The Holy See
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Your Most Reverend Excellency,

I am pleased to express to you the Holy Father's deep pleasure at the celebration of National Liturgy Week, scheduled to take place in Acireale from 25 to 29 August. This important pastoral initiative of the Liturgical Renewal Centre, of considerable interest to the life of the Church in Italy, will focus this year on the Conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 40 years after its promulgation.

Twenty years ago, the Italian Bishops' Conference recalled the publication of Sacrosanctum Concilium with a pastoral note on liturgical renewal in Italy. Five years later, the Supreme Pontiff promulgated the Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus, asking for verification and further thought on renewal in the liturgical context in light of the guidelines of the Council and of the age-old tradition of the Church. Among other things, His Holiness said:  "Such an overall reform of the Liturgy was in harmony with the general hope of the whole Church. In fact, the liturgical spirit had become more and more widespread together with the desire for an "active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church'" (Apostolic Letter on the 25th Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Conciliar Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium" Vicesimus Quintus Annus, 4 December 1988, n. 4; ORE, 22 May 1989, p. 7).

2. Looking at the ground covered so far, it is impossible not to thank God for all that his Spirit has worked in the Church. The reform impressed spiritual vigour and vitality on the liturgical life of the Christian people.

The Supreme Pontiff recalled once again that "the guiding principles of the Constitution, which were the basis of the reform, remain fundamental in the task of leading the faithful to an active celebration of the mysteries, "the primary and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit'" (ibid., n. 5). And he observed that since the majority of the liturgical books had been published, translated and brought into use, it only remained to keep these principles constantly in mind and strive to build upon them (cf. ibid.).

Forty years after the publication of the first conciliar Constitution that opened the doors to liturgical reform, it is right to ask oneself what this liturgical reform must have meant in the renewal of the Christian communities; to what extent did the liturgy, reformed in accordance with the directives of the Council, succeed in mediating between faith and life, so as to form believers capable of offering a coherent Gospel witness?

At the same time it is useful to ask oneself clearly and sincerely if the reform may have shown any weak points, and if so, where and more especially how might it be relaunched for the good of the Christian people.

3. An attempt will be made to answer these questions at the forthcoming National Liturgical Week. If, in fact, it can rightfully be said that the liturgical reform of the Council has been implemented, on the other hand, the pastoral approach to the liturgy is an ongoing commitment that makes it possible to draw from the riches of the liturgy "that vital force which spreads from Christ to the members of his Body which is the Church" (ibid., n. 10).

The 40 years that have passed prove that the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, unanimously approved by the Council Fathers gathered round the Successor of Peter, is continuing to guide the Church. The principles it spells out help the faithful to move in the right direction, and, according to the Pope, through "a new and intensive education in order to discover all the richness contained in the liturgy" (ibid., n. 14). The reform should be translated into the lives of believers. They are called to integrate themselves in the communion that the Son desires to establish with every person, a communion that we celebrate all the time in the liturgy.

4. In his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, the Supreme Pontiff notes that the liturgy requires the maximum attention because it is "the summit towards which the Church's action tends and at the same time the source from which comes all her strength" (n. 35; Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 10).

Based precisely on this awareness, the Holy Father expresses the hope that the work of National Liturgy Week, by reviewing the content and spirit of the liturgical reform, may offer a reflection that is not only commemorative, but also careful to grasp the value of this reform.

Certain principles of the Constitution should perhaps be better understood and more faithfully implemented. It would be useful, likewise, to analyze certain specific topics such as, for example, the relationship between creativity and fidelity, between spiritual worship and life, between catechesis and the celebration of the Mystery, between presiding at the liturgy and the role of the congregation, between seminary formation and the continuing formation of priests.

As he renews his best wishes that useful incentives and practical proposals will result from National Liturgy Week, the Holy Father assures you of his remembrance in prayer for the success of your work, and hopes that the deviations and the liberties taken, that were often caused by an inability to grasp the proper spirit of the reform, may be corrected.

As His Holiness invokes upon you the motherly protection of the Virgin Mary who "made her own the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 56), he willingly imparts to you, to the Archbishop of Acireale, to the Bishops and priests present, to the relators and to all those who have gathered together, a special Apostolic Blessing.

In wishing this important pastoral initiative a successful outcome, I too take this opportunity to confirm with deep respect that I remain

Yours devotedly in the Lord,

Cardinal Angelo Sodano
Secretary of State