The Holy See
back up



April 2, 2004




An event worthy of commemorating

On 4 December 1963, the Second Vatican Council promulgated the first of its major Documents, Sacrosanctum Concilium. This Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was the first product of the Council, "the great grace bestowed on the Church in the 20th century" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 57).

Sacrosanctum Concilium lays down the fundamental principles to guide the liturgical practice of the Church in her renewal, as required by the very purpose of the sacred liturgy: to give glory to God and to further the sanctification and salvation of each person.

Since the liturgy is a very exalted expression of the Church's mysterious reality, it is hardly surprising that of the 15 Documents, issued one after another, the Second Vatican Council chose to begin with this one. The Church manifests herself in the celebration of Christ's mysteries in the liturgy. The liturgical celebrations, particularly the Eucharistic Sacrifice, bring every member of the Church closer to her heart and life.

Thus, it was to be expected that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments would not have missed an opportunity to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium. It did so on 4 December 2003, with a Congress in the Synod Hall at the Vatican.

On that occasion our Congregation was pleased to receive Cardinals, Bishops, representatives of the Roman Curia, rectors, professors and students of the Pontifical universities and liturgical institutes, delegates from monasteries, religious institutes and various associations, as well as distinguished liturgists.

To meet the needs of a public so vast that it could not be present, our Congregation is now presenting the Minutes.

A Document in two parts

The Records that we entitled Spiritus et Sponsa are divided into two parts.

The first part consists of two beautiful Documents by the Holy Father.

First, the Apostolic Letter Spiritus et Sponsa, from which comes the title for the whole book; then, a Letter from the Pope to the universal Church on the 40th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

In it, the Holy Father emphasizes the key importance of this Council Document, the need to be faithful to it and the usefulness of an examination of conscience with regard to how the Church is carrying out her directives.

In the special Letter he addressed to me, dated 4 December 2003, the Holy Father entrusts to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments the pleasant task of promoting knowledge and acceptance of the above-mentioned Apostolic Letter, Spiritus et Sponsa.

The second papal Document in our volume is a Chirograph. It was published on 22 November 2003 to commemorate the centenary of Pope St Pius X's Motu Proprio on Sacred Music, Tra le Sollecitudini.

In this encouraging Chirograph, Pope John Paul II dwells on the importance of sacred music in the public worship of the Church, the historical pre-eminence of Gregorian Chant and the place of the polyphonic and popular music that corresponds to the various cultures in the Church.

In it he takes up the wise provisions of St Pius X, reinforced and applied to the conditions of our time by the Second Vatican Council (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, nn.112-121) and the subsequent Magisterium. Encouragement is given to choirs, musical experts, and various institutes and associations specialized in the subject.

These two papal Documents guided and illuminated our study day on 4 December 2003.

The second part of the volume that the Congregation is presenting to you concentrates on three aspects. Sacrosanctum Concilium is renewed and, with a retrospective look at what has occurred in these past 40 years and an overview of what the Church ought to have done with regard to the liturgy, Cardinal F. George, Archbishop of Chicago, and Fr M. Augé, Professor of Liturgy and Consultor to our Congregation, contribute some important thoughts.

Cardinal J. Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, then offers thoughts on the liturgy in the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II. Other contributions which reflect on its reception in Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America are provided by Cardinal C. Tumi, Archbishop of Douala; Bishop S. Cichy, Auxiliary of Katowice; and Fr A. Aranda Cervantes of Mexico.

The last part of this section is totally dedicated to sacred music. Cardinal Ivan Dias, Archbishop of Bombay; Dom P. Dupont, Abbot of Solesmes; Mons. G. Liberto, Maestro and Director of the Sistine Choir; and Fr J. Hermans, Secretary of the National Commission for the Liturgy of the Netherlands, offer us abundant material for reflection and action.

