The following is the introduction and first section of Chapter I of the Constitution on the Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council. I hope to periodically post sections from the Constitution with a few personal reflections. The documents can be lengthy but they are rich with wonderful teachings that help to deepen our faith. I hope you will find these posts to be helpful.
Constitution on the Liturgy- Introduction and Chapter I Section 1
1. This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever
increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably
to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to
foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen
whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church.
The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the
reform and promotion of the liturgy.
2. For the liturgy, "through which the work of our redemption is accomplished,"
 most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding
means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others,
the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church. It is of the
essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet
invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in
this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise
that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible
likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to
that city yet to come, which we seek . While the liturgy daily builds up
those who are within into a holy temple of the Lord, into a dwelling place for
God in the Spirit , to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ , at
the same time it marvelously strengthens their power to preach Christ, and thus
shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up among the
nations  under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together
, until there is one sheepfold and one shepherd .
3. Wherefore the sacred Council judges that the following principles concerning
the promotion and reform of the liturgy should be called to mind, and that
practical norms should be established.
Among these principles and norms there are some which can and should be applied
both to the Roman rite and also to all the other rites. The practical norms
which follow, however, should be taken as applying only to the Roman rite,
except for those which, in the very nature of things, affect other rites as
4. Lastly, in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that
holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right
and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them
in every way. The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be
revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new
vigor to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES FOR THE RESTORATION AND PROMOTION OF
THE SACRED LITURGY
1. The Nature of the Sacred Liturgy and Its Importance in the Church's Life
5. God who "wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth"
(1 Tim. 2:4), "who in many and various ways spoke in times past to the fathers
by the prophets" (Heb. 1:1), when the fullness of time had come sent His Son,
the Word made flesh, anointed by the Holy Spirit, to preach the the gospel to
the poor, to heal the contrite of heart , to be a "bodily and spiritual
medicine" , the Mediator between God and man . For His humanity, united
with the person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation. Therefore in
Christ "the perfect achievement of our reconciliation came forth, and the
fullness of divine worship was given to us" .
The wonderful works of God among the people of the Old Testament were but a
prelude to the work of Christ the Lord in redeeming mankind and giving perfect
glory to God. He achieved His task principally by the paschal mystery of His
blessed passion, resurrection from the dead, and the glorious ascension, whereby
"dying, he destroyed our death and, rising, he restored our life" . For it
was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that
there came forth "the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church" .
6. Just as Christ was sent by the Father, so also He sent the apostles, filled
with the Holy Spirit. This He did that, by preaching the gospel to every
creature , they might proclaim that the Son of God, by His death and
resurrection, had freed us from the power of Satan  and from death, and
brought us into the kingdom of His Father. His purpose also was that they might
accomplish the work of salvation which they had proclaimed, by means of
sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves. Thus
by baptism men are plunged into the paschal mystery of Christ: they die with
Him, are buried with Him, and rise with Him ; they receive the spirit of
adoption as sons "in which we cry: Abba, Father" ( Rom. 8 :15), and thus become
true adorers whom the Father seeks . In like manner, as often as they eat
the supper of the Lord they proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes .
For that reason, on the very day of Pentecost, when the Church appeared before
the world, "those who received the word" of Peter "were baptized." And "they
continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of
the breaking of bread and in prayers . . . praising God and being in favor with
all the people" (Acts 2:41-47). From that time onwards the Church has never
failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery: reading those things
"which were in all the scriptures concerning him" (Luke 24:27), celebrating the
eucharist in which "the victory and triumph of his death are again made present"
, and at the same time giving thanks "to God for his unspeakable gift" (2
Cor. 9:15) in Christ Jesus, "in praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:12), through the
power of the Holy Spirit.
7. To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church,
especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the
Mass, not only in the person of His minister, "the same now offering, through
the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross" , but
especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the
sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes
. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy
scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays
and sings, for He promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in my
name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20) .
Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work
wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is His
beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through Him offers worship to the
Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office
of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the 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.
From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action
of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action
surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by
the same title and to the same degree.
8. In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy
which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as
pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the
holies and of the true tabernacle ; we sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with
all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we
hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our
Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with
Him in glory .
9. The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. Before
men can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion: "How
then are they to call upon him in whom they have not yet believed? But how are
they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear if no one
preaches? And how are men to preach unless they be sent?" (Rom. 10:14-15).
Therefore the Church announces the good tidings of salvation to those who do not
believe, so that all men may know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has
sent, and may be converted from their ways, doing penance . To believers
also the Church must ever preach faith and penance, she must prepare them for
the sacraments, teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded , and
invite them to all the works of charity, piety, and the apostolate. For all
these works make it clear that Christ's faithful, though not of this world, are
to be the light of the world and to glorify the Father before men.
10. Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the
Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power
flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons
of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of
His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.
The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with "the paschal
sacraments," to be "one in holiness" ; it prays that "they may hold fast in
their lives to what they have grasped by their faith" ; the renewal in the
Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the
compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire. From the liturgy, therefore,
and especially from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon
us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to
which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is
achieved in the most efficacious possible way.
11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is
necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their
minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with
divine grace lest they receive it in vain  . Pastors of souls must therefore
realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than
the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is
their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they
are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.
12. The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the
liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren, but he must
also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father, in secret ; yet more,
according to the teaching of the Apostle, he should pray without ceasing .
We learn from the same Apostle that we must always bear about in our body the
dying of Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our
bodily frame . This is why we ask the Lord in the sacrifice of the Mass
that, "receiving the offering of the spiritual victim," he may fashion us for
himself "as an eternal gift" .
13. Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended,
provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they
are ordered by the Apostolic See.
Devotions proper to individual Churches also have a special dignity if they are
undertaken by mandate of the bishops according to customs or books lawfully
But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the
liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived
from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very
nature far surpasses any of them.
II. The Promotion of Liturgical Instruction and Active Participation
14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that
fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is
demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian
people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people
(1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active
participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for
it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive
the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive
to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral
The introduction and first section of Chapter I clearly lay out the purpose and
focus of the Constitution. I am struck by the beautiful scope of these initial
paragraphs as they remind the Church what the Liturgy is. It is Christ's action
and this message takes us back to His time, His words and His desire. It truly
is timeless and it applies to the Church today as profoundly as it did 50 years
I call your attention especially to paragraphs 7 and 10. The message of these
paragraphs has been repeated countless times since this document was originally
promulgated. Paragraph 7 speaks of the fourfold presence of Christ in the
liturgy. In His minister, in the Eucharistic species, in His Word and in the
people assembled. These words remind us of the challenge we face at every
liturgy to be aware of Christ present in each of these ways. We have all felt
the ways our experience of the liturgy is diminished when this balance is
Chapter 10 includes the image of the liturgy as the summit and font of the life
of the Church. This is probably one of the most quoted images of the
Constitution but the depth of its meaning is something we continue to explore.
In many ways it captures much of the reflection contained in this initial
section. The document reminds us that the liturgy is something we must always
return to as it is always something we must draw strength from as we seek to
Let us pray that as bishop, priests, deacons, religious and faithful in the
diocese we may continually ponder these beautiful words and be guided by them as
we seek to live Jesus Christ.
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