The words Sacrosanctum Concilium (“This Sacred Council”) are actually the first two Latin words (or incipit) of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Pope Blessed Paul VI promulgated this document in 1963.
In this constitution, the Council Fathers spelled out the principles for carrying out the needed promotion and reform of the liturgy and called for establishing practical norms for such promotion and reform.
Through Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council Fathers directed the whole Church to
- impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful;
- adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change;
- foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; and
- strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1)
And, indeed, the Council Fathers clearly fleshed out the path for such aims in the seven chapters of the Constitution.
Chapter I deals with the general principles for the restoration and promotion of the Sacred Liturgy. The first section discusses the nature of the Sacred Liturgy and its importance in the Church’s life. The second section expresses the Council’s wish to promote liturgical instruction and active participation of the faithful. In the third section, the Council Fathers establish general and specific norms for the reform of the Sacred Liturgy, including norms for adapting the liturgy to the culture and traditions of peoples, for the promotion of liturgical life in the diocese and parish, and for the promotion of pastoral-liturgical action.
A separate chapter (II) exclusively deals with the Holy Eucharist and the Mass, especially massed celebrated with the people. The decrees in this chapter aim to make the sacrifice of the Mass “pastorally efficacious to the fullest degree” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 49).
The third chapter concerns itself with reforms of the other sacraments and the sacramentals. The sacraments were instituted to nourish the Christian life, and the Council Fathers wished that all the faithful should frequent them with great eagerness and easily understand the sacramental signs.
Chapter IV lays down the decrees and norms to make priests or other members of the Church pray the Divine Office better and more perfectly in existing circumstances.
Chapter V establishes principles and norms for reforming the liturgical year.
Chapter VI contains norms and decrees on Sacred Music. In this chapter, the Council reaffirms the pre-eminence of the Church’s musical tradition as a “treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112). In this chapter the Council also decrees that Gregorian chant should be the first choice in liturgical services, other things being equal, because it is the most apt for the Roman liturgy.
The last part, Chapter VII, establishes principles and general decrees on sacred art and sacred furnishings.
The Constitution includes an appendix in which the Council Fathers declare their openness to assigning Easter to a fixed Sunday in the Gregorian Calendar and to introducing a perpetual calendar into civil society (for as long as it retains a seven-day week with Sunday). ∗∗∗