Liturgy Changes 50 years Ago - 16th February 2014

Exactly fifty years ago today several provision of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy came into force across the Roman Catholic world.

A motu proprio issued by Pope Paul VI set out the regulations governing the implementation of the Constitution. It explained that some provisions of the liturgy decree, such as the substitution of modern languages for Latin in the liturgy, could not be put into effect immediately because it was first necessary to revise some rites and to prepare new liturgical texts. A special commission was to be established for this purpose.

Others, however, were to come into effect on the First Sunday of Lent, 16th February 1964. The first three were:

(1) Seminaries and similar institutions are to start preparations at once for the teaching of liturgy, the actual courses to begin in 1965;

(2) Each bishop must set up a diocesan commission for the encouragement of the liturgical movement and the active discussion of liturgical problems, together with separate commissions for sacred music and sacred art;

(3) The homily is obligatory at all Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation;

It is interesting to look at these directives and reflect on how well they have been implemented over the last 50 years.

Some might find it surprising that it was necessary for the Council to call for “seminaries and similar institutions to start preparations at once for the teaching of liturgy”. It is not unreasonable to assume that liturgy would automatically be a key element in seminary formation, since “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and the fount from which all the Church’s power flows” (SC 10), and because presiding at liturgy is a major component of priestly ministry. Formation in liturgy has, however, not always been given high priority in seminaries and this continues to be the case in some.

In Australia, most dioceses took on board the directive in paragraphs 45 and 46 of the Constitution for every diocese to establish commissions on the sacred liturgy, music and art, or one commission that encompasses all three. Where more expedient, several dioceses could combine to form a commission.
A survey carried out in 2010 found that 9 dioceses out of 28 in this country do not have a Commission on the Liturgy and of those that do, only half have paid staff. The work of implementing the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council did not stop with the introduction of the revised Missal in 2011 as some apparently seem to believe. The work is on-going, as testified by the participation of 600 at the recent national liturgy conference in Wollongong!

While the third directive is almost universally observed, in numerous surveys over the past years, the People of God have called for more powerful and inspiring preaching. A steady diet of tepid or poorly prepared homilies is often cited as a cause for discouragement on the part of laity and even leading some to turn away from the Church.

Clearly the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy is not a done deal but a work in progress!


Elizabeth Harrington