Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.: The Mass of Vatican II

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What the Second Vatican Council said about liturgy, what it didn’t say about liturgy, and the central intent of the Council concerning the liturgy.

By Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., Catholic World Report, Oct. 17, 2022

Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., is the founder and editor of Ignatius Press.

Editor’s note: This essay appeared originally in the September/October 2000 issue of Catholic Dossier and is based on a lecture on the liturgy given by Father Fessio in May, 1999.


The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, was one of two documents issued on the same day, December 4, 1963, the first two documents issued by the Second Vatican Council. The other document, Inter Mirifica, is on social communication. Sacrosanctum Concilium is one of the most important documents of the Council, one that has been the least understood and, I believe, has wrought the most havoc – not by having been fulfilled – but by having been ignored or misinterpreted.

Now there should be no argument about the central intent of the Council concerning the liturgy. The Council actually spells out its intent, in paragraph 14 of Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations, which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.” The key words here are “full, conscious, and active participation.” The Latin for “active participation” is actuosa participatio. …