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You are here: Documents > General Principles > Third Instruction on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy  Back one page.

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The reforms which have so far been put into effect in implementing the Liturgical Constitution of the Second Vatican Council have been concerned above all with the celebration of the eucharistic mystery "For the holy Eucharist contains the Church's entire spiritual good, that is, Christ himself, our passover and living bread. Through his very flesh made living and given life by the Holy Spirit, he offers this life to men. They are thereby invited and led to offer themselves, their work, and all created things together with him. [1] In the same way, when the Church assembles to offer the sacrifice of the Mass according to the renewed form of celebration, it is made manifest that the Mass is the center of the Church's life. Thus the purpose of the reform of the rites is "to promote a pastoral action which has its summit and source in the sacred liturgy" and "to bring to life the paschal mystery of Christ." [2]

This work of renewal has been carried out, step by step, during the past six years; it has prepared the way for the passage of the former Mass liturgy to the renewed liturgy outlined in detail in the Roman Missal with the Ordo Missae and the General Instruction which it includes. Now it can be said that a new and promising future lies ahead for pastoral, liturgical action; the way is open to make full use of all the possibilities contained in a new Order of  Scripture Readings for the Mass and in the abundant variety of forms contained in the Roman Missal.

The wide choice of texts and the flexibility of the rubrics make it possible to adapt the celebration to the circumstances, the mentality and the preparation of the assembly. Thus there is no need to resort to arbitrary adaptations, which would only weaken the impact of the liturgy. The possibilities offered by the Church's reforms can make the celebration living, moving and spiritually effective.

The gradual introduction of the new liturgical forms has taken into consideration both the overall renewal program and the great variety of local conditions throughout the world. These new forms have been well received by the majority of the clergy and laity, [3] though here and there they have met with some resistance and impatience.

There were those who, for the sake of conserving ancient traditions, were unwilling to accept these reforms. There were others who, concerned with urgent pastoral needs, felt they could not wait for the definitive reform to be promulgated. As a result some individuals, acting on private initiative, arrived at hasty and sometimes unwise solutions, and made changes, additions or simplifications which at times troubled the faithful and impeded or made more difficult the progress of genuine renewal.

For these reasons many bishops, priests and laymen have asked the Holy See to intervene. They desired that the Church use her authority to keep and increase that fruitful union of minds and hearts which is the characteristic of the Christian family's encounter with God.

Such an intervention was not deemed advisable while the Concilium was engaged in bringing about and guiding the work of renewal. This can now be done on the basis of the final completion of this task.

First of all the bishops are called upon to exercise their responsibility. It is they whom the Holy Spirit has made rulers of the Church of God. [4] They are "the chief stewards of the mysteries of God, as governors, promoters and guardians of the whole liturgical life of the Church committed to them. [5] It is their duty to guide, direct, stimulate and sometimes correct, but always to be shining examples in carrying out the genuine renewal of the liturgy. It must also be their concern that the whole body of the Church can move ahead with one mind, in the unity of charity, on the diocesan, national and international level. This work of the bishops is necessary and especially urgent in this case, because of the close relationship between liturgy and faith, so that what benefits the one, benefits the other.

With the help of their liturgical commissions, the bishops should be accurately informed about the religious and social conditions of the faithful committed to their care. In order to meet their spiritual needs in the best way possible, they should learn to make full use of the means offered by the rites. By thus evaluating the situation in their diocese, they will be able to note what helps and what hinders genuine renewal, and engage in the wise and prudent work of education and guidance, a work which both recognizes the real needs of the faithful and follows the guidelines laid down in the new liturgical laws.

A well-informed bishop will be a great help to the priests who must exercise their ministry in hierarchical fellowship with him. [6] His knowledge will make it easier for them to work together in obedience to him for the more perfect expression of divine worship and for the sanctification of souls.

It is the scope of this document to aid and encourage the bishops in putting into effect the liturgical norms, especially those contained in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. In order to restore the orderly and disciplined celebration of the Eucharist, the center of the Church's life as "a sign of unity, a bond of charity," [7] the following rules and guidelines should be kept in mind:

1.The recent reforms have simplified liturgical formulas, gestures and actions, according to the principle laid down in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: "The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the powers of comprehension of the people and normally should not require much explanation." [8] Yet this simplification must not go beyond certain limits. This would be to deprive the liturgy of the sacramental signs and special beauty necessary for the mystery of salvation to be really effective in the Christian community and to be rightly understood - with due instruction - under visible symbols.

Liturgical reform is not synonymous with so called desacralization and should not be the occasion for what is called the secularization of the world. Thus the liturgical rites must retain a dignified and sacred character.

The effectiveness of liturgical actions does not consist in the continual search for newer rites or simpler forms, but in an ever deeper insight into the word of God and the mystery which is celebrated. The presence of God will be ensured by following the rites of the Church rather than those inspired by a priest's individual preference.

