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

Liturgy as an Art and a Craft

In his post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about "the art of proper celebration" of the Liturgy, or ars celebrandi (SacCar, no. 38). He stated:

In the course of the Synod, there was frequent insistence on the need to avoid any antithesis between the ars celebrandi, the art of proper celebration, and the full, active and fruitful participation of all the faithful. The primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself. The ars celebrandi is the best way to ensure their actuosa participatio. The ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness; indeed, for two thousand years this way of celebrating has sustained the faith life of all believers, called to take part in the celebration as the People of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-5, 9).

He then went on to treat three themes that we want to underscore.

  1. Responsibility of Bishops, Priests and Deacons (SacCar, no.40)
    In this paragraph Pope Benedict XVI clearly enunciated the collective "responsibility" of the ordained in the art of celebration. We take these words to heart and invite all the clergy to do so. At our ordination as deacons, we first received the Book of the Gospels, being told to "believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach." This is a challenge for all to serve with integrity as we proclaim and preach the Word. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) reminds us also that we must celebrate the Liturgy with great care: "Therefore, when he celebrates the Eucharist, [the Priest] must serve God and his people with dignity and humility, and by his bearing and by the way he pronounces the divine words he must convey to the faithful the living presence of Christ" (GIRM, no. 93).

    We do well to keep Pope Benedict XVI's introductory comments in mind, namely that the whole People of God participates in the Liturgy. We are stewards of the Liturgy and servants of the People of God. The terms "minister" and "ministry" should always have special resonance for those who are ordained to serve the Body of Christ.

  2. Art at the Service of the Liturgy (SacCar, no. 41)
    The setting for the celebration of the Liturgy should be beautiful. While notions of what is "beautiful" can be subjective and culturally rooted, we wish to underscore that the objective quality of beauty is a reflection of the Divine. The 2000 USCCB guidelines, Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship (BLS), state: "The place where God gathers this people powerfully draws them more deeply into communion and expresses in beauty God's profound holiness" (BLS, no. 140). Every object used in the Liturgy (vesture, books, vessels, candles, etc.), every focal point in the sanctuary (altar, ambo, chair, tabernacle, font, ambry, etc.), and every work of art in the church (statues, glass, sacred images, etc.) can lead us to the Divine, because Christian beauty manifests itself "as an echo of God's own creative act" (BLS, no. 145), and therefore should reflect the best of our artistic heritage. The materials we use should be authentic and reflect human artistry as a gift from God which is offered back to him. Blessed John Paul II's Letter to Artists reminds us of the importance of fostering creativity among artists whose imagination and ingenuity reflect the many ways in which God communicates with us, and we with God.

  3. Liturgical Song (SacCar, no.42)
    Liturgical song has a preeminent place in the ars celebrandi, for not only is it a means of active participation, but it is another source of beauty that can lift hearts and inspire worship. We commend those who have dedicated themselves as composers and pastoral musicians who enrich our worship and enable our songs of praise. The development of a repertory of vernacular music for the Liturgy over the past fifty years is a gift for which we are grateful and which we continue to promote. We also seek to improve the quality of our celebrations in light of the 2007 USCCB guidelines Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship. To rely only on the music of a single genre or style for the celebration of the Liturgy is to diminish the breadth and depth of our liturgical heritage and to risk the exclusion of the legitimate contributions of particular cultures and composers. We wish to underscore the importance of the words set to music for the Liturgy, and that they must accurately reflect the theology of the Liturgy or be drawn from the liturgical texts themselves.