Aims, hopes, prospects

In presenting this book to the Church, the aim of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is to witness to the validity of the directives of the Second Vatican Council on the sacred liturgy. It gives thanks to God for the blessings brought to the Church by liturgical renewal, which include greater attention to Sacred Scripture in liturgical celebrations, a greater commitment to making the liturgy easily comprehensible, initiatives designed to encourage a more knowledgeable and active participation by lay people, the promotion of sacred music and a better understanding of roles in the liturgy.

At the same time, our Congregation also desires to encourage an examination of conscience and to put into practice initiatives to deal with abuses that have been introduced, contrary to the intentions and directives of the Council and the Magisterium in the past 40 years.

Our Congregation hopes that this will be a small step forward in the promotion of the liturgical and pastoral formation of the clergy, consecrated persons and all lay faithful, in line with the tasks that Pastor Bonus assigns to it (cf. n. 64). The importance of this formation becomes more obvious when one considers that "the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed", and "is also the fount from which all her power flows" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 10).

These reflections should also be of help to those who at times are tempted to lose confidence in the Church because of true or suspected abuses, as well as to those who introduce their own idiosyncrasies into the sacred liturgy or who reject on principle the directives of the Second Vatican Council.

Our faith in the Church, founded by our beloved Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, tells us that the Holy Spirit has always accompanied the Church: at the Council of Jerusalem (c. 50 A.D.), the Council of Trent (1545-63) and the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and that he will guide her until the end of time.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments therefore has the pleasure of making this book available to Bishops, priests, teams and students at Seminaries and Liturgical and Ecclesiastical Institutes, as well as to directors of Religious Houses and Pastoral and Catechetical Centres. Institutes of Sacred Music and Choir Masters will also find a wealth of guidelines in these Records.

I hope that for you, too, ladies and gentlemen of the media, this book will serve to help you understand and appropriately disseminate the Church's thought and guidelines on this subject.



This book is intended as a commemoration, but in a certain way it is also "a programme". This is not so much because it illustrates initiatives underway, but because it reinterprets history with reference to new challenges the Church must face and that affect the liturgy in our day.

History and "traditio'

First of all, the horizon of history is outlined as it was lived. It emerges from the two papal Documents, the Apostolic Letter Spiritus et Sponsa and the Chirograph on Sacred Music, as well as from the Congress of 4 December 2003 on the 40th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium. It is history sketched with a few essential strokes but with theological sensitivity, that is, looking at God's work in the Church of our time.

The sense of "traditio" stands out in it as the journey of the Church through history, as she "consigns herself" (tradere) to the new generations with the adaptations necessary in every age, but always in full fidelity to the one deposit of faith.

All too often in the collective imagination, the Second Vatican Council appears too startlingly new, at times with seemingly different and contradictory, traditionalist or progressivist, judgments. The rediscovery in this book of the connection between the conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy and Pope Pius X's Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini, a Document that paved the way for it many decades earlier, makes it easier to understand ecclesial tradition as organic development, guaranteed by the transcendent action of God's Spirit.

The Congress of 4 December also brought into focus the liturgical history of the post-Conciliar period, bringing to the fore in particular John Paul II's work in the 25 years of his Pontificate. Various accounts show how the liturgy has always played a key role in his witness as a "pilgrim" Pastor in the world.

Three challenges

In looking at history, the challenges the Church must face also emerge in the liturgical context. I would highlight the following three challenges:

The first is the secularization process that is gaining ground, obliging the liturgy to come to grips more decisively with the urgent need for evangelization. The Pope recalls this in n. 11 of his Apostolic Letter.

More frequently, the liturgy has to do with Christians who are no longer backed by culture, the family and social context, or tradition. Even in Europe, the world of liturgy with its rites, symbols and meanings, is becoming culturally alien to many people.

Hence, the need for a sounder and broader formation that will profoundly affect catechesis and pastoral work, along the lines of what the Fathers called "mystagogy", the path from the symbol to the mystery that it calls to mind.

A second challenge is that of spirituality. At first sight it might seem a counter-trend in comparison with the former, but it is a fact that in our contradictory time the need for contemplation is growing.
This can be seen, for example, in the fascination exercised by oriental methods of meditation. Does the liturgy succeed in responding to this need?

