Given by His
Holiness Pope Pius XII
November 20, 1947
To the Venerable Brethren, the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops,
Bishops and other Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic
Venerable Brethren, Health and Apostolic Benediction.
Mediator between God and men and High Priest who has gone before us
into heaven, Jesus the Son of God quite clearly had one aim in view
when He undertook the mission of mercy which was to endow mankind with
the rich blessings of supernatural grace. Sin had disturbed the right
relationship between man and his Creator; the Son of God would restore
it. The children of Adam were wretched heirs to the infection of
original sin; He would bring them back to their heavenly Father, the
primal source and final destiny of all things. For this reason He was
not content, while He dwelt with us on earth, merely to give notice
that redemption had begun, and to proclaim the long-awaited Kingdom of
God, but gave Himself besides in prayer and sacrifice to the task of
saving souls, even to the point of offering Himself, as He hung from
the cross, a Victim unspotted unto God, to purify our conscience of
dead works, to serve the living God. Thus happily were all men
summoned back from the byways leading them down to ruin and disaster,
to be set squarely once again upon the path that leads to God. Thanks
to the shedding of the blood of the Immaculate Lamb, now each might set
about the personal task of achieving his own sanctification, so
rendering to God the glory due to Him.
2. But what is more, the divine Redeemer has so willed it that the
priestly life begun with the supplication and sacrifice of His mortal
body should continue without intermission down the ages in His Mystical
Body which is the Church. That is why He established a visible
priesthood to offer everywhere the clean oblation which would enable
men from East to West, freed from the shackles of sin, to offer God
that unconstrained and voluntary homage which their conscience
3. In obedience, therefore, to her Founder's behest, the Church
prolongs the priestly mission of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the
sacred liturgy. She does this in the first place at the altar, where
constantly the sacrifice of the cross is represented and with a
single difference in the manner of its offering, renewed. She does
it next by means of the sacraments, those special channels through
which men are made partakers in the supernatural life. She does it,
finally, by offering to God, all Good and Great, the daily tribute of
her prayer of praise. "What a spectacle for heaven and earth," observes
Our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XI, "is not the Church at prayer!
For centuries without interruption, from midnight to midnight, the
divine psalmody of the inspired canticles is repeated on earth; there
is no hour of the day that is not hallowed by its special liturgy;
there is no state of human life that has not its part in the
thanksgiving, praise, supplication and reparation of this common prayer
of the Mystical Body of Christ which is His Church!"
4. You are of course familiar with the fact, Venerable Brethren, that a
remarkably widespread revival of scholarly interest in the sacred
liturgy took place towards the end of the last century and has
continued through the early years of this one. The movement owed its
rise to commendable private initiative and more particularly to the
zealous and persistent labor of several monasteries within the
distinguished Order of Saint Benedict. Thus there developed in this
field among many European nations, and in lands beyond the seas as
well, a rivalry as welcome as it was productive of results. Indeed, the
salutary fruits of this rivalry among the scholars were plain for all
to see, both in the sphere of the sacred sciences, where the liturgical
rites of the Western and Eastern Church were made the object of
extensive research and profound study, and in the spiritual life of
considerable numbers of individual Christians.
5. The majestic ceremonies of the sacrifice of the altar became better
known, understood and appreciated. With more widespread and more
frequent reception of the sacraments, with the beauty of the liturgical
prayers more fully savored, the worship of the Eucharist came to be
regarded for what it really is: the fountain-head of genuine Christian
devotion. Bolder relief was given likewise to the fact that all the
faithful make up a single and very compact body with Christ for its
Head, and that the Christian community is in duty bound to participate
in the liturgical rites according to their station.
6. You are surely well aware that this Apostolic See has always made
careful provision for the schooling of the people committed to its
charge in the correct spirit and practice of the liturgy; and that it
has been no less careful to insist that the sacred rites should be
performed with due external dignity. In this connection We ourselves,
in the course of our traditional address to the Lenten preachers of
this gracious city of Rome in 1943, urged them warmly to exhort their
respective hearers to more faithful participation in the eucharistic
sacrifice. Only a short while previously, with the design of rendering
the prayers of the liturgy more correctly understood and their truth
and unction more easy to perceive, We arranged to have the Book of
Psalms, which forms such an important part of these prayers in the
Catholic Church, translated again into Latin from their original
7. But while We derive no little satisfaction from the wholesome
results of the movement just described, duty obliges Us to give serious
attention to this "revival" as it is advocated in some quarters, and to
take proper steps to preserve it at the outset from excess or outright
8. Indeed, though we are sorely grieved to note, on the one hand, that
there are places where the spirit, understanding or practice of the
sacred liturgy is defective, or all but inexistent, We observe with
considerable anxiety and some misgiving, that elsewhere certain
enthusiasts, over-eager in their search for novelty, are straying
beyond the path of sound doctrine and prudence. Not seldom, in fact,
they interlard their plans and hopes for a revival of the sacred
liturgy with principles which compromise this holiest of causes in
theory or practice, and sometimes even taint it with errors touching
Catholic faith and ascetical doctrine.
9. Yet the integrity of faith and morals ought to be the special
criterion of this sacred science, which must conform exactly to what
the Church out of the abundance of her wisdom teaches and prescribes.
It is, consequently, Our prerogative to commend and approve whatever is
done properly, and to check or censure any aberration from the path of
truth and rectitude.
10. Let not the apathetic or half-hearted imagine, however, that We
agree with them when We reprove the erring and restrain the overbold.
No more must the imprudent think that we are commending them when We
correct the faults of those who are negligent and sluggish.
11. If in this encyclical letter We treat chiefly of the Latin liturgy,
it is not because We esteem less highly the venerable liturgies of the
Eastern Church, whose ancient and honorable ritual traditions are just
as dear to Us. The reason lies rather in a special situation prevailing
in the Western Church, of sufficient importance, it would seem, to
require this exercise of Our authority.
12. With docile hearts, then, let all Christians hearken to the voice
of their Common Father, who would have them, each and every one,
intimately united with him as they approach the altar of God,
professing the same faith, obedient to the same law, sharing in the
same Sacrifice with a single intention and one sole desire. This is a
duty imposed, of course, by the honor due to God. But the needs of our
day and age demand it as well. After a long and cruel war which has
rent whole peoples asunder with it rivalry and slaughter, men of good
will are spending themselves in the effort to find the best possible
way to restore peace to the world. It is, notwithstanding, Our belief
that no plan or initiative can offer better prospect of success than
that fervent religious spirit and zeal by which Christians must be
formed and guided; in this way their common and whole-hearted
acceptance of the same truth, along with their united obedience and
loyalty to their appointed pastors, while rendering to God the worship
due to Him, makes of them one brotherhood: "for we, being many, are one
body: all that partake of one bread."
13. It is unquestionably the fundamental duty of man to orientate his
person and his life towards God. "For He it is to whom we must first be
bound, as to an unfailing principle; to whom even our free choice must
be directed as to an ultimate objective. It is He, too, whom we lose
when carelessly we sin. It is He whom we must recover by our faith and
trust." But man turns properly to God when he acknowledges His
Supreme majesty and supreme authority; when he accepts divinely
revealed truths with a submissive mind; when he scrupulously obeys
divine law, centering in God his every act and aspiration; when he
accords, in short, due worship to the One True God by practicing the
virtue of religion .
14. This duty is incumbent, first of all, on men as individuals. But it
also binds the whole community of human beings, grouped together by
mutual social ties: mankind, too, depends on the sovereign authority of
15. It should be noted, moreover, that men are bound by his obligation
in a special way in virtue of the fact that God has raised them to the
16. Thus we observe that when God institutes the Old Law, He makes
provision besides for sacred rites, and determines in exact detail the
rules to be observed by His people in rendering Him the worship He
ordains. To this end He established various kinds of sacrifice and
designated the ceremonies with which they were to be offered to Him.
His enactments on all matters relating to the Ark of the Covenant, the
Temple and the holy days are minute and clear. He established a
sacerdotal tribe with its high priest, selected and described the
vestments with which the sacred ministers were to be clothed, and every
function in any way pertaining to divine worship. Yet this was
nothing more than a faint foreshadowing of the worship which the
High Priest of the New Testament was to render to the Father in heaven.
17. No sooner, in fact, "is the Word made flesh" than he shows
Himself to the world vested with a priestly office, making to the
Eternal Father an act of submission which will continue uninterruptedly
as long as He lives: "When He cometh into the world he saith. . .
'behold I come . . . to do Thy Will." This act He was to consummate
admirably in the bloody Sacrifice of the Cross: "It is in this will we
are sanctified by the oblation of the Body of Jesus Christ once."
He plans His active life among men with no other purpose in view. As a
child He is presented to the Lord in the Temple. To the Temple He
returns as a grown boy, and often afterwards to instruct the people and
to pray. He fasts for forty days before beginning His public ministry.
His counsel and example summon all to prayer, daily and at night as
well. As Teacher of the truth He "enlighteneth every man" to the
end that mortals may duly acknowledge the immortal God, "not
withdrawing unto perdition, but faithful to the saving of the
soul." As Shepherd He watches over His flock, leads it to
life-giving pasture, lays down a law that none shall wander from His
side, off the straight path He has pointed out, and that all shall lead
holy lives imbued with His spirit and moved by His active aid. At the
Last Supper He celebrates a new Pasch with solemn rite and ceremonial,
and provides for its continuance through the divine institution of the
Eucharist. On the morrow, lifted up between heaven and earth, He offers
the saving sacrifice of His life, and pours forth, as it were, from His
pierced Heart the sacraments destined to impart the treasures of
redemption to the souls of men. All this He does with but a single aim:
the glory of His Father and man's ever greater sanctification.
18. But it is His will, besides, that the worship He instituted and
practiced during His life on earth shall continue ever afterwards
without intermission. For he has not left mankind an orphan. He still
offers us the support of His powerful, unfailing intercession, acting
as our "advocate with the Father." He aids us likewise through His
Church, where He is present indefectibly as the ages run their course:
through the Church which He constituted "the pillar of truth" and
dispenser of grace, and which by His sacrifice on the cross, He
founded, consecrated and confirmed forever.
19. The Church has, therefore, in common with the Word Incarnate the
aim, the obligation and the function of teaching all men the truth, of
governing and directing them aright, of offering to God the pleasing
and acceptable sacrifice; in this way the Church re-establishes between
the Creator and His creatures that unity and harmony to which the
Apostle of the Gentiles alludes in these words: "Now, therefore, you
are no more strangers and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with
the saints and domestics of God, built upon the foundation of the
apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief
corner-stone; in whom all the building, being framed together, groweth
up into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together
in a habitation of God in the Spirit." Thus the society founded by
the divine Redeemer, whether in her doctrine and government, or in the
sacrifice and sacraments instituted by Him, or finally, in the
ministry, which He has confided to her charge with the outpouring of
His prayer and the shedding of His blood, has no other goal or purpose
than to increase ever in strength and unity.
20. This result is, in fact, achieved when Christ lives and thrives, as
it were, in the hearts of men, and when men's hearts in turn are
fashioned and expanded as though by Christ. This makes it possible for
the sacred temple, where the Divine Majesty receives the acceptable
worship which His law prescribes, to increase and prosper day by day in
this land of exile of earth. Along with the Church, therefore, her
Divine Founder is present at every liturgical function: Christ is
present at the august sacrifice of the altar both in the person of His
minister and above all under the eucharistic species. He is present in
the sacraments, infusing into them the power which makes them ready
instruments of sanctification. He is present, finally, in prayer of
praise and petition we direct to God, as it is written: "Where there
are two or three gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst
of them." The sacred liturgy is, consequently, the public worship
which our Redeemer as Head of the Church renders to the Father, as well
as the worship which the community of the faithful renders to its
Founder, and through Him to the heavenly Father. It is, in short, the
worship rendered by the Mystical Body of Christ in the entirety of its
Head and members.
21. Liturgical practice begins with the very founding of the Church.
The first Christians, in fact, "were persevering in the doctrine of the
apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in
prayers." Whenever their pastors can summon a little group of the
faithful together, they set up an altar on which they proceed to offer
the sacrifice, and around which are ranged all the other rites
appropriate for the saving of souls and for the honor due to God. Among
these latter rites, the first place is reserved for the sacraments,
namely, the seven principal founts of salvation. There follows the
celebration of the divine praises in which the faithful also join,
obeying the behest of the Apostle Paul, "In all wisdom, teaching and
admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles,
singing in grace in your hearts to God." Next comes the reading of
the Law, the prophets, the gospel and the apostolic epistles; and last
of all the homily or sermon in which the official head of the
congregation recalls and explains the practical bearing of the
commandments of the divine Master and the chief events of His life,
combining instruction with appropriate exhortation and illustration of
the benefit of all his listeners.
22. As circumstances and the needs of Christians warrant, public
worship is organized, developed and enriched by new rites, ceremonies
and regulations, always with the single end in view, "that we may use
these external signs to keep us alert, learn from them what distance we
have come along the road, and by them be heartened to go on further
with more eager step; for the effect will be more precious the warmer
the affection which precedes it." Here then is a better and more
suitable way to raise the heart to God. Thenceforth the priesthood of
Jesus Christ is a living and continuous reality through all the ages to
the end of time, since the liturgy is nothing more nor less than the
exercise of this priestly function. Like her divine Head, the Church is
forever present in the midst of her children. She aids and exhorts them
to holiness, so that they may one day return to the Father in heaven
clothed in that beauteous raiment of the supernatural. To all who are
born to life on earth she gives a second, supernatural kind of birth.
She arms them with the Holy Spirit for the struggle against the
implacable enemy. She gathers all Christians about her altars, inviting
and urging them repeatedly to take part in the celebration of the Mass,
feeding them with the Bread of angels to make them ever stronger. She
purifies and consoles the hearts that sin has wounded and soiled.
Solemnly she consecrates those whom God has called to the priestly
ministry. She fortifies with new gifts of grace the chaste nupitals of
those who are destined to found and bring up a Christian family. When
as last she has soothed and refreshed the closing hours of this earthly
life by holy Viaticum and extreme unction, with the utmost affection
she accompanies the mortal remains of her children to the grave, lays
them reverently to rest, and confides them to the protection of the
cross, against the day when they will triumph over death and rise
again. She has a further solemn blessing and invocation for those of
her children who dedicate themselves to the service of God in the life
of religious perfection. Finally, she extends to the souls in
purgatory, who implore her intercession and her prayers, the helping
hand which may lead them happily at last to eternal blessedness in
23. The worship rendered by the Church to God must be, in its entirety,
interior as well as exterior. It is exterior because the nature of man
as a composite of body and soul requires it to be so. Likewise, because
divine Providence has disposed that "while we recognize God visibly, we
may be drawn by Him to love of things unseen." Every impulse of the
human heart, besides, expresses itself naturally through the senses;
and the worship of God, being the concern not merely of individuals but
of the whole community of mankind, must therefore be social as well.
