Pope John Paul II signed his latest Apostolic Letter yesterday, December 4, marking the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosantum Concilium.
In the 16-paragraph letter, the Holy Father says that the anniversary of Sacrosantum Concilium provides an opportunity to “rediscover the underlying themes of the liturgical renewal sought by the Council Fathers, verify in some way their acceptance and set our eyes on the future.”
In the first chapter entitled, “A look at the Conciliar Constitution,” the Pope says, “the liturgical life of the Church, in the perspective of Sacrosantum Concilium, assumes a cosmic and universal spirit, profoundly marking man’s time and space.”
The Pope later recalls the importance the Council gives to sacred music, “whose end is ‘the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’,” and to sacred art, which allows “worship to shine forth through the decorum and beauty of liturgical art.”
The Pope also points out in the document that “40 years later, a review of progress thus far has become opportune” and therefore he raises important questions for the Church:
- “Is the Liturgy lived out as the ‘source and summit’ of ecclesial life?”
- “Has the rediscovery of the value of the Word of God, brought about by the liturgical reforms, brought forth positive results in our celebrations?”
- “To what extent has the liturgy entered into the life of the faithful and set the pace for each community?”
- “Is the liturgy understood as a path to sanctity, as the interior strength behind apostolic zeal and the Church’s missionary spirit?
The Pope also calls for a review of liturgical books, emphasizing that it should be based on “a principle of complete fidelity to Sacred Scripture and Tradition, authoritatively interpreted in particular by the Second Vatican Council.” This fidelity, he adds, “demands commitment first of all” from the bishops.
Later the Pope recalls that Sacrosantum Concilium motivates the Christian community “to intensify its prayer life not only through the Liturgy but also through “pious exercises” done in harmony with it and which in a sense flow from and lead to the Liturgy.
Challenges for the future
In the chapter entitled, “Perspectives,” the Pope says that “looking towards the future, the Liturgy must respond to various challenges. In the course of these 40 years, in fact, society has undergone profound changes, some of which have sorely tried the Church’s work. “Before us is a world in which, even in places of ancient Christian tradition, the signs of the Gospel are diminishing. It’s time for a new evangelization. The Liturgy is directly involved in a such a challenge.”
In the “renewed necessity for spirituality” which today’s world seeks, the Pope sees “proof of the fact that in the deepest recesses of man it is impossible to erase God.” Therefore, adds the Pope, “the Liturgy offers the most profound and effective answer to this desire to encounter God, especially through the Eucharist.”
Therefore, “one aspect that needs to be cultivated with greater commitment in our communities is the experience of silence,” the Pope says. “In a society where life has become increasing frantic, deafened by noise and caught up in the moment, the rediscovery of silence is vital,” he added. For this reason, liturgical ministry, by introducing people to the different liturgical celebrations, should inspire a fondness for prayer.”
In the letter’s conclusion, the Holy Father emphasizes that the promulgation of Sacrosantum Concilium “has marked an important period for the Church in the promotion and development of the Liturgy,” and he encourages the fostering, “at the dawn of this millennium, of a ‘liturgical spirituality’ which recognizes Christ as the first ‘liturgist’, who never ceases to work in the Church for the glory of God and the unity of the Holy Spirit.”