The first impression is "no". The liturgy would seem to be incapable of making any significant response to this need since by its very nature it is "action". By encouraging the participation of the People of God, the conciliar reform accentuated the dimension of action, although we must remember that the Council did not fail to recall the role of "silence" (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 30).

However, it is true that meditation essentially reduces movement; it demands silence rather than words and concentration rather than participation.

In the face of this problem, it is urgently necessary to purge this context of ambiguity: the liturgy is action, but before being so in the sense of external movement, it is so because it is the saving action that God brings about in history, an action carried out by Jesus Christ who associates the Church with himself in the Holy Spirit.

If we go further and examine the meaning of this "action" of Christ in greater depth, we realize that, at its roots, it is a "contemplative action": it is Christ's turning to the Father, it is his action of praise and thanksgiving from which redemption for us flows.

So this explains why, in the Apostolic Letter Spiritus et Sponsa, the Pope insists on the need to cultivate the experience of "silence" in liturgical prayer. It also explains his appeal, in full harmony with the Council, to link truly liturgical prayer with a broader contemplation, which also develops in Christian life through pious devotions and popular piety. The Year of the Rosary, by enabling us to rediscover the Christological and contemplative character of this Marian prayer, went precisely in this direction.

A third challenge is the connection of the liturgy with human life. The liturgical problem, as Cardinal George's contribution in this book shows, is connected with the anthropological dimension. Man is called into question, with his basic constitution and his physical existence. It would be a falsification of the liturgy to deprive it of its connection with human life in the name of its belonging to the "divine", the "sacred" and the "mystery".

The biblical God is certainly the God thrice Holy, but he is also the God of the Incarnation, deeply integrated in human history. The liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council retained a clear awareness of all this, and was open to the legitimate needs of adaptation and inculturation.

Forty years after Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments feels impelled to carry on the work of the Second Vatican Council.



Forty years have passed since Pope Paul VI promulgated Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council.

To mark that event, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments promoted a Day of Study and Reflection, highlighting the basic themes of liturgical reform.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was the first Document produced by the Council, desired by John XXIII, approved by the Council Fathers and promulgated by Paul VI on 4 December 1963 at the conclusion of the second Council session.

"First school of spiritual life'

On that occasion, Paul VI proposed a scale of values and duties regarding liturgical life of the Church. He stressed that the liturgy was the first source of life bestowed upon us; our first school of spiritual life from which all Christians must draw benefit for their own growth in holiness; the first gift we can offer the Christian people to help them enter more deeply into the depths of the mystery celebrated.

This gives rise to a heartfelt "invitation to people in the world that their mute tongues may be loosened in blessed and true prayer, and that they may feel the ineffable regenerative power of song... divine praise and human hopes, through Christ the Lord and in the Holy Spirit" (Paul VI, Address at the Conclusion of the Second Session of the Council, 4 December 1963).

These words reveal one of the Council's prime aims: "to impart an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more closely to the needs of our age those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call all mankind into the Church's fold" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 1). Hence, greater attention is asked for, especially on the part of those responsible for the formation of the People of God (Bishops, priests, deacons, catechists, pastoral workers), in order that the faithful may be initiated into a more conscious, active and fruitful participation in the divine mysteries contained in the celebration.

Remembering helps advancement

Much has been done in this regard since the Council to the present. But much remains to be done to ensure that one of the goals of the reform, that is, the actuosa participatio, is not reduced to mere external participation but that the faithful are helped to understand the Paschal Mystery of Christ through the celebratory rite, gestures and prayers.

The purpose of the Study Day was not so much commemoration but rather a time for reflecting on and verifying an important event in the Church's history and progress: liturgical reform, the "first fruits" of Vatican Council II. Hence, it was an opportunity to exercise discernment regarding texts that had been defined as opera aperta, to be interpreted over and above their actuation.

