The Holy Father addressed a Message dated 4 December to Cardinal
Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of
the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the
Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium. Accompanying his Message to
the Cardinal is the Pope's Apostolic Letter On the Sacred Liturgy
to mark this anniversary. The following are translations of the Message
and the Apostolic Letter, both written in Italian.
To my Venerable Brother
Cardinal Francis Arinze
Prefect of the Congregation for
Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments
Forty years to the day, 4 December 1963, on which my venerable
Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, promulgated the Constitution Sacrosanctum
Concilium, first fruit of the Second Vatican Council, the Congregation
for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has opportunely
promoted a study day in order to emphasize the foundational themes of
liturgical renewal desired by the Council.
I am delighted with this initiative, and I willingly take this
opportunity to communicate to you, Venerable Brother, and to all the
Congress participants, the Letter I prepared in order to recall the
promulgation of the above-mentioned Conciliar Constitution, which has
marked a fundamentally important stage in the Church's life for the
promotion and the development of the Liturgy.
In entrusting to this Dicastery the work of making known to the
Christian people the content of the enclosed Apostolic Letter, I assure
you of my spiritual presence during the Congress' work, while I
wholeheartedly send to you, Venerable Brother, to your collaborators, to
the relators and to all present a special Blessing, laden with heavenly
From the Vatican, 4 December 2003
SPIRITUS ET SPONSA
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
JOHN PAUL II
ON THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE
CONSTITUTION ON THE SACRED LITURGY
1. "The Spirit and the Bride say 'Come'. And let him who hears say,
'Come'. And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the
water of life without price" (Apoc 22:17). These words from the Apocalypse
echo in my heart as I remember that 40 years ago today, exactly on 4
December 1963, my venerable Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, promulgated the
Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium
on the Sacred Liturgy. What, indeed, is the Liturgy other than the voice
of the Holy Spirit and of the Bride, holy Church, crying in unison to the
Lord Jesus: "Come"? What is the Liturgy other than that pure,
inexhaustible source of "living water" from which all who thirst can
freely draw the gift of God (cf. Jn 4:10)?
Indeed, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first fruit of
the Second Vatican Council, that "great grace bestowed on the Church in
the 20th century",1 the Holy Spirit spoke to the Church,
ceaselessly guiding the disciples of the Lord "into all the truth" (Jn
16:13). The commemoration of the 40th anniversary of this event is a good
opportunity to rediscover the basic themes of the liturgical renewal that
the Council Fathers desired, to seek to evaluate their reception, as it
were, and to cast a glance at the future.
The Council Constitution
2. With the passing of time and in the light of its fruits, the
importance of Sacrosanctum Concilium has become increasingly clear.
The Council brilliantly outlined in it the principles on which are based
the liturgical practices of the Church and which inspire its healthy
renewal in the course of time.2 The Council Fathers set the
Liturgy within the horizon of the history of salvation, whose purpose is
the redemption of humanity and the perfect glorification of God. The
wonders wrought by God in the Old Testament were but a prelude to the
redemption brought to completion by Christ the Lord, especially through
the Paschal Mystery of his blessed Passion, his Resurrection from the dead
and his glorious Ascension.3 However, it needs not only to be
proclaimed but also to be accomplished; this "is set in train through the
sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life
revolves".4 Christ makes himself present in a special way in
the liturgical gestures associating the Church with himself. Every
liturgical celebration, therefore, is the work of Christ the Priest and of
his Mystical Body, "full public worship"5 in which the faithful
take part, with a foretaste in it of the Liturgy of the heavenly
Jerusalem.6 This is why the "Liturgy is the summit toward which
the activity of the Church is directed" and at the same time, "the fount
from which all her power flows".7
3. The liturgical outlook of the Council did not keep to interchurch
relations, but was open to the horizons of all humanity. Indeed, in his
praise to the Father, Christ attaches to himself the whole community of
men and women. He does so specifically through the mission of a praying
Church which, "by celebrating the Eucharist and by other means, especially
the celebration of the Divine Office, is ceaselessly engaged in praising
the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the entire world".8
In the perspective of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the liturgical
life of the Church acquires a cosmic and universal scope that makes a deep
mark on human time and space. It is also possible to understand in this
perspective the renewed attention that the Constitution pays to the
liturgical year through which the Church journeys, commemorating and
reliving the Paschal Mystery of Christ.9
If the Liturgy consists in all of this, the Council rightly affirms
that every liturgical action "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".10 At the same time, the Council recognizes
that "the Sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the
Church".11 Indeed, on the one hand the Liturgy presupposes the
proclamation of the Gospel, and on the other, it demands a Christian
witness in history. The mystery proposed in preaching and catechesis,
listened to with faith and celebrated in the liturgy, must shape the
entire life of believers who are called to be its heralds in the world.12
4. Then with regard to the different elements involved in liturgical
celebration, the Constitution pays special attention to the importance of
sacred music. The Council praises it, pointing out as its objective: "the
glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful".13 In
fact, sacred music is a privileged means to facilitate the active
participation of the faithful in sacred celebration, as my venerable
Predecessor St Pius X desired to highlight in his Motu Proprio On the
Restoration of Sacred Music Tra le Sollecitudini, whose centenary
occurs this year. It was this very anniversary that recently gave me an
opportunity to reassert the need to preserve and to emphasize the role of
music at liturgical celebrations, in accordance with the directives of
Sacrosanctum Concilium14 and mindful of the Liturgy's real
character as well as the sensibility of our time and the musical
traditions of the world's different regions.