This obviously it cannot be unless religious activity is also organized
and manifested outwardly. Exterior worship, finally, reveals and
emphasizes the unity of the mystical Body, feeds new fuel to its holy
zeal, fortifies its energy, intensifies its action day by day: "for
although the ceremonies themselves can claim no perfection or sanctity
in their won right, they are, nevertheless, the outward acts of
religion, designed to rouse the heart, like signals of a sort, to
veneration of the sacred realities, and to raise the mind to meditation
on the supernatural. They serve to foster piety, to kindle the flame of
charity, to increase our faith and deepen our devotion. They provide
instruction for simple folk, decoration for divine worship, continuity
of religious practice. They make it possible to tell genuine Christians
from their false or heretical counterparts."
24. But the chief element of divine worship must be interior. For we
must always live in Christ and give ourselves to Him completely, so
that in Him, with Him and through Him the heavenly Father may be duly
glorified. The sacred liturgy requires, however, that both of these
elements be intimately linked with each another. This recommendation
the liturgy itself is careful to repeat, as often as it prescribes an
exterior act of worship. Thus we are urged, when there is question of
fasting, for example, "to give interior effect to our outward
observance." Otherwise religion clearly amounts to mere formalism,
without meaning and without content. You recall, Venerable Brethren,
how the divine Master expels from the sacred temple, as unworthily to
worship there, people who pretend to honor God with nothing but neat
and wellturned phrases, like actors in a theater, and think themselves
perfectly capable of working out their eternal salvation without
plucking their inveterate vices from their hearts. It is,
therefore, the keen desire of the Church that all of the faithful kneel
at the feet of the Redeemer to tell Him how much they venerate and love
Him. She wants them present in crowds -- like the children whose joyous
cries accompanied His entry into Jerusalem -- to sing their hymns and
chant their song of praise and thanksgiving to Him who is King of Kings
and Source of every blessing. She would have them move their lips in
prayer, sometimes in petition, sometimes in joy and gratitude, and in
this way experience His merciful aid and power like the apostles at the
lakeside of Tiberias, or abandon themselves totally, like Peter on
Mount Tabor, to mystic union with the eternal God in contemplation.
25. It is an error, consequently, and a mistake to think of the sacred
liturgy as merely the outward or visible part of divine worship or as
an ornamental ceremonial. No less erroneous is the notion that it
consists solely in a list of laws and prescriptions according to which
the ecclesiastical hierarchy orders the sacred rites to be performed.
26. It should be clear to all, then, that God cannot be honored
worthily unless the mind and heart turn to Him in quest of the perfect
life, and that the worship rendered to God by the Church in union with
her divine Head is the most efficacious means of achieving sanctity.
27. This efficacy, where there is question of the eucharistic sacrifice
and the sacraments, derives first of all and principally from the act
itself (ex opere operato). But if one considers the part which the
Immaculate Spouse of Jesus Christ takes in the action, embellishing the
sacrifice and sacraments with prayer and sacred ceremonies, or if one
refers to the "sacramentals" and the other rites instituted by the
hierarchy of the Church, then its effectiveness is due rather to the
action of the church (ex opere operantis Ecclesiae), inasmuch as she is
holy and acts always in closest union with her Head.
28. In this connection, Venerable Brethren, We desire to direct your
attention to certain recent theories touching a so-called "objective"
piety. While these theories attempt, it is true, to throw light on the
mystery of the Mystical Body, on the effective reality of sanctifying
grace, on the action of God in the sacraments and in the Mass, it is
nonetheless apparent that they tend to belittle, or pass over in
silence, what they call "subjective," or "personal" piety.
29. It is an unquestionable fact that the work of our redemption is
continued, and that its fruits are imparted to us, during the
celebration of the liturgy, notable in the august sacrifice of the
altar. Christ acts each day to save us, in the sacraments and in His
holy sacrifice. By means of them He is constantly atoning for the sins
of mankind, constantly consecrating it to God. Sacraments and sacrifice
do, then, possess that "objective" power to make us really and
personally sharers in the divine life of Jesus Christ. Not from any
ability of our own, but by the power of God, are they endowed with the
capacity to unite the piety of members with that of the head, and to
make this, in a sense, the action of the whole community. From these
profund considerations some are led to conclude that all Christian
piety must be centered in the mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ,
with no regard for what is "personal" or "subjective, as they would
have it. As a result they feel that all other religious exercises not
directly connected with the sacred liturgy, and performed outside
public worship should be omitted.
30. But though the principles set forth above are excellent, it must be
plain to everyone that the conclusions drawn from them respecting two
sorts of piety are false, insidious and quite pernicious.
31. Very truly, the sacraments and the sacrifice of the altar, being
Christ's own actions, must be held to be capable in themselves of
conveying and dispensing grace from the divine Head to the members of
the Mystical Body. But if they are to produce their proper effect, it
is absolutely necessary that our hearts be properly disposed to receive
them. Hence the warning of Paul the Apostle with reference to holy
communion, "But let a man first prove himself; and then let him eat of
this bread and drink of the chalice." This explains why the Church
in a brief and significant phrase calls the various acts of
mortification, especially those practiced during the season of Lent,
"the Christian army's defenses." They represent, in fact, the
personal effort and activity of members who desire, as grace urges and
aids them, to join forces with their Captain -- "that we may discover .
. . in our Captain," to borrow St. Augustine's words, "the fountain of
grace itself." But observe that these members are alive, endowed
and equipped with an intelligence and will of their own. It follows
that they are strictly required to put their own lips to the fountain,
imbibe and absorb for themselves the life-giving water, and rid
themselves personally of anything that might hinder its nutritive
effect in their souls. Emphatically, therefore, the work of redemption,
which in itself is independent of our will, requires a serious interior
effort on our part if we are to achieve eternal salvation.
32. If the private and interior devotion of individuals were to neglect
the august sacrifice of the altar and the sacraments, and to withdraw
them from the stream of vital energy that flows from Head to members,
it would indeed be sterile, and deserve to be condemned. But when
devotional exercises, and pious practices in general, not strictly
connected with the sacred liturgy, confine themselves to merely human
acts, with the express purpose of directing these latter to the Father
in heaven, of rousing people to repentance and holy fear of God, of
weaning them from the seductions of the world and its vice, and leading
them back to the difficult path of perfection, then certainly such
practices are not only highly praiseworthy but absolutely
indispensable, because they expose the dangers threatening the
spiritual life; because they promote the acquisition of virtue; and
because they increase the fervor and generosity with which we are bound
to dedicate all that we are and all that we have to the service of
Jesus Christ. Genuine and real piety, which the Angelic Doctor calls
"devotion," and which is the principal act of the virtue of religion --
that act which correctly relates and fitly directs men to God; and by
which they freely and spontaneously give themselves to the worship of
God in its fullest sense -- piety of this authentic sort needs
meditation on the supernatural realities and spiritual exercises, if it
is to be nurtured, stimulated and sustained, and if it is to prompt us
to lead a more perfect life. For the Christian religion, practiced as
it should be, demands that the will especially be consecrated to God
and exert its influence on all the other spiritual faculties. But every
act of the will presupposes an act of the intelligence, and before one
can express the desire and the intention of offering oneself in
sacrifice to the eternal Godhead, a knowledge of the facts and truths
which make religion a duty is altogether necessary. One must first
know, for instance, man's last end and the supremacy of the Divine
Majesty; after that, our common duty of submission to our Creator; and,
finally, the inexhaustible treasures of love with which God yearns to
enrich us, as well as the necessity of supernatural grace for the
achievement of our destiny, and that special path marked out for us by
divine Providence in virtue of the fact that we have been united, one
and all, like members of a body, to Jesus Christ the Head. But further,
since our hearts, disturbed as they are at times by the lower
appetites, do not always respond to motives of love, it is also
extremely helpful to let consideration and contemplation of the justice
of God provoke us on occasion to salutary fear, and guide us thence to
Christian humility, repentance and amendment.
33. But it will not do to possess these facts and truths after the
fashion of an abstract memory lesson or lifeless commentary. They must
lead to practical results. They must impel us to subject our senses and
their faculties to reason, as illuminated by the Catholic faith. They
must help to cleanse and purify the heart, uniting it to Christ more
intimately every day, growing ever more to His likeness, and drawing
from Him the divine inspiration and strength of which it stands in
need. They must serve as increasingly effective incentives to action:
urging men to produce good fruit, to perform their individual duties
faithfully, to give themselves eagerly to the regular practice of their
religion and the energetic exercise of virtue. "You are Christ's, and
Christ is God's." Let everything, therefore, have its proper place
and arrangement; let everything be "theocentric," so to speak, if we
really wish to direct everything to the glory of God through the life
and power which flow from the divine Head into our hearts: "Having
therefore, brethren, a confidence in the entering into the holies by
the blood of Christ, a new and living way which He both dedicated for
us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh, and a high priest over
the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in fullness of
faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our
bodies washed with clean water, let us hold fast the confession of our
hope without wavering . . . and let us consider one another, to provoke
unto charity and to good works."
34. Here is the source of the harmony and equilibrium which prevails
among the members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. When the Church
teaches us our Catholic faith and exhorts us to obey the commandments
of Christ, she is paving a way for her priestly, sanctifying action in
its highest sense; she disposes us likewise for more serious meditation
on the life of the divine Redeemer and guides us to profounder
knowledge of the mysteries of faith where we may draw the supernatural
sustenance, strength and vitality that enable us to progress safely,
through Christ, towards a more perfect life. Not only through her
ministers but with the help of the faithful individually, who have
imbibed in this fashion the spirit of Christ, the Church endeavors to
permeate with this same spirit the life and labors of men -- their
private and family life, their social, even economic and political life
-- that all who are called God's children may reach more readily the
end He has proposed for them.
35. Such action on the part of individual Christians, then, along with
the ascetic effort promoting them to purify their hearts, actually
stimulates in the faithful those energies which enable them to
participate in the august sacrifice of the altar with better
dispositions. They now can receive the sacraments with more abundant
fruit, and come from the celebration of the sacred rites more eager,
more firmly resolved to pray and deny themselves like Christians, to
answer the inspirations and invitation of divine grace and to imitate
daily more closely the virtues of our Redeemer. And all of this not
simply for their own advantage, but for that of the whole Church, where
whatever good is accomplished proceeds from the power of her Head and
redounds to the advancement of all her members.
36. In the spiritual life, consequently, there can be no opposition
between the action of God, who pours forth His grace into men's hearts
so that the work of the redemption may always abide, and the tireless
collaboration of man, who must not render vain the gift of God. No
more can the efficacy of the external administration of the sacraments,
which comes from the rite itself (ex opere operato), be opposed to the
meritorious action of their ministers of recipients, which we call the
agent's action (opus operantis). Similarly, no conflict exists between
public prayer and prayers in private, between morality and
contemplation, between the ascetical life and devotion to the liturgy.
Finally, there is no opposition between the jurisdiction and teaching
office of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the specifically priestly
power exercised in the sacred ministry.
37. Considering their special designation to perform the liturgical
functions of the holy sacrifice and divine office, the Church has
serious reason for prescribing that the ministers she assigns to the
service of the sanctuary and members of religious institutes betake
themselves at stated times to mental prayer, to examination of
conscience, and to various other spiritual exercises.
Unquestionably, liturgical prayer, being the public supplication of the
illustrious Spouse of Jesus Christ, is superior in excellence to
private prayers. But this superior worth does not at all imply contrast
or incompatibility between these two kinds of prayer. For both merge
harmoniously in the single spirit which animates them, "Christ is all
and in all." Both tend to the same objective: until Christ be
formed in us.
38. For a better and more accurate understanding of the sacred liturgy
another of its characteristic features, no less important, needs to be
39. The Church is a society, and as such requires an authority and
hierarchy of her own. Though it is true that all the members of the
Mystical Body partake of the same blessings and pursue the same
objective, they do not all enjoy the same powers, nor are they all
qualified to perform the same acts. The divine Redeemer has willed, as
a matter of fact, that His Kingdom should be built and solidly
supported, as it were, on a holy order, which resembles in some sort
the heavenly hierarchy.
40. Only to the apostles, and thenceforth to those on whom their
successors have imposed hands, is granted the power of the priesthood,
in virtue of which they represent the person of Jesus Christ before
their people, acting at the same time as representatives of their
people before God. This priesthood is not transmitted by heredity or
human descent. It does not emanate from the Christian community. It is
not a delegation from the people. Prior to acting as representative of
the community before the throne of God, the priest is the ambassador of
the divine Redeemer. He is God's vice-gerent in the midst of his flock
precisely because Jesus Christ is Head of that body of which Christians
are the members. The power entrusted to him, therefore, bears no
natural resemblance to anything human. It is entirely supernatural. It
comes from God. "As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. . .
he that heareth you heareth me. . . go ye into the whole world and
preach the gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized
shall be saved."
41. That is why the visible, external priesthood of Jesus Christ is not
handed down indiscriminately to all members of the Church in general,
but is conferred on designated men, through what may be called the
spiritual generation of holy orders.
42. This latter, one of the seven sacraments, not only imparts the
grace appropriate to the clerical function and state of life, but
imparts an indelible "character" besides, indicating the sacred
ministers' conformity to Jesus Christ the Priest and qualifying them to
perform those official acts of religion by which men are sanctified and
God is duly glorified in keeping with the divine laws and regulations.
43. In the same way, actually that baptism is the distinctive mark of
all Christians, and serves to differentiate them from those who have
not been cleansed in this purifying stream and consequently are not
members of Christ, the sacrament of holy orders sets the priest apart
from the rest of the faithful who have not received this consecration.
For they alone, in answer to an inward supernatural call, have entered
the august ministry, where they are assigned to service in the
sanctuary and become, as it were, the instruments God uses to
communicate supernatural life from on high to the Mystical Body of
Jesus Christ. Add to this, as We have noted above, the fact that they
alone have been marked with the indelible sign "conforming" them to
Christ the Priest, and that their hands alone have been consecrated "in
order that whatever they bless may be blessed, whatever they consecrate
may become sacred and holy, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"
Let all, then, who would live in Christ flock to their priests. By them
they will be supplied with the comforts and food of the spiritual life.
From them they will procure the medicine of salvation assuring their
cure and happy recovery from the fatal sickness of their sins. The
priest, finally, will bless their homes, consecrate their families and
help them, as they breathe their last, across the threshold of eternal
44. Since, therefore, it is the priest chiefly who performs the sacred
liturgy in the name of the Church, its organization, regulation and
details cannot but be subject to Church authority. This conclusion,
based on the nature of Christian worship itself, is further confirmed
by the testimony of history.
45. Additional proof of this indefeasible right of the ecclesiastical
hierarchy lies in the circumstances that the sacred liturgy is
intimately bound up with doctrinal propositions which the Church
proposes to be perfectly true and certain, and must as a consequence
conform to the decrees respecting Catholic faith issued by the supreme
teaching authority of the Church with a view to safeguarding the
integrity of the religion revealed by God.
46. On this subject We judge it Our duty to rectify an attitude with
which you are doubtless familiar, Venerable Brethren. We refer to the
error and fallacious reasoning of those who have claimed that the
sacred liturgy is a kind of proving ground for the truths to be held of
faith, meaning by this that the Church is obliged to declare such a
doctrine sound when it is found to have produced fruits of piety and
sanctity through the sacred rites of the liturgy, and to reject it
otherwise. Hence the epigram, "Lex orandi, lex credendi" -- the law for
prayer is the law for faith.
