Jul 15, 1989

The Credibility of the Liturgical Reform Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

Online Edition
Vol. II, No. 4:
July/August 1996

Credibility of the Liturgical Reform

for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

is an editorial that appeared in


, the official publication
of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of
the Sacraments (28, 1992, 25-628.) Translation by Adoremus Bulletin.

Thirty years
is more than enough time to be able to evaluate the repercussions
of an event, especially in our modern society, in which ready
information and public reactions to it accelerates every development.
Thirty years have already passed since the first decisions of
the Second Vatican Council in the area of liturgy. Entirely new
generations, without any experience of the ecclesial event that
Vatican II was, now begin to enter upon positions of responsibility
in the Church. In addition to this first observation, there is
another fact of our times which invites reflection. Almost everywhere
a more or less explicit criticism of the liturgical reform has
arisen. This criticism is found in periodicals and magazines
which have a wide circulation among Catholics; it is found in
publications by groups that have never accepted the liturgical
reform; but it is also found in the conversations of bishops
and priests.

The Congregation
for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments cannot
remain — and does not remain — deaf to these reports. A major
part of its history goes back to the Sacred Congregation for
Divine Worship, created by Pope Paul VI in 1969. One of the tasks
which was entrusted to that dicastry then, from which the present
task derives, was precisely that of completing the application
of the liturgical reform which was called for by the Council,
and begun by the Consilium

ad exsequendam Constitutionem de
Sacra Liturgia


In becoming aware
of the above-mentioned criticisms, one cannot help but be profoundly
perplexed: to whom, exactly, are these criticisms addressed?
When one criticizes the liturgical reform, what precisely is
being criticized? Many times, it is clear from the context that
people are simply talking about a vernacular version, or of a
more or less widespread manner of celebrating the Eucharist,
or of music introduced in a certain church, or again of a specific
style of sacramental practice. All of this takes place after
the liturgical reform, certainly; but not all that takes place
can be considered an application of the liturgical reform.

it is easy to cite examples. Here is one: In many churches there
are two altars in the sanctuary: the old altar with the cross
and huge candlesticks, one might say all ready for the celebration;
and the new altar turned toward the people, of tiny dimensions,
with only two candlesticks and a bunch of flowers, the whole
thing truly insignificant in comparison to the old — but it
is precisely on this altar that the Eucharist is celebrated.

Is this what
the liturgical reform had in mind? Certainly not. It is sufficient
to read the

Ordo dedicationis ecclesiae et altaris

know how the liturgical reform intended the space of the celebration
to be arranged; and especially what it intended for the altar
as the spiritual center of the church.

It would take
too long to cite other examples; it would also be tedious. Assuredly
there are more relevant facts which demonstrate on the one hand
how the application of the liturgical reform still requires a
long effort of delving deeper into the very meaning of the liturgy
of the Church, and on the other, how the credibility of the liturgical
reform is endangered after thirty years of uneven application.
It is useful to dwell a little upon this danger, so as to become
more aware of the extent of the problem.

The liturgical
reform — as with all reforms, but especially those which concern
areas imbued with a greater identifying power (religious reforms
are precisely this type) — needs the kind of clarity of decision
and consistency of application which allow for a new education,
because such reforms offer a new identification. In this sense,
the liturgical reform was clear in introducing the language of
the people, the celebration facing the people, and a few other
things. But, to tell the truth, the initiatives of individuals
or groups concerning 1) the celebrations themselves; or 2) local
customs, sometimes without legitimate foundation; of 3) the form
itself which the celebration assumed, different according to
the place (different perhaps even in the same church, depending
on the schedule) — these constitute significantly disruptive
elements for the faithful people, all of which adds to the illegitimacy
of such initiatives.

If we enter into
the area of sacramental practice as it has been laid out by the


of the

Rituale Romanum

, we are made aware,
once again, of the variety of interpretations which circulate,
even within a single diocese, city, or parish. Given this state
of affairs, it is almost impossible to achieve an education of
the faithful which truly corresponds to the program of the liturgical
reform. Usually, the result instead is that which is characteristic
of institutions which are internally divided: the loss of credibility,
disaffection about the institutions themselves, and finally,
distance and loss of contact. At a time when the entire Church
is sensitized to the necessity of a more intense evangelization,
we cannot forget the evangelizing power of the liturgy, especially
in the Sacraments which the majority of the baptized still want
to receive. This power, however, is in large part linked to a
unified picture of the sacramental practice of the Church.

Fear of a uniformism
which excludes adaptation is too simplistic an excuse, just as
it is simplistic to justify one’s own choices by referring to
"pastoral sensitivity" or "the spirit" of
the liturgical reform. When such assertions are encountered,
it is necessary to ask whether it would not be more truly "pastoral"
to strive to celebrate the liturgy exactly the way the pastors
of the church have presented it to us, beginning with the Pope
— as if there could be some other reference point for understanding
the "spirit" of the reform other than that which is
contained in the liturgical books published precisely by the
legitimate authority that was charged with the reform’s application.

In this regard,
the situation is different in different parts of the Church.
It is also true that the proliferation of subjective initiatives
in the area of liturgical celebrations is not as widespread now
as it was some time ago; but it is necessary to pay attention
to a fact which is based on the very passing of time. It is of
the nature of things that liturgical practices, even incorrect
ones, tend to become fixed. Thirty years is too long for this
to continue.

which saw the light of day in the first years of liturgical reform
remain still, and bit by bit as the new generations succeed the
old, these practices could become, as it were, the rule. Thus
the letter and the spirit of the liturgical reform, in a few
cases, remain in the shadows; and habits are established, which,
to be sure, originated after the liturgical reform, but not in
the genuine spirit of that reform — and with more negative consequences,
in terms of liturgical formation, than those habits of liturgical
practice prior to Vatican Council II.

The Congregation
has the duty to present these reflections to everyone, and in
the first place, to take them to heart itself, inasmuch as it
has the task of reviewing the liturgical books in the light of
the experience of the first Typical Editions [of the Roman Ritual]
and of the editions in various languages; it has the task of
maintaining fidelity to the tradition of the Roman rite.


The Editors