[Photo caption: Pope Saint Paul VI]
As we finish the Decade of Centenaries (1913-1923), during which we have recalled the 25th anniversary Good Friday Agreement, let us add a date of special importance in our faith life, with profound effects in our Church and affecting, to some extent, other Christian faith communities, namely, the 60th anniversary of the publication of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, on 4 December 1963.
At Vespers in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on 25 January 1959, Pope John XXIII, now venerated as a saint, announced his intention to hold a Council of the Church. The Second Vatican Council began 11 October 1962, over four sessions, ending on 8 December 1965. Liturgy was the first topic to be debated. Pope Paul VI, now also venerated as a saint, had succeeded ‘Good Pope John,’ who died 3 June 1963, and, on the final day of the second session of the Council on 4 December 1963, promulgated its first document, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, known by its first Latin words, Sacrosanctum Concilium. That day Pope Paul spoke of the Church as ‘above all a worshipping society, a praying community.’ He noted ‘a respect for a right scale of values and duties,’ where ‘God must hold first place, prayer to God is our first duty. The liturgy is the first source of the divine communication in which God shares his own life with us. It is also the first school of the spiritual life.’
Sacrosanctum Concilium didn’t answer everything nor say everything, but it remains a constant reminder that we, the Church, are God’s people, founded on the death and resurrection of Christ, proclaiming God’s Word, on an earthly pilgrimage, reaching out to all in its invitation to participate, fully, actively, and consciously, mindful of its tradition, yet, in need of renewal, reaching out to all in need, a story of grace and victory over sin, from creation to an eternal and heavenly destiny. The Constitution reminds us to gather in worship and, in one short sentence, captures the significance and importance of the liturgy: the liturgy is ‘the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed, at the same time it is the fount from which all the Church’s power flows.’
Sixty years ago the changes happened quickly as we prayed the liturgy in our own mother tongue. It was the Spirit of God at work among us, and we learned the importance of preparation and formation. We argued about the old and the new because liturgy was an essential in the life of the Church and of the Christian. Above all, worship is God’s work and gift to us.
Sixty years ago, we spoke of our liturgy as new following the Second Vatican Council. It remains new in our celebrations as the people bonded to the Lord through a new covenant, called by the Lord who loves us to observe a new commandment, love one another, and living as a pilgrim people, singing a new hymn, creation made new, lived for a new heavens and a new earth. This was how it was for our first Christian forebears and it must be again for us today.
Marking sixty years of Sacrosanctum Concilium, may our liturgy, celebrating our salvation through, with and in Christ, be ever fresh, beautiful and new.
- Photo credit: Paulus VI, by Fotografia Felici, 1969 (cropped).jpg.