The priest should realize that by imposing his own personal restoration of sacred rites he is offending the rights of the faithful and is introducing individualism and idiosyncrasy into celebrations which belong to the whole Church.

The ministry of the priest is the ministry of the whole Church, and it can be exercised only in obedience, in hierarchical fellowship, and in devotion to the service of God and of his brothers. The hierarchical structure of the liturgy, its sacramental power, and the respect due to the community of God's people require that the priest exercise his liturgical service as a "faithful minister and steward of the mysteries of God." [9] He should not add any rite which is not contained and authorized in the liturgical books.

2.Sacred scripture, above all the texts used in the liturgical assembly, enjoys a special dignity: in the readings, God speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, announces the good news of the gospel. [10] Therefore:

a)The Liturgy of the Word should be conducted with the greatest reverence. Other readings, from past or present, sacred or profane authors, may never be substituted for the word of God. The purpose of the homily is to explain the readings and make them relevant for the present day. The homily is the task of the priest; the faithful should refrain from comments, dialogue, etc. It is not permissible to have only one reading.

b)The Liturgy of the Word prepares for and leads into the Liturgy of the Eucharist, forming with it one act of worship. [11] The two parts should not be celebrated separately at different times or in different places.

Special rules for the integrating of another liturgical action or part of the divine office into the Liturgy of the Word will be indicated in the relative liturgical books.

3.The liturgical texts composed by the Church also deserve the greatest respect. No one on his own authority may make changes, substitutions, additions or deletions in them. [12]

a)This rule applies especially to the Ordo Missae. The formulas which it contains in the official translations may never be altered, not even when Mass is sung. However, some parts of the rite, namely the penitential rite, the Eucharistic Prayer, the acclamation of the people, the final blessing, can be chosen from various alternative formulas as indicated for each rite.

b)The entrance and communion chants can be selected from the Roman Gradual, the Simple Gradual, the Roman Missal or from collections approved by episcopal conferences. In choosing hymns for Mass, episcopal conferences should consider not only their present-day suitability and the various circumstances of the celebration of Mass, but also the needs of the faithful who will sing them.

c)All means must be used to promote singing by the people. New forms of music suited to different mentalities and to modern tastes should also be approved by the episcopal conference. The conference should indicate selections of hymns to be used in Masses for special groups, e.g. for young people or children; the words, melody and rhythm of these songs, and the instruments used for their accompaniment, should correspond with the sacred character of the Mass and the place of worship.

Though the Church does not exclude any kind of sacred music from the liturgy, [13] not every type of music, song or instrument is equally capable of stimulating prayer or expressing the mystery of Christ. Music during Mass must serve the worship of God, and thus should have qualities of holiness and good form, [14] should be suited to the liturgical action and the nature of each of its parts, should not impede the participation of the whole congregation, [15] and must direct the attention of mind and heart to the mystery which is being celebrated.

Episcopal conferences will determine more particular guidelines for liturgical music, or, if these do not obtain, local bishops may issue norms for their own diocese. [16] Great care should be given to the choice of musical instruments; these should be few in number, suited to the place and the congregation, should favor prayer and not be too loud.

d)Great freedom of choice is given for selecting the prayers, especially on ferial days, when they may be taken from any one of the thirty-four Sunday Masses per annum, from the Masses for Special Occasions [17] or from the Votive Masses.

Furthermore, in translating these texts the episcopal conference can make use of the special norms used by the Concilium, on 25 January 1969, n. 34, [18] in the Instruction on the vernacular liturgical translations for use with the people.

e)With regard to the readings, besides those indicated for each Sunday, feast and ferial day, a wide choice of readings is given for the celebration of the sacraments and for special occasions. When Mass is celebrated with special groups, texts which are more suited to the group may be chosen, provided they are taken from an approved lectionary. [19]

f)During the celebration of the Mass, the priest may say a few words to the people: at the beginning, before the readings, before the preface, and before he dismisses the people. [20] But he should abstain from adding comments during the Eucharistic Prayer. These words should be brief and to the point, and should be prepared beforehand. If other comments need to be made, these should be entrusted to the commentator ("leader"), but he should avoid all exaggeration and limit himself to what is necessary.

g)In the Prayer of the Faithful, besides the petitions for the Church, the world and the needy, it is good to add some special intentions for the local community. Intentions should not be inserted into the Roman Canon at the remembrances of the living and the dead. These intentions should be prepared and written down beforehand in the style of the Prayer of the Faithful [21] and may be read by one or several members of the congregation.

If these possibilities are used judiciously, they give such a wide range of choices that the celebrant will have no need to resort to his own private adaptations. Priests should be led to prepare their celebration, taking into consideration the circumstances and spiritual needs of the faithful. they can thus be confident that they are acting within the bounds set by the General Instruction of the Missal.

