same may be said of the penitential elements. But catechesis, as well as pointing out the social consequences of sin, must impress on the minds of the faithful the distinctive character of penance as detestation of sin because it is an offence against God. The role of the Church in penitential practices is not to be passed over, and the need to pray for sinners should be emphasized.

During Lent penance should not be only internal and individual, but also external and social… Nevertheless, let the [solemn] Paschal Fast be kept sacred. Let it be celebrated everywhere on Good Friday and, where possible, prolonged throughout Holy Saturday, so that the joys of the Sunday of the Resurrection may be attained with uplifted and clear mind (nos. 109-110, emphasis added).

But in all of this we must always remember that penance is not about suffering. Penance is about sacrificial love: it’s about letting go of something good for the sake of something better, out of love for Someone greater. Love is to be the motivation for penance; in this way it helps us to grow in charity and in the detestation of sin (no. 109). It also helps us to refocus our hearts and minds on Jesus and the importance He is to have in our lives, and to redirect our efforts toward our salvation.

[Jesus’] divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, … so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world …[and] become participants in the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:3-7, 10).

This concludes Chapter V, The Liturgical Year. (To be continued…)

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

This is 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 XXIII: Chapter V: The Liturgical Year, continued

As discussed in the last segment, the entire Liturgical Year hinges around the solemn celebrations of the Paschal Mystery, annually at Easter and weekly on Sunday, which is the Lord’s Day.

Consequently, after renewing our moral obligation to attend Mass on Sundays (no. 106), the Council Fathers issued a series of decrees to emphasise the importance of the Liturgical Year and their desire for a rediscovery of its beauty and spiritual wealth. “The liturgical year is to be revised so that the traditional customs and discipline of the sacred seasons shall be preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times; their specific character is to be retained, so that they duly nourish the piety of the faithful who celebrate the mysteries of Christian redemption” (no. 107).

In other words, the various traditions we have that are linked to Liturgical Seasons or feasts should be in accord with those Seasons and feasts. For example, the Eastern European tradition of the blessing of Easter food. Historically, the great Lenten Fast was quite severe — as it still is for some Eastern Catholics: people would abstain from all meat and animal products (such as eggs and dairy) for the entire Season of Lent. At the Easter Vigil or on Sunday morning they would gather these foods into a basket and have them blessed by the Priest in preparation for their Easter banquet.

But the solemn fast of Good Friday was also severe, and people had to fast from Friday until the Easter Vigil. Over time, it happened that the Easter Vigil ended up being celebrated either at 12noon on Holy Saturday or even earlier, because people could not maintain the fast. Hence the practice of blessing the Easter foods also came to be earlier and earlier on Saturday.

Recognising that this was problematic — the fast too severe, and the loss of the sense and symbolism of what a Vigil is supposed to be (a night-time anticipated celebration of the a major feast) — in 1955, Pope Pius XII reduced the fast and restored the Easter Vigil to the night (Maxima Redemptionis). All other traditions that prematurely celebrate the joy of Easter — such as the blessing of Easter foods — were also to be postponed at least until the Vigil.

This is because the “minds of the faithful must be directed primarily toward the feasts of the Lord” (no. 108). We cannot hold more to customs and traditions than to the spirit of the Liturgy. Doing so reduces the various Seasons and feasts to mere cultural events that, over time, become disconnected from the mysteries to which they are supposed to direct us. For this same reasons, “the proper of the time [the Liturgical Seasons] shall be given the preference which is its due over the feasts of the saints” (no. 108).

Even our devotion to the Saints should be guided by the Liturgical Seasons, lest we make them out to be more important that the Christ and the mysteries of our redemption. (To be continued…)

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

This is 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 XXII: Chapter V: The Liturgical Year, continued

As discussed in last week’s segment, the entire Liturgical Year hinges around the solemn celebrations of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus: the Paschal Mystery, or the Easter mysteries. This enables us, each year, to rediscover and relive the whole of the life of Christ, by which we sanctify time, as it were, dedicating each year and season to Jesus our Lord (think here A.D.: Anno Domini, Latin for Year of the Lord). Consequently, it’s not by accident that we begin each Liturgical Year by preparing for the Nativity of Christ and finish it by anticipating His return in glory with a feast in honour of His Kingship, the Solemnity of the Christ the King of the Universe, on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time (usually at the end of November).

