The Vatican Council's decree on the Liturgy is a document of rare power and beauty. It succeeds beyond expectation in relating liturgy to practical Christian living. We have therefore chosen to publish the first two parts of the Constitution's first chapter, which deals with the theology and general principles involved.
COD who "wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth", who "in many and various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets", when the fullness of time had come sent His Son to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart, to be a "bodily and spiritual medicine", the Mediator between God and man.
For His humanity, united with the person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation. Therefore in Christ "the perfect achievement of our reconciliation came forth, and the fullness of divine worship was given to us".
The wonderful works of God among the people of the Old Testament were but a prelude to the work of Christ the Lord in redeeming mankind and giving perfect glory to God.
He achieved His task principally by the paschal mystery of His blessed passion, resurrection from the dead, and glorious ascension, whereby "dying, He destroyed our death and, rising, He restored our life".
For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth "the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church".
Just as Christ was sent by the Father, so also He sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit.
This He did that. by preaching the gospel to every creature, they might proclaim that the Son of God, by His death and resurrection, had freed us from the power of Satan and from death. and brought us into the kingdom of His Father.
His purpose also was that they might accomplish the work of salvation which they had proclaimed, by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves.
Thus by baptism men are plunged into the paschal mystery of Christ: they die with Him, are buried with Him. and rise with Him: they receive the spirit of adoption as sons "in which we cry: Abba, Father", and thus become true adorers whom the Father seeks.
in like manner. as often as they eat the supper of the Lord they proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes. For that reason, on the very day of Pentecost. when the Church appeared before the world. "those who received the word" of Peter "were baptized".
And "they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of the breaking of bread and in prayers . . . praising God and being in favour with all the people".
From that time onwards the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery: reading those things "which were in all the scriptures concerning him", celebrating the eucharist in which "the victory and triumph of his death arc again made present", and at the same time giving thanks "to God for his unspeakable gift" in Christ Jesus. "in praise of His glory". through the power of the Holy Spirit.
To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, "the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross", but especially tinder the eucharistic species.
By His power He is present in the sacraments. so that when a mart baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.
He is present, lastly. when the Church prays and sings. for He promised: "Where Iwo or three are gathered together in my name. there am I in the midst of them".
Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is His beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through Him offers worship to the Eternal Father.
Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ.
In the liturgy the sanctification of man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is. by the Head and His members.
From this it follows that every liturgical celebration. because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.
In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem towards which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle.
We sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them: we eagerly await 'the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory.
The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. Before men can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion: "How then are they to call upon him in whom they have not yet believed? But how are they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear if no one preaches? And how are men to preach unless they be sent?"
Therefore the Church announces the good tidings of salvation to those who do not believe, so that all men may know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and may be converted from their ways, doing penance.
To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance; she must prepare them for the sacraments, teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded, and invite them to all the works of charity, piety, and the apostolate.
For all these works make it clear that Christ's faithful. though not of this world, are to be the light of the world and to glorify the Father before men.
Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed: at the same time it is the fount from which all her power flows.
For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church. to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper. . The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with "the paschal sacraments", to be "one in holiness"; it prays that "they may hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith": the renewal in the eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the
compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire.
From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the eucharist, as from a fount, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way.
But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions. that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine eace lest they receive it in vain.
Pastors of souls must therefore realise that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration: it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.
The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren. but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father in secret; yet more, according to the teaching of the Apostle, he should pray without ceasing.
We learn from the same Apostle that we must always bear about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodily frame.
This is why we ask the Lord in the sacrifice of the Mass that, "receiving the offering of the spiritual victim", he may fashion us for himself "as an eternal gift".
Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they are ordered by the Apostolic See.
Devotions proper to individual Churches also have a special dignity if they are undertaken by mandate of the bishops according to customs or books lawfully approved.
But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonise with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them.
The Promotion of Liturgical Instruction and Active Participation.
Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as "a chosen race. a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people", is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit: and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.
Yet it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realising this unless the pastors themselves. in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it.
A prime need, therefore, is that attention be directed, first of all. to the liturgical instruction of the clergy. Wherefore the sacred Council has decided to enact as follows:
Professors who are appointed to teach liturgy in seminaries, religious houses of study, and theological faculties must be properly trained for their work in institutes which specialise in this subject.
The study of sacred liturgy is to he ranked among the compulsory and major courses in seminaries and religious houses of studies: in theological faculties it is to rank among the principal courses.
It is to be taught tinder its theological, historical, spiritual, pastoral, and juridical aspects.