"The commemoration of the 40th anniversary of this event is a good opportunity to rediscover the basic themes of the liturgical renewal that the Council Fathers desired, to seek to evaluate their reception, as it were, and to cast a glance at the future" (Spiritus et Sponsa, n. 1). These are the Holy Father's words in the Apostolic Letter he prepared for this occasion.

It is not a question of setting ourselves to work again as if the years that have gone by since that symbolic 4 December 1963 had not passed on to us a liturgical theology and celebration that is a model of reform. It is a question of not losing but preserving the original enthusiasm, without forgetting the promising start or underestimating its follow up.

To foster the faithful's formation

The liturgical apostolate demands the effort to respond to the requirements of fidelity to the Constitution and to the new ordines that ensued. Yet it is essential to explain from the outset that the "scope of the Constitution of the Second Vatican Council on the Sacred Liturgy is not limited merely to the changing of liturgical rites and texts. Rather, its aim is to foster the formation of the faithful and that pastoral activity of which the liturgy is the summit and source" (First Instruction on Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Inter Oecumenici, n. 5).

The Sacred Liturgy is the action that gives the Saviour's redeeming work continuity. By gathering God's people from all the nations into the unity of the one Spirit in the liturgy, the Church, faithful to her mission, always shares humanity's joys and hopes and shows herself to be the world's leaven and soul, to renew the community of peoples in Christ and transform them into a family under one Father.

Christ is the first liturgist who acts in the liturgy in a marvellous way. It is he who works human redemption and gives perfect glory to God (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 5), through the Paschal Mystery celebrated in the liturgical action. This primacy of divine action must be continuously highlighted so the celebration does not appear as mere human action, but as the action of the Father, worked through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

These are the main points of the reflections set down in this book that contains the records of the Day of Commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The book presents a realistic overview of the present and looks to the future with confidence: the liturgy journeys on, keeping pace with the Church and the Holy Spirit, who in giving life to the Church also gives life to the liturgy.

The future of today's liturgy, however, lies in fidelity to its roots. Forty years after the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, we must rediscover the reform-renewal of the liturgy without forgetting that the liturgy is an epiphany of the Church, its greatest manifestation.

The Holy Spirit guides the Church as well as her liturgy. The same Spirit who inspired past Councils inspired the present Council and has granted us a liturgy that expresses the same Church of the past in our own day.



It is truly providential that the Christian community, disciple of the Word and of the Holy Spirit who acts ceaselessly in the Church, did not miss the opportunity, in commemorating the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the first conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, to inquire about the implementation of the prophetic insights it contains. Moreover, we realized that Sacrosanctum Concilium, together with Lumen Gentium, Dei Verbum and Gaudium et Spes, has strengthened a sense of community and freed sacramental worship from the private, making it more luminous and accessible.

Recent growth of liturgical music

However, what is more important, since it embodies the living legacy of the Council, is our obligation not to consider the liturgical reform an event of the past. It is a reality on the move that we must receive vitally, promote courageously and actuate prophetically.

For this very reason we warmly and gratefully acknowledge the two Documents that the Holy Father John Paul II has presented to the Church in recent months: the Apostolic Letter in honour of the 40th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the Chirograph on Sacred Music promulgated on the occasion of the centenary of the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini, of Pope St Pius X (22 November 2003; cf. ORE, 28 January 2004, pp. 6-7). In them, in fact, the Church is invited to reflect on the challenges that the initiative of the Council still poses today in a cultural and social context which has radically changed but continues to ask the Christian community to rediscover and renew its identity.

Liturgical music has undoubtedly come a long way in the past 40 years: after centuries of ritual rigidity and crystallized musical forms, we have witnessed profound changes that have sought to respond to ecclesial, extra-ecclesial, social and cultural changes.

As happens in every time of transition, this has resulted in obvious imbalances, inevitable confusion and real perplexity concerning the delicate reciprocal exchanges between vetera et nova, but at the same time numerous signs of new life and hope. For some, the liturgical reform coincided with an uncritical openness to experimentation with new styles and forms. Others, on the contrary, have firmly and totally rejected the entire project of the Council.

