40 years on
The 40th Anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium was marked by a Conference organised by the Department for Christian Life and Worship of the Bishops’ Conference together with Heythrop College. The day began with the following introductory words from Bishop Mark Jabale of Menevia, Chair of the Department.
On December 4th, 40th Anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Holy Father issued an Apostolic letter to mark this important occasion. In it he tells us that in the Constitution on the Liturgy the Holy Spirit has spoken to the Church, giving constant guidance for the Lord’s Disciples to the full and complete truth; and he adds that with the passage of time, in the light of the fruits borne by it, the importance of Sacrosanctum Concilium has become ever more evident.
The Pope points out that the Liturgical perspective of the Council did not limit itself to a merely intra-ecclesial scope but that it opened itself to all human beings — Christ in his prayer to the Father gathers in the whole of mankind through the praying mission of the Church.
The Eucharist is central to the life of all Christians; it is potentially the greatest source of spiritual strength which we have available to us, since it is the sacrament of unity, linking us to God and to each other. Sadly, at the same time, it has often been misused and misunderstood, with appalling consequences. The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium addressed the vital importance of this greatest of all sacraments to provide the fully illuminating and energising effect upon the lives of all the faithful that it should have.
Hence, this Anniversary is well worth celebrating. The fruits of the Liturgical Reform are everywhere obvious. Some of the most obvious examples are the use of the vernacular, a deeper understanding of scripture, a liturgy in which it is much easier for God’s people to participate, the development of lay ministries, to name but a few.
A parish community which is genuinely united around the Eucharist is a potential source of strength for all its members; they support and strengthen each other, so that no one is forced to go it alone, so to speak, in a self-enclosed, atomistic, individualistic way.
To surrender our personal prejudices and preferences in order to unite with a community means that we can begin to get the experience of ecstasy in the etymological sense of the word; that is standing outside of oneself, rising above oneself. When we do this sincerely and genuinely, we can experience a deep inner peace and happiness, as well as radiate it.
There is a particular need to hear once more the words of Sacrosanctum Concilium because of the way that again and again the liturgy has been the focus of controversy in the Church, a battleground between left and right. Sadly, it is easy to lose one’s bearings, to go off at a tangent and to forget the centrality of the Liturgy in the life of every Christian. Sacrosanctum Concilium reaffirmed in a practical and concrete way the awesome depth of it all, the benefits to be gained from it and the total surrender which is required in order to reap its benefits. Today, then, gives us all an opportunity to take bearings to see how far we have gone along the road in our understanding of this great document, and what still remains for us to understand and strive for.
The Pope tells us that we must move from renewal to deepening — and so we need to ask ourselves some questions:
- Do we see Liturgy as the core and the summit of ecclesial life, as Sacrosanctum Concilium asks us to do?
- Has the rediscovery of God’s word through the Liturgy produced a positive response in our celebrations?
- How far and deep has it entered into the lives of individual ecclesial communities?
- Is it understood as the way to holiness and inward strength for the missionary Church?
Then, he adds that in spite of increasing secularisation and a diminishing interest in the Gospel a thirst for spirituality is evident and points out that this can best be satisfied through the Liturgy.
He concludes by hoping that at the beginning of this millennium there should develop what he calls a “Liturgical Spirituality” which allows us to see Christ as the first Liturgist, who never stops working in the Church and in the world through the Paschal Mystery which is celebrated.