Liturgy: The Sources

There are principles that form the foundation for the preparation and celebration of the liturgy; they take the form of documents, rites and their rubrics, and guidelines. It is important that those of us who are involved in preparing the liturgy be firmly grounded in these principles -- having read and studied them, understanding the deeper implications of their words, then taking them to heart and bringing them to life in the prayer of the Church. 

Where do we find the principles? There are several sources with which liturgy preparation teams should become familiar; some are universal in origin and scope and others are more particular guidelines that have come through the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and their committees.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council is the guiding foundational document of the liturgical reform. In it we find the major theological and ecclesiological principles which have guided the renewal of the rites and the liturgical books. These principles have served as the touchstone for many subsequent liturgical documents and pastoral adaptations in the liturgy following the Council.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which can be found in the front of the Sacramentary, provides principles and directives on the celebration of the Eucharist. It gives not only theological understandings of the various parts of the Mass, but also addresses ministries, the demands of the space for worship and different forms of celebration. The Directory for Masses with Children supplements the GIRM and provides specific directives for the celebration of the Eucharist with children. It is a document which would be particularly helpful for those who work with children’s celebrations. 

General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar provides insights into the celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery throughout the cycle of feasts and seasons and particularly in the Sunday gathering; it also outlines the structure of the liturgical calendar. An Ordo gives specific information regarding the calendar for each day of the year and indicates specific observances in local dioceses. 

Some of the documents which are particular to the United States apply the foundational principles of the more universal documents in very accessible and pastoral language to the celebration of the liturgy. Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today discuss the role of music in the liturgy, the ministry of the musician, the criteria for the selection and use of music at Mass and in other liturgical celebrations. Music in Catholic Worship focuses more intensely on the various parts of the eucharistic liturgy and the role of music in each while Liturgical Music Todayexplores music in other sacraments and liturgical prayer forms. These documents are not only for musicians, but provide a rich foundation in liturgical theology and celebration for all who are involved in preparing the liturgy.

Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, another document written for the United States, presents guiding principles for the design and appointment of the liturgical space with emphasis on the theology which undergirds the shape and fashioning of the house for the Church and its permanent and seasonal environment. At this time a task force of the Bishops’ Conference is preparing a second document on environment and worship which should be issued within the next year.