The Second Vatican Council affirmed the ancient belief that in Christ “the fullness of divine worship was given to us” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963). The Second Vatican Council really put this into motion in a variety of ways, especially with how we celebrate the liturgy. So what exactly is liturgy? Why the “rules?”
In his 2018 book The Fullness of Divine Worship: The Sacred Liturgy and Its Renewal, Fr. Uwe Michael Lang wrote that the sacred liturgy is the visible worship and how we are called to participate in this world as an exercise of our priesthood of Christ, or Christus totus. In his November 1947 encyclical, Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII shared:
“The sacred liturgy is, consequently, the public worship which our Redeemer as Head of the Church renders to the Father, as well as the worship which the community of the faithful renders to its Founder, and through Him to the heavenly Father. It is, in short, the worship rendered by the Mystical Body of Christin the entirety of its Head and members.”
Through Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council taught that the sacred liturgy is:
“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.”
Essentially, the Mass is primarily the work of Christ, not us. We activate all of our senses during Mass. Think about your own experiences. Some of the easy ones to identify include the smell of incense and the sound of bells and singing and the organ.
When I first started publishing in the bulletin a few weeks ago, I talked about the universal nature of our faith. If you go to Mass at Saint Anthony of Padua in the northwest corner Las Vegas this weekend, travel to Saints Peter and Paul in Buffalo next weekend, attend Mass at the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception the following weekend, and then Saint Peter’s in Rome to round out your trip, you will most likely notice that the Mass is largely the same. This is a core tenant in the practical application of our faith every weekend.
Why the “rules?”
In the years following the Second Vatican Council, the liturgical documents promulgated by the Council were often ignored and dismissed as irrelevant (Lang, 2018). Unfortunately, liturgical abuses frequently took place, which ultimately led many of the faithful – who generally didn’t know any different – to believe that whatever they saw happening on a given Sunday was acceptable. Through no real fault of their own, parishioners developed an understanding that the way Mass is celebrated at Saint XYZ’s is simply what we do here (Lang, 2018). This obviously ran counterintuitive to what the Second Vatican Council had intended.
It also makes it difficult for a Catholic to experience the universal nature of the faith when one parish modifies the liturgy to suit their needs in one direction, another parish goes a different direction, and yet a third parish “sticks to the script.”
One of the greatest reforms of the Second Vatican Council is the concept of participatio actuosa – active participation. Fr. Uwe (2018) wrote that active participation was a pastoral policy of significant value capable of bringing forward a fruitful immersion of the faithful into the Church’s liturgical life and tradition. The Second Vatican Council placed the regulation of the Sacred Liturgy solely in the Apostolic See working through the local bishop (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963). The “rules” serve as a guide ensuring the universal celebration of the Holy Mass for all, not limiting them.
As we come closer to the start of our Lenten journey together, you will notice changes to our liturgy. These changes are rooted in centuries old tradition that binds us all closer together.