The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy:  An Examination of Conscience

It has been more than 40 years now since the Second Vatican Council released the first of its sixteen documents,Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  Promulgated on December 4, 1963 (400 years to the day after the close of the Council of Trent), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy provides the principles and norms for the restoration of the sacred liturgy.  Despite its 40 years, however, many questions, even “myths,” remain about what it actually says.

To stay close to the intentions of the Council and its document on the liturgy, Pope John Paul II had often brought the Constitution to our attention.  “The commemoration of the 40th anniversary of this event,” he says, “is a good opportunity to rediscover the basic themes of the liturgical renewal that the Council Fathers desired…, a sort of examination of conscience concerning the reception given to the Second Vatican Council…” (Spiritus et Sponsa, nn. 1, 6).  This presentation examines some of the Constitution’s fundamental liturgical principles and allows for an evaluation of their reception in our own liturgies.

Sacred Liturgy:  From Mass Confusion to Mass Understanding

In 1985 the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy was forced to issue the following reminder:  “It must be made clear that clowns have no liturgical function.”  The time following the Second Vatican Council has been one of change, instability, and, for many, confusion.  Ill will should not be attributed to clown ministers and others like them;  rather, they, like ourselves, may have lost sight of the meaning and purpose of the liturgy.

From Mass Confusion to Mass Understanding is an attempt to regain a fundamental understanding of the liturgy as “the participation of the People of God in the work of God.”  Accordingly, the presentation asks (and answers according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church):  What is the work of God?  Who are the People of God?  How do the People of Godparticipate in God’s work?  A number of examples from the celebration of the Mass help to illustrate the answers to these questions.

The Revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal

“When he was about to celebrate with his disciples the Passover meal in which he instituted the sacrifice of his Body and Blood, Christ the Lord gave instructions that a large, furnished upper room should be prepared (Lk 22:12). The Church has always regarded this command as applying also to herself when she gives directions about the preparation of people’s hearts and minds, and of the places, rites, and texts for the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist.”  Thus begins theGeneral Instruction of the Roman Missal, revised to accompany the third typical edition of the Roman Missal, restored by the wishes of the Second Vatican Council.

The presentation on the General Instruction of the Roman Missal begins with fundamental liturgical principles distilled from the Preamble and first chapters of the document.  Then, with a solid foundation established, the participants are “walked through” the Mass, stopping along the way to examine what the General Instruction actually says—and why it says it—about the Mass.

Sacred Ministries:  The Reader and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion

The service that laity provide in the celebration of the Mass today is invaluable.  Whether in the ministry of reader or in the extraordinary service by which the clergy are assisted in distributing communion, lay liturgical ministers serve the Church and her worship of God.  Both first-time liturgical ministers as well as those who have served for longer periods, however, can benefit from an examination of their roles.

Liturgical and practical in nature, these workshops begin with a review of the meaning and purpose of the Church’s liturgy.  Then, based on this common understanding, the particular aspects of each ministry are discussed in a step-by-step process.  Thus, the participants leave the workshop with a greater liturgical spirit as well as the practical knowledge and skills required to serve the Church in these liturgical ministries.

Sacred Music:  A Treasure of Inestimable Value

Despite the varying opinions about liturgical celebrations, most, if not all, agree that music is an integral part of the liturgy.  But beyond this common agreement, views differ greatly.  Take instruments, for example:  should the organ, the guitar, the accordion, or the piano be preferred above the others?  Or, regarding musical genre:  should folk, chant, gospel, polyphony, or some other style be considered more appropriate than the others?  And where should the choir be placed:  in the loft, the sanctuary, or somewhere in between?

A Treasure of Inestimable Value (see Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n.112) attempts to air some of these questions and to discuss them according to their liturgical, historical, and pastoral perspectives.  Taking the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy as its starting point, the presentation discusses some fundamental principles of sacred music as well as the language, styles, instruments, and texts of sacred music.  Also emphasized are those parts which ought to be sung at Mass and how to evaluate a hymn or piece of music for congregational singing.

Sacred Architecture: Signs and Symbols of Heavenly Realities

Much has been said in the not-too-distant past about church buildings.  “A church is the house of God.”  “A church is the house for the People of God.”  “A church is a skin or covering for liturgical action.”  “A church is ‘built of living stones.’”  These and other statements from priests, liturgists, and church officials have led to such questions as “Should a church ‘look like’ a church?”  And, if so, “What makes a church look like a church?”

