~~III. The Reform of the Sacred Liturgy
21. In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of
graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with
great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made
up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change.
These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have
suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of
the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.
In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they
express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people,
so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take
part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.
Wherefore the sacred Council establishes the following general norms:
A) General norms
22. 1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the
Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within
certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial
bodies of bishops legitimately established.
3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change
anything in the liturgy on his own authority.
23. That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to
legitimate progress careful investigation is always to be made into each part of
the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological,
historical, and pastoral. Also the general laws governing the structure and
meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience
derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults conceded to various
places. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church
genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms
adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.
As far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent
regions must be carefully avoided.
24. Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the
liturgy. 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. Thus to achieve the restoration,
progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that
warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both
eastern and western rites gives testimony.
25. The liturgical books are to be revised as soon as possible; experts are to
be employed on the task, and bishops are to be consulted, from various parts of
B) Norms drawn from the hierarchic and communal nature of the Liturgy
26. Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the
Church, which is the "sacrament of unity," namely, the holy people united and
ordered under their bishops 
Therefore liturgical services pertain to the whole body of the Church; they
manifest it and have effects upon it; but they concern the individual members of
the Church in different ways, according to their differing rank, office, and
27. It is to be stressed that whenever rites, according to their specific
nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and
active participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be
preferred, so far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and
This applies with especial force to the celebration of Mass and the
administration of the sacraments, even though every Mass has of itself a public
and social nature.
28. In liturgical celebrations each person, minister or layman, who has an
office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his
office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.
29. Servers, lectors commentators, and members of the choir also exercise a
genuine liturgical function. They ought, therefore, to discharge their office
with the sincere piety and decorum demanded by so exalted a ministry and rightly
expected of them by God's people.
Consequently they must all be deeply imbued with the spirit of the liturgy, each
in his own measure, and they must be trained to perform their functions in a
correct and orderly manner.
30. To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take
part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as
well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all
should observe a reverent silence.
31. The revision of the liturgical books must carefully attend to the provision
of rubrics also for the people's parts.
32. The liturgy makes distinctions between persons according to their liturgical
function and sacred Orders, and there are liturgical laws providing for due
honors to be given to civil authorities. Apart from these instances, no special
honors are to be paid in the liturgy to any private persons or classes of
persons, whether in the ceremonies or by external display.
C) Norms based upon the didactic and pastoral nature of the Liturgy
33. Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine
Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful . For in the
liturgy God speaks to His people and Christ is still proclaiming His gospel. And
the people reply to God both by song and prayer.
Moreover, the prayers addressed to God by the priest who presides over the
assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people
and of all present. And the visible signs used by the liturgy to signify
invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or the Church. Thus not only
when things are read "which were written for our instruction" (Rom. 15:4), but
also when the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is
nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer Him their
rational service and more abundantly receive His grace.
Wherefore, in the revision of the liturgy, the following general norms should be
34. The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be
short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the
people's powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much
35. That the intimate connection between words and rites may be apparent in the
1) In sacred celebrations there is to be more reading from holy scripture, and
it is to be more varied and suitable.
2) Because the sermon is part of the liturgical service, the best place for it
is to be indicated even in the rubrics, as far as the nature of the rite will
allow; the ministry of preaching is to be fulfilled with exactitude and
fidelity. The sermon, moreover, should draw its content mainly from scriptural
and liturgical sources, and its character should be that of a proclamation of
God's wonderful works in the history of salvation, the mystery of Christ, ever
made present and active within us, especially in the celebration of the liturgy.
3) Instruction which is more explicitly liturgical should also be given in a
variety of ways; if necessary, short directives to be spoken by the priest or
proper minister should be provided within the rites themselves. But they should
occur only at the more suitable moments, and be in prescribed or similar words.
4) Bible services should be encouraged, especially on the vigils of the more
solemn feasts, on some weekdays in Advent and Lent, and on Sundays and feast
days. They are particularly to be commended in places where no priest is
available; when this is so, a deacon or some other person authorized by the
bishop should preside over the celebration.
36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be
preserved in the Latin rites.
2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the
administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may
be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be
extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and
to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter
to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.
3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial
ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what
extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved,
that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called
for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have
the same language.
4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in
the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical
authority mentioned above.
D) Norms for adapting the Liturgy to the culture and traditions of peoples
37. Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in
matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community;
rather does she respect and foster the genius and talents of the various races
and peoples. Anything in these peoples' way of life which is not indissolubly
bound up with superstition and error she studies with sympathy and, if possible,
preserves intact. Sometimes in fact she admits such things into the liturgy
itself, so long as they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit.
38. Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for
legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples,
especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman
rite is preserved; and this should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites
and devising rubrics.
39. Within the limits set by the typical editions of the liturgical books, it
shall be for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in
Art. 22, 2, to specify adaptations, especially in the case of the administration
of the sacraments, the sacramentals, processions, liturgical language, sacred
music, and the arts, but according to the fundamental norms laid down in this
40. In some places and circumstances, however, an even more radical adaptation
of the liturgy is needed, and this entails greater difficulties. Wherefore:
1) The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2,
must, in this matter, carefully and prudently consider which elements from the
traditions and culture of individual peoples might appropriately be admitted
into divine worship. Adaptations which are judged to be useful or necessary
should then be submitted to the Apostolic See, by whose consent they may be
2) To ensure that adaptations may be made with all the circumspection which they
demand, the Apostolic See will grant power to this same territorial
ecclesiastical authority to permit and to direct, as the case requires, the
necessary preliminary experiments over a determined period of time among certain
groups suited for the purpose.
