QUAERITUR: good commentary on Sacrosanctum Concilium

From a reader:

I am currently taking an Intro to Liturgy course for my MA in Theology program.  I am not entirely sure that what is being taught is orthodox.  The professor certainly seems to have a liberal bend.  We recently read Sacrosanctum Concilium, as well as some commentaries on the document written by some questionable authors.  I was wondering if you could recommend any books or articles that explain SC from an orthodox perspective.  I just feel like he conveniently left some things out.  Any other book recommendations you can provide that may help me combat any heterodoxy taught for the rest of the class would be greatly appreciated.


I am oppressed with other things at the moment.

Can readers help?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Blissmeister86 says:

    Glad to help, Fr. Z!
    I would highly recommend the book “Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition”, a collection of commentaries on the documents of the Second Vatican Council, edited by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering, which looks at the council using Pope Benedict XVI’s “hermeneutic of continuity”.
    You can find “Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition” here:

  2. I recommend Louie Verrecchio’s series “Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II”. I read the volume on Sacrosanctum Concilium and found it quite good.

  3. JamesA says:

    I am familiar with the sentiment “I just feel like he conveniently left some things out.” That has been my experience as well. Lots of emphasis on “active participation” and none on the use of Latin or chant, etc.

    Fr. Z : for the benefit of your many seminarian readers, could you sometime come up with a definitive list of books that you think we ought to read ? It would be ineffably useful for our education, much of which we have to search out for ourselves.

  4. mpm says:

    One source that could prove very helpful is the official Acta of the Council. These were published by the Vatican in Latin (the original language) starting sometime in 1970s. They are library reference books, rather than volumes intended for a personal library (unless you are rich, and have lots of shelf-space). I don’t know if there have been any English translations of them (I would assume not), but any vernacular commentaries on the documents of the Council should make heavy use of them, at least as support for the views expressed by the authors. I haven’t read the English language commentaries mentioned by others; perhaps those who have might comment further about this?

  5. Brian Day says:

    While not explicitly a commentary on SC, Monsignor Klaus Gamber’s
    Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background
    comments extensively how SC could have been implemented within the hermeneutic of continuity.

  6. PhilipNeri says:

    JamesA, if you would specify a field of study, I might be able to steer you in the right direction. Fr. Z. has the market cornered on liturgical topics, but I might be able to throw in a few names with regard to systematics, moral, and philosophical theology. At the very least, I can tell you who to avoid.

    In my seminary days–all of five years ago–several of us had “shadow bibliographies” for those classes where feminist eco-theology and Mujeristia Birthing Stool rituals seemed to be more important than anything the Church taught. I feel your pain.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  7. dmwallace says:

    Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II: Constitution on the sacred liturgy
    by J. A. Jungmann from Volume 1 of Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Herbert Vorgrimler. (Herder and Herder, 1967).

  8. Doc Angelicus says:

    Dom Alcuin Reid’s book The Organic Development of the Liturgy is pretty good although it covers liturgical development only up to the pre-Conciliar period, but it’s important background information on principles and scources of liturgical changes.

    Use also magisterial texts. Mediator Dei of Pius XII is a good prelude to V-II and SC. Then there are the liturgical documents issued by the Vatican since the counci. There appears to be an interesting book in Italian if you can get a hold of it, Spiritus et Sponsa, which apparently documents commentary to SC and was published as part of the 40th anniversary of SC and includes the encyclical letter of JP-II by the same name.

  9. Blissmeister86 says:

    Pope Benedict XVI’s book “The Spirit of the Liturgy”, written when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, reportedly is very good and staunchly orthodox. Has anyone read it?

  10. dmwallace beat me to it. always start conciliar research with vorgrimler. (no, not that it’s perfect, but it is important)

  11. TrueLiturgy says:

    Currently reading “The Spirit of the Liturgy” by Ratzinger. It is very good.

  12. Maltese says:

    Christopher Ferrera, esq., who represented the family of Terri Schiavo (and did a fine job, btw, notwithstanding the final outcome) has written directly on-point:


  13. Maltese says:

    Btw, Bugnini was the principal draftsman of the document Sacrosanctum Concilium, he also oversaw Paul VI’s concilium which threw the Traditional Latin Mass in the garbage can, essentially, and started from scratch on a brand new rite, a “liturgy by commission,” in the words of C. Ratzinger.

    Paul VI said he wanted the new mass to be as close to protestant worship as possible (Cf. Alfons Cardinal Sticker, Latin Mass Magazine, 1995.)

    Michael Davies has written on this and the possibility that Bugnini was a Mason (which, though unproven and hearsay, IS the reason Paul VI had him shipped off to Iran.)


  14. dkluge says:

    Contrary to a couple recommendations, I urge you NOT to read anything by Herbert Vorgrimler. I have read a particularly bad sacramental theology text by him, and he is so far off base (openly questioning the definitive number of the sacraments, their institution by Christ, etc.) in such simple matters, I would never trust him to present the more complex issue of SC with even the elusive quality of truthiness. We called him “Volgrimort.”

  15. Mike says:

    I’ve read Ratzinger’s “The Spirit of the Liturgy” and it’s excellent. It has a fine chapters on “active participation”; sacred space; music; orientation in prayer; beauty in worship.

  16. Random Friar says:

    “What Went Wrong with Vatican II” by Ralph McInerny is pretty solid, although it does not cite SC directly. But it’s good for rounding out where your professor is coming from, and where the Council was coming from (which are two different things).

  17. pattif says:

    I’d second the recommendation of the Lamb & Levering book. There is also a multi-volume commentary on the documents of the Council, published in the ’60s (general editor Herbert Vorgrimler). Vol.1 has the commmentary on SC, written, I think, by Bouyer. Vorgrimler was a disciple of K. Rahner, so read critically, but the commentary on Gaudium et Spes was written by one J. Ratzinger.