47. But this is not what the Church teaches and enjoins. The worship
she offers to God, all good and great, is a continuous profession of
Catholic faith and a continuous exercise of hope and charity, as
Augustine puts it tersely. "God is to be worshipped," he says, "by
faith, hope and charity." In the sacred liturgy we profess the
Catholic faith explicitly and openly, not only by the celebration of
the mysteries, and by offering the holy sacrifice and administering the
sacraments, but also by saying or singing the credo or Symbol of the
faith -- it is indeed the sign and badge, as it were, of the Christian
-- along with other texts, and likewise by the reading of holy
scripture, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The entire
liturgy, therefore, has the Catholic faith for its content, inasmuch as
it bears public witness to the faith of the Church.
48. For this reason, whenever there was question of defining a truth
revealed by God, the Sovereign Pontiff and the Councils in their
recourse to the "theological sources," as they are called, have not
seldom drawn many an argument from this sacred science of the liturgy.
For an example in point, Our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX,
so argued when he proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin
Mary. Similarly during the discussion of a doubtful or controversial
truth, the Church and the Holy Fathers have not failed to look to the
age-old and age-honored sacred rites for enlightenment. Hence the
well-known and venerable maxim, "Legem credendi lex statuat
supplicandi" -- let the rule for prayer determine the rule of
belief. The sacred liturgy, consequently, does not decide or
determine independently and of itself what is of Catholic faith. More
properly, since the liturgy is also a profession of eternal truths, and
subject, as such, to the supreme teaching authority of the Church, it
can supply proofs and testimony, quite clearly, of no little value,
towards the determination of a particular point of Christian doctrine.
But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship
between faith and the sacred liturgy in absolute and general terms, it
is perfectly correct to say, "Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi"
-- let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer. The same holds
true for the other theological virtues also, "In . . . fide, spe,
caritate continuato desiderio semper oramus" -- we pray always, with
constant yearning in faith, hope and charity.
49. From time immemorial the ecclesiastical hierarchy has exercised
this right in matters liturgical. It has organized and regulated divine
worship, enriching it constantly with new splendor and beauty, to the
glory of God and the spiritual profit of Christians. What is more, it
has not been slow -- keeping the substance of the Mass and sacraments
carefully intact -- to modify what it deemed not altogether fitting,
and to add what appeared more likely to increase the honor paid to
Jesus Christ and the august Trinity, and to instruct and stimulate the
Christian people to greater advantage.
50. The sacred liturgy does, in fact, include divine as well as human
elements. The former, instituted as they have been by God, cannot be
changed in any way by men. But the human components admit of various
modifications, as the needs of the age, circumstance and the good of
souls may require, and as the ecclesiastical hierarchy, under guidance
of the Holy Spirit, may have authorized. This will explain the
marvelous variety of Eastern and Western rites. Here is the reason for
the gradual addition, through successive development, of particular
religious customs and practices of piety only faintly discernible in
earlier times. Hence likewise it happens from time to time that certain
devotions long since forgotten are revived and practiced anew. All
these developments attest the abiding life of the immaculate Spouse of
Jesus Christ through these many centuries. They are the sacred language
she uses, as the ages run their course, to profess to her divine Spouse
her own faith along with that of the nations committed to her charge,
and her own unfailing love. They furnish proof, besides, of the wisdom
of the teaching method she employs to arouse and nourish constantly the
51. Several causes, really have been instrumental in the progress and
development of the sacred liturgy during the long and glorious life of
52. Thus, for example, as Catholic doctrine on the Incarnate Word of
God, the eucharistic sacrament and sacrifice, and Mary the Virgin
Mother of God came to be determined with greater certitude and clarity,
new ritual forms were introduced through which the acts of the liturgy
proceeded to reproduce this brighter light issuing from the decrees of
the teaching authority of the Church, and to reflect it, in a sense so
that it might reach the minds and hearts of Christ's people more
53. The subsequent advances in ecclesiastical discipline for the
administering of the sacraments, that of penance for example; the
institution and later suppression of the catechumenate; and again, the
practice of eucharistic communion under a single species, adopted in
the Latin Church; these developments were assuredly responsible in no
little measure for the modification of the ancient ritual in the course
of time, and for the gradual introduction of new rites considered more
in accord with prevailing discipline in these matters.
54. Just as notable a contribution to this progressive transformation
was made by devotional trends and practices not directly related to the
sacred liturgy, which began to appear, by God's wonderful design, in
later periods, and grew to be so popular. We may instance the spread
and ever mounting ardor of devotion to the Blessed Eucharist, devotion
to the most bitter passion of our Redeemer, devotion to the most Sacred
Heart of Jesus, to the Virgin Mother of God and to her most chaste
55. Other manifestations of piety have also played their circumstantial
part in this same liturgical development. Among them may be cited the
public pilgrimages to the tombs of the martyrs prompted by motives of
devotion, the special periods of fasting instituted for the same
reason, and lastly, in this gracious city of Rome, the penitential
recitation of the litanies during the "station" processions, in which
even the Sovereign Pontiff frequently joined.
56. It is likewise easy to understand that the progress of the fine
arts, those of architecture, painting and music above all, has exerted
considerable influence on the choice and disposition of the various
external features of the sacred liturgy.
57. The Church has further used her right of control over liturgical
observance to protect the purity of divine worship against abuse from
dangerous and imprudent innovations introduced by private individuals
and particular churches. Thus it came about -- during the 16th century,
when usages and customs of this sort had become increasingly prevalent
and exaggerated, and when private initiative in matters liturgical
threatened to compromise the integrity of faith and devotion, to the
great advantage of heretics and further spread of their errors -- that
in the year 1588, Our predecessor Sixtus V of immortal memory
established the Sacred Congregation of Rites, charged with the defense
of the legitimate rites of the Church and with the prohibition of any
spurious innovation. This body fulfills even today the official
function of supervision and legislation with regard to all matters
touching the sacred liturgy.
58. It follows from this that the Sovereign Pontiff alone enjoys the
right to recognize and establish any practice touching the worship of
God, to introduce and approve new rites, as also to modify those he
judges to require modification. Bishops, for their part, have the
right and duty carefully to watch over the exact observance of the
prescriptions of the sacred canons respecting divine worship.
Private individuals, therefore, even though they be clerics, may not be
left to decide for themselves in these holy and venerable matters,
involving as they do the religious life of Christian society along with
the exercise of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and worship of God;
concerned as they are with the honor due to the Blessed Trinity, the
Word Incarnate and His august mother and the other saints, and with the
salvation of souls as well. For the same reason no private person has
any authority to regulate external practices of this kind, which are
intimately bound up with Church discipline and with the order, unity
and concord of the Mystical Body and frequently even with the integrity
of Catholic faith itself.
59. The Church is without question a living organism, and as an
organism, in respect of the sacred liturgy also, she grows, matures,
develops, adapts and accommodates herself to temporal needs and
circumstances, provided only that the integrity of her doctrine be
safeguarded. This notwithstanding, the temerity and daring of those who
introduce novel liturgical practices, or call for the revival of
obsolete rites out of harmony with prevailing laws and rubrics, deserve
severe reproof. It has pained Us grievously to note, Venerable
Brethren, that such innovations are actually being introduced, not
merely in minor details but in matters of major importance as well. We
instance, in point of fact, those who make use of the vernacular in the
celebration of the august eucharistic sacrifice; those who transfer
certain feast-days -- which have been appointed and established after
mature deliberation -- to other dates; those, finally, who delete from
the prayerbooks approved for public use the sacred texts of the Old
Testament, deeming them little suited and inopportune for modern times.
60. The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion
of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an
effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth. In spite of
this, the use of the mother tongue in connection with several of the
rites may be of much advantage to the people. But the Apostolic See
alone is empowered to grant this permission. It is forbidden,
therefore, to take any action whatever of this nature without having
requested and obtained such consent, since the sacred liturgy, as We
have said, is entirely subject to the discretion and approval of the
61. The same reasoning holds in the case of some persons who are bent
on the restoration of all the ancient rites and ceremonies
indiscriminately. The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly
worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more
suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for
later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries
the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites
likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their
inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age
even to the consummation of the world. They are equally the
resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and
procure the sanctity of man.
62. Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit
and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in
this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes
valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation
of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and
sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise
nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible
device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the
straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive
tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical
vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in
Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine
Redeemer's body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were
he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even
where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.
63. Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of
Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by
the Church, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with
abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the
old formulas. No more can any Catholic in his right senses repudiate
existing legislation of the Church to revert to prescriptions based on
the earliest sources of canon law. Just as obviously unwise and
mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to
the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns
introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of
circumstances and situation.
64. This way of acting bids fair to revive the exaggerated and
senseless antiquarianism to which the illegal Council of Pistoia gave
rise. It likewise attempts to reinstate a series of errors which were
responsible for the calling of that meeting as well as for those
resulting from it, with grievous harm to souls, and which the Church,
the ever watchful guardian of the "deposit of faith" committed to her
charge by her divine Founder, had every right and reason to
condemn. For perverse designs and ventures of this sort tend to
paralyze and weaken that process of sanctification by which the sacred
liturgy directs the sons of adoption to their Heavenly Father of their
65. In every measure taken, then, let proper contact with the
ecclesiastical hierarchy be maintained. Let no one arrogate to himself
the right to make regulations and impose them on others at will. Only
the Sovereign Pontiff, as the successor of Saint Peter, charged by the
divine Redeemer with the feeding of His entire flock, and with him,
in obedience to the Apostolic See, the bishops "whom the Holy Ghost has
placed . . . to rule the Church of God," have the right and the
duty to govern the Christian people. Consequently, Venerable Brethren,
whenever you assert your authority -- even on occasion with wholesome
severity -- you are not merely acquitting yourselves of your duty; you
are defending the very will of the Founder of the Church.
66. The mystery of the most Holy Eucharist which Christ, the High
Priest instituted, and which He commands to be continually renewed in
the Church by His ministers, is the culmination and center, as it were,
of the Christian religion. We consider it opportune in speaking about
the crowning act of the sacred liturgy, to delay for a little while and
call your attention, Venerable Brethren, to this most important
67. Christ the Lord, "Eternal Priest according to the order of
Melchisedech," "loving His own who were of the world," "at the
last supper, on the night He was betrayed, wishing to leave His beloved
Spouse, the Church, a visible sacrifice such as the nature of men
requires, that would re-present the bloody sacrifice offered once on
the cross, and perpetuate its memory to the end of time, and whose
salutary virtue might be applied in remitting those sins which we daily
commit, . . . offered His body and blood under the species of bread and
wine to God the Father, and under the same species allowed the
apostles, whom he at that time constituted the priests of the New
Testament, to partake thereof; commanding them and their successors in
the priesthood to make the same offering."
68. The august sacrifice of the altar, then, is no mere empty
commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, but a true and
proper act of sacrifice, whereby the High Priest by an unbloody
immolation offers Himself a most acceptable victim to the Eternal
Father, as He did upon the cross. "It is one and the same victim; the
same person now offers it by the ministry of His priests, who then
offered Himself on the cross, the manner of offering alone being
69. The priest is the same, Jesus Christ, whose sacred Person His
minister represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal
consecration which he has received, is made like to the High Priest and
possesses the power of performing actions in virtue of Christ's very
person. Wherefore in his priestly activity he in a certain manner
"lends his tongue, and gives his hand" to Christ.
70. Likewise the victim is the same, namely, our divine Redeemer in His
human nature with His true body and blood. The manner, however, in
which Christ is offered is different. On the cross He completely
offered Himself and all His sufferings to God, and the immolation of
the victim was brought about by the bloody death, which He underwent of
His free will. But on the altar, by reason of the glorified state of
His human nature, "death shall have no more dominion over Him," and
so the shedding of His blood is impossible; still, according to the
plan of divine wisdom, the sacrifice of our Redeemer is shown forth in
an admirable manner by external signs which are the symbols of His
death. For by the "transubstantiation" of bread into the body of Christ
and of wine into His blood, His body and blood are both really present:
now the eucharistic species under which He is present symbolize the
actual separation of His body and blood. Thus the commemorative
representation of His death, which actually took place on Calvary, is
repeated in every sacrifice of the altar, seeing that Jesus Christ is
symbolically shown by separate symbols to be in a state of victimhood. 7
1. Moreover, the appointed ends are the same. The first of these is to
give glory to the Heavenly Father. From His birth to His death Jesus
Christ burned with zeal for the divine glory; and the offering of His
blood upon the cross rose to heaven in an odor of sweetness. To
perpetuate this praise, the members of the Mystical Body are united
with their divine Head in the eucharistic sacrifice, and with Him,
together with the Angels and Archangels, they sing immortal praise to
God and give all honor and glory to the Father Almighty.
72. The second end is duly to give thanks to God. Only the divine
Redeemer, as the eternal Father's most beloved Son whose immense love
He knew, could offer Him a worthy return of gratitude. This was His
intention and desire at the Last Supper when He "gave thanks." He
did not cease to do so when hanging upon the cross, nor does He fail to
do so in the august sacrifice of the altar, which is an act of
thanksgiving or a "eucharistic" act; since this "is truly meet and
just, right and availing unto salvation."
73. The third end proposed is that of expiation, propitiation and
reconciliation. Certainly, no one was better fitted to make
satisfaction to Almighty God for all the sins of men than was Christ.
Therefore, He desired to be immolated upon the cross "as a propitiation
for our sins, not for ours only but also for those of the whole
world" and likewise He daily offers Himself upon our altars for our
redemption, that we may be rescued from eternal damnation and admitted
into the company of the elect. This He does, not for us only who are in
this mortal life, but also "for all who rest in Christ, who have gone
before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace;"
for whether we live, or whether we die "still we are not separated from
the one and only Christ."
74. The fourth end, finally, is that of impetration. Man, being the
prodigal son, has made bad use of and dissipated the goods which he
received from his heavenly Father. Accordingly, he has been reduced to
the utmost poverty and to extreme degradation. However, Christ on the
cross "offering prayers and supplications with a loud cry and tears,
has been heard for His reverence." Likewise upon the altar He is
our mediator with God in the same efficacious manner, so that we may be
filled with every blessing and grace.
75. It is easy, therefore, to understand why the holy Council of Trent
lays down that by means of the eucharistic sacrifice the saving virtue
of the cross is imparted to us for the remission of the sins we daily
76. Now the Apostle of the Gentiles proclaims the copious plenitude and
the perfection of the sacrifice of the cross, when he says that Christ
by one oblation has perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
For the merits of this sacrifice, since they are altogether boundless
and immeasurable, know no limits; for they are meant for all men of
every time and place. This follows from the fact that in this sacrifice
the God-Man is the priest and victim; that His immolation was entirely
perfect, as was His obedience to the will of His eternal Father; and
also that He suffered death as the Head of the human race: "See how we
were bought: Christ hangs upon the cross, see at what a price He makes
His purchase . . . He sheds His blood, He buys with His blood, He buys
with the blood of the Spotless Lamb, He buys with the blood of God's
only Son. He who buys is Christ; the price is His blood; the possession
bought is the world."
77. This purchase, however, does not immediately have its full effect;
since Christ, after redeeming the world at the lavish cost of His own
blood, still must come into complete possession of the souls of men.
