Addresses and Excerpts of St. Pope John Paul II on Vatican II

Note on the text:

First presented here is excerpts from John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte on Vatican II. The Letter presents some of the fruits of the Council and stresses its importance for Catholicism today. The full text can be found on the Vatican's website here.

Next is excerpts from John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente. The full text can be found here

The Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus celebrates the 25th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The full is presented below and found here on the Vatican website. 

John Paul II's Nov. 13, 2004 Homily celebrates the 40th anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio, stressing the importance of ecumenism. The full text is presented below and can be found on the Vatican's website here

Novo Millennio Ineunte


30. First of all, I have no hesitation in saying that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness. Was this not the ultimate meaning of the Jubilee indulgence, as a special grace offered by Christ so that the life of every baptized person could be purified and deeply renewed?

It is my hope that, among those who have taken part in the Jubilee, many will have benefited from this grace, in full awareness of its demands. Once the Jubilee is over, we resume our normal path, but knowing that stressing holiness remains more than ever an urgent pastoral task.

It is necessary therefore to rediscover the full practical significance of Chapter 5 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, dedicated to the "universal call to holiness". The Council Fathers laid such stress on this point, not just to embellish ecclesiology with a kind of spiritual veneer, but to make the call to holiness an intrinsic and essential aspect of their teaching on the Church. The rediscovery of the Church as "mystery", or as a people "gathered together by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit", was bound to bring with it a rediscovery of the Church's "holiness", understood in the basic sense of belonging to him who is in essence the Holy One, the "thrice Holy" (cf. Is 6:3). To profess the Church as holy means to point to her as the Bride of Christ, for whom he gave himself precisely in order to make her holy (cf. Eph 5:25-26). This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized.

But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: "This is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Th 4:3). It is a duty which concerns not only certain Christians: "All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity".

31. At first glance, it might seem almost impractical to recall this elementary truth as the foundation of the pastoral planning in which we are involved at the start of the new millennium. Can holiness ever be "planned"? What might the word "holiness" mean in the context of a pastoral plan?

In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: "Do you wish to receive Baptism?" means at the same time to ask them: "Do you wish to become holy?" It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48).

As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few "uncommon heroes" of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. It is also clear however that the paths to holiness are personal and call for a genuine "training in holiness", adapted to people's needs. This training must integrate the resources offered to everyone with both the traditional forms of individual and group assistance, as well as the more recent forms of support offered in associations and movements recognized by the Church.

The Sunday Eucharist

35. It is therefore obvious that our principal attention must be given to the liturgy, "the summit towards which the Church's action tends and at the same time the source from which comes all her strength". In the twentieth century, especially since the Council, there has been a great development in the way the Christian community celebrates the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. It is necessary to continue in this direction, and to stress particularly the Sunday Eucharist and Sunday itself experienced as a special day of faith, the day of the Risen Lord and of the gift of the Spirit, the true weekly Easter.20 For two thousand years, Christian time has been measured by the memory of that "first day of the week" (Mk 16:2,9; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1), when the Risen Christ gave the Apostles the gift of peace and of the Spirit (cf. Jn 20:19-23). The truth of Christ's Resurrection is the original fact upon which Christian faith is based (cf. 1 Cor 15:14), an event set at the centre of the mystery of time, prefiguring the last day when Christ will return in glory. We do not know what the new millennium has in store for us, but we are certain that it is safe in the hands of Christ, the "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev 19:16); and precisely by celebrating his Passover not just once a year but every Sunday, the Church will continue to show to every generation "the true fulcrum of history, to which the mystery of the world's origin and its final destiny leads". 

Listening to the Word

39. There is no doubt that this primacy of holiness and prayer is inconceivable without a renewed listening to the word of God. Ever since the Second Vatican Council underlined the pre-eminent role of the word of God in the life of the Church, great progress has certainly been made in devout listening to Sacred Scripture and attentive study of it. Scripture has its rightful place of honour in the public prayer of the Church. Individuals and communities now make extensive use of the Bible, and among lay people there are many who devote themselves to Scripture with the valuable help of theological and biblical studies. But it is above all the work of evangelization and catechesis which is drawing new life from attentiveness to the word of God. Dear brothers and sisters, this development needs to be consolidated and deepened, also by making sure that every family has a Bible. It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.

A spirituality of communion

43. To make the Church the home and the school of communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God's plan and respond to the world's deepest yearnings.

But what does this mean in practice? Here too, our thoughts could run immediately to the action to be undertaken, but that would not be the right impulse to follow. Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion, making it the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed, wherever ministers of the altar, consecrated persons, and pastoral workers are trained, wherever families and communities are being built up. A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart's contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us. A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as "those who are a part of me". This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship. A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a "gift for me". A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to "make room" for our brothers and sisters, bearing "each other's burdens" (Gal 6:2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy. Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, "masks" of communion rather than its means of expression and growth.

44. Consequently, the new century will have to see us more than ever intent on valuing and developing the forums and structures which, in accordance with the Second Vatican Council's major directives, serve to ensure and safeguard communion. How can we forget in the first place those specific services to communion which are the Petrine ministry and, closely related to it, episcopal collegiality? These are realities which have their foundation and substance in Christ's own plan for the Church, but which need to be examined constantly in order to ensure that they follow their genuinely evangelical inspiration.

Much has also been done since the Second Vatican Council for the reform of the Roman Curia, the organization of Synods and the functioning of Episcopal Conferences. But there is certainly much more to be done, in order to realize all the potential of these instruments of communion, which are especially appropriate today in view of the need to respond promptly and effectively to the issues which the Church must face in these rapidly changing times.

45. Communion must be cultivated and extended day by day and at every level in the structures of each Church's life. There, relations between Bishops, priests and deacons, between Pastors and the entire People of God, between clergy and Religious, between associations and ecclesial movements must all be clearly characterized by communion. To this end, the structures of participation envisaged by Canon Law, such as the Council of Priests and the Pastoral Council, must be ever more highly valued. These of course are not governed by the rules of parliamentary democracy, because they are consultative rather than deliberative; yet this does not mean that they are less meaningful and relevant. The theology and spirituality of communion encourage a fruitful dialogue between Pastors and faithful: on the one hand uniting them a priori in all that is essential, and on the other leading them to pondered agreement in matters open to discussion.

To this end, we need to make our own the ancient pastoral wisdom which, without prejudice to their authority, encouraged Pastors to listen more widely to the entire People of God. Significant is Saint Benedict's reminder to the Abbot of a monastery, inviting him to consult even the youngest members of the community: "By the Lord's inspiration, it is often a younger person who knows what is best". And Saint Paulinus of Nola urges: "Let us listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes".

While the wisdom of the law, by providing precise rules for participation, attests to the hierarchical structure of the Church and averts any temptation to arbitrariness or unjustified claims, the spirituality of communion, by prompting a trust and openness wholly in accord with the dignity and responsibility of every member of the People of God, supplies institutional reality with a soul.