4.The Eucharistic Prayer, of all the parts of the Mass, is assigned to the celebrant alone, because of his sacerdotal office. [22] Thus it is forbidden to have some part of it read by a minister of lower rank, by the congregation or by a lay person. This is against the hierarchical structure of the liturgy in which everyone must take part, fully carrying out only what is required of him. [23] Therefore the priest alone must say the whole Eucharistic Prayer.

5.The bread used for the celebration of the Eucharist is wheat bread, and, according to the ancient custom of the Latin Church, is unleavened. [24]

Though the nature of the sign demands that this bread appear as actual food which can be broken and shared among brothers, it must always be made in the traditional form, in line with the General Instruction of the Missal. [25] This applies both to the individual hosts for the communion of the faithful and to the larger hosts which are broken up into smaller parts for distribution.

The necessity for the sign to be genuine applies more to the color, taste and texture of the bread than to its shape. Out of reverence for the sacrament, every care and attention should be used in preparing the altar bread. It should be easy to break and should not be unpleasant for the faithful to eat. Bread which tastes of uncooked flour, or which becomes dry and inedible too quickly, must never be used.

The breaking of the consecrated bread and the receiving of the bread and wine, both at communion and in consuming what remains after communion, should be conducted with the greatest reverence. [26]

6.A more perfect sharing by the faithful in the sacramental sign comes in the receiving of communion under both kinds. [27] The occasions on which this may be done are enumerated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (n. 242) and in the Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship on extending the possibilities of communion under both kinds, Sacramentali Communione, of 29 July 1970. Therefore:

a)Ordinaries, within the limits set by the episcopal conference, should not give general permission but should clearly state the occasions and celebrations in which it is given. They should avoid Masses where there may be a large number of communicants. The groups should be limited in number, well ordered and homogeneous.

b)The faithful should be given careful instruction, so that when they receive communion under both kinds, they can fully understand its meaning.

c)A priest, deacon or ordained acolyte should be present to offer the chalice to the communicants. In the absence of another minister the priest should follow the rite given in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, n. 245.

The passing of the chalice from one communicant to another or the communicant himself taking the chalice directly are practices which are not approved. In these cases communion by intinction should be preferred.

d)The office of administering communion belongs first to priests, then to deacons and, in some cases, to acolytes. The Holy See can grant permission for some other suitable person to carry out this office. Those who have not been appointed must not distribute communion or carry the Blessed Sacrament.

The manner of distributing communion should follow the prescriptions of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (nn. 244-252) and the above-mentioned Instruction of 29 June 1970. If permission is given for administering communion in a different way, the conditions laid down by the Holy See should be observed.

e)Where there is a lack of priests, the bishop may, with the permission of the Holy See, designate other persons, such as catechists in missionary countries, to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and to distribute holy communion. They may never say the Eucharistic Prayer, but if they find it useful to read the narrative of the Last Supper, they should use it as a reading in the Liturgy of the Word. Thus such liturgical assemblies consist of the Liturgy of the Word, the recitation of the Lord's prayer and the distribution of holy communion with the prescribed rite.

f)In whatever way communion is administered, it must be done in a dignified, reverent and orderly manner, avoiding any lessening of the respect due to the sacrament. Attention should be paid to the nature of each congregation, and to the age, condition and preparation of the communicants. [28]

7.The traditional liturgical norms of the Church prohibit women (young girls, married women, religious) from serving the priest at the altar, even in women's chapels, houses, convents, schools and institutes.

In accordance with the rules governing this matter; women may:

a)Proclaim the scripture readings, with the exception of the gospel. Modern technical means should be used so that everyone can easily hear. Episcopal conferences may determine more concretely a suitable place from which women may read the word of God.

b)Offer the intentions for the Prayer of the Faithful.

c)Lead the congregation's singing; play the organ and other approved instruments.

d)Give the explanatory comments to help the people's understanding of the service.

e)Fulfill certain offices of service to the faithful which in some places are usually entrusted to women, such as receiving the faithful at the doors of the church and directing them to their places, guiding them in processions and collecting their offerings in church. [29]

8.Special care and attention is due to the sacred vessels, vestments and church furnishings. If greater freedom is given for their material and design, it is to give different nations and different artists the widest possible scope for applying their talents to divine worship. However, the following should be kept in mind:

a)Things which are used for worship must always be "durable, of good quality according to contemporary taste, and well adapted for sacred use." [30] Thus things in common, everyday use should not be employed.

b)Chalices and patens should be consecrated by the bishop before they are used; he will judge whether or not they are suitable for the liturgy.