Wherefore, that the redemption and salvation of each person and of
future generations unto the end of time may be effectively
accomplished, and be acceptable to God, it is necessary that-men should
individually come into vital contact with the sacrifice of the cross,
so that the merits, which flow from it, should be imparted to them. In
a certain sense it can be said that on Calvary Christ built a font of
purification and salvation which He filled with the blood He shed; but
if men do not bathe in it and there wash away the stains of their
iniquities, they can never be purified and saved.
78. The cooperation of the faithful is required so that sinners may be
individually purified in the blood of the Lamb. For though, speaking
generally, Christ reconciled by His painful death the whole human race
with the Father, He wished that all should approach and be drawn to His
cross, especially by means of the sacraments and the eucharistic
sacrifice, to obtain the salutary fruits produced by Him upon it.
Through this active and individual participation, the members of the
Mystical Body not only become daily more like to their divine Head, but
the life flowing from the Head is imparted to the members, so that we
can each repeat the words of St. Paul, "With Christ I am nailed to the
cross: I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me." We have already
explained sufficiently and of set purpose on another occasion, that
Jesus Christ "when dying on the cross, bestowed upon His Church, as a
completely gratuitous gift, the immense treasure of the redemption. But
when it is a question of distributing this treasure, He not only
commits the work of sanctification to His Immaculate Spouse, but also
wishes that, to a certain extent, sanctity should derive from her
79. The august sacrifice of the altar is, as it were, the supreme
instrument whereby the merits won by the divine Redeemer upon the cross
are distributed to the faithful: "as often as this commemorative
sacrifice is offered, there is wrought the work of our Redemption."
This, however, so far from lessening the dignity of the actual
sacrifice on Calvary, rather proclaims and renders more manifest its
greatness and its necessity, as the Council of Trent declares. Its
daily immolation reminds us that there is no salvation except in the
cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and that God Himself wishes that
there should be a continuation of this sacrifice "from the rising of
the sun till the going down thereof," so that there may be no
cessation of the hymn of praise and thanksgiving which man owes to God,
seeing that he required His help continually and has need of the blood
of the Redeemer to remit sin which challenges God's justice.
80. It is, therefore, desirable, Venerable Brethren, that all the
faithful should be aware that to participate in the eucharistic
sacrifice is their chief duty and supreme dignity, and that not in an
inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and
day-dreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration that they may
be united as closely as possible with the High Priest, according to the
Apostle, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."
And together with Him and through Him let them make their oblation, and
in union with Him let them offer up themselves.
81. It is quite true that Christ is a priest; but He is a priest not
for Himself but for us, when in the name of the whole human race He
offers our prayers and religious homage to the eternal Father; He is
also a victim and for us since He substitutes Himself for sinful man.
Now the exhortation of the Apostle, "Let this mind be in you which was
also in Christ Jesus," requires that all Christians should possess, as
far as is humanly possible, the same dispositions as those which the
divine Redeemer had when He offered Himself in sacrifice: that is to
say, they should in a humble attitude of mind, pay adoration, honor,
praise and thanksgiving to the supreme majesty of God. Moreover, it
means that they must assume to some extent the character of a victim,
that they deny themselves as the Gospel commands, that freely and of
their own accord they do penance and that each detests and satisfies
for his sins. It means, in a word, that we must all undergo with Christ
a mystical death on the cross so that we can apply to ourselves the
words of St. Paul, "With Christ I am nailed to the cross."
82. The fact, however, that the faithful participate in the eucharistic
sacrifice does not mean that they also are endowed with priestly power.
It is very necessary that you make this quite clear to your flocks.
83. For there are today, Venerable Brethren, those who, approximating
to errors long since condemned teach that in the New Testament by
the word "priesthood" is meant only that priesthood which applies to
all who have been baptized; and hold that the command by which Christ
gave power to His apostles at the Last Supper to do what He Himself had
done, applies directly to the entire Christian Church, and that thence,
and thence only, arises the hierarchical priesthood. Hence they assert
that the people are possessed of a true priestly power, while the
priest only acts in virtue of an office committed to him by the
community. Wherefore, they look on the eucharistic sacrifice as a
"concelebration," in the literal meaning of that term, and consider it
more fitting that priests should "concelebrate" with the people present
than that they should offer the sacrifice privately when the people are
84. It is superfluous to explain how captious errors of this sort
completely contradict the truths which we have just stated above, when
treating of the place of the priest in the Mystical Body of Jesus
Christ. But we deem it necessary to recall that the priest acts for the
people only because he represents Jesus Christ, who is Head of all His
members and offers Himself in their stead. Hence, he goes to the altar
as the minister of Christ, inferior to Christ but superior to the
people. The people, on the other hand, since they in no sense
represent the divine Redeemer and are not mediator between themselves
and God, can in no way possess the sacerdotal power.
85. All this has the certitude of faith. However, it must also be said
that the faithful do offer the divine Victim, though in a different
86. This has already been stated in the clearest terms by some of Our
predecessors and some Doctors of the Church. "Not only," says Innocent
III of immortal memory, "do the priests offer the sacrifice, but also
all the faithful: for what the priest does personally by virtue of his
ministry, the faithful do collectively by virtue of their
intention." We are happy to recall one of St. Robert Bellarmine's
many statements on this subject. "The sacrifice," he says "is
principally offered in the person of Christ. Thus the oblation that
follows the consecration is a sort of attestation that the whole Church
consents in the oblation made by Christ, and offers it along with
87. Moreover, the rites and prayers of the eucharistic sacrifice
signify and show no less clearly that the oblation of the Victim is
made by the priests in company with the people. For not only does the
sacred minister, after the oblation of the bread and wine when he turns
to the people, say the significant prayer: "Pray brethren, that my
sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty;"
but also the prayers by which the divine Victim is offered to God are
generally expressed in the plural number: and in these it is indicated
more than once that the people also participate in this august
sacrifice inasmuch as they offer the same. The following words, for
example, are used: "For whom we offer, or who offer up to Thee . . . We
therefore beseech thee, O Lord, to be appeased and to receive this
offering of our bounded duty, as also of thy whole household. . . We
thy servants, as also thy whole people . . . do offer unto thy most
excellent majesty, of thine own gifts bestowed upon us, a pure victim,
a holy victim, a spotless victim."
88. Nor is it to be wondered at, that the faithful should be raised to
this dignity. By the waters of baptism, as by common right, Christians
are made members of the Mystical Body of Christ the Priest, and by the
"character" which is imprinted on their souls, they are appointed to
give worship to God. Thus they participate, according to their
condition, in the priesthood of Christ.
89. In every age of the Church's history, the mind of man, enlightened
by faith, has aimed at the greatest possible knowledge of things
divine. It is fitting, then, that the Christian people should also
desire to know in what sense they are said in the canon of the Mass to
offer up the sacrifice. To satisfy such a pious desire, then, We shall
here explain the matter briefly and concisely.
90. First of all the more extrinsic explanations are these: it
frequently happens that the faithful assisting at Mass join their
prayers alternately with those of the priest, and sometimes -- a more
frequent occurrence in ancient times -- they offer to the ministers at
the altar bread and wine to be changed into the body and blood of
Christ, and, finally, by their alms they get the priest to offer the
divine victim for their intentions.
91. But there is also a more profound reason why all Christians,
especially those who are present at Mass, are said to offer the
sacrifice. 92. In this most important subject it is necessary, in order
to avoid giving rise to a dangerous error, that we define the exact
meaning of the word "offer." The unbloody immolation at the words of
consecration, when Christ is made present upon the altar in the state
of a victim, is performed by the priest and by him alone, as the
representative of Christ and not as the representative of the faithful.
But it is because the priest places the divine victim upon the altar
that he offers it to God the Father as an oblation for the glory of the
Blessed Trinity and for the good of the whole Church. Now the faithful
participate in the oblation, understood in this limited sense, after
their own fashion and in a twofold manner, namely, because they not
only offer the sacrifice by the hands of the priest, but also, to a
certain extent, in union with him. It is by reason of this
participation that the offering made by the people is also included in
93. Now it is clear that the faithful offer the sacrifice by the hands
of the priest from the fact that the minister at the altar, in offering
a sacrifice in the name of all His members, represents Christ, the Head
of the Mystical Body. Hence the whole Church can rightly be said to
offer up the victim through Christ. But the conclusion that the people
offer the sacrifice with the priest himself is not based on the fact
that, being members of the Church no less than the priest himself, they
perform a visible liturgical rite; for this is the privilege only of
the minister who has been divinely appointed to this office: rather it
is based on the fact that the people unite their hearts in praise,
impetration, expiation and thanksgiving with prayers or intention of
the priest, even of the High Priest himself, so that in the one and
same offering of the victim and according to a visible sacerdotal rite,
they may be presented to God the Father. It is obviously necessary that
the external sacrificial rite should, of its very nature, signify the
internal worship of the heart. Now the sacrifice of the New Law
signifies that supreme worship by which the principal Offerer himself,
who is Christ, and, in union with Him and through Him, all the members
of the Mystical Body pay God the honor and reverence that are due to
94. We are very pleased to learn that this teaching, thanks to a more
intense study of the liturgy on the part of many, especially in recent
years, has been given full recognition. We must, however, deeply
deplore certain exaggerations and over-statements which are not in
agreement with the true teaching of the Church.
95. Some in fact disapprove altogether of those Masses which are
offered privately and without any congregation, on the ground that they
are a departure from the ancient way of offering the sacrifice;
moreover, there are some who assert that priests cannot offer Mass at
different altars at the same time, because, by doing so, they separate
the community of the faithful and imperil its unity; while some go so
far as to hold that the people must confirm and ratify the sacrifice if
it is to have its proper force and value.
96. They are mistaken in appealing in this matter to the social
character of the eucharistic sacrifice, for as often as a priest
repeats what the divine Redeemer did at the Last Supper, the sacrifice
is really completed. Moreover, this sacrifice, necessarily and of its
very nature, has always and everywhere the character of a public and
social act, inasmuch as he who offers it acts in the name of Christ and
of the faithful, whose Head is the divine Redeemer, and he offers it to
God for the holy Catholic Church, and for the living and the dead.
This is undoubtedly so, whether the faithful are present -- as we
desire and commend them to be in great numbers and with devotion -- or
are not present, since it is in no wise required that the people ratify
what the sacred minister has done.
97. Still, though it is clear from what We have said that the Mass is
offered in the name of Christ and of the Church and that it is not
robbed of its social effects though it be celebrated by a priest
without a server, nonetheless, on account of the dignity of such an
august mystery, it is our earnest desire -- as Mother Church has always
commanded -- that no priest should say Mass unless a server is at hand
to answer the prayers, as canon 813 prescribes.
98. In order that the oblation by which the faithful offer the divine
Victim in this sacrifice to the heavenly Father may have its full
effect, it is necessary that the people add something else, namely, the
offering of themselves as a victim.
99. This offering in fact is not confined merely to the liturgical
sacrifice. For the Prince of the Apostles wishes us, as living stones
built upon Christ, the cornerstone, to be able as "a holy priesthood,
to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus
Christ." St. Paul the Apostle addresses the following words of
exhortation to Christians, without distinction of time, "I beseech you
therefore, . . . that you present your bodies, a living sacrifice,
holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service." But at that time
especially when the faithful take part in the liturgical service with
such piety and recollection that it can truly be said of them: "whose
faith and devotion is known to Thee," it is then, with the High
Priest and through Him they offer themselves as a spiritual sacrifice,
that each one's faith ought to become more ready to work through
charity, his piety more real and fervent, and each one should
consecrate himself to the furthering of the divine glory, desiring to
become as like as possible to Christ in His most grievous sufferings.
100. This we are also taught by those exhortations which the Bishop, in
the Church's name, addresses to priests on the day of their ordination,
"Understand what you do, imitate what you handle, and since you
celebrate the mystery of the Lord's death, take good care to mortify
your members with their vices and concupiscences." In almost the
same manner the sacred books of the liturgy advise Christians who come
to Mass to participate in the sacrifice: "At this . . . altar let
innocence be in honor, let pride be sacrificed, anger slain, impurity
and every evil desire laid low, let the sacrifice of chastity be
offered in place of doves and instead of the young pigeons the
sacrifice of innocence." While we stand before the altar, then, it
is our duty so to transform our hearts, that every trace of sin may be
completely blotted out, while whatever promotes supernatural life
through Christ may be zealously fostered and strengthened even to the
extent that, in union with the immaculate Victim, we become a victim
acceptable to the eternal Father.
101. The prescriptions in fact of the sacred liturgy aim, by every
means at their disposal, at helping the Church to bring about this most
holy purpose in the most suitable manner possible. This is the object
not only of readings, homilies and other sermons given by priests, as
also the whole cycle of mysteries which are proposed for our
commemoration in the course of the year, but it is also the purpose of
vestments, of sacred rites and their external splendor. All these
things aim at "enhancing the majesty of this great Sacrifice, and
raising the minds of the faithful by means of these visible signs of
religion and piety, to the contemplation of the sublime truths
contained in this sacrifice."
102. All the elements of the liturgy, then, would have us reproduce in
our hearts the likeness of the divine Redeemer through the mystery of
the cross, according to the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, "With
Christ I am nailed to the cross. I live, now not 1, but Christ liveth
in me." Thus we become a victim, as it were, along with Christ to
increase the glory of the eternal Father.
103. Let this, then, be the intention and aspiration of the faithful,
when they offer up the divine Victim in the Mass. For if, as St.
Augustine writes, our mystery is enacted on the Lord's table, that is
Christ our Lord Himself, who is the Head and symbol of that union
through which we are the body of Christ and members of His
Body; if St. Robert Bellarmine teaches, according to the mind of
the Doctor of Hippo, that in the sacrifice of the altar there is
signified the general sacrifice by which the whole Mystical Body of
Christ, that is, all the city of redeemed, is offered up to God through
Christ, the High Priest: nothing can be conceived more just or
fitting than that all of us in union with our Head, who suffered for
our sake, should also sacrifice ourselves to the eternal Father. For in
the sacrament of the altar, as the same St. Augustine has it, the
Church is made to see that in what she offers she herself is
104. Let the faithful, therefore, consider to what a high dignity they
are raised by the sacrament of baptism. They should not think it enough
to participate in the eucharistic sacrifice with that general intention
which befits members of Christ and children of the Church, but let them
further, in keeping with the spirit of the sacred liturgy, be most
closely united with the High Priest and His earthly minister, at the
time the consecration of the divine Victim is enacted, and at that time
especially when those solemn words are pronounced, "By Him and with Him
and in Him is to Thee, God the Father almighty, in the unity of the
Holy Ghost, all honor and glory for ever and ever"; to these words
in fact the people answer, "Amen." Nor should Christians forget to
offer themselves, their cares, their sorrows, their distress and their
necessities in union with their divine Savior upon the cross.