Dialogue and mission

54. A new century, a new millennium are opening in the light of Christ. But not everyone can see this light. Ours is the wonderful and demanding task of becoming its "reflection". This is the mysterium lunae, which was so much a part of the contemplation of the Fathers of the Church, who employed this image to show the Church's dependence on Christ, the Sun whose light she reflects. It was a way of expressing what Christ himself said when he called himself the "light of the world" (Jn 8:12) and asked his disciples to be "the light of the world" (Mt 5:14).

This is a daunting task if we consider our human weakness, which so often renders us opaque and full of shadows. But it is a task which we can accomplish if we turn to the light of Christ and open ourselves to the grace which makes us a new creation.

55. It is in this context also that we should consider the great challenge of inter-religious dialogue to which we shall still be committed in the new millennium, in fidelity to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. In the years of preparation for the Great Jubilee the Church has sought to build, not least through a series of highly symbolic meetings, a relationship of openness and dialogue with the followers of other religions. This dialogue must continue. In the climate of increased cultural and religious pluralism which is expected to mark the society of the new millennium, it is obvious that this dialogue will be especially important in establishing a sure basis for peace and warding off the dread spectre of those wars of religion which have so often bloodied human history. The name of the one God must become increasingly what it is: a name of peace and a summons to peace.

56. Dialogue, however, cannot be based on religious indifferentism, and we Christians are in duty bound, while engaging in dialogue, to bear clear witness to the hope that is within us (cf. 1 Pt 3:15). We should not fear that it will be considered an offence to the identity of others what is rather the joyful proclamation of a gift meant for all, and to be offered to all with the greatest respect for the freedom of each one: the gift of the revelation of the God who is Love, the God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16). As the recent Declaration Dominus Iesus stressed, this cannot be the subject of a dialogue understood as negotiation, as if we considered it a matter of mere opinion: rather, it is a grace which fills us with joy, a message which we have a duty to proclaim.

The Church therefore cannot forgo her missionary activity among the peoples of the world. It is the primary task of the missio ad gentes to announce that it is in Christ, "the Way, and the Truth, and the Life" (Jn 14:6), that people find salvation. Interreligious dialogue "cannot simply replace proclamation, but remains oriented towards proclamation". This missionary duty, moreover, does not prevent us from approaching dialogue with an attitude of profound willingness to listen. We know in fact that, in the presence of the mystery of grace, infinitely full of possibilities and implications for human life and history, the Church herself will never cease putting questions, trusting in the help of the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth (cf. Jn 14:17), whose task it is to guide her "into all the truth" (Jn 16:13).

This is a fundamental principle not only for the endless theological investigation of Christian truth, but also for Christian dialogue with other philosophies, cultures and religions. In the common experience of humanity, for all its contradictions, the Spirit of God, who "blows where he wills" (Jn 3:8), not infrequently reveals signs of his presence which help Christ's followers to understand more deeply the message which they bear. Was it not with this humble and trust-filled openness that the Second Vatican Council sought to read "the signs of the times"? Even as she engages in an active and watchful discernment aimed at understanding the "genuine signs of the presence or the purpose of God", the Church acknowledges that she has not only given, but has also "received from the history and from the development of the human race". This attitude of openness, combined with careful discernment, was adopted by the Council also in relation to other religions. It is our task to follow with great fidelity the Council's teaching and the path which it has traced.

In the light of the Council

57. What a treasure there is, dear brothers and sisters, in the guidelines offerred to us by the Second Vatican Council! For this reason I asked the Church, as a way of preparing for the Great Jubilee, to examine herself on the reception given to the Council.44 Has this been done? The Congress held here in the Vatican was such a moment of reflection, and I hope that similar efforts have been made in various ways in all the particular Churches. With the passing of the years, the Council documents have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church's Tradition. Now that the Jubilee has ended, I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.

Tertio Millennio Adveniente 

17. In the Church's history every jubilee is prepared for by Divine Providence. This is true also of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. With this conviction, we look today with a sense of gratitude and yet with a sense of responsibility at all that has happened in human history since the Birth of Christ, particularly the events which have occurred between the years 1000 and 2000. But in a very particular way, we look with the eyes of faith to our own century, searching out whatever bears witness not only to man's history but also to God's intervention in human affairs.

18. From this point of view we can affirm that the Second Vatican Council was a providential event, whereby the Church began the more immediate preparation for the Jubilee of the Second Millennium. It was a Council similar to earlier ones, yet very different; it was a Council focused on the mystery of Christ and his Church and at the same time open to the world. This openness was an evangelical response to recent changes in the world, including the profoundly disturbing experiences of the Twentieth Century, a century scarred by the First and Second World Wars, by the experience of concentration camps and by horrendous massacres. All these events demonstrate most vividly that the world needs purification; it needs to be converted.

The Second Vatican Council is often considered as the beginning of a new era in the life of the Church. This is true, but at the same time it is difficult to overlook the fact that the Council drew much from the experiences and reflections of the immediate past, especially from the intellectual legacy left by Pius XII. In the history of the Church, the "old" and the "new" are always closely interwoven. The "new" grows out of the "old", and the "old" finds a fuller expression in the "new". Thus it was for the Second Vatican Council and for the activity of the Popes connected with the Council, starting with John XXIII, continuing with Paul VI and John Paul I, up to the present Pope.

What these Popes have accomplished during and since the Council, in their Magisterium no less than in their pastoral activity, has certainly made a significant contribution to the preparation of that new springtime of Christian life which will be revealed by the Great Jubilee, if Christians are docile to the action of the Holy Spirit.

19. The Council, while not imitating the sternness of John the Baptist who called for repentance and conversion on the banks of the Jordan (cf. Lk 3:1-7), did show something of the Prophet of old, pointing out with fresh vigour to the men and women of today that Jesus Christ is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29), the Redeemer of humanity and the Lord of history. During the Council, precisely out of a desire to be fully faithful to her Master, the Church questioned herself about her own identity, and discovered anew the depth of her mystery as the Body and the Bride of Christ. Humbly heeding the word of God, she reaffirmed the universal call to holiness; she made provision for the reform of the liturgy, the "origin and summit" of her life; she gave impetus to the renewal of many aspects of her life at the universal level and in the local Churches; she strove to promote the various Christian vocations, from those of the laity to those of Religious, from the ministry of deacons to that of priests and Bishops; and in a particular way she rediscovered episcopal collegiality, that privileged expression of the pastoral service carried out by the Bishops in communion with the Successor of Peter. On the basis of this profound renewal, the Council opened itself to Christians of other denominations, to the followers of other religions and to all the people of our time. No Council had ever spoken so clearly about Christian unity, about dialogue with non-Christian religions, about the specific meaning of the Old Covenant and of Israel, about the dignity of each person's conscience, about the principle of religious liberty, about the different cultural traditions within which the Church carries out her missionary mandate, and about the means of social communication.