5. Sacred art was another fruitful topic addressed by the conciliar
Constitution. It gave rise to many developments. The Council gives clear
instructions to continue to leave considerable room for it in our day too,
so that the splendour of worship will shine out through the fittingness
and beauty of liturgical art.
To this end it will be appropriate to make provision for projects to
train the various craftsmen and artists who are commissioned to build and
decorate places destined for liturgical use.15 At the root of
these guidelines is a vision of art, and sacred art in particular, that
relates it to "the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands".16
From renewal to deepening
6. Forty years later, it is appropriate to review the ground covered. I
have already suggested on former occasions a sort of examination of
conscience concerning the reception given to the Second Vatican Council.17
Such an examination must also concern the liturgical and sacramental life.
"Is the Liturgy lived as the 'origin and summit' of ecclesial life, in
accordance with the teaching of Sacrosanctum Concilium?.18
Has the rediscovery of the value of the Word of God brought about by
liturgical reform met with a positive confirmation in our celebrations? To
what extent does the Liturgy affect the practice of the faithful and does
it mark the rhythm of the individual communities? Is it seen as a path of
holiness, an inner force of apostolic dynamism and of the Church's
7. The Council's renewal of the Liturgy is expressed most clearly in
the publication of liturgical books. After a preliminary period in
which the renewed texts were little by little incorporated into the
liturgical celebrations, a deeper knowledge of their riches and potential
has become essential. The mainspring of this deepening must be a principle
of total fidelity to the Sacred Scriptures and to Tradition,
authoritatively interpreted in particular by the Second Vatican Council,
whose teachings have been reasserted and developed in the ensuing
Magisterium. This fidelity engages in the first place the Bishop "to whom
is committed the office of offering the worship of Christian religion to
the divine Majesty and of administering it in accordance with the Lord's
commandments and with the Church's laws";19 at the same time,
it involves the entire ecclesial community "in different ways, depending
on their orders, their role in the liturgical services and their actual
participation in them".20
In this perspective, it is more necessary than ever to intensify
liturgical life within our communities by means of an appropriate
formation of the pastors and of all the faithful with a view to the
active, conscious and full participation in liturgical celebrations
desired by the Council.21
8. Consequently, what is needed is a pastoral care of the Liturgy
that is totally faithful to the new ordines. Through these, renewed
interest in the Word of God has gradually developed as the Council
desired, hoping for a return to a "more ample, more varied and more
suitable reading from Sacred Scripture".22 The new
lectionaries, for example, offer a broad choice of passages from Scripture
which constitute an inexhaustible source from which the People of God can
and must draw. Indeed, we cannot forget that "in listening to the Word of
God the Church grows and is built, and the wonderful works God once
wrought in many different ways in the history of salvation are represented
in their mystical truth through the signs of the liturgical celebration".23
In this celebration, the Word of God expresses the fullness of their
meaning, inciting Christian life to continuous renewal, so that "what is
heard at the liturgical celebration may also be put into practice in
9. Sunday, the Lord's Day, on which the Resurrection of Christ
is especially commemorated, is at the heart of liturgical life as the
"foundation and nucleus of the whole liturgical year".25 There
is no doubt that considerable pastoral effort has been expended to bring
people to rediscover the value of Sunday. Yet it is essential to make a
point of this, for "the spiritual and pastoral riches of Sunday, as it has
been handed on to us by tradition, are truly great. When its significance
and implications are understood in their entirety, Sunday in a way becomes
a synthesis of the Christian life and a condition for living it well".26
10. Liturgical celebration nourishes the spiritual life of the
faithful. The principle I formulated in my Apostolic Letter Novo
Millennio Ineunte: "calling for a Christian life distinguished above
all in the art of prayer",27 stems from the Liturgy.