105. Therefore, they are to be praised who, with the idea of getting
the Christian people to take part more easily and more fruitfully in
the Mass, strive to make them familiar with the "Roman Missal," so that
the faithful, united with the priest, may pray together in the very
words and sentiments of the Church. They also are to be commended who
strive to make the liturgy even in an external way a sacred act in
which all who are present may share. This can be done in more than one
way, when, for instance, the whole congregation, in accordance with the
rules of the liturgy, either answer the priest in an orderly and
fitting manner, or sing hymns suitable to the different parts of the
Mass, or do both, or finally in high Masses when they answer the
prayers of the minister of Jesus Christ and also sing the liturgical
100. These methods of participation in the Mass are to be approved and
recommended when they are in complete agreement with the precepts of
the Church and the rubrics of the liturgy. Their chief aim is to foster
and promote the people's piety and intimate union with Christ and His
visible minister and to arouse those internal sentiments and
dispositions which should make our hearts become like to that of the
High Priest of the New Testament. However, though they show also in an
outward manner that the very nature of the sacrifice, as offered by the
Mediator between God and men, must be regarded as the act of the
whole Mystical Body of Christ, still they are by no means necessary to
constitute it a public act or to give it a social character. And
besides, a "dialogue" Mass of this kind cannot replace the high Mass,
which, as a matter of fact, though it should be offered with only the
sacred ministers present, possesses its own special dignity due to the
impressive character of its ritual and the magnificence of its
ceremonies. The splendor and grandeur of a high Mass, however, are very
much increased if, as the Church desires, the people are present in
great numbers and with devotion.
107. It is to be observed, also, that they have strayed from the path
of truth and right reason who, led away by false opinions, make so much
of these accidentals as to presume to assert that without them the Mass
cannot fulfill its appointed end.
108. Many of the faithful are unable to use the Roman missal even
though it is written in the vernacular; nor are all capable of
understanding correctly the liturgical rites and formulas. So varied
and diverse are men's talents and characters that it is impossible for
all to be moved and attracted to the same extent by community prayers,
hymns and liturgical services. Moreover, the needs and inclinations of
all are not the same, nor are they always constant in the same
individual. Who, then, would say, on account of such a prejudice, that
all these Christians cannot participate in the Mass nor share its
fruits? On the contrary, they can adopt some other method which proves
easier for certain people; for instance, they can lovingly meditate on
the mysteries of Jesus Christ or perform other exercises of piety or
recite prayers which, though they differ from the sacred rites, are
still essentially in harmony with them.
109. Wherefore We exhort you, Venerable Brethren, that each in his
diocese or ecclesiastical jurisdiction supervise and regulate the
manner and method in which the people take part in the liturgy,
according to the rubrics of the missal and in keeping with the
injunctions which the Sacred Congregation of Rites and the Code of
canon law have published. Let everything be done with due order and
dignity, and let no one, not even a priest, make use of the sacred
edifices according to his whim to try out experiments. It is also Our
wish that in each diocese an advisory committee to promote the
liturgical apostolate should be established, similar to that which
cares for sacred music and art, so that with your watchful guidance
everything may be carefully carried out in accordance with the
prescriptions of the Apostolic See.
110. In religious communities let all those regulations be accurately
observed which are laid down in their respective constitutions, nor let
any innovations be made which the superiors of these communities have
not previously approved.
111. But however much variety and disparity there may be in the
exterior manner and circumstances in which the Christian laity
participate in the Mass and other liturgical functions, constant and
earnest effort must be made to unite the congregation in spirit as much
as possible with the divine Redeemer, so that their lives may be daily
enriched with more abundant sanctity, and greater glory be given to the
112. The august sacrifice of the altar is concluded with communion or
the partaking of the divine feast. But, as all know, the integrity of
the sacrifice only requires that the priest partake of the heavenly
food. Although it is most desirable that the people should also
approach the holy table, this is not required for the integrity of the
113. We wish in this matter to repeat the remarks which Our predecessor
Benedict XIV makes with regard to the definitions of the Council of
Trent: "First We must state that none of the faithful can hold that
private Masses, in which the priest alone receives holy communion, are
therefore unlawful and do not fulfill the idea of the true, perfect and
complete unbloody sacrifice instituted by Christ our Lord. For the
faithful know quite well, or at least can easily be taught, that the
Council of Trent, supported by the doctrine which the uninterrupted
tradition of the Church has preserved, condemned the new and false
opinion of Luther as opposed to this tradition." "If anyone shall
say that Masses in which the priest only receives communion, are
unlawful, and therefore should be abolished, let him be anathema."
114. They, therefore, err from the path of truth who do not want to
have Masses celebrated unless the faithful communicate; and those are
still more in error who, in holding that it is altogether necessary for
the faithful to receive holy communion as well as the priest, put
forward the captious argument that here there is question not of a
sacrifice merely, but of a sacrifice and a supper of brotherly union,
and consider the general communion of all present as the culminating
point of the whole celebration.
115. Now it cannot be over-emphasized that the eucharistic sacrifice of
its very nature is the unbloody immolation of the divine Victim, which
is made manifest in a mystical manner by the separation of the sacred
species and by their oblation to the eternal Father. Holy communion
pertains to the integrity of the Mass and to the partaking of the
august sacrament; but while it is obligatory for the priest who says
the Mass, it is only something earnestly recommended to the faithful.
116. The Church, as the teacher of truth, strives by every means in her
power to safeguard the integrity of the Catholic faith, and like a
mother solicitous for the welfare of her children, she exhorts them
most earnestly to partake fervently and frequently of the richest
treasure of our religion.
117. She wishes in the first place that Christians -- especially when
they cannot easily receive holy communion should do so at least by
desire, so that with renewed faith, reverence, humility and complete
trust in the goodness of the divine Redeemer, they may be united to Him
in the spirit of the most ardent charity.
118. But the desire of Mother Church does not stop here. For since by
feasting upon the bread of angels we can by a "sacramental" communion,
as we have already said, also become partakers of the sacrifice, she
repeats the invitation to all her children individually, "Take and eat.
. . Do this in memory of Me" so that "we may continually
experience within us the fruit of our redemption" in a more
efficacious manner. For this reason the Council of Trent, reechoing, as
it were, the invitation of Christ and His immaculate Spouse, has
earnestly exhorted "the faithful when they attend Mass to communicate
not only by a spiritual communion but also by a sacramental one, so
that they may obtain more abundant fruit from this most holy
sacrifice." Moreover, our predecessor of immortal memory, Benedict
XIV, wishing to emphasize and throw fuller light upon the truth that
the faithful by receiving the Holy Eucharist become partakers of the
divine sacrifice itself, praises the devotion of those who, when
attending Mass, not only elicit a desire to receive holy communion but
also want to be nourished by hosts consecrated during the Mass, even
though, as he himself states, they really and truly take part in the
sacrifice should they receive a host which has been duly consecrated at
a previous Mass. He writes as follows: "And although in addition to
those to whom the celebrant gives a portion of the Victim he himself
has offered in the Mass, they also participate in the same sacrifice to
whom a priest distributes the Blessed Sacrament that has been reserved;
however, the Church has not for this reason ever forbidden, nor does
she now forbid, a celebrant to satisfy the piety and just request of
those who, when present at Mass, want to become partakers of the same
sacrifice, because they likewise offer it after their own manner, nay
more, she approves of it and desires that it should not be omitted and
would reprehend those priests through whose fault and negligence this
participation would be denied to the faithful."
119. May God grant that all accept these invitations of the Church
freely and with spontaneity. May He grant that they participate even
every day, if possible, in the divine sacrifice, not only in a
spiritual manner, but also by reception of the august sacrament,
receiving the body of Jesus Christ which has been offered for all to
the eternal Father. Arouse Venerable Brethren, in the hearts of those
committed to your care, a great and insatiable hunger for Jesus Christ.
Under your guidance let the children and youth crowd to the altar rails
to offer themselves, their innocence and their works of zeal to the
divine Redeemer. Let husbands and wives approach the holy table so that
nourished on this food they may learn to make the children entrusted to
them conformed to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.
120. Let the workers be invited to partake of this sustaining and never
failing nourishment that it may renew their strength and obtain for
their labors an everlasting recompense in heaven; in a word, invite all
men of whatever class and compel them to come in; since this is
the bread of life which all require. The Church of Jesus Christ needs
no other bread than this to satisfy fully our souls' wants and desires,
and to unite us in the most intimate union with Jesus Christ, to make
us "one body," to get us to live together as brothers who,
breaking the same bread, sit down to the same heavenly table, to
partake of the elixir of immortality.
121. Now it is very fitting, as the liturgy otherwise lays down, that
the people receive holy communion after the priest has partaken of the
divine repast upon the altar; and, as we have written above, they
should be commended who, when present at Mass, receive hosts
consecrated at the same Mass, so that it is actually verified, "that as
many of us, as, at this altar, shall partake of and receive the most
holy body and blood of thy Son, may be filled with every heavenly
blessing and grace."
122. Still sometimes there may be a reason, and that not infrequently,
why holy communion should be distributed before or after Mass and even
immediately after the priest receives the sacred species -- and even
though hosts consecrated at a previous Mass should be used. In these
circumstances -- as we have stated above -- the people duly take part
in the eucharistic sacrifice and not seldom they can in this way more
conveniently receive holy communion. Still, though the Church with the
kind heart of a mother strives to meet the spiritual needs of her
children, they, for their part, should not readily neglect the
directions of the liturgy and, as often as there is no reasonable
difficulty, should aim that all their actions at the altar manifest
more clearly the living unity of the Mystical Body.
123. When the Mass, which is subject to special rules of the liturgy,
is over, the person who has received holy communion is not thereby
freed from his duty of thanksgiving; rather, it is most becoming that,
when the Mass is finished, the person who has received the Eucharist
should recollect himself, and in intimate union with the divine Master
hold loving and fruitful converse with Him. Hence they have departed
from the straight way of truth, who, adhering to the letter rather than
the sense, assert and teach that, when Mass has ended, no such
thanksgiving should be added, not only because the Mass is itself a
thanksgiving, but also because this pertains to a private and personal
act of piety and not to the good of the community.
124. But, on the contrary, the very nature of the sacrament demands
that its reception should produce rich fruits of Christian sanctity.
Admittedly the congregation has been officially dismissed, but each
individual, since he is united with Christ, should not interrupt the
hymn of praise in his own soul, "always returning thanks for all in the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father." The sacred
liturgy of the Mass also exhorts us to do this when it bids us pray in
these words, "Grant, we beseech thee, that we may always continue to
offer thanks . . . and may never cease from praising thee."
Wherefore, if there is no time when we must not offer God thanks, and
if we must never cease from praising Him, who would dare to reprehend
or find fault with the Church, because she advises her priests and
faithful to converse with the divine Redeemer for at least a short
while after holy communion, and inserts in her liturgical books,
fitting prayers, enriched with indulgences, by which the sacred
ministers may make suitable preparation before Mass and holy communion
or may return thanks afterwards? So far is the sacred liturgy from
restricting the interior devotion of individual Christians, that it
actually fosters and promotes it so that they may be rendered like to
Jesus Christ and through Him be brought to the heavenly Father;
wherefore this same discipline of the liturgy demands that whoever has
partaken of the sacrifice of the altar should return fitting thanks to
God. For it is the good pleasure of the divine Redeemer to hearken to
us when we pray, to converse with us intimately and to offer us a
refuge in His loving Heart.
125. Moreover, such personal colloquies are very necessary that we may
all enjoy more fully the supernatural treasures that are contained in
the Eucharist and according to our means, share them with others, so
that Christ our Lord may exert the greatest possible influence on the
souls of all.
126. Why then, Venerable Brethren, should we not approve of those who,
when they receive holy communion, remain on in closest familiarity with
their divine Redeemer even after the congregation has been officially
dismissed, and that not only for the consolation of conversing with
Him, but also to render Him due thanks and praise and especially to ask
help to defend their souls against anything that may lessen the
efficacy of the sacrament and to do everything in their power to
cooperate with the action of Christ who is so intimately present. We
exhort them to do so in a special manner by carrying out their
resolutions, by exercising the Christian virtues, as also by applying
to their own necessities the riches they have received with royal
Liberality. The author of that golden book The Imitation of Christ
certainly speaks in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the
liturgy, when he gives the following advice to the person who
approaches the altar, "Remain on in secret and take delight in your
God; for He is yours whom the whole world cannot take away from
127. Therefore, let us all enter into closest union with Christ and
strive to lose ourselves, as it were, in His most holy soul and so be
united to Him that we may have a share in those acts with which He
adores the Blessed Trinity with a homage that is most acceptable, and
by which He offers to the eternal Father supreme praise and thanks
which find an harmonious echo throughout the heavens and the earth,
according to the words of the prophet, "All ye works of the Lord, bless
the Lord." Finally, in union with these sentiments of Christ, let
us ask for heavenly aid at that moment in which it is supremely fitting
to pray for and obtain help in His name. For it is especially in
virtue of these sentiments that we offer and immolate ourselves as a
victim, saying, "make of us thy eternal offering."
128. The divine Redeemer is ever repeating His pressing invitation,
"Abide in Me." Now by the sacrament of the Eucharist, Christ
remains in us and we in Him, and just as Christ, remaining in us, lives
and works, so should we remain in Christ and live and work through Him.
129. The Eucharistic Food contains, as all are aware, "truly, really
and substantially the Body and Blood together with soul and divinity of
our Lord Jesus Christ." It is no wonder, then, that the Church,
even from the beginning, adored the body of Christ under the appearance
of bread; this is evident from the very rites of the august sacrifice,
which prescribe that the sacred ministers should adore the most holy
sacrament by genuflecting or by profoundly bowing their heads.
130. The Sacred Councils teach that it is the Church's tradition right
from the beginning, to worship "with the same adoration the Word
Incarnate as well as His own flesh," and St. Augustine asserts
that, "No one eats that flesh, without first adoring it," while he adds
that "not only do we not commit a sin by adoring it, but that we do sin
by not adoring it."
131. It is on this doctrinal basis that the cult of adoring the
Eucharist was founded and gradually developed as something distinct
from the sacrifice of the Mass. The reservation of the sacred species
for the sick and those in danger of death introduced the praiseworthy
custom of adoring the blessed Sacrament which is reserved in our
churches. This practice of adoration, in fact, is based on strong and
solid reasons. For the Eucharist is at once a sacrifice and a
sacrament; but it differs from the other sacraments in this that it not
only produces grace, but contains in a permanent manner the Author of
grace Himself. When, therefore, the Church bids us adore Christ hidden
behind the eucharistic veils and pray to Him for spiritual and temporal
favors, of which we ever stand in need, she manifests living faith in
her divine Spouse who is present beneath these veils, she professes her
gratitude to Him and she enjoys the intimacy of His friendship.
132. Now, the Church in the course of centuries has introduced various
forms of this worship which are ever increasing in beauty and
helpfulness: as, for example, visits of devotion to the tabernacles,
even every day; benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; solemn
processions, especially at the time of Eucharistic Congress, which pass
through cities and villages; and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
publicly exposed. Sometimes these public acts of adoration are of short
duration. Sometimes they last for one, several and even for forty
hours. In certain places they continue in turn in different churches
throughout the year, while elsewhere adoration is perpetual day and
night, under the care of religious communities, and the faithful quite
often take part in them.
