Dec 15, 2001

Pope John Paul II Addresses Liturgical Assembly

Online Edition
Vol. VII, No. 9: December 2001 – January 2002

Pope John Paul II Addresses Liturgical Assembly

In his address to the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on September 21, 2001, Pope John Paul II strongly emphasized that faithful translation of liturgical books is of paramount importance. He also urged appropriate catechesis concerning popular devotions, which should always lead people to greater understanding of the Mass.

Adoremus obtained the text of the Holy Father’s address in the original Italian. Our unofficial translation follows.



Venerable cardinals, reverend brothers in the episcopate and in the priesthood, dearest brothers and sisters!

1. It is with pleasure that I address you on the occasion of the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. I greet Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, who guides the dicastery with generous dedication, and with him I greet the esteemed cardinals, the reverend prelates and all those who work in whatever way in this Congregation to serve the Church and her evangelical mission.

Your plenary assembly was preceded by numerous meetings between the bishop members of the Conferences of Bishops and your dicastery, meetings marked by an atmosphere of brotherly collaboration, and geared towards deepening the liturgical life of the People of God and advancing the faithful application of the positions of the Second Vatican Council.

2. The Sacred Liturgy, which the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium considers the summit of the life of the Church, can never be reduced to a merely esthetic reality, neither can it be considered an instrument whose aims are mainly pedagogical or ecumenical. The celebration of the Sacred Mysteries is, first of all, an act of praise of the Sovereign Majesty of God, Three in One, an expression willed by God Himself. Through this [act], man, in both a personal and communal way, appears before God to give Him thanks, aware that his being cannot find its full meaning if he does not praise God and do His will in his constant search for the Kingdom, which is already present, but which will arrive definitively in the day of the Parousia of the Lord Jesus. Liturgy and life are two inseparable realities. Liturgy which is not reflected in life would become empty and certainly not pleasing to God.

3. The celebration of the Liturgy is an act of the virtue of religion that, consistent with its nature, must be characterized by a profound sense of the sacred. In this, man and the entire community must be aware of being, in a special way, in the presence of Him who is three times holy and transcendent. Consequently, the attitude of imploring cannot but be permeated by reverence and by the sense of awe that comes from knowing that one is in the presence of the majesty of God. Did God not want to express this when He ordered Moses to take off his sandals before the burning bush? Did not the attitude of Moses and Eli who dared not look at God facie ad faciem [face to face] arise from this awareness?

The People of God need to see priests and deacons behave in a way that is full of reverence and dignity, in order to help them to penetrate invisible things without unnecessary words or explanations. In the Roman Missal of Saint Pius V, as in several Eastern liturgies, there are very beautiful prayers through which the priest expresses the most profound sense of humility and reverence before the Sacred Mysteries: they reveal the very substance of the Liturgy.

The liturgical celebration presided over by the priest is a praying assembly, gathered in faith and attentive to the Word of God. It has, as its primary aim, to present to the Divine Majesty the living, pure and holy sacrifice offered on Calvary once and for all by the Lord Jesus, who is present each time the Church celebrates Holy Mass, and to express the worship due to God in spirit and truth.

I am aware of the strong commitment of this Congregation to promote, together with the bishops, the deepening of the liturgical life of the Church. In expressing my appreciation, I hope that such invaluable work will contribute to making the celebrations [of Mass] ever more worthy and fruitful.

4. Your plenary assembly, in view of the preparation of a proper Directory, has chosen as its main theme, popular religiosity. This represents an expression of the faith which uses cultural elements of a particular environment, interpreting and questioning the sensibilities of the participants in a lively and effective way.

Popular religiosity, which expresses itself in different ways, when it is genuine, has faith as its source and thus must be appreciated and promoted. In its most authentic manifestations, it is not opposed to the centrality of the Holy Liturgy; rather, by promoting the faith of the people who consider it a natural religious expression, it predisposes the people to the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries.

5. The correct relationship between these two expressions of faith must take into account some firm principles, and among these the most important is that the Liturgy is the center of the life of the Church and no other religious expression can replace it or can be considered on the same level.

Moreover, it is important to reaffirm that popular religiosity has its natural fulfillment in the liturgical celebration, towards which, although not usually joined together, it must ideally tend. This must be shown through an appropriate catechesis.

The expressions of popular religiosity sometimes appear polluted by elements that are inconsistent with Catholic doctrine. In such cases, they must be purified with prudence and patience, through contacts with responsible persons and through careful and respectful catechesis, unless radical inconsistencies make it necessary to take immediate and clear measures.

Evaluation [of these matters] pertains first of all to the diocesan bishop, or to the bishops of the region concerned with such forms of religiosity. In this case, it is opportune that pastors compare experiences in order to create common pastoral strategies, avoiding contradictions which are damaging for the Christian people. In any case, unless there are clear reasons to the contrary, bishops should have an encouraging and positive attitude towards popular religiosity.

6. I wish, finally to express my satisfaction at the work which has been completed by the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments since its last plenary assembly of 1996. During this time, the third editio typica of the Roman Missal, the first Book of Exorcisms and that of the Roman Martyrology have been published. Also, the Instructions on liturgical translations and requests for declarations of nullity of Holy Orders have been issued.

In this regard, I urge the bishops and the Congregation to make every effort to insure that liturgical translations are faithful to the original [texts] of the respective typical editions in the Latin language. A translation, in fact, is not an exercise in creativity, but a meticulous task of preserving the meaning of the original without changes, omissions or additions.

The failure to observe this criterion on occasion makes the work of revising some texts necessary and urgent. In addition to the work already mentioned, the Congregation is occupied with priestly dispensations, and with those [dispensations] concerning marriages ratum et non consummatum [celebrated but not consummated], with the approval of liturgical texts of the new saints and blesseds in the particular calendars, as well as with the recognitiones [approval] of very many translations of liturgical texts into the vernacular languages. This work has been carried out with noteworthy competence and diligence, and for this I want to express to the Cardinal Prefect, to Archbishop Francesco Tamburrino, to the Monsignor Undersecretaries, and to all the Members, Counselors and Commissioners of the congregation, my sincere gratitude.

I entrust this precious work and the projects of the entire Congregation to the heavenly protection of the Mother of God, and with affection I impart to all a special Apostolic Blessing.

From Castelgandolfo, September 21, 2001
Ioannes Paulus II



The Editors