Sacrosanctum Concilium interprets this urgency prophetically, spurring
the Christian community to intensify its prayer life, not only through the
liturgy but also in "popular devotions", for as long as these are in
harmony with the Liturgy, they are in some way derived from it and lead to
it.28 The pastoral experience in recent decades has reinforced
this insight. In this regard, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments has made a valuable contribution with its
Directory on Popular Piety, Liturgy, Principles, Guidelines.29
Then, with the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae30
and the announcement of the Year of the Rosary, I myself wanted to
make explicit the contemplative treasure of this traditional prayer that
has spread far and wide among the People of God. I therefore recommended
its rediscovery as a privileged path to contemplation of the Face of
Christ at the school of Mary.
11. Looking to the future we see various challenges that the Liturgy is
called to confront. During the past 40 years, in fact, society has
undergone profound changes, some of which have put ecclesial commitment
severely to the test. We have before us a world in which the signs of the
Gospel are dying out, even in regions with an ancient Christian tradition.
Now is the time for new evangelization. This challenge calls the
Liturgy directly into question.
At first sight, spirituality seems to have been put aside by a broadly
secularized society; but it is certain that despite secularization, a
renewed need for it is re-emerging in different ways in our day. How can
we not see this as proof that the thirst for God cannot be uprooted from
the human heart? Some questions find an answer only in personal contact
with Christ. Only in intimacy with him does every existence acquire
meaning and succeed in experiencing the joy that prompted Peter to exclaim
on the mountain of the Transfiguration: "Master, it is well that we are
here" (Lk 9:33).
12. The Liturgy offers the deepest and most effective answer to this
yearning for the encounter with God. It does so especially in the
Eucharist, in which we are given to share in the sacrifice of Christ and
to nourish ourselves with his Body and his Blood. However, Pastors must
ensure that the sense of mystery penetrates consciences, making them
rediscover the art of "mystagogic catechesis", so dear to the
Fathers of the Church.31 It is their duty, in particular, to
promote dignified celebrations, paying the proper attention to the
different categories of persons: children, young people, adults, the
elderly, the disabled. They must all feel welcome at our gatherings, so
that they may breathe the atmosphere of the first community of believers
who "devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the
breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).
13. One aspect that we must foster in our communities with greater
commitment is the experience of silence. We need silence "if
we are to accept in our hearts the full resonance of the voice of the Holy
Spirit and to unite our personal prayer more closely to the Word of God
and the public voice of the Church".32 In a society that lives
at an increasingly frenetic pace, often deafened by noise and confused by
the ephemeral, it is vital to rediscover the value of silence. The spread,
also outside Christian worship, of practices of meditation that give
priority to recollection is not accidental. Why not start with pedagogical
daring a specific education in silence within the coordinates of personal
Christian experience? Let us keep before our eyes the example of Jesus,
who "rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed" (Mk 1:35).
