Renewal of the liturgy had huge effect on life of Church

December 24, 2012

One could go on at great length detailing the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The magnitude of these reforms was immense, touching virtually every aspect of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental life.

Moreover, the liturgy is of the greatest importance. A young Father Joseph Ratzinger wrote that the liturgy is “the true source of the Church’s life and the proper point of departure for all renewal.”

Pope John Paul II later wrote, “A very close and organic bond exists between the renewal of the liturgy and the renewal of the whole life of the Church.”

One cannot underestimate the effect of the renewal of the liturgy on the total life of the Church and the faithful.

Nevertheless, this series of articles focuses on all of the Second Vatican Council and, in the next issue, it will move on to other topics.


These eight articles on The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy are but the briefest overview of a crucial document that spurred an intense process of reform that continued for several years and which is still bearing fruit today.

The Second Vatican Council placed a greater emphasis on the importance of the sacrament of Baptism in the lives of the faithful.


The Second Vatican Council placed a greater emphasis on the importance of the sacrament of Baptism in the lives of the faithful.

Before we move on to other topics, however, it would be remiss not to at least list some of the major reforms not mentioned in the previous seven articles. Those would include:

Revisions to the Order of the Mass: The liturgy constitution called for a noble simplicity in the liturgy. The Mass would in future, not only be celebrated in the vernacular language, but several prayers were deleted and more options were created, especially for Prefaces and Eucharistic Prayers.

The introductory rites of the Mass were vastly simplified and the so-called Last Gospel was no longer read at the end of Mass. As well, the Prayer of the Faithful, Offertory Procession and Sign of Peace were restored to the liturgy, and the entrance procession and recessional received greater emphasis.

Communion under both species for the laity was permitted in certain circumstances.

The ancient practice of more than one priest concelebrating the Mass was restored.

Sacred art, music and furnishings were renewed. The role of the choir, for example, shifted from performance to encouraging the participation of the faithful.


A renewed emphasis and importance was placed on Baptism, leading to the development of lay liturgical ministries and the restoration of the catechumenate.

The development of the catechumenate led to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which replaced the pre-conciliar inquiry classes for those who were considering becoming Catholic.

The liturgical year was focused more clearly on the Paschal Mystery and there was a decreased emphasis on the feasts of saints in the calendar.

The rites for all sacraments were revised with, for example, Extreme Unction now being treated less ominously as the Anointing of the Sick.

The Divine Office underwent a major revision: It no longer needed to be prayed in Latin and lay people were encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, especially Morning and Evening Prayer.

National conferences of bishops were given authority to oversee and implement liturgical changes.


The specific changes were, for the most part, not spelled out by the Vatican II documents, but took place over roughly seven years following the council. Liturgical experts came up with those specific changes subject to the oversight of the Vatican and bishops’ conferences.

For the parish priest, the changes came fast and furious and it is no criticism to say full explanations of these changes did not always reach the laity. Even to the extent that the laity were informed, a whole new mentality underlay those changes that represented a major shift in thinking.

Again, in the Edmonton Archdiocese, we have been blessed by the presence of Newman Theological College which, for many years, ran the Summer School for Liturgical Studies, a program that went a long way in forming and informing lay liturgical leaders.

Change, especially change to sacred rituals, is difficult and unsettling for those who have assumed that those rituals were eternal and unchanging. If the council fathers were naïve about anything, it was about the unsettling effect that changes to the liturgy would have on the faithful.


Church attendance has dropped precipitously in the Western world in the years following the council. It would be over-simplistic, however, to blame that decline on the changes to the liturgy. Liturgical reform, for example, coincided with an era of tumultuous change and secularization in Western society.

Moreover, the liturgical reform was a necessary renewal. On one hand, that reform adapted the liturgy to modern needs without changing its essence; on the other hand, the reform purified the rituals so that they could better fulfill their original purposes.

While the Church is no longer as central to many people’s lives in the West as it was prior to the council, in the global South, the Catholic Church has been undergoing a vast expansion. That expansion is due, in no small part, to the council’s liturgical reforms.

We do not comprehend the ways of the Holy Spirit. But for those who have made the effort to understand and participate in the changes of Vatican II, those reforms have often led to a great deepening and widening of the faith.