    As a rule of thumb, avoid anything written by Adam, Baldovin, Bradshaw, Pecklers, or anything published in Collegeville (unless taken with copious quantities of salt), except the inestimable Documents of the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal and Curial Texts, which traces the implementation/massacre of SC. It’s not cheap, but worth having on your bookshelf if you’re an anorak like me.

  18. Maltese says:

    As a rule of thumb, avoid anything written by Adam, Baldovin, Bradshaw, Pecklers, or anything published in Collegeville (unless taken with copious quantities of salt), except the inestimable Documents of the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal and Curial Texts, which traces the implementation/massacre of SC.

    Isn’t it true, in a sense that Bugnini, with his concilium, actually saved the liturgy from the “gradual changed” envisioned by SC?

    Here’s why I say this. SC, as I read it, called for a change of the existing rite, not a brand new rite.

    In creating a brand new rite, Bugnini inadvertently preserved the old, Tradition Latin Mass, as in amber, coasting on the devilish seas of change, to be discovered, cracked-open, and brought-forth back into the light unmolested!

    Only a small band, really, preserved it and tradition, FSSPX; am I wrong?

  19. pattif says:

    Sorry – I got interrupted in the middle of the foregoing (offspring demanding food) and didn’t see the other references to Vorgrimler, which I’d say aren’t wide of the mark. I also intended to recommend McInerny’s ‘What Went Wrong…’, and Ratzinger’s ‘Spirit of the Liturgy’ is wonderful. It’s disappointing on one level, because he resists – on pastoral grounds – calling for the application of a sledge-hammer to every re-ordered sanctuary; he thinks the poor, disoriented laity couldn’t cope with yet another upheaval. Reading it made me realise that I wasn’t some lone nutter, muttering to myself in my attic, yet I also found it deeply humbling: his love of God shines off every page.

  20. MikeM says:


    I think Ratzinger’s sensitivity to disorienting the laity shows why he went into V-II as a supposed progressive, and why his vision actually does what the liberals claim to do. It seems to me that he is very interested in opening up our worship to direction from the laity, believing that the Holy Spirit speaks through the body of the laity as well as from the Church hierarchy. I think you can see this in his comments after he returned from Africa on the liturgical development going on there, where he was very positive about the “inculturation” there.

    In his view (which I think is pretty close to the mark… which I know is pretty big of me to say about our Pope ;)), the problem in the aftermath of the council was not that there was change, but that while the council claimed to be opening up the Church, we ended up under the oligarchical religious rule of a cabal of the most liberal bishops, liturgists and theologians. The Pope trusts the faithful to steer the Church back to proper worship if they’re presented with the right options… and it looks to me like it’s working.

  21. pattif says:

    MikeM –

    I hadn’t thought of it in quite those terms, but I think you have a point. I don’t think the Holy Father is opposed to change as such (his famous speech to the Roman Curia in 2005 referred to a ‘hermeneutic of reform and renewal’ as opposed to a ‘hermeneutic of rupture’); he was much influenced by the Liturgical Movement, especially Romano Guardini, who had written an earlier work also entitled ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’. Reading the latter’s little book makes one wonder how modern liturgists got from there to what we got.

    I think it is also possible to trace the influences of Bonaventure and von Balthasar’s thinking on beauty in Ratzinger’s work; if the liturgy is something given by God to man (rather than made up by us to show God how clever we are), it can only be beautiful. If, then, the faithful are presented with a choice between the beautiful and the banal, they will recognise the beautiful as more authentic. I think that is what Father Z means by ‘gravitational pull’.

  22. matt1618 says:

    Fr. Philip, I’m a seminarian, would love some sacramental theology recommendations. Also, I second the caution on Vorgrimler. In his Sacramental Theology, among other questionable conclusions he says of the ordination of women to the Priesthood, “There are no compelling theological reasons for the Latin Church’s refusal” and of their ordination to the Diaconate, “In light of the existing common tradition in East and West there is no serious reason to continue excluding women from the flexibly conceived permanent diaconate.” (p. 272-273)

  23. Layman says:

    Read the whole document for yourself, if you have yet to do it. What do the words of the document, actually, say? Make use of what is compelled and allowed by logic rules. Also, if yuo have a chance, read what came out of the 4th Lateran Council for some continuity.

  24. dans0622 says:

    Unless I am mistaken, Vorgrimler did not write the commentary on SC–it was J.A. Jungmann’s work.


  25. AAJD says:

    I teach an MA-level course on liturgy, and one of the books I use is Michael Kunzler’s *The Church’s Liturgy* (London: Continuum, 2002), part of the “Amateca” series of “Handbooks of Catholic Theology,” a series to which Ratzinger and Schonborn, inter alia, have both contributed. This is a very solid book–theologically orthodox, academically rigorous, and rightly open (following Baumstark) to a comparative approach between the Roman Rite (in both its current recensions) and the other rites of the Catholic Church. My only problem with this book is that the translator of the German original should be sacked for numerous tortured sentences that are borderline incoherent; and the proofreader, if there was one, should be sacked and then flogged for dozens, if not 100+ typos.

  26. PhilipNeri says:

    Matt1618, I found Colman O’Neill’s “Sacramental Realism: a general theory of the sacraments” to be extremely useful. It is out of print but available used from Amazon. It would be an excellent addition to the seminarian underground library. Also, don’t forget the Church Fathers! Highly recommended: St Ambrose’s “On the Mysteries,” available at newadvent.org. If I think of any others, I’ll post them.

    Fr. Philip, OP

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