20. The Council's enormously rich body of teaching and the striking new tone in the way it presented this content constitute as it were a proclamation of new times. The Council Fathers spoke in the language of the Gospel, the language of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. In the Council's message God is presented in his absolute lordship over all things, but also as the One who ensures the authentic autonomy of earthly realities.

The best preparation for the new millennium, therefore, can only be expressed in a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church. It was with the Second Vatican Council that, in the broadest sense of the term, the immediate preparations for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 were really begun. If we look for an analogy in the liturgy, it could be said that the yearly Advent liturgy is the season nearest to the spirit of the Council. For Advent prepares us to meet the One who was, who is and who is to come (cf. Rev 4:8).

Homliy, Nov. 13, 2004

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace" (Eph 2: 13ff.).

1. With these words from his Letter to the Ephesians the Apostle proclaims that Christ is our peace. We are reconciled in him; we are no longer strangers but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (cf. Eph 2: 19ff.).

We have listened to Paul's words on the occasion of this celebration that sees us gathered in the venerable Basilica built over the Apostle Peter's tomb. I cordially greet those taking part in the ecumenical conference organized for the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio of the Second Vatican Council. I extend my greeting to the Cardinals, Patriarchs and Bishops taking part, to the Fraternal Delegates of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and to the Consultors, guests and collaborators of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. I thank you for having carefully examined the meaning of this important Decree and the actual and future prospects of the ecumenical movement. This evening we are gathered here to praise God from whom come every good endowment and every perfect gift (cf. Jas 1: 17), and to thank him for the rich fruit the Decree has yielded with the help of the Holy Spirit during these past 40 years.

2. The implementation of this Conciliar Decree desired by my Predecessor, Bl. Pope John XXIII, and promulgated by Pope Paul VI, has been one of the pastoral priorities of my Pontificate from the outset (cf. Ut Unum Sint, n. 99). Since ecumenical unity is not a secondary attribute of the community of Christ's disciples (cf. ibid., n. 9), and ecumenical activity is not just some sort of appendix added to the Church's traditional activity (cf. ibid., n. 20) but is based on God's saving plan to gather all [Christians] into unity (cf. ibid., n. 5), it corresponds to the desire of our Lord Jesus Christ, who wanted only one Church and on the eve of his death prayed to the Father that they might all be one (cf. Jn 17: 21).

Basically, to seek unity is to comply with Jesus' prayer. The Second Vatican Council, in making its own this desire of Our Lord, made no innovation. Guided and enlightened by the Spirit of God, it cast new light on the true, deep meaning of the Church's unity and universality. The way of ecumenism is the way of the Church (cf. Ut Unum Sint, n. 7); she is not a reality closed in on herself but permanently open to the missionary and ecumenical dynamic (cf. ibid., n. 5).

The commitment to re-establishing full and visible communion among all the baptized does not apply merely to a few ecumenical experts; it concerns every Christian, from every Diocese and parish and from every one of the Church's communities. All are called to take on this commitment and no one can refuse to make his own the prayer of Jesus that all may be one; all are called to pray and work for the unity of Christ's disciples.

3. Today, faced with a world moving towards unification, this ecumenical process is particularly necessary, and the Church must accept new challenges to her evangelizing mission. The Council noted that the division between Christians "scandalizes the world and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 1). Ecumenical and missionary activity are therefore connected. They are the routes that the Church takes in carrying out her mission in the world and are a concrete expression of her catholicity. In our time we are observing the growth of an erroneous, Godless humanism, and we note with deep sorrow the conflicts that are staining the world with blood. The Church is called especially in this situation to be a sign and an instrument of unity and reconciliation between God and humankind (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 1).

The Decree on Ecumenism was one of the practical ways in which the Church responded to this situation, taking heed of the Spirit of the Lord who teaches people to interpret carefully the signs of the times (cf. Ut Unum Sint, n. 3). Our epoch has a deep yearning for peace. The Church, a credible sign and instrument of Christ's peace, must always endeavour to overcome the divisions between Christians and thereby become increasingly a witness of the peace that Christ offers to the world. How is it possible in this sad situation not to remember the Apostle's moving words: "I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4: 1-3)?

4. The many ecumenical meetings at all ecclesial levels, the theological dialogues and the rediscovery of common witnesses to the faith have strengthened, deepened and enriched the communion with other Christians which to a certain extent already exists, even if it is not yet full. We no longer consider other Christians as distant or strangers but see them as brothers and sisters. "The "universal brotherhood' of Christians has become a firm ecumenical conviction.... Christians have been converted to a fraternal charity which embraces all Christ's disciples" (Ut Unum Sint, n. 42).

We are grateful to God to see that in recent years many of the faithful across the world have been moved by an ardent desire for the unity of all Christians. I warmly thank those who have made themselves instruments of the Spirit and have worked and prayed for this process of rapprochement and reconciliation.

However, we have not yet reached the goal of our ecumenical journey: full and visible communion in the same faith, the same sacraments and the same apostolic ministry. Thanks be to God, a certain number of differences and misunderstandings have been overcome, but many stumbling blocks still stand in our way. Sometimes it is not only misunderstandings and prejudices that persist, but also deplorable slowness and closed-heartedness (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 48), and above all, differences in faith that focus mainly on such topics as the Church, her nature and her ministries. Unfortunately, we have run up against new problems that hinder our common witness, especially in the area of ethics where further differences are surfacing.

5. I know well, as I explained in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (cf. n. 43-46), that our being prevented by all these reasons from immediately taking part in the sacrament of unity, sharing the Eucharistic Bread and drinking from the common Cup at the table of the Lord, causes much suffering and disappointment.

None of this should lead to resignation; indeed, on the contrary, it must spur us to continue and to persevere in praying and working for unity. Even if in all probability the path that lies ahead is still long and arduous, it will be full of joy and hope. Indeed, every day we discover and experience the action and dynamism of the Spirit of God, whom we rejoice to see at work also in the Churches and Ecclesial Communities that are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. Let us recognize "the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 4). Rather than complaining about what is not yet possible, we must be grateful for and cheered by what already exists and is possible. Doing what we can do now will cause us to grow in unity and will fire us with enthusiasm to overcome the difficulties. A Christian can never give up hope, lose heart or be drained of enthusiasm. The unity of the one Church that already subsists in the Catholic Church and can never be lost is our guarantee that the full unity of all Christians will also one day be a reality (cf. ibid., n. 4).

6. How should we imagine the future of ecumenism? First of all, we must strengthen the foundations of ecumenical activity, that is, our common faith in all that is expressed in baptismal profession, in the Apostolic Creed and in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. These doctrinal foundations express the faith professed by the Church since the time of the Apostles. Then, on the basis of this faith we must develop the concept and spirituality of communion. "The communion of saints" and full communion do not mean abstract uniformity but a wealth of legitimate diversities in gifts shared and recognized by all, according to the well-known proverb: "in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas".

7. A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our Christian brothers or sisters, in the deep unity born from Baptism, "as "those who are a part of me'. This makes us able to share... and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 43).

