Introducing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: the most sacred mystery of the Eucharist

Father Stice

Father Stice

As part of the observance of the Year of Faith we have been looking at the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the first document promulgated by the Council. So far we have looked at the Constitution’s understanding of the liturgy (my first column) and the general principles and guidelines for the reform and restoration of the liturgy (last month’s column). This month I would like to look at Chapter 2 of the Constitution: “The Most Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist.”

The Constitution begins by offering a condensed theology of the Eucharist. Christ instituted the Eucharist “in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity” (n. 47). It also summarizes participation in the paschal banquet: “Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (n. 47).

The Constitution next addresses the participation of Christ’s faithful. The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that they “should not be there as strangers or silent spectators” (n. 48). Rather, “through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves” (n. 48).

“For this reason the sacred Council…has made the following decrees in order that the sacrifice of the Mass…may become pastorally efficacious to the fullest degree” (n. 49). The purpose of the revisions is to clarify the nature and purpose of each part as well as the relationship between the different parts so “that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved” (n. 50).

The Constitution calls for a simplification of the rites, with “due care being taken to preserve their substance” (n. 50). An example of this is that the number of times the priest makes the sign of the cross during the Eucharistic Prayer has been reduced from 21 to one. The Constitution also calls for the restoration of elements that had been lost, such as the prayers of the faithful.

The Constitution also states that “the treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years” (n. 51). For this reason, the one-year cycle of readings for Sundays has been expanded to a three-year cycle, and we have a two-year cycle of readings for weekday Masses. In addition, Sundays and solemnities now have two readings instead of one in addition to the Gospel.

Finally, the Constitution addresses the question of the language of the liturgy, making provision for the use of both Latin and the vernacular. “In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue” (n. 54).

However, it also stipulates that “steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (n. 54). And it allows for “a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass” when it “appears desirable” as judged by national bishops conferences and confirmed by the Holy See. This is an example of a specific application of the general norm that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” but that the use of the vernacular “may be extended” as determined by bishops conferences and confirmed by the Holy See (n. 36).

The liturgy, and especially the Eucharist, “is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” (n. 10). For this reason, the reform and restoration of the Eucharist are of preeminent importance, so that all of the faithful may “be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all” (n. 48).

Father Randy Stice directs the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy and is pastor of St. Mary Parish in Athens. He may be reached at frrandy@dioknox.org.

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