Still others, in line with the new dispositions and instructions for celebrations, did not respond with the same openness to the demand for appropriate music for today's needs. Lastly, others, in accepting the new ritual project, sought new musical forms with a functional and dynamic vision of the new rites for an effective participation of the assembly in its various ministries and within a specific cultural environment.

As the Holy Father points out in his Chirograph (cf. n. 3), it is first a matter of reasserting the fundamental role and principles inherent in music and song during liturgical celebrations.

Role of music in the liturgy

Paul VI, in a Speech on 4 December 1963 in which he hailed the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, already expressed the hope that liturgical reform would be an event of spiritual and pastoral renewal and an incentive to Christians, so "that their mute tongues may be loosened in blessed and true prayer, and that they may feel the ineffable regenerative power of song... divine praise and human hope, through Christ the Lord and in the Holy Spirit".

Liturgical music flows from the prayerful experience of the Church at the moment when the People of God celebrate the Mystery. Liturgical music and song fit into the Church's life as an experience of prayer, and of that specific type of prayer: liturgical prayer. Only in this perspective is it possible to understand both the aesthetic dimension and cultural value of liturgical music.

As John Paul II also suggests in his Chirograph (cf. n. 4), in continuity with the teaching of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the starting point is never "sacred music" itself, but the Mystery that the Church celebrates as the event of salvation proclaimed, and therefore sung. Music as an art form attains its truth if it expresses de facto the authenticity of what it is celebrating, and if it encourages the active participation of those who are celebrating. Music and song give life to the ritus (celebratory gestures) and to the preces (ritual texts) with a view to ministerial efficacy.

The ministerial munus, in fact, sanctions the art forms in the liturgy in general and for music in particular (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 112). Music and song are living realities and not a codified repertoire to be performed passively and automatically. Music and song are an "incarnation" of the Word revealed, or of words substantiated by God's word in the saving dialogue; they are not the vaguely mystical or aesthetic ingredients of any kind of religious worship. Music and song are expressions of the experience of the prayer of the Church which celebrates the Paschal Mystery of Christ.

Making "Mystery' alive in music

In practice, the ministerial munus of music for the liturgy is a multiple service: to the Word of God, the Rites, the ministers of the Liturgical Celebration and the musical accompaniment of liturgical celebrations throughout the year.

The Chirograph justly emphasizes, with regard to the development of this ministerial task of music for the liturgy, that "the music and song requested by the liturgical reform - it is right to stress this point - must comply with the legitimate demands of adaptation and inculturation" (n. 6). And it adds: "It is clear, however, that any innovation in this sensitive matter must respect specific criteria such as the search for musical expressions which respond to the necessary involvement of the entire assembly in the celebration and which, at the same time, avoid any concessions to frivolity or superficiality" (ibid.).

Lastly, one aspect that the Chirograph accentuates is the liturgical and musical formation of musicians in general and of composers in particular. Indeed, the Holy Father writes: "Only an artist who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiae can attempt to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy.... Renewed and deeper thought about the principles that must be the basis of the formation and dissemination of a high-quality repertoire is therefore required. Only in this way will musical expression be granted to serve appropriately its ultimate aim, which is "the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful'" (n. 12).

The Supreme Pontiff then continued: "Also today there are numerous composers who are capable of making their indispensable contribution in this spirit, increasing with their competent collaboration the patrimony of music at the service of a Liturgy lived ever more intensely. To them I express my confidence, together with the most cordial exhortation to put their every effort into increasing the repertoire of compositions worthy of the exalted nature of the mysteries celebrated and, at the same time, suited to contemporary sensibilities" (n. 12). This is a hope that we ourselves express in the spirit of the conciliar project that still lies ahead, especially in the field of liturgical music.

In brief, the goal of liturgical music is not so much to produce and perform a musical opus as an end in itself, as to present the Mystery in the form of sound by representing it. God sings his Word and gives him, the musician incarnates the Word and sings him. This is true spiritual art for the liturgy: this is "sacred" music as an anthropological and theological revelation.