133. These exercises of piety have brought a wonderful increase in
faith and supernatural life to the Church militant upon earth and they
are reechoed to a certain extent by the Church triumphant in heaven
which sings continually a hymn of praise to God and to the Lamb "who
was slain." Wherefore, the Church not merely approves these pious
practices, which in the course of centuries have spread everywhere
throughout the world, but makes them her own, as it were, and by her
authority commends them. They spring from the inspiration of the
liturgy and if they are performed with due propriety and with faith and
piety, as the liturgical rules of the Church require, they are
undoubtedly of the very greatest assistance in living the life of the
134. Nor is it to be admitted that by this Eucharistic cult men falsely
confound the historical Christ, as they say, who once lived on earth,
with the Christ who is present in the august Sacrament of the altar,
and who reigns glorious and triumphant in heaven and bestows
supernatural favors. On the contrary, it can be claimed that by this
devotion the faithful bear witness to and solemnly avow the faith of
the Church that the Word of God is identical with the Son of the Virgin
Mary, who suffered on the cross, who is present in a hidden manner in
the Eucharist and who reigns upon His heavenly throne. Thus, St. John
Chrysostom states: "When you see It [the Body of Christ] exposed, say
to yourself: Thanks to this body, I am no longer dust and ashes, I am
no more a captive but a freeman: hence I hope to obtain heaven and the
good things that are there in store for me, eternal life, the heritage
of the angels, companionship with Christ; death has not destroyed this
body which was pierced by nails and scourged, . . . this is that body
which was once covered with blood, pierced by a lance, from which
issued saving fountains upon the world, one of blood and the other of
water. . . This body He gave to us to keep and eat, as a mark of His
135. That practice in a special manner is to be highly praised
according to which many exercises of piety, customary among the
faithful, and with benediction of the blessed sacrament. For excellent
and of great benefit is that custom which makes the priest raise aloft
the Bread of Angels before congregations with heads bowed down in
adoration, and forming with It the sign of the cross implores the
heavenly Father to deign to look upon His Son who for love of us was
nailed to the cross, and for His sake and through Him who willed to be
our Redeemer and our brother, be pleased to shower down heavenly favors
upon those whom the immaculate blood of the Lamb has redeemed.
136. Strive then, Venerable Brethren, with your customary devoted care
so the churches, which the faith and piety of Christian peoples have
built in the course of centuries for the purpose of singing a perpetual
hymn of glory to God almighty and of providing a worthy abode for our
Redeemer concealed beneath the eucharistic species, may be entirely at
the disposal of greater numbers of the faithful who, called to the feet
of their Savior, hearken to His most consoling invitation, "Come to Me
all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh
you." Let your churches be the house of God where all who enter to
implore blessings rejoice in obtaining whatever they ask and find
there heavenly consolation.
137. Only thus can it be brought about that the whole human family
settling their differences may find peace, and united in mind and heart
may sing this song of hope and charity, "Good Pastor, truly bread --
Jesus have mercy on us -- feed us, protect us -- bestow on us the
vision of all good things in the land of the living."
138. The ideal of Christian life is that each one be united to God in
the closest and most intimate manner. For this reason, the worship that
the Church renders to God, and which is based especially on the
eucharistic sacrifice and the use of the sacraments, is directed and
arranged in such a way that it embraces by means of the divine office,
the hours of the day, the weeks and the whole cycle of the year, and
reaches all the aspects and phases of human life.
139. Since the divine Master commanded "that we ought always to pray
and not to faint," the Church faithfully fulfills this injunction
and never ceases to pray: she urges us in the words of the Apostle of
the Gentiles, "by him Jesus let us offer the sacrifice of praise always
to God "
140. Public and common prayer offered to God by all at the same time
was customary in antiquity only on certain days and at certain times.
Indeed, people prayed to God not only in groups but in private houses
and occasionally with neighbors and friends. But soon in different
parts of the Christian world the practice arose of setting aside
special times for praying, as for example, the last hour of the day
when evening set in and the lamps were lighted; or the first, heralded,
when the night was coming to an end, by the crowing of the cock and the
rising of the morning star. Other times of the day, as being more
suitable for prayer are indicated in Sacred Scripture, in Hebrew
customs or in keeping with the practice of every-day life. According to
the acts of the Apostles, the disciples of Jesus Christ all came
together to pray at the third hour, when they were all filled with the
Holy Ghost; and before eating, the Prince of the Apostles went up
to the higher parts of the house to pray, about the sixth hour;
Peter and John "went up into the Temple at the ninth hour of
prayer" and at "midnight Paul and Silas praying . . . praised
141. Thanks to the work of the monks and those who practice asceticism,
these various prayers in the course of time become ever more perfected
and by the authority of the Church are gradually incorporated into the
142. The divine office is the prayer of the Mystical Body of Jesus
Christ, offered to God in the name and on behalf of all Christians,
when recited by priests and other ministers of the Church and by
religious who are deputed by the Church for this.
143. The character and value of the divine office may be gathered from
the words recommended by the Church to be said before starting the
prayers of the office, namely, that they be said "worthily, with
attention and devotion."
144. By assuming human nature, the Divine Word introduced into this
earthly exile a hymn which is sung in heaven for all eternity. He
unites to Himself the whole human race and with it sings this hymn to
the praise of God. As we must humbly recognize that "we know not what
we should pray for, as we ought, the Spirit Himself asketh for us with
unspeakable groanings." Moreover, through His Spirit in us, Christ
entreats the Father, "God could not give a greater gift to men . . .
Jesus prays for us, as our Priest; He prays in us as our Head; we pray
to Him as our God . . . we recognize in Him our voice and His voice in
us . . . He is prayed to as God, He prays under the appearance of a
servant; in heaven He is Creator; here, created though not changed, He
assumes a created nature which is to be changed and makes us with Him
one complete man, head and body."
145. To this lofty dignity of the Church's prayer, there should
correspond earnest devotion in our souls. For when in prayer the voice
repeats those hymns written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and
extols God's infinite perfections, it is necessary that the interior
sentiment of our souls should accompany the voice so as to make those
sentiments our own in which we are elevated to heaven, adoring and
giving due praise and thanks to the Blessed Trinity; "so let us chant
in choir that mind and voice may accord together." It is not
merely a question of recitation or of singing which, however perfect
according to norms of music and the sacred rites, only reaches the ear,
but it is especially a question of the ascent of the mind and heart to
God so that, united with Christ, we may completely dedicate ourselves
and all our actions to Him.
146. On this depends in no small way the efficacy of our prayers. These
prayers in fact, when they are not addressed directly to the Word made
man, conclude with the phrase "though Jesus Christ our Lord." As our
Mediator with God, He shows to the heavenly Father His glorified
wounds, "always living to make intercessions for us."
147. The Psalms, as all know, form the chief part of the divine office.
They encompass the full round of the day and sanctify it. Cassiodorus
speaks beautifully about the Psalms as distributed in his day
throughout the divine office: "With the celebration of matins they
bring a blessing on the coming day, they set aside for us the first
hour and consecrate the third hour of the day, they gladden the sixth
hour with the breaking of bread, at the ninth they terminate our fast,
they bring the evening to a close and at nightfall they shield our
minds from darkness."
148. The Psalms recall to mind the truths revealed by God to the chosen
people, which were at one time frightening and at another filled with
wonderful tenderness; they keep repeating and fostering the hope of the
promised Liberator which in ancient times was kept alive with song,
either around the hearth or in the stately temple; they show forth in
splendid light the prophesied glory of Jesus Christ: first, His supreme
and eternal power, then His lowly coming to this terrestrial exile, His
kingly dignity and priestly power and, finally, His beneficent labors,
and the shedding of His blood for our redemption. In a similar way they
express the joy, the bitterness, the hope and fear of our hearts and
our desire of loving God and hoping in Him alone, and our mystic ascent
to divine tabernacles.
149. "The psalm is . . . a blessing for the people, it is the praise of
God, the tribute of the nation, the common language and acclamation of
all, it is the voice of the Church, the harmonious confession of faith,
signifying deep attachment to authority; it is the joy of freedom, the
expression of happiness, an echo of bliss."
150. In an earlier age, these canonical prayers were attended by many
of the faithful. But this gradually ceased, and, as We have already
said, their recitation at present is the duty only of the clergy and of
religious. The laity have no obligation in this matter. Still, it is
greatly to be desired that they participate in reciting or chanting
vespers sung in their own parish on feast days. We earnestly exhort
you, Venerable Brethren, to see that this pious practice is kept up,
and that wherever it has ceased you restore it if possible. This,
without doubt, will produce salutary results when vespers are conducted
in a worthy and fitting manner and with such helps as foster the piety
of the faithful. Let the public and private observance of the feasts of
the Church, which are in a special way dedicated and consecrated to
God, be kept inviolable; and especially the Lord's day which the
Apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, substituted for the
sabbath. Now, if the order was given to the Jews: "Six days shall you
do work; in the seventh day is the sabbath, the rest holy to the Lord.
Every one that shall do any work on this day, shall die;" how will
these Christians not fear spiritual death who perform servile work on
feast-days, and whose rest on these days is not devoted to religion and
piety but given over to the allurements of the world? Sundays and
holydays, then, must be made holy by divine worship, which gives homage
to God and heavenly food to the soul. Although the Church only commands
the faithful to abstain from servile work and attend Mass and does not
make it obligatory to attend evening devotions, still she desires this
and recommends it repeatedly. Moreover, the needs of each one demand
it, seeing that all are bound to win the favor of God if they are to
obtain His benefits. Our soul is filled with the greatest grief when We
see how the Christian people of today profane the afternoon of feast
days; public places of amusement and public games are frequented in
great numbers while the churches are not as full as they should be. All
should come to our churches and there be taught the truth of the
Catholic faith, sing the praises of God, be enriched with benediction
of the blessed sacrament given by the priest and be strengthened with
help from heaven against the adversities of this life. Let all try to
learn those prayers which are recited at vespers and fill their souls
with their meaning. When deeply penetrated by these prayers, they will
experience what St. Augustine said about himself: "How much did I weep
during hymns and verses, greatly moved at the sweet singing of thy
Church. Their sound would penetrate my ears and their truth melt my
heart, sentiments of piety would well up, tears would flow and that was
good for me."
151. Throughout the entire year, the Mass and the divine office center
especially around the person of Jesus Christ. This arrangement is so
suitably disposed that our Savior dominates the scene in the mysteries
of His humiliation, of His redemption and triumph.
152. While the sacred liturgy calls to mind the mysteries of Jesus
Christ, it strives to make all believers take their part in them so
that the divine Head of the mystical Body may live in all the members
with the fullness of His holiness. Let the souls of Christians be like
altars on each one of which a different phase of the sacrifice, offered
by the High priest, comes to life again, as it were: pains and tears
which wipe away and expiate sin; supplication to God which pierces
heaven; dedication and even immolation of oneself made promptly,
generously and earnestly; and, finally, that intimate union by which we
commit ourselves and all we have to God, in whom we find our rest. "The
perfection of religion is to imitate whom you adore."
153. By these suitable ways and methods in which the liturgy at stated
times proposes the life of Jesus Christ for our meditation, the Church
gives us examples to imitate, points out treasures of sanctity for us
to make our own, since it is fitting that the mind believes what the
lips sing, and that what the mind believes should be practiced in
public and private life.
154. In the period of Advent, for instance, the Church arouses in us
the consciousness of the sins we have had the misfortune to commit, and
urges us, by restraining our desires and practicing voluntary
mortification of the body, to recollect ourselves in meditation, and
experience a longing desire to return to God who alone can free us by
His grace from the stain of sin and from its evil consequences.
155. With the coming of the birthday of the Redeemer, she would bring
us to the cave of Bethlehem and there teach that we must be born again
and undergo a complete reformation; that will only happen when we are
intimately and vitally united to the Word of God made man and
participate in His divine nature, to which we have been elevated.
156. At the solemnity of the Epiphany, in putting before us the call of
the Gentiles to the Christian faith, she wishes us daily to give thanks
to the Lord for such a blessing; she wishes us to seek with lively
faith the living and true God, to penetrate deeply and religiously the
things of heaven, to love silence and meditation in order to perceive
and grasp more easily heavenly gifts.
157. During the days of Septuagesima and Lent, our Holy Mother the
Church over and over again strives to make each of us seriously
consider our misery, so that we may be urged to a practical emendation
of our lives, detest our sins heartily and expiate them by prayer and
penance. For constant prayer and penance done for past sins obtain for
us divine help, without which every work of ours is useless and
158. In Holy Week, when the most bitter sufferings of Jesus Christ are
put before us by the liturgy, the Church invites us to come to Calvary
and follow in the blood-stained footsteps of the divine Redeemer, to
carry the cross willingly with Him, to reproduce in our own hearts His
spirit of expiation and atonement, and to die together with Him.
159. At the Paschal season, which commemorates the triumph of Christ,
our souls are filled with deep interior joy: we, accordingly, should
also consider that we must rise, in union with the Redeemer, from our
cold and slothful life to one of greater fervor and holiness by giving
ourselves completely and generously to God, and by forgetting this
wretched world in order to aspire only to the things of heaven: "If you
be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above . . . mind the
things that are above."
160. Finally, during the time of Pentecost, the Church by her precept
and practice urges us to be more docile to the action of the Holy
Spirit who wishes us to be on fire with divine love so that we may
daily strive to advance more in virtue and thus become holy as Christ
our Lord and His Father are holy.
161. Thus, the liturgical year should be considered as a splendid hymn
of praise offered to the heavenly Father by the Christian family
through Jesus, their perpetual Mediator. Nevertheless, it requires a
diligent and well ordered study on our part to be able to know and
praise our Redeemer ever more and more. It requires a serious effort
and constant practice to imitate His mysteries, to enter willingly upon
His path of sorrow and thus finally share His glory and eternal
162. From what We have already explained, Venerable Brethren, it is
perfectly clear how much modern writers are wanting in the genuine and
true liturgical spirit who, deceived by the illusion of a higher
mysticism, dare to assert that attention should be paid not to the
historic Christ but to a "pneumatic" or glorified Christ. They do not
hesitate to assert that a change has taken place in the piety of the
faithful by dethroning, as it were, Christ from His position; since
they say that the glorified Christ, who liveth and reigneth forever and
sitteth at the right hand of the Father, has been overshadowed and in
His place has been substituted that Christ who lived on earth. For this
reason, some have gone so far as to want to remove from the churches
images of the divine Redeemer suffering on the cross.
163. But these false statements are completely opposed to the solid
doctrine handed down by tradition. "You believe in Christ born in the
flesh," says St. Augustine, "and you will come to Christ begotten of
God." In the sacred liturgy, the whole Christ is proposed to us in
all the circumstances of His life, as the Word of the eternal Father,
as born of the Virgin Mother of God, as He who teaches us truth, heals
the sick, consoles the afflicted, who endures suffering and who dies;
finally, as He who rose triumphantly from the dead and who, reigning in
the glory of heaven, sends us the Holy Paraclete and who abides in His
Church forever; "Jesus Christ, yesterday and today, and the same
forever." Besides, the liturgy shows us Christ not only as a model
to be imitated but as a master to whom we should listen readily, a
Shepherd whom we should follow, Author of our salvation, the Source of
our holiness and the Head of the Mystical Body whose members we are,
living by His very life.
164. Since His bitter sufferings constitute the principal mystery of
our redemption, it is only fitting that the Catholic faith should give
it the greatest prominence. This mystery is the very center of divine
worship since the Mass represents and renews it every day and since all
the sacraments are most closely united with the cross.