3) Because liturgical laws often involve special difficulties with respect to
adaptation, particularly in mission lands, men who are experts in these matters
must be employed to formulate them.
E) Promotion of Liturgical Life in Diocese and Parish
41. The bishop is to be considered as the high priest of his flock, from whom
the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent.
Therefore all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the diocese
centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church; they must be
convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full
active participation of all God's holy people in these liturgical celebrations,
especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which
there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his
42. But because it is impossible for the bishop always and everywhere to preside
over the whole flock in his Church, he cannot do other than establish lesser
groupings of the faithful. Among these the parishes, set up locally under a
pastor who takes the place of the bishop, are the most important: for in some
manner they represent the visible Church constituted throughout the world.
And therefore the liturgical life of the parish and its relationship to the
bishop must be fostered theoretically and practically among the faithful and
clergy; efforts also must be made to encourage a sense of community within the
parish, above all in the common celebration of the Sunday Mass.
F) The Promotion of Pastoral-Liturgical Action
43. Zeal for the promotion and restoration of the liturgy is rightly held to be
a sign of the providential dispositions of God in our time, as a movement of the
Holy Spirit in His Church. It is today a distinguishing mark of the Church's
life, indeed of the whole tenor of contemporary religious thought and action.
So that this pastoral-liturgical action may become even more vigorous in the
Church, the sacred Council decrees:
44. It is desirable that the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority
mentioned in Art. 22, 2, set up a liturgical commission, to be assisted by
experts in liturgical science, sacred music, art and pastoral practice. So far
as possible the commission should be aided by some kind of Institute for
Pastoral Liturgy, consisting of persons who are eminent in these matters, and
including laymen as circumstances suggest. Under the direction of the
above-mentioned territorial ecclesiastical authority the commission is to
regulate pastoral-liturgical action throughout the territory, and to promote
studies and necessary experiments whenever there is question of adaptations to
be proposed to the Apostolic See.
45. For the same reason every diocese is to have a commission on the sacred
liturgy under the direction of the bishop, for promoting the liturgical
Sometimes it may be expedient that several dioceses should form between them one
single commission which will be able to promote the liturgy by common
46. Besides the commission on the sacred liturgy, every diocese, as far as
possible, should have commissions for sacred music and sacred art.
These three commissions must work in closest collaboration; indeed it will often
be best to fuse the three of them into one single commission.
This final section of Chapter I touches on some critical issues which have been
the source of significant discussion and controversy in the years since the
Council. I will highlight elements mentioned in sections 22, 25, 28, 30, 34,
35, 36, 41 and 45 as only a few examples of concepts that we need to revisit in
the life of the diocese today.
Paragraph 22 reminds us that regulation of the liturgy is in the hands of the
Pope and the bishops as a body and individually in limited ways. No individual
priest has the authority to change the mass. Reflecting on the past fifty years
we must admit that this paragraph is on which should have been revisited more
often. Abuses have occurred which were rooted in a failure to follow this
important guide. We have learned a lot and hopefully we can keep this principle
firmly in mind.
Paragraph 25 mentions the revision of liturgical books. The Roman Missal 3rd
Typical Edition is the latest iteration of this revision and it sets the
structure of the Ordinary Form mass for today
Paragraph 28 states that the roles of each liturgical ministry must be properly
respected. Whether bishop, priest,deacon or lay minister in a specific role
each has their place and should be respected. Through the years much confusion
has sprung from forgetting this basic principle.
Paragraph 30 gives us food for thought regarding active participation and
reminds us that at times silence is active participation.
Paragraph 34 uses the often repeated image of noble simplicity. We continue to
explore what this really means in concrete terms. It is a matter of balance and
through the years we have witnessed many instances of going to one extreme or
the other. Hopefully we can begin to strike a better balance between these
seemingly disparate terms.
Paragraph 35 focuses on the liturgy of the word and the Councils call for it to
be expanded and given greater emphasis. This is an area that has seen much
development since the Council but we still have much to do.
Paragraph 36 addresses the use of Latin and the vernacular in the liturgy. The
document makes it clear that it is not a question of either or but is rather
both and. This is possibly the greatest area of controversy in the years since
the Council and it remains a question that sparks great controversy and
resentment on both sides. Once again it is a matter of balance. It is one of
those specific areas where we are challenged not to simply do what is most
comfortable for us but instead continually ask, "What is the Church asking us to
do". Hopefully we can make progress in finding a healthy balance regarding
Latin and the vernacular.
Paragraph 41 reminds us of our basic Catholic theology that the bishop is the
primary celebrant of the liturgy for a given diocese. The mindset of the Church
is that the bishop would preside at every mass if it were possible. This leads
some to see the individual priests as merely substitutes for the bishop.
Instead it should remind us that the mass is ultimately Christ celebrating with
His Church. It is the role of the bishop and the priests to make Christ
present. When we forget this we lose touch with the wondrous mystery that the
Paragraph 45 outlines the role of the Liturgical Commission and it's function in
the diocese. It is a reminder of the significance of this body and an
acknowledgement that the liturgy is a living ritual and question will always
arise that this body can address.
This section gives us much food for thought and important guidance as we seek to
celebrate the liturgy of the mass with greater joy and reverence.