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How can the Vatican change the Mass?

Recently someone asked  "How can the church just change the Mass?  Isn't that like changing the United States Constitution or something?"  What a great question!

The church does have a constitution concerning the Mass or what is called the Latin Rite's Sacred Liturgy.   There is a department, called a Congregation, who oversees that constitution and it's implementation.  That Congregation is called the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  

Part of the Work of that Congregation is the  proper implementation of the Second Vatican Council's (Vatican II's) concepts concerning the Sacred Liturgy (Mass) which was promulgated by  Vatican II'sConstitution on the Sacred Liturgy, or in Latin,Sacrosanctum Concilium.  There is your Constitution.  This Constitution was approved by the Council and Pope Paul VI and then promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1963.  Since that eventful day, "in order to facilitate the implementation of the liturgical renewal desired by the Council Fathers, the Holy See has subsequently published five documents of special importance, each successively numbered as an "Instruction for the Right Application of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council".  Many people do not realize that Vatican II's concept of the Sacred Liturgy is not yet fully implemented.  So yes, things will continue to change in the Mass as they have since Vatican II.

These five letters on the implementation of the liturgical concepts of Vatican II were published, 26 September 1964, 4 May 1967, 5 September 1970, 25 January 1994, and 20 March 2001.  These letters form the principles of what we experience as the "changes in the Mass."

Concerning the most recent translation changes in the Mass, the fifth letter issued 20 March 2001, Liturgiam Authenticam, is an instruction that includes the requirement that, in translations of the liturgical texts from the official Latin originals, "the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet."   As all of the five letters do, the fifth letter uses Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. as it's guiding principal as it seeks to continue the implementation of Vatican II's desires.  SpecificallyLiturgiam Authenticam, uses article 36 of Vatican II'sConstitution on the Sacred Liturgy. which is concerned with the language of the liturgy.

Many people mistakenly believe that the new translation of the Mass now in process is the initiative and work of Pope Benedict XVI when in reality this has been in process since 1988 and was initiated at that time by Pope John Paul II "calling for progress [in translations] beyond an initial phase [1960s] to one of improved translations of liturgical texts. Accordingly, Liturgiam Authenticam offers the Latin Church a new formulation of principles of translation with the benefit of more than thirty years' experience in the use of the vernacular in liturgical celebrations."  Pope Benedict XVI is simply allowing the full  implementation of Vatican II to continue.

You may follow this link to learn more about the continuing implementation of Vatican II and the five letters.

You can learn much more on all of this by visiting the several links on the page.



The Church belongs to Christ and so does the Liturgy.  The Vicar of Christ on earth along with the Holy See are responsible for The Sacred Liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.


Coat of Arms of the Holy See.