c)"The vestment common to all ministers of whatever rank is the alb." [31] The practice of wearing only a stole over the monastic cowl or ordinary clerical clothes for concelebration is an abuse. It is forbidden to celebrate Mass or perform other sacred actions, such as the laying on of hands at ordinations, the administering of other sacraments or the giving of blessings, while wearing only a stole over non-clerical clothes.

d)The episcopal conferences may decide whether materials other than those traditionally used may be employed for church furnishings and vestments. They should inform the Holy See of their decisions. [32]

Episcopal conferences may also propose to the Holy See adaptations in the design of sacred vestments in conformity with the needs and customs of their regions. [33]

9.The Eucharist is normally to be celebrated in a sacred place. [34] It is not allowed to celebrate Mass outside a church without a real need, according to the judgment of the local ordinary within his own diocese. If the ordinary gives permission, careful attention should be given to the choice of a suitable place and that the table is fitting for the eucharistic sacrifice. As far as possible, Mass should not be celebrated in refectories or on tables normally used for meals.

10.In applying the liturgical reform, bishops should give special attention to the fixed and dignified arrangement of the sacred place, especially the sanctuary, in accordance with the norms of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal [35] and the document Eucharisticum Mysterium. [36]

Temporary arrangements made in recent years should gradually be given final form. Some of these provisional solutions, already reproved by the Concilium, [37] are still in use though they are liturgically and artistically unsatisfactory and render difficult the worthy celebration of Mass.

With the help of diocesan committees on liturgy and sacred art, and after consultation if necessary with other experts and the civil authorities, a detailed study should be made of new building projects, and a review of temporary arrangements, so that churches should be given a definitive arrangement which respects artistic monuments, adapting them as far as possible to present-day needs.

11.To make the reformed liturgy understood, a great deal of work still remains to be done in translating accurately and in publishing the new liturgical books in vernacular languages. They must be translated in their entirety and must replace all other special liturgical books previously in use.

If the episcopal conferences find it necessary and useful to add other formulas or make certain adaptations, these may be introduced, after securing the approval of the Holy See, and should be distinguished typographically from the translation of the official Latin text.

It would be better not to hurry the work of translation. With the help of many experts, not only theologians and liturgists, but also writers and poets, the vernacular liturgical texts will be works of real literary merit and of enduring quality, whose harmony of style and expression will reflect the deeper riches of their content. [38]

In publishing the vernacular liturgical books, the tradition of not indicating the names of the authors and translators should be retained. These books are destined for the use of the Christian community. They are prepared and edited only with the mandate and authority of the hierarchy; they should not depend on the decisions of private individuals; this would harm the freedom of the Church and the dignity of her liturgy.

12.When liturgical experimentation is seen to be necessary or useful, permission will be granted in writing by this Sacred Congregation alone, with clearly defined norms and under the responsibility of the competent local authority.

With regard to the Mass, those faculties for conducting experiments which were granted in view of the reforms of the rite are no longer valid. With the publication of the new Roman Missal, the norms and the form of the Mass are those given in the General Instruction and the Ordo Missae.

Adaptation already foreseen by the liturgical books should be defined more particularly by episcopal conferences and submitted to the Holy See for confirmation.

If wider adaptations are necessary, in accordance with n. 40 of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, the bishops should make a detailed study of the culture, traditions and special pastoral needs of their people. If they find there is need for some practical experimentation, this should be done within clearly defined limits. Experiments should be carried out by well-prepared groups, under the direction of men of judgment specially appointed for the task; they should not be made with large congregations, nor should they be given publicity; they should be few in number and carried out for periods of no longer than one year, after which a report should be made to the Holy See. The liturgical changes requested may not be put into effect while awaiting the reply of the Holy See. If changes are to be made in the structure of the rites or in the order of parts as given in the liturgical books, or if actions differing from the traditional ones or new texts are to be introduced, a complete outline and program of the modifications should be proposed to the Holy See before any experiments are begun.

Such a procedure is required and demanded both by the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and by the seriousness of the matter. [39]

13.Finally, it should be remembered that the liturgical renewal set by the Council affects the whole Church. It requires both theoretical and practical study in pastoral meetings, with a view to educating the faithful to make the liturgy a living, uplifting and central part of their lives.

The present reform offers liturgical prayer as it should be, flowing from centuries of living, spiritual tradition. The work of the whole people of God, structured in its variety of orders and ministries, should be visible in the way the reform is carried out. [40] For only in this unity of the whole body of the Church can the liturgy's efficacy and authority be guaranteed.

The pastors of the Church, by their willing fidelity to the norms and directives of the Church, and in a spirit of faith which abandons all personal and individual pEndnotes, are in an especial way the ministers of the common liturgy. By their example, by their deep understanding, by their dauntless preaching, they can bring about that flowering growth which the renewal of the liturgy requires. They will listen to the needs of the present day in a way which is far from a secularism and arbitrary attitude which would seriously threaten the liturgical reform.

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