In the wake of the Second Vatican Council there were remarks about the Decree on Religious Freedom being a time bomb, because its views on freedom of conscience would have revolutionary impact if applied to the life of the church itself. There was more general recognition of the fundamental shift in ecclesiology that was implied in Lumen gentium and Gaudium et spes. As for Sacrosanctum concilium (SC), the document on liturgical revision, it obviously pointed to important shifts in Catholic liturgical activity, but it was not seen as a theologically innovative document. It may well be, though, that SC will prove to have the most radical and revolutionary effect on the thought, the life, and the structure of the church.
That SC effected an important shift in the church's thinking and liturgical practice has been undeniable. However, like so much that was achieved in the Council, the profoundly revolutionary implications of the document are only beginning to be realized. To the extent that it is understood and implemented, the Constitution on the Liturgy points to a reversal of eighteen centuries of thinking about the church and its sacramental rituals. Clearly, this is an audacious statement, but basically what is asserted is that the understanding of sacramental liturgy is moving away from the notion of instrumental causation and towards appreciation of the effectiveness of ritual as such. There was not, of course, a formalized theology of sacramental liturgy eighteen hundred years ago that explicitly employed the idea of instrumentality. However, already in the second century there was a noticeable move away from the communitarian outlook that characterized the liturgies of early house churches. In its place the up-and-down view of liturgy's effectiveness in which the ordained person stands between God and the assembly, channeling prayer upwards and blessing downward, is expressed in the prayer for the ordination of a bishop in the third-century Apostolic Tradition.