A spirituality of communion "implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a "gift for me'. A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to "make room' for our brothers and sisters, bearing "each other's burdens' (Gal 6: 2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy. Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, "masks' of communion rather than its means of expression and growth" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 43).

To sum up, therefore, a spirituality of communion means travelling together towards unity in the integral profession of faith, in the sacraments and in ecclesiastical ministry (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 14; Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 2).

8. To conclude, I would particularly like to refer to spiritual ecumenism which, according to the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio, is the heart and soul of the entire ecumenical movement (cf. n. 8; Ut Unum Sint, nn. 15-17; 21-27). I am grateful to you all for having stressed at the conference the central aspect of ecumenism for the future. There is no true ecumenism without inner conversion and the purification of memory, without holiness of life in conformity with the Gospel, and above all, without intense and assiduous prayer that echoes the prayer of Jesus. In this regard, I am pleased to note the development of joint initiatives for prayer and the formation of study groups to share their reciprocal traditions of spirituality (cf. Ecumenical Directory, n. 114).

We must act as the Apostles did with Mary, the Mother of God, after the Lord's Ascension; they gathered in the Upper Room and prayed for the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1: 12-14). He alone, who is the Spirit of communion and love, can give us the full communion that we so ardently desire.

"Veni creator Spiritus!". Amen.


Vicesimus Quintus Annus

1. Twenty-five years ago on 4 December 1963 the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI promulgated the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium on the Sacred Liturgy, which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, gathered in the Holy Spirit, had approved but a short time before.(1). It was a memorable event on several accounts. Indeed, it was the first fruit of the Council, called by Pope John XXIII, to update the Church. The moment had been prepared for by a great liturgical and pastoral movement and was a source of hope for the life and the renewal of the Church. In putting into practice the reform of the Liturgy, the Council achieved in a special way the fundamental aim which it had set itself: “To impart an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions that are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of humanity into the household of the Church”(2).

2. From the beginning of my pastoral ministry in the See of Peter, I have taken care to “state the lasting importance of the Second Vatican Council” calling attention to “our clear duty to devote our energies to putting it into effect”. Our efforts have been directed towards “bringing to maturity in the sense of movement and of life the fruitful seeds which the Fathers of the Ecumenical Council, nourished by the word of God, cast upon the good soil (cf Mt 13:8, 23), that is, their authoritative teaching and pastoral decisions” (3). On several occasions I have developed various aspects of the conciliar teaching on the Liturgy(4)and have emphasized the importance of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium for the life of the people of God: in it “the substance of that ecclesiological doctrine which would later be put before the conciliar Assembly is already evident. The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, the first conciliar document, anticipated”(5)the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church and amplified, in its turn, the teaching of the Constitution. After a quarter of a century, during which both the Church and society have experienced profound and rapid changes, it is a fitting moment to throw light on the importance of the Conciliar Constitution, its relevance in relation to new problems and the enduring value of its principles.


I. Renewal in Accord with Tradition

3. In response to the requests of the Fathers of the Council of Trent, concerned with the reform of the Church in their time, Pope Saint Pius V saw to the reform of the liturgical books, above all the Breviary and the Missal. It was towards this same goal that succeeding Roman Pontiffs directed their energies during the subsequent centuries in order to ensure that the rites and liturgical books were brought up to date and when necessary clarified. From the beginning of this century they undertook a more general reform. Pope Saint Pius X established a special Commission for this reform and he thought that it would take a number of years for it to complete its work; however he laid the foundation stone of this edifice by renewing the Roman Breviary.(6)“In fact this all demands” he affirmed, “according to the views of the experts, a work both detailed and extensive; and therefore it is necessary that many years should pass, before this liturgical edifice, so to speak,…reappears in new splendour in its dignity and harmony, once the marks of old age have been cleared away”(7).

Pope Pius XII took up again the great project of liturgical reform by issuing the Encyclical Mediator Dei (8) and by establishing a new Commission.(9) He likewise decided important matters for example: authorizing a new version of the Psalter to facilitate the understanding of the Psalms;(10)the modification of the Eucharistic fast in order to facilitate access to Holy Communion; the use of contemporary language in the Ritual; and, above all, the reform of the Easter Vigil(11)and Holy Week(12). The introduction to the Roman Missal of 1963 was preceded by the declaration of Pope John XXIII, according to which “the fundamental principles, related to the general reform of the Liturgy , were to be entrusted to the Fathers in the forthcoming Ecumenical Council”.(13)

4. Such an overall reform of the Liturgy was in harmony with the general hope of the whole Church. In fact, the liturgical spirit had become more and more widespread together with the desire for an “active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church”,(14)and a wish to hear the word of God in more abundant measure. Together with the biblical renewal, the ecumenical movement, the missionary impetus and ecclesiological research, the reform of the Liturgy was to contribute to the overall renewal of the Church. I draw attention to this in the Letter Dominicae Cenae: “A very close and organic bond exists between the renewal of the Liturgy and the renewal of the whole life of the Church. The Church not only acts but also expresses herself in the Liturgy and draws from the Liturgy the strength for her life”.(15)..

The reform of the rites and the liturgical books was undertaken immediately after the promulgation of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and was brought to an effective conclusion in a few years thanks to the considerable and selfless work of a large number of experts and bishops from all parts of the world(16).

This work was undertaken in accordance with the conciliar principles of fidelity to tradition and openness to legitimate development(17); and so it is possible to say that the reform of the Liturgy is strictly traditional and in accordance with “the ancient usage of the holy Fathers”.(18).


II. The Guiding Principles of the Constitution

5. The guiding principles of the Constitution which were the basis of the reform, remain fundamental in the task of leading the faithful to an active celebration of the mysteries, “the primary and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit” .(19). Now that the greater part of the liturgical books have been published, translated and brought into use, it is still necessary to keep these principles constantly in mind and to build upon them.


a) The re-enactment of the Paschal Mystery

6. The first principle is the reenactment of the Paschal Mystery of Christ in the Liturgy of the Church, based on the fact that “it was from the side of Christ as he slept on the Cross that there issued forth the sublime sacrament of the whole Church” (20). The whole of liturgical life gravitates about the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the other sacraments in which we draw upon the living springs of salvation (cf. Is 13:3).(21). Hence we must have a sufficient awareness that through the “Paschal Mystery we have been buried with Christ in Baptism, so that we may rise with him to new life”.(22).When the faithful participate in the Eucharist they must understand that truly “each time we offer this memorial sacrifice the work of our redemption is accomplished”,(23)and to this end bishops must carefully train the faithful to celebrate every Sunday the marvelous work that Christ has wrought in the mystery of his Passover, in order that they likewise may proclaim it to the world.(24In the hearts of all, bishops and faithful, Easter must regain its unique importance in the liturgical year, so that it really is the Feast of feasts.

Since Christ’s Death on the Cross and his Resurrection constitute the content of the daily life of the Church (25) and the pledge of his eternal Passover, (26) the Liturgy has as its first task to lead us untiringly back to the Easter pilgrimage initiated by Christ, in which we accept death in order to enter into life.

