November 24th, 2013

II. Liturgical Reform in the Latin Church Throughout the Ages

Because of our experience with the Church for the past fifty years, we might think that liturgical reform is a modern and exciting innovation of the contemporary Catholic Church.  This, however, is an error.  There is nothing new about liturgical reform whether it be from the first centuries of the domus ecclesia (the early Christian house church) and that of the catacombs to the subsequent thousand years leading up to the Council of Trent and the Mass of Pope St. Pius V.  Liturgical reform is normal

Summing up quite well the role of liturgical reform within and throughout the life of the Church, the current Introduction to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states: “the Church, while remaining faithful to her office as teacher of truth, safeguarding ‘things old,’ that is, the deposit of tradition, fulfills at the same time the duty of examining and prudently adopting ‘things new’ (cf. Mt 13:52).  (The General Instruction of the Roman Missal from the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia, translated and approved for the Dioceses of the United States in 2003, 15)

After acknowledging this aspect of church life, logical questions arise. Who decides what stays and what goes?  Who regulates such reform?  The Second Vatican Council reflected the mind of the Church with great clarity in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: 

1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.

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

3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.  (Sacrosanctum Concilium, ¶22)

It is therefore clear the Apostolic See, the bishop, and bishop conferences, in so far as the Apostolic See allows, governs the sacred liturgy and its reform.  This is how it has been for the Roman Rite throughout the life of the Church.

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