WASHINGTON (CNS) — Most Americans will remember Nov. 22, 1963, as the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but liturgists will note that date also as the day the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

The effects of the constitution, promulgated Dec. 4, 1963, are still being felt today, and its golden anniversary was being celebrated by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians during its July 27-Aug. 2 convention in Washington.


Keynote speaker Rita Ferrone, in her July 29 address, reminded the 2,500-plus convention attendees that the bishops at Vatican II put “full, conscious and active participation” in the liturgy “before all else.”

There is a tension to be recognized in carrying out Vatican II’s mandate, said Ferrone, an author who has exercised liturgical ministry at the parish and diocesan level and who now lives in New York. That tension is between “the human and the divine,” she noted, “being present in this world, yet not being at home in it.”

Yet “the marvel of it all is that God is present in the things of the earth,” such as oil, water, bread, wine and music, Ferrone said. “Liturgy, after all, is a series of signs — and it is transformational.”

Active participation in the liturgy “means we’ve put ourselves there, right in the heart of it all,” she added. “If we were angels, we’d probably get something else out of the liturgy. But we are embodied. We’re human,” and it is that humanness that can make the liturgy have such a profound impact, she said.

The “liturgical movement” of the early 20th century “worked at this thing for 60 years before the council,” Ferrone noted, albeit within the existing framework of the First Vatican Council liturgy, with such tools as hand-held missals, translations from the Latin, and “dialogue Masses” with assembly responses.

The changes wrought by Vatican II and its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (“Sacrosanctum Concilium”) included the revision of all of the liturgical books, parts for the people to say in the liturgy, the use of the vernacular, and that “noble simplicity would be the hallmark” of liturgical life, Ferrone said.

Today, liturgical renewal has been “our care, our joy and our continual challenge,” she added, noting that more change would likely be in store over the next 50 years but could not say what form it may take.

One current challenge is that “we live in a society where religion is a matter of choice” and not connected to one’s personal identity, culture or ethnicity, while Sunday worship has to compete with “Sunday brunch and the Sunday New York Times,” Ferrone said.

She took note of many issues within the church today, including the role of women and church teaching on homosexuality; a push by the U.S. bishops on how they regard elected officials who differ with the church on key doctrinal points; and the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

“Whatever happened to ‘aggiornamento’?” Ferrone said, using the Italian word Blessed John XXIII used when convoking Vatican II to seek an “updating” of the church and opening it to the world. “We need updating even today.”

Ferrone urged conventioneers to keep looking ahead, “We’ve come a long way the past 50 years,” she said, but cautioned them to “remember Lot’s wife,” who was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The National Association of Pastoral Musicians claims more than 6,700 members. Delegates came from as far away as Japan to attend the Washington convention, the organization’s 36th. The most delegates came from Maryland and Virginia, which border the District of Columbia, each sending more than 200 delegates.

The association has 71 chapters throughout the United States. Its members are in more than 1,900 parishes. There were 70 chapter programs, nine webinars and three summer institutes conducted over the past year.

Its certification programs for organists and cantors resulted in 81 certifications in 2012, and the association will soon introduce a certification program for pianists. Its members also can be certified as directors of music ministry under a collaborative arrangement with the Alliance for the Certification for Lay Ecclesial Ministry.