7. In order to reenact his Paschal Mystery, Christ is ever present in his Church, especially in liturgical celebrations. (27). Hence the Liturgy is the privileged place for the encounter of Christians with God and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ (cf Jn 17:3).

Christ is present in the Church assembled at prayer in his name. It is this fact which gives such a unique character to the Christian assembly with the consequent duties not only of brotherly welcome but also of forgiveness (cf Mt 5:23-24), and of dignity of behaviour, gesture and song.

Christ is present and acts in the person of the ordained minister who celebrates (28). The priest is not merely entrusted with a function, but in virtue of the Ordination received he has been consecrated to act “in persona Christi”. To this consecration there must be a corresponding disposition, both inward and outward, also reflected in liturgical vestments, in the place which he occupies and in the word which he utters.

Christ is present in his word as proclaimed in the assembly and which, commented upon in the homily, is to be listened to in faith and assimilated in prayer. All this must derive from the dignity of the book and of the place appointed for the proclamation of the word of God, and from the attitude of the reader, based upon an awareness of the fact that the reader is the spokesman of God before his or her brothers and sisters.

Christ is present and acts by the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments and, in a special and preeminent fashion (sublimiori modo), in the Sacrifice of the Mass under the Eucharistic Species, (29) also when these are reserved in the tabernacle apart from the celebration with a view to Communion of the sick and adoration by the faithful (30). With regard to this real and mysterious presence, it is the duty of pastors to recall frequently in their catechetical instruction the teaching of the faith, a teaching that the faithful must live out and that theologians are called upon to expound. Faith in this presence of the Lord involves an outward sign of respect towards the church, the holy place in which God manifests himself in mystery (cf Ex. 3:5), especially during the celebration of the sacraments: holy things must always be treated in a holy manner.


a) The reading of the Word of God.

8. The second principle is the presence of the word of God.

The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium sets out likewise to restore a “more abundant reading from Holy Scripture, one more varied and more appropriate” (31). The basic reasons for this restoration is expressed both in the Constitution on the Liturgy, namely, so that “the intimate link between rite and word” may be manifested, (32) and also in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, which teaches: “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures, just as she has venerated the very body of the Lord, never ceasing above all in the Sacred Liturgy to nourish herself on the bread of life and the table both of the word of God, and of the Body of Christ, and to minister it to the faithful” (33).

Growth in liturgical life and consequently progress in Christian life cannot be achieved except by continually promoting among the faithful, and above all among priests, a “warm and living knowledge of Scripture” (34). The word of God is now better known in the Christian communities, but a true renewal sets further and ever new requirements: fidelity to the authentic meaning of the Scriptures which must never be lost from view, especially when the Scriptures are translated into different languages; the manner of proclaiming the word of God so that it may be perceived for what it is; the use of appropriate technical means; the interior disposition of the ministers of the Word so that they carry out properly their function in the liturgical assembly; (35) careful preparation of the homily through study and meditation; effort on the part of the faithful to participate at the table of the word; a taste for prayer with the Psalms; a desire to discover Christ – like the disciples at Emmaus – at the table of the word and the bread.


b) The self-manifestation of the Church

9. Finally the Council saw in the Liturgy an epiphany of the Church: it is the Church at prayer. In celebrating Divine Worship the Church gives expression to what she is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

The Church manifests herself as one, with that unity which comes to her from the Trinity, (37) especially when the holy people of God participates “in the one Eucharist, in one and the same prayer, at the one altar, presided over by the bishop surrounded by his presbyterate and his ministers”. (38) Let nothing in the celebration of the Liturgy disrupt or obscure this unity of the Church! The Church expresses the holiness that comes to her from Christ (cf. Eph 5:26-27) when, gathered in one body by the Holy Spirit (39) who makes holy and gives life, (40) she communicates to the faithful by means of the Eucharist and the other sacraments all the graces and blessings of the Father. (41).

In liturgical celebration the Church expresses her catholicity, since in her the Spirit of the Lord gathers together people of all languages in the profession of the same faith (42) and from East to West presents to God the Father the offering of Christ, and offers herself together with him. (43)

In the Liturgy the Church manifests herself as apostolic, because the faith that she professes is founded upon the witness of the apostles; because in the celebration of the mysteries, presided over by the bishop, successor of the apostle, or by a minister ordained in the apostolic succession, she faithfully hands on what she has received from the Apostolic Tradition; and because the worship which she renders to God commits her to the mission of spreading the Gospel in the world.

Thus it is especially in the Liturgy that the Mystery of the Church is proclaimed, experienced and lived. (44)


III. Guidelines for the Renewal of Liturgical Life

10. From these principles are derived certain norms and guidelines which must govern the renewal of liturgical life. While the reform of the Liturgy desired by the Second Vatican Council, can be considered already in progress, the pastoral promotion of the Liturgy constitutes a permanent commitment to draw ever more abundantly from the riches of the Liturgy that vital force which spreads from Christ to the members of his Body which is the Church.

Since the Liturgy is the exercise of the priesthood of Christ, it is necessary to keep ever alive the affirmation of the disciple faced with the mysterious presence of the Lord: “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21:7). Nothing of what we do in the Liturgy can appear more important than what in an unseen but real manner Christ accomplishes by the power of his Spirit. A faith alive in charity, adoration, praise of the Father and silent contemplation will always be the prime objective of liturgical and pastoral care.

Since the Liturgy is totally permeated by the word of God, any other word must be in harmony with it, above all in the homily, but also in the various interventions of the minister and in the hymns which are sung. No other reading may supplant the Biblical word, and the words of men must be at the service of the word of God without obscuring it.

Since liturgical celebrations are not private acts but “celebrations of the Church, the ‘sacrament of unity’”, (45) their regulation is dependent solely upon the hierarchical authority of the Church. (46) The Liturgy belongs to the whole body of the Church. (37) It is for this reason that it is not permitted to anyone, even the priest, or any group, to subtract or change anything whatsoever on their own initiative. (48). Fidelity to the rites and to the authentic texts of the Liturgy is a requirement of the Lex orandi, which must always be in conformity with the Lex credendi. A lack of fidelity on this point may even affect the very validity of the sacraments.

Since it is a celebration of the Church, the Liturgy requires the active, conscious and full participation of all, according to the diversity of Orders and of office. (49) All the ministers and the other faithful, in the accomplishment of their particular function, do that and only that which is proper to them. (50) It is for this reason that the Church gives preference to celebrations in common, when the nature of the rites implies this; (51) she encourages the formation of ministers, readers, cantors and commentators, who carry out a true liturgical ministry; (52) she has restored concelebration, (53) and she recommends the common celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours (54).

