Stewards of the Tradition – Fifty Years after Sacrosanctum Concilium
A statement by the Committee on Divine Worship. © 2013 USCCB.


As the Church marks the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) at the Second Vatican Council, we members of the bishops' Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wish to address particularly all who are involved in liturgical ministry and liturgical leadership in the United States. Without your continued cooperation and self-sacrificing ministry, the implementation of the reformed liturgical rites after Vatican II, which have proven to be such a grace for the Church, could never have been undertaken. We note in particular your ongoing work in the preparation and celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. We also recognize the expanded roles of professional and volunteer leadership to coordinate the process of adult initiation, sacramental preparation, and the day in, day out celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. We acknowledge all of your efforts with respect and deep gratitude.

In addition, we want to recognize all those who comprise the gathered liturgical assemblies in the variety of liturgical contexts that make up the local Churches in the United States. It is our hope and prayer that you continue to find in the reformed Liturgy what the Constitution called the very "summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed" and "the fount from which all the Church's power flows" (no. 10). Is it any wonder that the same Constitution asserts that "no other action of the Church can equal its effectiveness" (no. 7)?

The Sacred Liturgy is of utmost importance in the life of Catholics because in and through it we make present and participate in the Paschal Mystery of Christ, and in so doing we are incorporated into this "Mystery of Faith" for our redemption and the continued building up of the Church as "one body, one spirit in Christ (Eucharistic Prayer III).

In two places in the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul refers to the important words "hand on" and "receive." In the first instance, he refers to handing on what he received concerning the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-26) beginning with the words: "I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you." In the second instance, he speaks of the Gospel and of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. He states that this is what he "handed on" to them and what they "received" (1 Cor. 15:1-3), calling this of "first importance."

We use the words of St. Paul—to receive and to hand on—to characterize what we do as liturgical ministers, namely, to help the gathered assembly participate in Christ's Paschal Mystery in every liturgical celebration. We are privileged stewards (1 Cor. 4:1) insofar as our ministry is from the Lord "for our good and the good of all his holy Church" (Order of Mass, no. 29).

Grateful for the catechetical work the Church in the English-speaking world has successfully undertaken for the implementation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, we also wish to offer words of encouragement for the ongoing work of implementation and liturgical catechesis that lies ahead, especially as the Church calls for the reverent and proper celebration of the Sacred Liturgy as an intrinsic part of the New Evangelization.

There are any number of things that could be said at this anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Among them, as an expression of our gratitude and encouragement, we wish to offer reflections on the following:

  1. Liturgical Reform and the Renewal of the Church
  2. Rereading Sacrosanctum Concilium in its Historical Context
  3. Fundamental and Foundational Principles
  4. Liturgy as an Art and a Craft
  5. Living What We Celebrate