The Liturgy, with its different moments and symbols, cannot ignore
14. Pastoral attention to the Liturgy through the introduction to the
various celebrations must instil a taste for prayer. To do so, it
will of course take into account the ability of individual believers and
their different conditions of age and culture; but in doing so it will not
be content with the "minimum". The Church's teaching must be able to
"dare". It is important to introduce the faithful to the celebration of
the Liturgy of the Hours "which, as the public prayer of the Church, is a
source of piety and nourishment for personal prayer".33 It is
an action that is neither individual nor "private, but is proper to the
entire Body of the Church.... Thus, if the faithful are summoned for the
Liturgy of the Hours and gather together, joining heart and voice, they
make manifest the Church, which celebrates the mystery of Christ".34
Priority attention to liturgical prayer does not vie with personal prayer
but indeed implies and demands it,35 and harmonizes well with
other forms of community prayer, especially when it is recognized and
recommended by the ecclesiastic Authority.36
15. Pastors have the indispensable task of educating in prayer
and more especially of promoting liturgical life, entailing a duty of
discernment and guidance. This should not be seen as an uncompromising
attitude that is incompatible with the need of Christian souls to abandon
themselves to the action of God's Spirit who intercedes in us and "for us
with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26). Rather, the guidance of Pastors
constitutes a principle of "guarantee", inherent in God's plan for his
Church that is governed by the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The
liturgical renewal that has taken place in recent decades has shown that
it is possible to combine a body of norms that assure the identity and
decorum of the Liturgy and leave room for the creativity and adaptation
that enable it to correspond closely with the need to give expression to
their respective situation and culture of the various regions. Lack of
respect for the liturgical norms can sometimes even lead to grave forms
of abuse that obscure the truth of the mystery and give rise to dismay
and stress in the People of God.37 This abuse has nothing to do
with the authentic spirit of the Council and should be prudently and
firmly corrected by Pastors.
16. The promulgation of the Constitution on the Liturgy marked a stage
of fundamental importance in the life of the Church for the promotion and
development of the Liturgy. It is in the Liturgy that the Church,
enlivened by the breath of the Spirit, lives her mission as "sacrament
sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all
men",38 and finds the most exalted expression of her mystical
In the Lord Jesus and in his Spirit the whole of Christian existence
becomes "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God", genuine
"spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1). The mystery brought about in the Liturgy
is truly great. It opens a glimpse of Heaven on earth, and the perennial
hymn of praise rises from the community of believers in unison with the
hymn of heavenly Jerusalem: "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus
Sabaoth. Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis!".
At the beginning of this millennium, may a "liturgical .spirituality"
be developed that makes people conscious that Christ is the first
"liturgist" who never ceases to act in the Church and in the world through
the Paschal Mystery continuously celebrated, and who associates the Church
with himself, in praise of the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Together with this wish, I impart my Blessing to everyone from the
depths of my heart.
From the Vatican, 4 December 2003, 26th Year of the Pontificate of John
Paul PP. II.
1 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte
(6 January 2001), n. 57: AAS 93 (2001), 308; cf. Apostolic Letter
Vicesimus Quintus Annus (4 December 1988), n. 1 [ORE, 22 May
1989, p. 7]; AAS 81 (1989), 897.
2 Cf. ibid., n. 3.
3 Cf. ibid., n. 5.
4 Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium [SC],
5 Ibid., n. 7.
6 Cf. ibid., n. 8.
7 Ibid., n. 10.
8 Ibid., n. 83.
9 Cf. ibid., n. 5.
10 Ibid., n. 7.
11 Ibid., n. 9.
12 Cf. ibid., n. 10.
13 Ibid., n. 112.
14 Cf. ibid., n. 6.
15 Cf. ibid., n. 127.
16 Ibid., n. 122.
17 Cf. Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente
(10 November 1994), n. 36; AAS 87 (1995), 28.
19 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church Lumen Gentium, n. 26.
20 Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 26.
21 Cf. n. 14; John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Vicesimus
Quintus Annus (4 December 1988), n. 15; AAS 81 (1989), 911-912.
22 SC, n. 35 (1).
23 Ordo Lectionum Missae, n. 7.
24 lbid., n. 6.
25 Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 106; cf. John Paul II, Apostolic
Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus (4 December 1988), n. 22: AAS
81 (1989), 917.
26 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dies Domini (31 May
1998), n. 81: AAS 90 (1998), 763.
27 Ibid., n. 32; AAS 93 (2001), 288.
28 Cf. SC, n. 13.
29 Vatican City, 2002.
30 Cf. AAS 95 (2003), 5-36.
31 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus
(4 December 1988), 21: AAS (1989), 917.
32 Institutio Generalis Liturgiae Horarum, 202.
33 Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 90.
34 Institutio Generalis Liturgiae Horarum, 20, 22.
35 Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 12.
36 Cf. ibid., n. 13.
37 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de
Eucharistia (17 April 2003), n. 52: AAS 95 (2003), 468;
Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus, n. 16 (4 December 1988),
AAS 81 (1989), 910-911.
38 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church Lumen Gentium, n. 1.