165. Hence, the liturgical year, devotedly fostered and accompanied by
the Church, is not a cold and lifeless representation of the events of
the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age. It is rather
Christ Himself who is ever living in His Church. Here He continues that
journey of immense mercy which He lovingly began in His mortal life,
going about doing good, with the design of bringing men to know
His mysteries and in a way live by them. These mysteries are ever
present and active not in a vague and uncertain way as some modern
writers hold, but in the way that Catholic doctrine teaches us.
According to the Doctors of the Church, they are shining examples of
Christian perfection, as well as sources of divine grace, due to the
merit and prayers of Christ; they still influence us because each
mystery brings its own special grace for our salvation. Moreover, our
holy Mother the Church, while proposing for our contemplation the
mysteries of our Redeemer, asks in her prayers for those gifts which
would give her children the greatest possible share in the spirit of
these mysteries through the merits of Christ. By means of His
inspiration and help and through the cooperation of our wills we can
receive from Him living vitality as branches do from the tree and
members from the head; thus slowly and laboriously we can transform
ourselves "unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ."
166. In the course of the liturgical year, besides the mysteries of
Jesus Christ, the feasts of the saints are celebrated. Even though
these feasts are of a lower and subordinate order, the Church always
strives to put before the faithful examples of sanctity in order to
move them to cultivate in themselves the virtues of the divine
167. We should imitate the virtues of the saints just as they imitated
Christ, for in their virtues there shines forth under different aspects
the splendor of Jesus Christ. Among some of these saints the zeal of
the apostolate stood out, in others courage prevailed even to the
shedding of blood, constant vigilance marked others out as they kept
watch for the divine Redeemer, while in others the virginal purity of
soul was resplendent and their modesty revealed the beauty of Christian
humility; there burned in all of them the fire of charity towards God
and their neighbor. The sacred liturgy puts all these gems of sanctity
before us so that we may consider them for our salvation, and
"rejoicing at their merits, we may be inflamed by their example."
It is necessary, then, to practice "in simplicity innocence, in charity
concord, in humility modesty, diligence in government, readiness in
helping those who labor, mercy in serving the poor, in defending truth,
constancy, in the strict maintenance of discipline justice, so that
nothing may be wanting in us of the virtues which have been proposed
for our imitation. These are the footprints left by the saints in their
journey homeward, that guided by them we might follow them into
glory." In order that we may be helped by our senses, also, the
Church wishes that images of the saints be displayed in our churches,
always, however, with the same intention "that we imitate the virtues
of those whose images we venerate."
168. But there is another reason why the Christian people should honor
the saints in heaven, namely, to implore their help and "that we be
aided by the pleadings of those whose praise is our delight."
Hence, it is easy to understand why the sacred liturgy provides us with
many different prayers to invoke the intercession of the saints.
169. Among the saints in heaven the Virgin Mary Mother of God is
venerated in a special way. Because of the mission she received from
God, her life is most closely linked with the mysteries of Jesus
Christ, and there is no one who has followed in the footsteps of the
Incarnate Word more closely and with more merit than she: and no one
has more grace and power over the most Sacred Heart of the Son of God
and through Him with the Heavenly Father. Holier than the Cherubim and
Seraphim, she enjoys unquestionably greater glory than all the other
saints, for she is "full of grace," she is the Mother of God, who
happily gave birth to the Redeemer for us. Since she is therefore,
"Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope," let us all cry
to her "mourning and weeping in this vale of tears," and
confidently place ourselves and all we have under her patronage. She
became our Mother also when the divine Redeemer offered the sacrifice
of Himself; and hence by this title also, we are her children. She
teaches us all the virtues; she gives us her Son and with Him all the
help we need, for God "wished us to have everything through Mary."
170. Throughout this liturgical journey which begins anew for us each
year under the sanctifying action of the Church, and strengthened by
the help and example of the saints, especially of the Immaculate Virgin
Mary, "let us draw near with a true heart, in fullness of faith having
our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed
with clean water," let us draw near to the "High Priest" that
with Him we may share His life and sentiments and by Him penetrate
"even within the veil," and there honor the heavenly Father for
ever and ever.
171. Such is the nature and the object of the sacred liturgy: it treats
of the Mass, the sacraments, the divine office; it aims at uniting our
souls with Christ and sanctifying them through the divine Redeemer in
order that Christ be honored and, through Him and in Him, the most Holy
Trinity, Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
172. In order that the errors and inaccuracies, mentioned above, may be
more easily removed from the Church, and that the faithful following
safer norms may be able to use more fruitfully the liturgical
apostolate, We have deemed it opportune, Venerable Brethren, to add
some practical applications of the doctrine which We have explained.
173. When dealing with genuine and solid piety We stated that there
could be no real opposition between the sacred liturgy and other
religious practices, provided they be kept within legitimate bounds and
performed for a legitimate purpose. In fact, there are certain
exercises of piety which the Church recommends very much to clergy and
174. It is Our wish also that the faithful, as well, should take part
in these practices. The chief of these are: meditation on spiritual
things, diligent examination of conscience, enclosed retreats, visits
to the blessed sacrament, and those special prayers in honor of the
Blessed Virgin Mary among which the rosary, as all know, has pride of
175. From these multiple forms of piety, the inspiration and action of
the Holy Spirit cannot be absent. Their purpose is, in various ways, to
attract and direct our souls to God, purifying them from their sins,
encouraging them to practice virtue and, finally, stimulating them to
advance along the path of sincere piety by accustoming them to meditate
on the eternal truths and disposing them better to contemplate the
mysteries of the human and divine natures of Christ. Besides, since
they develop a deeper spiritual life of the faithful, they prepare them
to take part in sacred public functions with greater fruit, and they
lessen the danger of liturgical prayers becoming an empty ritualism.
176. In keeping with your pastoral solicitude, Venerable Brethren, do
not cease to recommend and encourage these exercises of piety from
which the faithful, entrusted to your care, cannot but derive salutary
fruit. Above all, do not allow -- as some do, who are deceived under
the pretext of restoring the liturgy or who idly claim that only
liturgical rites are of any real value and dignity -- that churches be
closed during the hours not appointed for public functions, as has
already happened in some places: where the adoration of the august
sacrament and visits to our Lord in the tabernacles are neglected;
where confession of devotion is discouraged; and devotion to the Virgin
Mother of God, a sign of "predestination" according to the opinion of
holy men, is so neglected, especially among the young, as to fade away
and gradually vanish. Such conduct most harmful to Christian piety is
like poisonous fruit, growing on the infected branches of a healthy
tree, which must be cut off so that the life-giving sap of the tree may
bring forth only the best fruit.
177. Since the opinions expressed by some about frequent confession are
completely foreign to the spirit of Christ and His Immaculate Spouse
and are also most dangerous to the spiritual life, let Us call to mind
what with sorrow We wrote about this point in the encyclical on the
Mystical Body. We urgently insist once more that what We expounded in
very serious words be proposed by you for the serious consideration and
dutiful obedience of your flock, especially to students for the
priesthood and young clergy.
178. Take special care that as many as possible, not only of the clergy
but of the laity and especially those in religious organizations and in
the ranks of Catholic Action, take part in monthly days of recollection
and in retreats of longer duration made with a view to growing in
virtue. As We have previously stated, such spiritual exercises are most
useful and even necessary to instill into souls solid virtue, and to
strengthen them in sanctity so as to be able to derive from the sacred
liturgy more efficacious and abundant benefits.
179. As regards the different methods employed in these exercises, it
is perfectly clear to all that in the Church on earth, no less in the
Church in heaven, there are many mansions, and that asceticism
cannot be the monopoly of anyone. It is the same spirit who breatheth
where He will, and who with differing gifts and in different ways
enlightens and guides souls to sanctity. Let their freedom and the
supernatural action of the Holy Spirit be so sacrosanct that no one
presume to disturb or stifle them for any reason whatsoever.
180. However, it is well known that the spiritual exercise according to
the method and norms of St. Ignatius have been fully approved and
earnestly recommended by Our predecessors on account of their admirable
efficacy. We, too, for the same reason have approved and commended them
and willingly do We repeat this now.
181. Any inspiration to follow and practice extraordinary exercises of
piety must most certainly come from the Father of Lights, from whom
every good and perfect gift descends; and, of course, the
criterion of this will be the effectiveness of these exercises in
making the divine cult loved and spread daily ever more widely, and in
making the faithful approach the sacraments with more longing desire,
and in obtaining for all things holy due respect and honor. If on the
contrary, they are an obstacle to principles and norms of divine
worship, or if they oppose or hinder them, one must surely conclude
that they are not in keeping with prudence and enlightened zeal.
182. There are, besides, other exercises of piety which, although not
strictly belonging to the sacred liturgy, are, nevertheless, of special
import and dignity, and may be considered in a certain way to be an
addition to the liturgical cult; they have been approved and praised
over and over again by the Apostolic See and by the bishops. Among
these are the prayers usually said during the month of May in honor of
the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, or during the month of June to the
most Sacred Heart of Jesus: also novenas and triduums, stations of the
cross and other similar practices.
183. These devotions make us partakers in a salutary manner of the
liturgical cult, because they urge the faithful to go frequently to the
sacrament of penance, to attend Mass and receive communion with
devotion, and, as well, encourage them to meditate on the mysteries of
our redemption and imitate the example of the saints.
184. Hence, he would do something very wrong and dangerous who would
dare to take on himself to reform all these exercises of piety and
reduce them completely to the methods and norms of liturgical rites.
However, it is necessary that the spirit of the sacred liturgy and its
directives should exercise such a salutary influence on them that
nothing improper be introduced nor anything unworthy of the dignity of
the house of God or detrimental to the sacred functions or opposed to
185. Take care then, Venerable Brethren, that this true and solid piety
increases daily and more under your guidance and bears more abundant
fruit. Above all, do not cease to inculcate into the minds of all that
progress in the Christian life does not consist in the multiplicity and
variety of prayers and exercises of piety, but rather in their
helpfulness towards spiritual progress of the faithful and constant
growth of the Church universal. For the eternal Father "chose us in Him
[Christ] before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and
unspotted in His sight." All our prayers, then, and all our
religious practices should aim at directing our spiritual energies
towards attaining this most noble and lofty end.
186. We earnestly exhort you, Venerable Brethren, that after errors and
falsehoods have been removed, and anything that is contrary to truth or
moderation has been condemned, you promote a deeper knowledge among the
people of the sacred liturgy so that they more readily and easily
follow the sacred rites and take part in them with true Christian
187. First of all, you must strive that with due reverence and faith
all obey the decrees of the Council of Trent, of the Roman Pontiffs,
and the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and what the liturgical books
ordain concerning external public worship.
188. Three characteristics of which Our predecessor Pius X spoke should
adorn all liturgical services: sacredness, which abhors any profane
influence; nobility, which true and genuine arts should serve and
foster; and universality, which, while safeguarding local and
legitimate custom, reveals the catholic unity of the Church.
189. We desire to commend and urge the adornment of churches and
altars. Let each one feel moved by the inspired word, "the zeal of thy
house hath eaten me up"; and strive as much as in him lies that
everything in the church, including vestments and liturgical
furnishings, even though not rich nor lavish, be perfectly clean and
appropriate, since all is consecrated to the Divine Majesty. If we have
previously disapproved of the error of those who would wish to outlaw
images from churches on the plea of reviving an ancient tradition, We
now deem it Our duty to censure the inconsiderate zeal of those who
propose for veneration in the Churches and on the altars, without any
just reason, a multitude of sacred images and statues, and also those
who display unauthorized relics, those who emphasize special and
insignificant practices, neglecting essential and necessary things.
They thus bring religion into derision and lessen the dignity of
190. Let us recall, as well, the decree about "not introducing new
forms of worship and devotion." We commend the exact observance of
this decree to your vigilance.
191. As regards music, let the clear and guiding norms of the Apostolic
See be scrupulously observed. Gregorian chant, which the Roman Church
considers her own as handed down from antiquity and kept under her
close tutelage, is proposed to the faithful as belonging to them also.
In certain parts of the liturgy the Church definitely prescribes
it; it makes the celebration of the sacred mysteries not only more
dignified and solemn but helps very much to increase the faith and
devotion of the congregation. For this reason, Our predecessors of
immortal memory, Pius X and Pius XI, decree -- and We are happy to
confirm with Our authority the norms laid down by them -- that in
seminaries and religious institutes, Gregorian chant be diligently and
zealously promoted, and moreover that the old Scholae Cantorum be
restored, at least in the principal churches. This has already been
done with happy results in not a few places.
192. Besides, "so that the faithful take a more active part in divine
worship, let Gregorian chant be restored to popular use in the parts
proper to the people. Indeed it is very necessary that the faithful
attend the sacred ceremonies not as if they were outsiders or mute
onlookers, but let them fully appreciate the beauty of the liturgy and
take part in the sacred ceremonies, alternating their voices with the
priest and the choir, according to the prescribed norms. If, please
God, this is done, it will not happen that the congregation hardly ever
or only in a low murmur answer the prayers in Latin or in the
vernacular." A congregation that is devoutly present at the
sacrifice, in which our Savior together with His children redeemed with
His sacred blood sings the nuptial hymn of His immense love, cannot
keep silent, for "song befits the lover" and, as the ancient
saying has it, "he who sings well prays twice." Thus the Church
militant, faithful as well as clergy, joins in the hymns of the Church
triumphant and with the choirs of angels, and, all together, sing a
wondrous and eternal hymn of praise to the most Holy Trinity in keeping
with words of the preface, "with whom our voices, too, thou wouldst bid
to be admitted."
193. It cannot be said that modem music and singing should be entirely
excluded from Catholic worship. For, if they are not profane nor
unbecoming to the sacredness of the place and function, and do not
spring from a desire of achieving extraordinary and unusual effects,
then our churches must admit them since they can contribute in no small
way to the splendor of the sacred ceremonies, can lift the mind to
higher things and foster true devotion of soul.
194. We also exhort you, Venerable Brethren, to promote with care
congregational singing, and to see to its accurate execution with all
due dignity, since it easily stirs up and arouses the faith and piety
of large gatherings of the faithful. Let the full harmonious singing of
our people rise to heaven like the bursting of a thunderous sea
and let them testify by the melody of their song to the unity of their
hearts and minds, as becomes brothers and the children of the same
195. What We have said about music, applies to the other fine arts,
especially to architecture, sculpture and painting. Recent works of art
which lend themselves to the materials of modern composition, should
not be universally despised and rejected through prejudice. Modern art
should be given free scope in the due and reverent service of the
church and the sacred rites, provided that they preserve a correct
balance between styles tending neither to extreme realism nor to
excessive "symbolism," and that the needs of the Christian community
are taken into consideration rather than the particular taste or talent
of the individual artist. Thus modern art will be able to join its
voice to that wonderful choir of praise to which have contributed, in
honor of the Catholic faith, the greatest artists throughout the
centuries. Nevertheless, in keeping with the duty of Our office, We
cannot help deploring and condemning those works of art, recently
introduced by some, which seem to be a distortion and perversion of
true art and which at times openly shock Christian taste, modesty and
devotion, and shamefully offend the true religious sense. These must be
entirely excluded and banished from our churches, like "anything else
that is not in keeping with the sanctity of the place."