Additionally, “[i]n celebrating this annual cycle of Christ’s mysteries, holy Church honours with especial love the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son” (no. 103) as well as the Martyrs and canonised Saints, who, “[r]aised up to perfection by the manifold grace of God, and already in possession of eternal salvation, … sing God’s perfect praise in heaven and offer prayers for us” (no. 104). In doing so, the Church proposes these men and women to us as models of faith and examples of God’s grace and mercy. And they give us the hope that if we, too, open our hearts to God’s grace and mercy, allowing the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and lives can become like them.

Finally, in the various seasons of the year and according to her traditional discipline, the Church completes the formation of the faithful by means of pious practices for soul and body, by instruction, prayer, and works of penance and of mercy” (no. 105). Thus the Liturgical Seasons aren’t just ceremonial, they’re also catechetical: by living out the Liturgical Year through the various practices and celebrations it contains, we learn about Jesus Christ, about faith in Him, about what it means to be His disciple, and we grow in our understanding of this mystery; in fact, if we do it well, we’re drawn deeper into this mystery to share more perfectly in the life of Christ, the life to which we are called!

It’s for these reasons that the Church makes attendance at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation a moral obligation (no. 106, can. 1246-47): except for illness or another ‘grave reason’ (speak to a Priest about what this means), it’s a grave sin to miss Mass on a Sunday, one that requires sacramental Confession before receiving Holy Communion again. For these same reasons we should also “abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body” (can. 1247).

The Church wants us to share in the life of Christ! She wants us to be nourished by His Word and Eucharist, because she knows how much we need God’s life-giving grace in order to survive in a world full of distractions, anxiety, temptation and suffering. May we always make Mass the priority of every Sunday, indeed of the entire week! (To be continued…)

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

This is 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 XXV: Chapter VI: Sacred Music

Most people know that music in the Liturgy has been an area of conflict since Vatican II. What they often don’t realise is that it’s actually been a battlefront for centuries. St. Ambrose (d. 397) fought the use of secular (non-religious) music at Mass when musicians were putting Christian lyrics to common drinking songs so that people would sing more. Similar battles occurred in the 1500s. And in the 1800s, operatic music was banned from the Mass, as various composers and divas were turning Mass into concerts and competitions.

Such abuses detract from the prayer of the Eucharist and distort the Mass. Safeguarding Liturgy and preventing such abuses were the primary reasons why it took so long for vernacular hymns (in the people’s language) to be allowed. It wasn’t until Pope St. Pius X defined sacred music and set parameters that vernacular hymns were allowed, but only for liturgies other than Mass (Tra le sollecitudine, nos. 7, 21).

He defined sacred music as music that clothe[s] with suitable melody the liturgical text and add[s] greater efficacy to the text so that the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception … of grace (Tra le sollecitudine, no 1). It must be holy, and … exclude all profanity not only in itself, but also in how it is executed. And lastly, [i]t must be true art (no. 2). Notice how the text is more important than the tune. Popes Pius XI and XII also wrote about music in the Liturgy.

The Council Fathers at Vatican II built on these foundations: The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. …it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy, meant to [make] prayer more pleasing, [promote] unity of minds, [and confer] greater solemnity upon the sacred rites for the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful (no. 112). In other words, music isn’t a decoration to the Mass; it’s part of it. Sacred music is intended to help us better experience and pray the rites and liturgies of the Church.

Consequently, the Council Father decreed that while the vernacular may be used (no. 113), [t]he treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted (no. 114). Liturgical music must be taught and practiced in seminaries, religious communities and Catholic schools (no. 115). Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training (no. 115).

Gregorian chant [is] specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, … it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded … so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action (no. 116). This last phrase is the essential guide to discerning what’s appropriate for Mass.

[S]inging by the people is to be intelligently fostered so that … the voices of the faithful may ring out (no. 118). In other words, singing isn’t just for the choir. [T]he pipe organ is to be held in high esteem… But other instruments also may be admitted … with the knowledge and consent of the Bishop, again, so long as they accord with the spirit of the Liturgy (no. 120).