Given that the Liturgy is the school of the prayer of the Church, it has been considered good to introduce and develop the use of the vernacular – without diminishing the use of Latin, retained by the Council for the Latin Rite (55) – so that every individual can understand and proclaim in his or her mother tongue the wonders of God (cf Acts 2:11). It has likewise been considered good to increase the number of Prefaces and Eucharistic Prayers, so as to enrich the Church’s treasury of prayer and an understanding of the mystery of Christ.

Since the Liturgy has great pastoral value, the liturgical books have provided for a certain degree of adaptation to the assembly and to individuals, with the possibility of openness to the traditions and cultures of different peoples. (65) The revision of the rites has sought a noble simplicity (57) and signs that are easily understood, but the desired simplicity must not degenerate into an impoverishment of the signs. On the contrary, the signs, above all the sacramental signs, must be easily grasped but carry the greatest possible expressiveness. Bread and wine, water and oil, and also incense, ashes, fire and flowers, and indeed almost all the elements of creation have their place in the Liturgy as gifts to the Creator and as a contribution to the dignity and beauty of the celebration.


IV. The Practical Application of the Reform

a) Difficulties

11. It must be recognized that the application of the liturgical reform has met with difficulties due especially to an unfavourable environment marked by a tendency to see religious practice as something of a private affair, by a certain rejection of institutions, by a decrease in visibility of the Church in society, and by a calling into question of personal faith. It can also be supposed that the transition from simply being present, very often in a rather passive and silent way, to a fuller and more active participation has been for some people too demanding. Different and even contradictory reactions to the reform have resulted from this. Some have received the new books with a certain indifference, or without trying to understand the reasons for the changes; others, unfortunately, have turned back in a one-sided and exclusive way to the previous liturgical forms which some of them consider to be the sole guarantee of certainty in faith. Others have promoted outlandish innovations, departing from the norms issued by the authority of the Apostolic See or the bishops, thus disrupting the unity of the Church and the piety of the faithful and even on occasion contradicting matters of faith.


b) Positive results

12. This should not lead anyone to forget that the vast majority of the pastors and the Christian people have accepted the liturgical reform in a spirit of obedience and indeed joyful fervour. For this we should give thanks to God for that movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church which the liturgical renewal represents; (58) for the fact that the table of the word of God is now abundantly furnished for all; (59) for the immense effort undertaken throughout the world to provide the Christian people with translations of the Bible, the Missal and other liturgical books; for the increased participation of the faithful by prayer and song, gesture and silence, in the Eucharist and the other sacraments; for the ministries exercised by lay people and the responsibilities that they have assumed in virtue of the common priesthood into which they have been initiated through Baptism and Confirmation; for the radiant vitality of so many Christian communities, a vitality drawn from the wellspring of the Liturgy.

These are all reasons for holding fast to the teaching of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and to the reforms which it has made possible: “the liturgical renewal is the most visible fruit of the whole work of the Council”. (60) For many people the message of the Second Vatican Council has been experienced principally through the liturgical reform.


c) Erroneous applications

13. Side by side with these benefits of the liturgical reform, one has to acknowledge with regret deviations of greater or lesser seriousness in its application.

On occasion there have been noted illicit omissions or additions, rites invented outside the framework of established norms; postures or songs which are not conducive to faith or to a sense of the sacred; abuses in the practice of general absolution; confusion between the ministerial priesthood, linked with Ordination, and the common priesthood of the faithful, which has its foundation in Baptism.

It cannot be tolerated that certain priests should take upon themselves the right to compose Eucharistic Prayers or to substitute profane readings for texts from Sacred Scripture. Initiatives of this sort, far from being linked with the liturgical reform as such, or with the books which have issued from it, are in direct contradiction to it, disfigure it and deprive the Christian people of the genuine treasures of the Liturgy of the Church.

It is for the bishops to root out such abuses, because the regulation of the Liturgy depends on the bishop within the limits of the law (61) and because “the life in Christ of his faithful people in some sense is derived from and depends on him”. (62)


V. The Future of the Renewal


14. The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium is the expression of the unanimous voice of the College of Bishops gathered around the Successor of Peter and with the help of the Spirit of Truth promised by the Lord Jesus (cf. Jn 15:26). The Constitution continues to sustain the Church along the paths of renewal and of holiness by fostering genuine liturgical life.

The principles enunciated in that document are an orientation also for the future of the Liturgy, in such a way that the liturgical reform may be ever better understood and implemented. “It is therefore necessary and urgent to actuate a new and intensive education in order to discover all the riches contained in the Liturgy”. (65)

The Liturgy of the Church goes beyond the liturgical reform. We are not in the same situation as obtained in 1963: a generation of priests and of faithful which has not known the liturgical books prior to the reform now acts with responsibility in the Church and society. One cannot therefore continue to speak of a change as it was spoken of at the time of the Constitution’s publication; rather one has to speak of an ever deeper grasp of the Liturgy of the Church, celebrated according to the current books and lived above all as a reality in the spiritual order.


a) Biblical and liturgical formation

15. The most urgent task is that of the biblical and liturgical formation of the people of God, both pastors and faithful. The Constitution had already stressed this: “There is no hope that this may come to pass unless pastors of souls themselves become imbued more deeply with the spirit and power of the liturgy so as to become masters of it”. (64) This is a long-term programme, which must begin in the seminaries and houses of formation (65) and continue throughout their priestly life. (66) A formation suited to their state is indispensable also for lay people, (67) especially since in many regions they are called upon to assume ever more important responsibilities in the community.


b) Adaptation

16. Another important task for the future is that of the adaptation of the Liturgy to different cultures. The Constitution set forth the principle, indicating the procedure to be followed by the bishops’ conferences. (68) The adaptation of languages has been rapidly accomplished, even if on occasion with some difficulties. It has been followed by the adaptation of rites, which is a more delicate matter but equally necessary. There remains the considerable task of continuing to implant the Liturgy in certain cultures, welcoming from them those expressions which are compatible with aspects of the true and authentic spirit of the Liturgy, in respect for the substantial unity of the Roman Rite as expressed in the liturgical books. (69) The adaptation must take account of the fact that in the Liturgy, and notably that of the sacraments, there is a part which is unchangeable, because it is of divine institution, and of which the Church is the guardian. There are also parts open to change, which the Church has the power and on occasion also the duty to adapt to the cultures of recently evangelized peoples.(70) This is not a new problem for the Church. Liturgical diversity can be a source of enrichment, but it can also provoke tensions, mutual misunderstandings and even divisions. In this field it is clear that diversity must not damage unity. It can only gain expression in fidelity to the common Faith, to the sacramental signs that the Church has received from Christ and to hierarchical communion. Cultural adaptation also requires conversion of heart and even, where necessary, a breaking with ancestral customs incompatible with the Catholic faith. This demands a serious formation in theology, history and culture, as well as sound judgement in discerning what is necessary or useful and what is not useful or even dangerous to faith. “A satisfactory development in this area cannot but be the fruit of a progressive maturing in faith, one which encompasses spiritual discernment, theological lucidity, and a sense of the universal Church, acting in broad harmony”. (71)


c) Attention to new problems

17. The effort towards liturgical renewal must furthermore respond to the needs of our time. The Liturgy is not disincarnate.(72) In these twenty-five years new problems have arisen or have assumed new importance, for example: the exercise of a diaconate open to married men; liturgical tasks in celebrations which can be entrusted to lay people; liturgical celebrations for children, for young people and the disabled; the procedures for the composition of liturgical texts appropriate to a particular country.