196. Keeping in mind, Venerable Brethren, pontifical norms and decrees,
take great care to enlighten and direct the minds and hearts of the
artists to whom is given the task today of restoring or rebuilding the
many churches which have been ruined or completely destroyed by war.
Let them be capable and willing to draw their inspiration from religion
to express what is suitable and more in keeping with the requirements
of worship. Thus the human arts will shine forth with a wondrous
heavenly splendor, and contribute greatly to human civilization, to the
salvation of souls and the glory of God. The fine arts are really in
conformity with religion when "as noblest handmaids they are at the
service of divine worship."
197. But there is something else of even greater importance, Venerable
Brethren, which We commend to your apostolic zeal, in a very special
manner. Whatever pertains to the external worship has assuredly its
importance; however, the most pressing duty of Christians is to live
the liturgical life, and increase and cherish its supernatural spirit.
198. Readily provide the young clerical student with facilities to
understand the sacred ceremonies, to appreciate their majesty and
beauty and to learn the rubrics with care, just as you do when he is
trained in ascetics, in dogma and in a canon law and pastoral theology.
This should not be done merely for cultural reasons and to fit the
student to perform religious rites in the future, correctly and with
due dignity, but especially to lead him into closest union with Christ,
the Priest, so that he may become a holy minister of sanctity.
199. Try in every way, with the means and helps that your prudence
deems best, that the clergy and people become one in mind and heart,
and that the Christian people take such an active part in the liturgy
that it becomes a truly sacred action of due worship tO the eternal
Lord in which the priest, chiefly responsible for the souls of his
parish, and the ordinary faithful are united together.
200. To attain this purpose, it will greatly help to select carefully
good and upright young boys from all classes of citizens who will come
generously and spontaneously to serve at the altar with careful zeal
and exactness. Parents of higher social standing and culture should
greatly esteem this office for their children. If these youths, under
the watchful guidance of the priests, are properly trained and
encouraged to fulfill the task committed to them punctually, reverently
and constantly, then from their number will readily come fresh
candidates for the priesthood. The clergy will not then complain -- as,
alas, sometimes happens even in Catholic places -- that in the
celebration of the august sacrifice they find no one to answer or serve
201. Above all, try with your constant zeal to have all the faithful
attend the eucharistic sacrifice from which they may obtain abundant
and salutary fruit; and carefully instruct them in all the legitimate
ways we have described above so that they may devoutly participate in
it. The Mass is the chief act of divine worship; it should also be the
source and center of Christian piety. Never think that you have
satisfied your apostolic zeal until you see your faithful approach in
great numbers the celestial banquet which is a sacrament of devotion, a
sign of unity and a bond of love.
202. By means of suitable sermons and particularly by periodic
conferences and lectures, by special study weeks and the like, teach
the Christian people carefully about the treasures of piety contained
in the sacred liturgy so that they may be able to profit more
abundantly by these supernatural gifts. In this matter, those who are
active in the ranks of Catholic Action will certainly be a help to you,
since they are ever at the service of the hierarchy in the work of
promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
203. But in all these matters, it is essential that you watch
vigilantly lest the enemy come into the field of the Lord and sow
cockle among the wheat; in other words, do not let your flocks be
deceived by the subtle and dangerous errors of false mysticism or
quietism -- as you know We have already condemned these errors;
also do not let a certain dangerous "humanism" lead them astray, nor
let there be introduced a false doctrine destroying the notion of
Catholic faith, nor finally an exaggerated zeal for antiquity in
matters liturgical. Watch with like diligence lest the false teaching
of those be propagated who wrongly think and teach that the glorified
human nature of Christ really and continually dwells in the "just" by
His presence and that one and numerically the same grace, as they say,
unites Christ with the members of His Mystical Body.
204. Never be discouraged by the difficulties that arise, and never let
your pastoral zeal grow cold. "Blow the trumpet in Sion . . . call an
assembly, gather together the people, sanctify the Church, assemble the
ancients, gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the
breasts," and use every help to get the faithful everywhere to
fill the churches and crowd around the altars so that they may be
restored by the graces of the sacraments and joined as living members
to their divine Head, and with Him and through Him celebrate together
the august sacrifice that gives due tribute of praise to the Eternal
205. These, Venerable Brethren, are the subjects We desired to write to
you about. We are moved to write that your children, who are also Ours,
may more fully understand and appreciate the most precious treasures
which are contained in the sacred liturgy: namely, the eucharistic
sacrifice, representing and renewing the sacrifice of the cross, the
sacraments which are the streams of divine grace and of divine life,
and the hymn of praise, which heaven and earth daily offer to God.
206. We cherish the hope that these Our exhortations will not only
arouse the sluggish and recalcitrant to a deeper and more correct study
of the liturgy, but also instill into their daily lives its
supernatural spirit according to the words of the Apostle, "extinguish
not the spirit."
207. To those whom an excessive zeal occasionally led to say and do
certain things which saddened Us and which We could not approve, we
repeat the warning of St. Paul, "But prove all things, hold fast that
which is good." Let Us paternally warn them to imitate in their
thoughts and actions the Christian doctrine which is in harmony with
the precepts of the immaculate Spouse of Jesus Christ, the mother of
208. Let Us remind all that they must generously and faithfully obey
their holy pastors who possess the right and duty of regulating the
whole life, especially the spiritual life, of the Church. "Obey your
prelates and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an
account of your souls; that they may do this with joy and not with
209. May God, whom we worship, and who is "not the God of dissension
but of peace," graciously grant to us all that during our earthly
exile we may with one mind and one heart participate in the sacred
liturgy which is, as it were, a preparation and a token of that
heavenly liturgy in which we hope one day to sing together with the
most glorious Mother of God and our most loving Mother, "To Him that
sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, benediction and honor, and
glory and power for ever and ever."
210. In this joyous hope, We most lovingly impart to each and every one
of you, Venerable Brethren, and to the flocks confided to your care, as
a pledge of divine gifts and as a witness of Our special love, the
211. Given at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, on the 20th day of November
in the year 1947, the 9th of Our Pontificate.
1. 1 Tim. 2:5.
2. Cf. Heb.4:14.
3. Cf. Heb.9:14.
4. Cf. Mal.1:11.
5. Cf. Council of Trent Sess. 22, c. 1.
6. Cf. ibid., c. 2.
7. Encyclical Letter Caritate Christi, May 3, 1932.
8. Cf. Apostolic Letter (Motu Proprio) In cotidianis precibus, March
9. 1 Cor. 10:17.
10. Saint Thomas, Summa Theologica, lla llae .q. 81, art. 1.
11. Cf. Book; of Leviticus.
12. Cf. Heb.10:1.
13. John, 1:14.
15. Ibid. 10: 10.
16. John, 1:9.
18. Cf. I John, 2:1.
19. Cf. I Tim. 3:15.
20. Cf. Boniface IX, Ab origine mundi, October 7, 1391; Callistus III,
Summus Pontifex, January 1, 1456; Pius II, Triumphans Pastor, April 22,
1459; Innocent XI, Triumphans Pastor, October 3, 1678.
21. Eph. 2:19-22.
22. Matt. 18:20.
23. Acts, 2:42.
25 Saint Augustine, Epist. 130, ad Probam, 18.
26 Roman Missal, Preface for Christmas.
27. Giovanni Cardinal Bona, De divina psalmodia, c. 19, par. 3, 1.
28. Roman Missal, Secret for Thursday after the Second Sunday of Lent.
29. Cf Mark, 7:6 and Isaias, 29:13.
30. 1 Cor.II:28.
31. Roman Missal, Ash Wednesday; Prayer after the imposition of ashes.
32. De praedestinatione sanctorum, 31.
33. Cf. Saint Thomas, Summa Theologica, lla llae, q. 82, art. 1.
34. Cf. I Cor. 3:23.
35. Heb. 10:19-24.
36. Cf. 2 Cor. 6:1.
37. Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 125, 126, 565, 571,595,1367.
39. Cf. Gal. 4:19.
40. John, 20:21.
41. Luke, 10:16.
42. Mark, 16:15-16.
43. Roman Pontifical, Ordination of a priest: anointing of hands.
44. Enchiridion, c. 3.
45. De gratia Dei "Indiculus."
46. Saint Augustine, Epist. 130, ad Probam, 18.
47. Cf. Constitution Divini cultus, December 20, 1928.
48. Constitution Immensa, January 22, 1588.
49. Code of Canon Law, can. 253.
50. Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1257.
51. Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1261.
52. Cf. Matt. 28:20.
53. Cf. Pius Vl, Constitution Auctorem fidei, August 28, 1794, nn.
31-34, 39, 62, 66, 69-74.
54. Cf. John, 2 1 : 1 5-1 7.
55. Acts, 20:28.
57. John, 13:1.
58. Council of Trent, Sess. 22, c. 1.
59. Ibid., c. 2.
60. Cf. Saint Thomas, Summa Theologica, Illa, q. 22, art. 4.
61. Saint John Chrysostom, In Joann. Hom., 86:4.
62. Rom. 6:9.
63. Cf. Roman Missal, Preface.
64. Cf. Ibid., Canon.
65. Mark, 14:23.
66. Roman Missal, Preface.
67. I John, 2:2.
68. Roman Missal, Canon of the Mass.
69. Saint Augustine, De Trinit., Book Xlll, c. 19.
70. Heb. 5:7.
71. Cf. Sess. 22, c. 1.
72. Cf. Heb. 10:14.
73. Saint Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. 147, n. 16.
74. Gal. 2:19-20.
75. Encyclical Letter, Mystici Corporis, June 29, 1943.
76. Roman Missal, Secret of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.
77. Cf. Sess. 22, c. 2. and can. 4.
78. Cf. Gal. 6:14.
79. Mal. 1:II.
80. Phil. 2:5.
81. Gal. 2:19.
82. Cf. Council of Trent, Sess. 23. c. 4.
83. Cf. Saint Robert Bellarmine, De Missa, 2, c.4.
84. De Sacro Altaris Mysterio, 3:6.
85. De Missa, 1, c. 27.
86. Roman Missal, Ordinary of the Mass.
87. Ibid., Canon of the Mass.
88. Roman Missal, Canon of the Mass.
89. I Peter, 2:5.
90 . Rom . 1 2 : 1.
91. Roman Missal, Canon of the Mass.
92. Roman Pontifical, Ordination of a priest.
93. Ibid., Consecration of an altar, Preface.
94. Cf. Council of Trent, Sess. 22, c. 5.
95. Gal. 2:19-20.
96. Cf. Serm. 272.
97. Cf. I Cor. 12:_7.
98. Cf. Eph. 5:30.
99. Cf. Saint Robert Bellarmine, De Missa, 2, c. 8.
100. Cf. De Civitate Dei, Book 10, c. 6.
101. Roman Missal, Canon of the Mass.
102. Cf. I Tim. 2:5.
103. Encyclical Letter Certiores effecti, November 13, 1742, par. 1.
104. Council of Trent, Sess. 22, can. 8.
105. I Cor. II:24.
106. Roman Missal, Collect for Feast of Corpus Christi.
107. Sess. 22, c. 6.
108. Encyclical Letter Certiores effecti, par. 3.
109. Cf. Luke, 14:23.
110. I Cor. 10:17.
111. Cf. Saint Ignatius Martyr, Ad Eph 20.
112. Roman Missal, Canon of the Mass.
113. Eph. 5:20.
114. Roman Missal, Postcommunion for Sunday within the Octave of
115. Ibid., Postcommunion for First Sunday after Pentecost.
116. Code of Canon Law, can. 810.
117. Book IV, c. 12.
118. Dan. 3:57.
119. Cf. John 16: 3.
120. Roman Missal, Secret for Mass of the Most Blessed Trinity .
121. John, 15:4.
122. Council of Trent, Sess. 13, can. 1.
123. Second Council of Constantinople, Anath, de trib. Capit., can. 9;
compare Council of Ephesus, Anath. Cyrill, can 8. Cf. Council of Trent,
Sess. 13, can. 6; Pius Vl Constitution Auctorem fidei, n. 61.
124. Cf. Enarr in Ps. 98:9.
125. Apoc. 5:12, cp. 7:10.
126. Cf. Council of Trent, Sess. 13, c. 5 and can. 6.
127. In I ad Cor., 24:4.
128. Cf. I Peter, 1:19.
129. Matt. II:28.
130. Cf. Roman Missal, Collect for Mass for the Dedication of a Church.
131. Roman Missal, Sequence Lauda Sion in Mass for Feast of Corpus
132. Luke, 18:1.
133. Heb. 13:15.
134. Cf. Acts, 2:1-15.
135. Ibid., 10:9.
136. Ibid., 3:1.
137. Ibid., 16:25.
138. Rom. 8:26.
139. Saint Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. 85, n. 1.
140. Saint Benedict, Regula Monachorum, c. 19.
141. Heb. 7:25.
142. Explicatio in Psalterium, Preface. Text as found in Migne, Parres
Larini, 70:10. But some are of the opinion that part of this passage
should not be attributed to Cassiodorus.
143. Saint Ambrose, Enarr in Ps. 1, n. 9.
144. Exod. 31:15.
145. Confessions, Book 9, c. 6.
146. Saint Augustine, De Civitate Dei, Book 8, c. 17.
148. Saint Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. 123, n. 2.
149. Heb. 13:8.
150. Saint Thomas, Summa Theologica Illa, q. 49 and q. 62, art. 5.
151. Cf. Acts, 10:38.
152. Eph. 4:13.
153. Roman Missal, Collect for Third Mass of Several Martyrs outside
154. Saint Bede the Venerable, Hom. subd. 70 for Feast of All Saints.
155. Roman Missal, Collect for Mass of Saint John Damascene .
156. Saint Bernard, Sermon 2 for Feast of All Saints.
157. Luke, I:28.
158. "Salve Regina"
159. Saint Bernard, In Nativ. B.M.V., 7.
160. Heb. 10:22.
161. Ibid., 10:_1.
162. Ibid., 6:19.
163. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Can. 125.
164. Cf. John, 14:2.
165. John, 3:8.
166. Cf. James, 1:17.
167. Eph. 1:4.
168. Cf. Apostolic Letter (Motu Proprio) Tra le sollecitudini, November
169. Ps. 68:9; John, 2:17.
170. Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, Decree of May 26,
171. Cf. Pius X, Apostolic Letter (Motu Proprio) Tra le sollectitudini
172. Cf. Pius X, loc. cit.; Pius XI, Constitution Divini cultus, 2,5.
173. Pius XI, Constitution Divini cultus, 9.
174. Saint Augustine, Serm. 336, n. 1.
175. Roman Missal, Preface.
176. Saint Ambrose, Hexameron, 3:5, 23.
177. Cf. Acts, 4:32.
178. Code of Canon Law, can. 1178.
179. Pius XI, Constitution Divini cultus.
180. Cf. Saint Augustine, Tract. 26 in John 13.
181. Cf. Matt. 13:24-25.
182. Encyclical letter Mystici Corporis.
183. Joel, 2:15-16.
184. I Thess. 5:19.
185. lbid., 5:21.
186. Heb. 13: 7
187. I Cor.14:33.
188. Apoc. 5:13.