A PowerPoint presentation of over 100 slides, Signs and Symbols of Heavenly Realities (see Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n.122) examines the purpose of church buildings according to the Church’s liturgy and faith.  Emphasizing both the functional and the sacramental dimensions of the church building, the origins and meanings of the various architectural symbols are discussed, as are the specific functions and symbols of the church’s appointments (doors, altar, tabernacle, chair, etc.).  Finally, for those parishes who are about to undertake a building or renovating project, practical aspects of the process are presented.

Acts of the Fifth Diocesan Synod:  Developing a Pastoral Plan for Implementation

As a result of the consultation received by Bishop Raymond Burke during the Fifth Diocesan Synod, diocesan legislation was promulgated on August 15 of 2003.  Of these 312 laws, many are relative to sacred worship, prayer and devotional life, either directly or indirectly.  In Developing a Pastoral Plan for Implementation, after a short review of the synod process, participants are asked to reflect upon three questions concerning the synodal legislation on the liturgy:  Why does this particular law say what it does?  On a scale of 1 to 10, how well are we meeting this particular requirement?  What do we need to do to meet the requirements of this law?  The group then discusses the best way in which the law in question may be implemented.

Parish-Level Sacred Worship Committees

The Sacred Worship Committee assists the parish pastoral council “in fostering, first and foremost, the liturgical life of the parish as celebrated in the Sacraments and other rites of the Church, with special attention to the sick and isolated in the parish.  Also of concern to this committee are the devotional aspects of the parish’s life of prayer” (On Consultation in the Parish and Deanery, p.33).  This presentation is meant to aid pastors and parishioners in beginning and maintaining sacred worship committees on the parish level as described in Bishop John Paul’s pastoral letter On Consultation.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours in the Parish

“Pastors of souls should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in Church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts.  The laity, too, are encouraged to recite the Divine Office, either with priests, or among themselves, or even individually” (Constitution on the Liturgy, n.100).  This directive of the Second Vatican Council is perhaps one that has met with the most difficulty in implementing.  While more and more individuals and parishes are undertaking this liturgical prayer of the Church, it is oftentimes with a great deal of difficulty, confusion, and frustration.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours in the Parish provides those present with a liturgical, theological, and historical understanding of this prayer, followed by an orientation with the structure of the one-volume “Christian Prayer.”  After this orientation participants are invited to prepare and then to pray the relevant hour together.

Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  The Heart of Jesus itself, in love with and wounded for mankind, is the most perfect symbol of the love of God.  For this reason, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The prayer of the Church venerates and honors the Heart of Jesus….  It adores the incarnate Word and his Heart which, out of love for men, he allowed to be pierced by our sins (n.2669).”

The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an expression of our own love for God and the love which he shows to us.  In the presentation, a doctrinal, scriptural, historical, and liturgical understanding of the devotion is sought through many of the frequently asked questions, such as:  What is the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and what is its origin?  What is the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? What is its relevance today? What have the popes and councils said about the devotion to the Sacred Heart?  What is the enthronement ceremony, and how can I carry it out?

Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Liturgy

What does Sacred Scripture have to do with the Church’s liturgy?  Everything.  “For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung;  the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning” (Constitution on the Liturgy, n.24).  In the earthly liturgy, the Church makes use of signs and symbols, or, more specifically, sacraments and sacramentals.  But what do these signs, symbols, and sacraments mean?  Why, for example, is the body of the church building called a “nave”?  Why are many baptismal fonts eight-sided?  Why do liturgical ministers where albs?

This presentation shows the scriptural origins of many of the liturgical symbols we use today in our sacramental celebrations.  By discovering the types of sacramental symbolism in the scriptures, the meaning of liturgical actions and signs will be better known to the faithful and their participation in the liturgy that much greater.

Fostering a Liturgical Spirituality

“At the beginning of this millennium,” Pope John Paul II requests, “may a ‘liturgical spirituality’ be developed that makes people conscious that Christ is the first ‘liturgist’ who never ceases to act in the Church and in the world through the Paschal Mystery continuously celebrated, and who associates the Church with himself, in praise of the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit” (Spiritus et Sponsa, n.16).

This presentation attempts to elaborate on such a “liturgical spirituality.”  It address what it means to say Christ is the first liturgist;  the centrality of the Paschal Mystery;  the participation of the Church and her members in the work of Christ;  and the place of the entire Trinity in the liturgical and spiritual life.  Also offered are practical suggestions for fostering a liturgical spirituality.


In addition to the above topics, the Office of Sacred Worship is available to give any other worship related presentations or workshops, both on the parish and deanery levels.  Please contact Christopher Carstens to discuss any other offerings you would like to see.