Magazine article Pastoral Music

First, the Sacred Liturgy: Setting the Agenda for Council and Renewal

Magazine article Pastoral Music

First, the Sacred Liturgy: Setting the Agenda for Council and Renewal

Article excerpt

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, promulgated on December 4, 1963, was the first document issued by the Council Fathers. It is tempting to think that this must indicate that they thought the liturgy was the most important subject to deal with on their agenda. In fact this Council's principal work was in theological, dogmatic reflection on the Church. The actual reason why the Liturgy Constitution was the first document to be issued was more prosaic: It was simply that its preconciliar preparation had been more thorough and more satisfactory than that of other texts of comparable importance.

Sacrosanctum Concilium was the fruit of the liturgical movement, which had started in earnest with Dom Lambert Beauduin's intervention at the Louvain Conference in 1909. However it had already been prepared for by several centuries of scholarly research, which had begun even before the Council of Trent (e.g., the work of Jean Mabillon, Edmond Martène, Nicolas-Hugues Ménard, Louis Duchesne, Edmund Bishop, and Adrian Fortescue, to name but a few). Hand in hand with this went a huge body of post-Trent liturgical legislation from the Vatican, most of which remains unknown today. The modern Liturgical Movement had additionally provided a good half-century of scholarship and reflection (Josef Jungmann, Bernard Botte, Romano Guardini, Pius Parsch, Pierre Jounel, Adrien Nocent, and many others).

Modern liturgical thought did not evolve in isolation. Other theological disciplines had also taken great strides in the decades before the Council, such as biblical exegesis and theology, historical theology, the history of doctrine, patristic studies, and ecumenical dialogue. They had all had their effect on the Liturgical Movement. The modern social action movement also needs to be taken into account for its influence on the thought of twentieth century liturgical pioneers.

Not everyone was prepared for developments in the field of liturgy. While the United States had had its twentieth century liturgical leaders such as Virgil Michel, Godfrey Diekmann, and Frederick McManus, with their UK counterparts James Crichton, Clifford Howell, and Harold Winstone, and Europe was awash with the likes of Joseph Gelineau, Pierre-Marie Gy, Louis Bouyer, Johannes Emminghaus, and many others, the vast majority of lay people and, indeed, many clergy-perhaps especially bishops-were unaware that the Council's teachings would have a definitive and lasting impact on the way in which Catholic Christians pray. Indeed, the last words of Cardinal John Carmel Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster (1963-1975), as he got on the train to go to Rome for the first session of the Council are reported to have been: "Don't worry! Whatever else happens, they won't touch our liturgy!"

The Constitution on the Liturgy was unique in that it would impact the lives of every single one of the faithful because it was a very "concrete" document, in contrast to the other great conciliar constitutions, which were more reflective and of immediate relevance to theologians and pastors rather than to the faithful as a whole.

I intend not to dwell too much on the specifically liturgical aspeas of the constitution (although obviously some will be mentioned) but rather on the wider implications for the Council and the Church as a whole. The fact that the liturgy happened to be the first major theme the Council Fathers treated was most fortuitous: It unlocked ecclesial doors which had remained closed for many centuries.

Speaking to the World: The First Words

According to Joseph Gelineau,1 the major drafting of Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) was done by Monsignor Johannes Wagner of the Liturgical Institute in Trier, Germany, and Canon Aimé-Georges Martimortof the Institut Catholique in Paris, France. Some have suggested that Father Pierre-Marie Gy, also of the Institut Catholique, was involved as well, but this seems less likely.

As the first Council document, the Constitution has the distinction of being the one whose very first words are "This sacred Council . …

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