It is the vocation of composers to cultivate sacred music… Let them produce compositions [with] qualities proper to genuine sacred music, not just for large choirs, but also for small choirs and for the active participation of the entire assembly of the faithful. The texts … must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; [and] should be drawn chiefly from holy Scripture and from liturgical sources (no. 121). This concludes Chapter VI, Sacred Music. (To be continued…)

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

This is 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 XXI: Chapter V: The Liturgical Year

Holy Mother Church is conscious that she must celebrate the saving work of her divine Spouse by devoutly recalling it on certain days throughout the course of the year. Every week, on the day which she has called the Lord’s day, she keeps the memory of the Lord’s resurrection, which she also celebrates once in the year, together with His blessed passion, in the most solemn festival of Easter.

Within the cycle of a year” — organised as Seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ordinary Time — the Church “unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord.

Recalling thus the mysteries of redemption, the Church opens to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time, and the faithful are enabled to lay hold upon them and become filled with saving grace” (no. 102).

With these words from the Council Fathers, we come to see the purpose and structure of the Liturgical Year: to yearly (and weekly!) recall and relive the Paschal Mystery and the salvation Jesus has brought us.

While the yearly cycle hinges on Easter, the weekly cycle hinges on Sunday. It’s for this reason that attendance at Mass is an obligation on all Sundays – they are understood to be ‘mini’ Easters. “For on this day Christ’s faithful are bound to come together into one place so that, by hearing the word of God and taking part in the Eucharist, they may call to mind the passion, the resurrection and the glorification of the Lord Jesus, and may thank God who ‘has begotten them again, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto a living hope’ (1 Pet. 1:3). Hence the Lord’s day is the original feast day, and it should … become in fact a day of joy and of freedom from work. Other celebrations, unless they be truly of greatest importance, shall not have precedence over the Sunday which is the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year” (no. 106).

This is the Tradition handed down to us from the Apostles, which has been a defining characteristic of Christians from the very beginning of the Church. St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles speaks of ‘breaking of the bread’ on the ‘first day of the week’ (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7). This is beautifully supported by Justin Martyr (around 150 AD) in his writings: “on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together”, and, “Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God … made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead” (First Apology, Ch. 47). (To be continued…)

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5 June 2014 · 16:34

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

This is 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 XX: Chapter IV: The Divine Office, continued

Having described the history, beauty and intent of the Divine Office, the Council Fathers proceeded to call for some changes that would make the Office that would make it easier for the clergy who don’t live in community, or for those who were more active in an apostolate (cf. no. 89). This was also to ensure that the various Hours would be said at their proper time (no. 94).

The Liturgy of the Hours is divided into four tomes, often called a 'Breviary'.

The Liturgy of the Hours is divided into four tomes, often called a ‘Breviary’.

Lauds as morning prayer and Vespers as evening prayer are the two hinges on which the daily office turns; hence they are to be considered as the chief hours and are to be celebrated as such” (no. 89a). Night prayer, or Compline, was to be recomposed to reflect it’s proper place at the end of the day (no. 89c).

While it is a duty for clergy and religious to pray the Divine Office, it is important that they remember that it “is a source of piety, and nourishment for personal prayer”, therefore those who pray the Offices are “earnestly exhorted in the Lord to attune their minds to their voices when praying it” (no. 90; cf. no. 99). In other words, the Divine Office isn’t a book to be read, but a proper Liturgy that is prayed with heart and mind.

Flowing from this, the Fathers also asked that the books be recomposed according to a longer cycle of Psalms (instead of the one-week cycle then used), so that more Psalms could be prayed (no. 91). The current Divine Office contains all 150 Psalms, using each of them at least once over a four-week cycle. With this, the Fathers also asked that the Scripture readings for each Hour be expanded to include longer texts and a greater selection (no. 92a).

Readings excerpted from the works of the fathers, doctors, and ecclesiastical writers shall be better selected” for use in the Office of Readings, again to have a greater selection of texts that nourish the prayer and faith of those who pray (no. 92b). And the “accounts of martyrdom or the lives of the saints are to accord with the facts of history” (no. 92c). Likewise, the hymns are also to be changed so that “whatever smacks of mythology” or doesn’t agree with true Christian piety is to be removed (no. 93).

Furthermore, “Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts” (no. 100). And “[i]n accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the Divine Office” (no. 100.1), unless the appropriate Bishop or Superior gives permission to use the vernacular. This concludes Chapter IV. (To be continued…)

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