Of the seventeen schemata proposed to the Vatican Council at its second session, only seven reached the floor for discussion, and of these, but two have been formally approved by the Council. These two have been promulgated by Pope Paul VI at the closing day of the second session, December 4, 1963. These two,Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, and Constitution on Social Communications, are now official laws of the Roman Catholic Church, The former I will consider in this article.


This constitution was approved for discussion at the first session. The council voted final approval on November 22, 1963 (the vote: 2,158 to 19). It was approved for promulgation on December 4, 1963 (the vote: 2,147 to 4). The constitution (tenth of the seventeen schemata) has been widely hailed in both Protestant and Roman Catholic circles. Liturgy treats the manner, form, or science of public worship. The “Constitution” is rather lengthy, composed of seven chapters which deal with various aspects of such worship in the Romish Church. Robert McAfee Brown (a Protestant writing in a Roman Catholic magazine) explains briefly the contents of the “Constitution” thus:

The principles of liturgical reform embodied within it were approved at the first session of the Council, and the subsequent chapters of the schema offered this fall are designed to spell out the details of reform in such areas as the Mass, the sacraments and sacramentals, the breviary, sacred music, sacred art, and so forth. Much greater use of the vernacular will become possible after the promulgation; much fuller participation of the laity in worship; increasing stress will be placed on Scripture and sermon; more occasions will be provided for con-celebration and communication under both species; and greater adaptability to local situations will be possible, without having to clear every change in Rome. . . .13

The Roman Catholics themselves have great visions concerning the beneficial effects of this “Constitution” in their church. Writes William J. Leonard, S.J.:

The Council seeks through this pronouncement (Constitution on Sacred Liturgy) to do two things. It wants above all to instill a new and quickening life into the worship we Christians offer together to God. . . . . The second thing the Council wants to do is to clarify and make easily intelligible the liturgy itself, so that the least gifted, the least spiritually sensitive among us, may grasp at once the meaning of the words, the signs, the gestures and postures employed in the liturgy, and may without difficulty participate in them. . . . 

But perhaps we should not dwell so much on the labor of the undertaking as on the magnificent prospects that open before us. Think, for instance, of a Sunday congregation that will hear the word of God copiously in its mother tongue, that will sing its praises, weep for its sins and beg for its necessities consciously and together; that will know, as the Council says, how to offer the spotless Victim not only by the hands of the priest but even with him, and to offer themselves as well. Think of the priest for whom the breviary will no longer be an onerous obligation somehow to be satisfied in whatever moments can be snatched from a busy life, but an easy turning to God, at natural intervals of the day, that will give him orientation, inspiration and comfort. Think of the missionary, the convert-maker, who will no longer be encumbered by the difficulty of explaining a way of worship utterly foreign and unnecessarily mysterious. In short, imagine a glad assembly of the redeemed, bringing to the feet of their gracious Father a tribute of thanks and praise, not because they must, but because they want to, because they enjoy it.14


What is this “Constitution” which, hopefully, will accomplish so much? Because of its length, and my limited space, I can touch only upon a few of the high points. From a purely formal viewpoint, it surely does introduce commendable changes into the Roman Catholic liturgy. Most striking, I believe, is the introduction of more vernacular in the place of the Latin formerly used. It has been the position of the Romish Church that the Latin language in use throughout all of its churches was a sign of the catholicity and oneness of the Romish Church. The trouble was, the common people and even many of the leaders simply did not understand the words spoken; besides, there is a great difference in emphasis and pronunciation of Latin words from one country to another. Now, greater use of the vernacular is allowed in most of the sacraments and ceremonials in this church. I quote the following from the “Constitution” to show what is allowed.15

But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants. . . . (pg. 13) . 

In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and “the common prayer,” but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people. . . . (pg. 18). 

. . . The address given by the. bishop at the beginning of each ordination or consecration may be in the mother tongue. . . . (pg. 24). . . . The prayer for the bride, duly amended to remind both spouses of their equal obligation to remain faithful to each other, may be said in the mother tongue. . . . (pg. 25) .

Another change introduced by the “Constitution” which could be considered very commendable, were only the truth maintained in these churches, is greater emphasis upon sermons and the reading of Scripture. We have, for instance, statements as these:

Because the sermon is part of the liturgical service, the best place for it is to be indicated even in the rubrics, as far as the nature of the rite will allow; the ministry of preaching is to be fulfilled with exactitude and fidelity. . . . (pg. 12). 

