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EXTRA: Apostolic Letter on Sacred Liturgy

On the 40th Anniversary of "Sacrosanctum Concilium"

ROME, DEC. 12, 2003 (Zenit) - Here is the translation of John Paul II's apostolic letter on the sacred liturgy that was released last week.



1. "The spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let him who hears say, 'Come.' And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price" (Revelation 22:17). These words of the Book of Revelation resound in my mind while I recall that some forty years ago, exactly on December 4, 1963, my venerable predecessor, Pope Paul VI, promulgated the Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium" on the Sacred Liturgy. What else, in fact, is the Liturgy if not the unisonous voice of the Holy Spirit and of the Bride, the Holy Church, who cry to the Lord Jesus: "Come"? What else is the Liturgy if not that pure and perennial source of "living water" to which any one who is thirsty can freely obtain the gift of God (cf. John 4:10)?

Indeed, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Second Vatican Council, first fruit of that "great grace of which the Church has benefited in the 20th century,"1 the Holy Spirit has spoken to the Church, not ceasing to guide the disciples of the Lord "to the whole truth" (John 16:13). The celebration of the fortieth anniversary of that event is a happy occasion to rediscover the profound themes of the liturgical renewal desired by the Council Fathers, to assess its reception and to look toward the future.

A Glance at the Conciliar Constitution

2. With the passing of time, in the light of the fruits that it has brought, one sees ever more clearly the importance of the "Sacrosanctum Concilium." In it are luminously delineated the principles that are the foundation of the liturgical praxis of the Church, and they inspire healthy renewal in the course of time.2 The Liturgy was placed by the conciliar Fathers in the context of the history of salvation, whose end is human redemption and the perfect glorification of God. The redemption has its prelude in the wonderful divine gesture of the Old Testament and was brought to fulfillment by Christ the Lord, especially through the paschal mystery of his blessed passion, death, resurrection and glorious ascension.3 Yet it has need not only of being proclaimed but lived, and it is this that happens "through the Sacrifice and the Sacraments, on which the whole of liturgical life is based."4 Christ renders himself present in a special way in liturgical actions, associating the Church to himself. Every liturgical celebration is, therefore, the work of Christ the Priest and of his Mystical Body, "integral public worship,"5 in which one participates, as a foretaste of the Liturgy of the heavenly Jerusalem.6 Because of this, "the Liturgy is the summit toward which the action of the Church tends and, at the same time, the source from which all its virtue emanates."7

3. The liturgical perspective of the Council is not limited to the intra-ecclesial ambit, but open to the horizon of the whole of humanity. In fact, in his praise of the Father, Christ unites in himself the whole community of men, and he does so in a singular way through the praying mission of the "Church, which praises the Lord incessantly and intercedes for the salvation of the whole world, not only with the celebration of the Eucharist, but also in other ways, especially with the recitation of the Divine Office."8

From the perspective of "Sacrosanctum Concilium," the liturgical life of the Church assumes a cosmic and universal breadth, marking in a profound way man's time and space. In this perspective one can also understand the renewed attention that the Constitution gives to the Liturgical Year, the way through which the Church recalls the paschal mystery of Christ and relives it.9

If the Liturgy is all this, with reason the Council affirms that every liturgical action "is a sacred action par excellence, and no other action of the Church equals it efficacy to quite the same degree."10 At the same time, the Council recognizes that "the sacred Liturgy does not exhaust all the action of the Church."11 In fact, on one hand, the Liturgy implies the proclamation of the Gospel, and on the other calls for Christian witness in history. The mystery proposed in preaching and catechesis, received in faith and celebrated in the Liturgy, should mold the whole life of believers, who are called to be its heralds in the world.12

4. In regard to the diverse realities implied in the liturgical celebration, the Constitution pays special attention to the importance of "musica sacra." The Council exalts it indicating as its end "the ...

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