In the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium there is no reference to these problems, but the general principles are given which serve to coordinate and promote liturgical life.


d) Liturgy and popular devotions

18. Finally, to safeguard the form and ensure the promotion of the Liturgy (73) it is necessary to take account of popular Christian devotion and its relation to liturgical life.(74) This popular devotion should not be ignored or treated with indifference or contempt, since it is rich in values, (75) and per se gives expression to the religious attitude towards God. But it needs to be continually evangelized, so that the faith which it expresses may become an ever more mature and authentic act. Both the pious exercises of the Christian people (76) and also other forms of devotion are welcomed and encouraged provided that they do not replace or intrude into liturgical celebrations. An authentic pastoral promotion of the Liturgy will build upon the riches of popular piety, purifying and directing them towards the Liturgy as the offering of the peoples. (77)


VI. The Organisms Responsible for Liturgical Renewal


a) The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

19. The task of promoting the renewal of the Liturgy pertains in the first place to the Apostolic See. (78) It was four hundred years ago that Pope Sixtus V created the Sacred Congregation of Rites and entrusted it with responsibility for keeping watch over the exercise of Divine Worship, reformed after the Council of Trent. Pope Saint Pius X instituted another Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments. With a view to the practical implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium on the Liturgy, Pope Paul VI instituted a Consilium (79) later the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship (80) and they carried out the task entrusted to them with generosity, competence and promptness. In accordance with the new structure of the Roman Curia as laid down by the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, the whole area of Sacred Liturgy is brought together and placed under the responsibility of a single Dicastery: the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Always taking into account the area of competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (81) it pertains to this Congregation to regulate and promote the Liturgy of which the Sacraments are the essential part, by encouraging pastoral liturgical activities, (82) supporting the various Organisms devoted to the liturgical apostolate, music, song and sacred art, (83) and keeping watch over sacramental discipline. (84) This is a work of importance for it concerns above all the faithful preservation of the great principles of the Catholic Liturgy, as illustrated and developed in the Conciliar Constitution. It is likewise a question of drawing upon these principles for inspiration and promoting and deepening throughout the Church the renewal of liturgical life.

The Congregation will assist diocesan bishops in their efforts to offer to God true Christian worship and to regulate it according to the precepts of the Lord and the laws of the Church. (85) It will be in close and trusting contact with the bishops’ conferences for all that pertains to their competence in the liturgical field. (86)


b) The Bishops’ Conferences

20. The Bishops’ Conferences have had the weighty responsibility of preparing the translations of the liturgical books. (87) Immediate need occasionally led to the use of provisional translations, approved ad interim. But now the time has come to reflect upon a certain difficulties that have subsequently emerged, to remedy certain defects or inaccuracies, to complete partial translations, to compose or approve chants to be used in the Liturgy, to ensure respect for the texts approved and lastly to publish liturgical books in a form that both testifies to the stability achieved and is worthy of the mysteries being celebrated.

For the work of translation, as well as for the wider implications of liturgical renewal for whole countries, each bishops’ conference was required to establish a national commission and ensure the collaboration of experts in the various sectors of liturgical science and pastoral practice. (88) The time has come to evaluate this commission, its past activity, both the positive and negative aspects, and the guidelines and the help which is has received from the bishops’ conference regarding its composition and activity. The role of this commission is much more delicate when the conference wishes to introduce measures of adaptation or inculturation: (89) this is one reason for making sure that the commission contains people who are truly competent.


d) The diocesan bishop

21. In every diocese the bishop is the principal dispenser of the mysteries of God, and likewise the governor, promoter and guardian of the entire liturgical life of the Church entrusted to him. (90) When the bishop celebrates in the midst of his people, it is the very mystery of the Church which is manifested. Therefore it is necessary that the bishop should be strongly convinced of the importance of such celebrations for the Christian life of his faithful. Such celebrations should be models for the whole diocese. (91) Much still remains to be done to help priests and the faithful to grasp the meaning of the liturgical texts, to develop the dignity and beauty of celebrations and the places where they are held, and to promote, as the Fathers did, a “mystagogic catechesis” of the sacraments. In order to bring this task to a successful conclusion, the bishop should set up one or more diocesan commissions which help him to promote liturgical activity, music and sacred art in his diocese. (92) The diocesan commission, for its part, will act according to the mind and directives of the bishop and should be able to count upon his authority and his encouragement to carry out its particular task properly.



22. The Liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church, as the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium pointed out. (93) It is, however, a source and summit. (94) It is a source, because above all from the sacraments the faithful draw abundantly the water of grace which flows from the side of the Crucified Christ. To use an image dear to Pope John XXIII, it is like the village fountain to which every generation comes to draw water ever living and fresh. It is also a summit, both because all the activity of the Church is directed towards the communion of life with Christ, and because it is in the Liturgy that the Church manifests and communicates to the faithful the work of salvation, accomplished once and for all by Christ.

23. The time has come to renew that spirit which inspired the Church at the moment when the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium was prepared, discussed, voted upon and promulgated, and when the first steps were taken to apply it. The seed was sown; it has know the rigours of winter, but the seed has sprouted, and become a tree. It is a matter of the organic growth of a tree becoming ever stronger the deeper it sinks its roots into the soil of tradition. (95) I wish to recall what I said at the Congress of Liturgical Commissions in 1984: in the work of liturgical renewal, desired by the Council, it is necessary to keep in mind “with great balance the part of God and the part of man, the hierarchy and the faithful, tradition and progress, the law and adaptation, the individual and the community, silence and choral praise. Thus the Liturgy on earth will fuse with that of heaven where…it will form one choir…to praise with one voice the Father through Jesus Christ” (96).

With this confident hope, which in my heart becomes a prayer, I impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.

Given at the Vatican, on the fourth day of December in the year 1988, the eleventh of my Pontificate.



1) AAS 56 (1964), pp. 97-134.

2) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1.

3) First message to the world (17 3ctpber 1978): AAS 70 (1978), pp. 920-921.

4) Cf. especially: Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 7, 18-22: AAS 71 (1979), pp. 268-269, 301-324; Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae (16 October 1979), 23, 27-30, 33, 37 48, Í3-55, B6-68: AAS 71 (1979), pp. 1296-1297, 298-1303, 1305-1306..1308-1309, 1316; Letter Dominicae Cenae. On the mystery and worship of the Holy Eucharist (24 February 1980): AAS 72 (1980). pp. 113. 18; Encyclical Letter Dives in Misericordia (30 November 1980), 13-15: AAS 72 1980), pp. 1218-1232; Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 13, 15, 19-21, 33, 38-39, 55-59, 8-68: AAS 74 (1982), pp. 93-96. 97, 101-106, 120-123; 129-131,1 147-152. 159-165. Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (2 December 1984): A4S 77 (1985), pp. 185-275, especially nos. 23-33, pp. 233-271.

