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

Liturgical Reform and the Renewal of the Church

Sacrosanctum Concilium was the first text to be promulgated at the Second Vatican Council. In setting out a broad agenda, its opening paragraph stated:

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 that 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. (no. 1)

We want to underscore that the reforms in the Liturgy, which were the result of the Council's deliberations and decisions, are for nothing less than the increased spiritual vigor and ongoing renewal of the Church. It was judged that the visible rites of the Church had to undergo reform for the sake of interior renewal of the faithful.

At the Extraordinary Synod on the twentieth anniversary of Vatican II in 1985, and ever since, a key term surfaced for interpreting both the documents of Vatican II and the nature of the Church: communio. This is fittingly applied also to the Sacred Liturgy, which builds up and expresses the Church. Used in a variety of ways and contexts in subsequent Church documents, the term communio often refers to the relationship of the baptized as incorporated into the Trinity of persons who is the one true God. This is what constitutes the Church: that we are rooted in the very life of our Trinitarian God, experiencing most profoundly in the celebration of the Eucharist the reality of being "many parts, yet one body" (1 Cor. 12:20).

Liturgy is always the public prayer of the Church, aptly called "the pilgrim Church on earth" (Eucharistic Prayer III). It has always been an ideal that the Church become who she is through the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. St. Augustine admonishes his listeners: "[I]t is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are you respond 'Amen' ('yes, it is true!') and by responding to it you assent to it" (Sermon 272, On Pentecost, PL 38, 1247). Thus it is that the Church prays, "[G]rant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son, and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ" (Eucharistic Prayer III).

As we give thanks for the great work of reform of the Liturgy and renewal of the Church that has borne such abundant fruits, we must also continually strive to deepen this renewal that was begun under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. This ongoing renewal is the pilgrim journey of the Church toward the "holy city Jerusalem" (Rev. 21:10). Liturgy is the privileged time and place when our words and deeds cede to communion, ultimately leading to final (comm)union when we see God face to face. In other words, the Church's Liturgy is always oriented toward the heavenly Liturgy. In the meantime, our communal engagement and incorporation into Christ's Paschal Mystery must always lead to our witnessing to the world what we have celebrated and what we hope for. This Prayer after Communion in Easter Time expresses well our communion with "God-with-us" and our pilgrim journey to his heavenly Kingdom:

Graciously be present to your people, we pray, O Lord,
and lead those you have imbued with heavenly mysteries
to pass from former ways to newness of life.