This encyclical began a defining moment in the history of the Church. It was promulgated by Pope Pius XII it became the first papal encyclical devoted specifically and entirely to the liturgy. Its relevance is still being felt till this day, and this is evident in the chain of events following it; for Mediator Dei serves as the bedrock of the movement towards liturgical reform that culminated in the Second Vatican Council.
Pope Pius XII was faced with a congregation, which lacked interest in the liturgy and played a passive role in the liturgy. This spurred him to provide the faithful with tools to foster greater understanding of the Mass, the Liturgical Year and a more tender devotion to the Holy Eucharist, for he entertained a fervent devotion to the Sacrament himself and many of his allocutions are centered on this. Pius XII saw the solution to the passive role played by the congregation to be “active participation” in the liturgy, the divine life; “Through this active and individual participation, the members of the Mystical Body not only become daily more like to their divine Head, but the life flowing from the head is imparted to the members” for the work of the sanctification of the world (MD, 78). The encyclical may be divided into four aspects:
- The first aspect has to deal with the explanation on the nature and development of the liturgy. The liturgy as the result of the incarnation of the Lord, and the means by which the Lord continues and extends his presence to the Church in the world. It is also defined as the public worship of the Church.
- The second aspect deals with the explanation on the nature of the Eucharist and our worship in the Mass. It summarizes the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.
- The third aspect of the encyclical is devoted to the Divine Office and the Liturgical Year. By means of the Divine Office, or the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church’s worship of God, which has its source and origin in the Eucharist, is “directed and arranged in such a way that it embraces…the hours of the day” (MD, 138).
- The final section of the encyclical deals with practical pastoral instructions. Here Pope Pius encourages the multiplicity of legitimate devotions and reiterates his teaching that there can be no “real opposition between the sacred liturgy and other religious practices, provided they be kept within legitimate bounds and performed for a legitimate purpose” (MD, 173).
It was the intention of Pope Pius XII, to restrain the excesses of some liturgists, and to spur the half-hearted and lukewarm to greater effort. Also, the encyclical sought to affirm and clarify the authority of the Holy See in liturgical matters. Furthermore, Pope Pius XII deplored efforts “to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device” (MD, 62). This attitude ignores the capacity for and the actuality of development in doctrine and in liturgical practice.
It is one of the four constitutions in the Second Vatican Council’s documents with its focus on the Sacred Liturgy. And as a dogmatic constitution, it contains within it the principles upon which the teachings and liturgical practice of the Church in her renewal on the sacred Liturgy would be guided. It is not out of place to say that Mediator Dei anticipated and formed part of the foundation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, though it is not immediately apparent from the notes of the Constitution. The seven chapters concern every aspect of liturgy, including the Eucharist, Prayer, Furnishings of the Church, Liturgical Calendar as well as Music.
You could almost feel the progression from Mediator Dei to Sacrosanctum Concillium. The Constitution is however indebted to Mediator Dei not only for its ideas, but also at times for its very words. Among the ideas that Sacrosanctum Concilium derives from Mediator Dei are:
- The liturgy as exercise of Christ’s high priesthood (SC 14, MD 58)
- The presence of Christ in the liturgy in both her ordained minister and the gathered faithful
- The presence of and encounter with the whole Christ in the liturgy
- SC 22 depends very heavily on Mediator Dei 58-59, reiterating the authority of the Bishop of Rome and His fellow Bishops in matters concerning the rites of Liturgy.
- Both were geared towards restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, emphasizing on passive to active participation at liturgy.
- They also have this goal of trying to include all, while MD emphasizes on the faithful within, SC emphasizes on unify the faithful within and outside the Church
Mediator Dei and Sacrosanctum Concilium as similar as they may seem emphasized on different aspects; for example, in Sacrosanctum Concilium focus was laid more on eschatology than in the encyclical, one could sense the theme of the Parousia, the second coming of Christ, while in fairness to Mediator Dei, it has a deeper teaching on devotion. Sacrosanctum Concillium has a deeper reliance on the bible, while Mediator Dei appeared to be drawn from the events of the day.
Vicesimus Quintus and Spirutuset et Sponsa
This documents are somewhat like an evaluation of the church progress so far. They both have the questions: How have we faired? Under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, these documents were released at two different anniversaries of the Constitution of Scared Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concillium and are categorized as apostolic letters.
In Vicesiimus Quintus, which was promulgated on the 25th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concillium, it evaluates the renewal in accordance with tradition, according to guiding principles of the constitution while reminding us of what it says about the liturgy, as the reenactment of the paschal mystery of Christ, the self- manifestation of the church and also the presence of the word of God. It also makes mention of renewal of the liturgical life of the Church, not forgetting too, the practical application of the reform, in which he highlighted the difficulties, positive results as well as erroneous applications of the reform. Finally it makes mention of the future of the renewal where he discussed biblical and liturgical formation of the people of God, adaptation of different liturgical cultures, attention to new problems and liturgical and popular devotions as well as the organisms responsible for liturgical renewal.
Spirutuset et Sponsa is the second apostolic letter attributed to Pope John Paul II, issued on the 40th anniversary of the Constitution. Another occasion to re-evaluate the progress the church had made 40 years after. It is a call for a deep participation in the liturgy that is true to sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture as interpreted by the second Vatican Council fathers whose teachings have been upheld by the magisterium who succeeded them.