5) Address to the Congress of Presidents and Secretaries of National Liturgical Commissions (27 October 1984), 1. Insegnamenti. VII, 2 (1984), p.1049.

6) Apostolic Constitution Divino Aflatu (1 November 1911); AAS 3 (1911) p. 633-638.

7) Motu Proprio Abhiinc Duos Annos (23 October 1913); AAS 5 (1913), pp. 449-450.

8) 20 November 1947: AAS 39 (1947) pp. 521-600.

9) Sacred Congregation of Rites, Historical Section No. 71, Memoria sulla riforma Liturgica (1946).

10) Pius XII, Motu Proprio In Cotidianis Precibus (24 March 1945); AAS 37 (1945); pp. 65-67.

11) Sacred Congregation of Rites, Decree Dominicae Resurrectionis (9 February l951): AAS 43 (1951), pp. 128-129.

12) Sacred Congregation of Rites, Decree Maxima Redemptionis (16 November 1955); AAS 47 (1955). pp. B38-841.

13) John XXIII, Apostolic Letter Rubricarum Instructum (25 July 1960); AAS 52 (1960), p. 594.

14) Pius X. Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini dell’officio pastorale (22 November 1903); Pii X Pontificis Maximi Acta, 1, p. 77.

15) Letter Dominicae Cenae (24 February 1980), 13; AAS 72 (1980), p. 146.

16) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 25.

17) Cf. ibid., 23. ,

18) Cf. ibid., 50; Roman Missal, Preface, 6.

19) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14.

20) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 5; Roman Missal, The Easter Vigil; Prayer after the 7th Reading.

21) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 5-6, 47, 61, 102, 106-107.

22) Roman Missal, The Easter Vigil, Renewal of Baptismal Promises.

23) Ibid., Evening Mass "In Cena Domini", Prayer over the Gifts.

24) Cf. Ibid., Preface of Sundays In Ordinary Time, 1.

25) Cf. Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 7: AAS 71 (1979), .pp. 268-270.

26) Cf. Letter Dominicae Cenae (24 February 1980), 4; AAS 72 (1980), p. 119-121.

27) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7; cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei (3 September 1965); AAS 57 (1965). pp. 762, 764.

28) Cf. Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium (25 May 1967), 9: AAS 59 (1967), p. 547.

29) Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei (3 September 1965): AAS 57 (1965), p. 763.

30) Cf. Ibid., pp. 769-771.

31) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 35.

32) Ibid.

33) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 21.

34) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 24.

35) Cf. Letter Dominicae Cenae (24 February 1980), 10: AAS 72 (1980), pp. 134-137.

36) Cf. Liturgy of the Hours, Monday of Week IV, Prayer at Evening Prayer.

37) Cf. Roman Missal, Preface of Sundays In Ordinary Time, VIII.

38) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 41.

39) Cf. Roman missal, Eucharistic Prayers II and IV.

40) Cf. ibid., Eucharistic Prayer III; Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

41) Cf. Ibid., Eucharistic Prayer I.

42) Cf. ibid., Solemn Blessing on Pentecost Sunday.

43) Cf. ibid., Eucharistic Prayer III.

44) Cf. Address to the Congress of Presidents and Secretaries of National Liturgical Commissions (27 October 1984), 1: Insegnamenti, VII 2 (1984), p. 1049.

45) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 26.

46) Cf. ibid., 22 and 26.

47) Cf. ibid., 26.

48) Cf. ibid. 22.

49) Cf. ibid. 26.

50) Cf. ibid. 28.

51) Cf. ibid. 27.

52) Cf. ibid. 29.

53) Cf. ibid., 57; cf. Sacred Congregation of Rites, General Decree Ecclesiae Semper (7 March 1965); AAS 57 (1965), pp.410-412.

54) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 99.

55) Cf. Ibid., 36.

56) Cf. ibid., 37-40.

57) Cf. ibid., 34.

58) Cf. ibid., 43.

59) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 21; Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 51.

60) Final Report of the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (7 December 1985), II, B, b, 1.

61) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22, 1.

62) Ibid., 41.

63) Letter Dominicae Cenae, (24 February 1980), AAS 72 (1980), p. 133.

64) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14.

65) Cf. Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction Inter Oecumenici (26 September 1964), 11-13: AAS 56 (1964), pp. 879-880; Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Ratio Fundamentalis on priestly formation (6 January 1970), cap. VIII: AAS 62 (1970), pp. 351-361; Instruction In Ecclesiasticam Futurorum, On Liturgical formation In Seminaries (3 June 1979), Rome 1979.

66) Cf. Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction Inter Oecumenici (26 September 1964), 14-17: AAS 56 (1964) pp. 880-881.

67) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 19.

68) Cf. Ibid., 39.

69) Cf. ibid., 37-40.

70) Cf. ibid., 21.

71) Address to a group of bishops from the Episcopal Conference Zaire (12 April 1983), 5: AAS 75 (1983), p 620.

72) Cf. Address to the Congress of Presidents and Secretaries of National Liturgical Commissions (27 October, l984), 2; Insegnamenti, VII 2 (1984), p. 1051.

73) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium. 1.

74) Cf Ibid., 12-13.

75) Cf. Paul VI Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), 48. AAS 68 (1976), pp. 37.38.

76) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium. 13.

77) Cf. Address to the Episcopal Conference of Abruzzo and Molise on ad limina visit (24 April 1986), 3-7: AAS 78 (1986. pp. 1140-1143

78) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22, 1.

79) Apostolic Letter Sacram Liturgiam (25 January 1964): AAS 56 (1964), pp. 139-144

80) Apostolic Constitution Sacra Rituum Congregatio (8 May 1969): AAS 61 (1989). pp 297-305.

81) Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus (28 June 1988). 62: AAS 80 (1988), P 876.

82) Cf. ibid., 64: l.c.. pp. 876-877.

83) Cf. Ibid., 65: l.c., pp. 877.

84) Cf. ibid, 63 and 66: l.c., pp. 876 and 877.

85) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium. 26; Second Vatican Council. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium 22,1

86) Cf. Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, 64. 3: l.c., p. 877.

87) Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36 and 63

88) Cf. Ibid., 44.

89) Cf. ibid . 40.

90) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Bishops Office in the Church Christus Dominus, 15.

91) Cf. Address to Italian bishops attending a course of liturgical renewal (12 February 1988), 1: Osservatore Romano on 13 February 1988. p. 4.

92) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 45-46.

93) Cf. ibid., 9.

94) Cf. Ibid., 10.

95) Cf. Ibid., 23.

96) Address to the Congress of Presidents and Secretaries of National Liturgical Commissions (27 October 1984) 6: Insegnamenti, VII. 2 (1984), p. 1054.


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