. . . the homily . . . is to be highly esteemed as part of the liturgy itself; in fact, at those Masses which are, celebrated with the assistance of the people on Sundays and feasts of obligation, it should not be omitted except for serious reason. . . . (pg. 18). 

In sacred celebrations there is to be more reading from holy scripture, and it is to be more varied and suitable. . . . (pg. 12). 

. . . The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. . . . (pg. 18).

The “Constitution” orders that the liturgical forms be drawn up in such a way that they be more easily understandable by the common people (cf. pages 9, 12, and 18). 

Finally, one cannot help but note that the “Constitution” allows for a measure of decentralization of the Romish Church. There is no change of the old error of papal infallibility, but the hierarchy of a particular region is granted, greater freedom in determining the form of the liturgy for its local area. For instance:

In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops. legitimately established. . . . (pg. 9). 

Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

Does the above mean that the “leopard has changed its spots?” I would point out a few instances which reveal without doubt that such is not true. Notice, in the following quotations, that though the preaching and Scripture reading are encouraged, the church retains for itself and the pope exclusive right to direct the “popular devotions” of its people. The old idolatry of the mass is retained. The grace of God is yet said to be in things, i.e., in the liturgy itself. Images and image-worship are maintained. Mariolatry continues.

Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they are ordered by the Apostolic See. . . . (pg. 7). 

. . . The Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery . . . celebrating the Eucharist in which “the victory and triumph of his death are again made present.” . . . (pg. 4). They should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should also learn to offer themselves. . . . (pg. 17). . . . From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a fount, grace is poured forth upon us. . . . (pg. 6). 

The practice of placing sacred images in churches so that they may be venerated by the faithful is to be maintained. Nevertheless their number should be moderate. . . . (pg. 39).

In celebrating this annual cycle of Christ’s mysteries, holy Church honors with especial love the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son. In her the Church holds up and admires the most excellent fruit of the redemption, and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless image, that which she herself desires and hopes wholly to be. . . . (pg. 31).

Now such quotations could be multiplied almost without end. The old wolf has assumed a better-fitting sheep’s clothing, but the old wolf can yet be seen. The danger, of course, is that the outward improvements may deceive many into believing that the old Romish errors have been renounced. Rome remains Rome.


I would freely concede that the formal changes to be made according to the “Constitution” are commendable. Certainly the Latin language could never edify an English-speaking people. Could you, for instance, derive any spiritual value from a sermon preached in the Chinese language? None could condemn either the more faithful use of the sermon and Scripture reading. But all of this represents only the outward form in which something is presented. A package may be beautifully wrapped, but that beauty means nothing if the contents are bash. 

The trouble with this “Constitution” lies in this, that the formal changes which will be made, are made in order to promote the lie. The membership in the Romish Church, and prospective converts, will definitely be able to come to a better understanding of the teachings of the Romish Church. This can be better done now, for instance, through the sermons which must be based both upon Scripture and church liturgy. Such sermons would mean more intensive propaganda for the mass, for Mariology, for the veneration of the saints, for papal infallibility, and, yes, for the doctrine of justification by works and not grace alone. 

So one could continue. When the basic errors remain, the external improvements can only enhance the lie. Let the Council begin rather to study and renounce their old heresies in the light of Scripture. Afterwards there would be time enough to revise and improve the basic forms of worship. First things should be first. But, of course, this they neither would nor could do.

Though I can well imagine that this “Constitution” will be a means of promoting greater contact with Protestant churches (separated brethren), and might even serve as a basis for discussions concerning reunion; the faithful, surely, will not be deceived. Those who continue to cherish the old truth of justification by grace through faith alone, will also continue to hate the old Romish errors—even though the wrappings have been improved.


13. The Commonweal, Dec. 27, 1963, p. 396 

14. America, Dec. 21, 1963, p. 798 

15. The following quotations are all taken from the booklet Constitution on the Liturgy, a translation of the Constitution adopted by the Vatican Council and promulgated by Pope Paul VI. This is published by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, 1312 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. For those desiring to study this Constitution more carefully, copies can be obtained for 35¢ plus postage.