Rorate Caeli

Ranjith speaks to Fides: the message of the motu proprio

From an interview granted by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to Fides, the official news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (in Italian; the English translation will appear in the next few days in the English section of Fides):

UPDATE (November 16) - English translation by Fides:

Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI on 7 July 2007 came into force on 14 September. The document treats the Rite of Saint Pius V revised in 1962 by Pope John XXIII. The Motu Proprio (Latin, "of his own accord") allows the celebration of Mass using the Tridentine Missal without the formerly requested permission of the local bishop. The Second Vatican Council and in particular the Liturgical Renewal of 1970 promoted by Pope Paul VI, issued a new Missal to replace the old Missal. Although the latter was never officially abolished, to use the old Missal, the faithful had to obtain permission from the local bishop. This permission was sanctioned by a Motu Proprio: Ecclesia Dei adflicta signed by Pope John Paul II on 2 July 1988. Now, with this new Motu Proprio, permission is no longer necessary and any «stable group» of faithful may ask the parish priest to celebrate Mass using the old Missal.

On the subject of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was kind enough to answer some questions put by Fides.

Archbishop Ranjith, in your opinion what is the significance of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum?

In this decision I see not only the Holy Father's desire to open the path for followers of Monsignor Lefebvre to return to the full communion of the Church, but also a sign for the whole Church with regard to the safeguarding of certain theological-disciplinary principles with a view towards the profound renewal, so desired by the Council.

It appears to me that the Pope is anxious to correct the tendency visible in certain circles, to see the Council as a break with the past and a new beginning. It suffices to call to mind the Holy Father's address to the Roman Curia on 22 December 2005. Besides, the Council never thought of itself in those terms. With its doctrinal and liturgical, juridical-pastoral decisions, the Council was one of many moments of profound reflection and renewal undertaken by the Church in her bi-millennial history with regard to her rich theological-spiritual heritage. With the Motu Proprio the Pope clearly affirms that any temptation to scorn venerated tradition is out of place. The message is clear: progress, yes, but not at the expense of history, or without it. The Liturgical Reform must also be faithful to all that went before from the beginning down to our day, nothing excluded.

On the other hand, we must not forget that for the Catholic Church divine revelation comes not only from the Sacred Scriptures, it comes also from the living Tradition of the Church. This belief distinguishes us from other Christian confessions. For us the truth emerges from both these poles Sacred Scripture and Tradition. I find this position much richer than others because it respects God's freedom to lead us to a deeper understanding of the truth revealed also by events in the future. Naturally it is up to the Teaching of the Church to discern what emerges. However we must realise the importance of Tradition. The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum makes this very clear (DV 10).

What is more, the Church is a reality which surpasses the level of pure human invention. She is the mystical Body of Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem, God's chosen people. Therefore she is above earthly borders and limitations of time, being a reality which greatly transcends its earthly and hierarchical appearance. So what she receives must be faithfully handed on. We are neither the inventors nor the masters of truth, we are merely those who have received it and have the duty to safeguard it and hand it on to others. As Saint Paul said, speaking of the Eucharist: “ For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,” (1Cor 11, 23). It follows that respect for Tradition is not our freely taken choice in the quest for the truth, Tradition is its basis and must be accepted. Therefore fidelity to Tradition is an essential attitude for the Church. In my opinion the Motu Proprio must be understood in this sense. It can spur the necessary correction of route. In fact in certain decisions of the liturgical reform implemented since the Council, directions have been adopted which obscure certain aspects of the liturgy, better reflected in the earlier practice, because, for some people, liturgical renewal meant starting ex novo. However, we all know this was not the intention of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which underlines that “care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23).

A characteristic of the pontificate of Benedict XVI would appear to be insistence on a correct hermeneutics of Vatican II. Do you think the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum goes in this direction? If so, in what sense?

In his writings while still a Cardinal, the Pope rejected a certain spirit of exuberance seen in some theological circles, motivated by the what they called “spirit of the Council” which, for him, was instead an “ anti-Council spirit ” or “Konzils-Ungeist” (Rapporto sulla Fede [The Ratzinger Report], San Paolo, 2005, chapter 2) and I quote: “we must firmly oppose this schematism of 'before' and 'after' the Council in the history of the Church, totally unjustified by the documents of Vatican II which repeatedly reaffirm the continuity of Catholicism” (ibid p. 33).

Now, this mistaken interpretation of the Council and of the Church's historical-theological journey, has affected every ecclesial sector including the liturgy. A certain attitude of rejection of ecclesiological, theological and also liturgical developments in the past millennium on the one hand and an ingenuous idolisation of what was said to have been the thought of the early Christians, on the other, has had no little influence on the liturgical-theological reform of the post Council era.

Categorical rejection of the pre-Council the Mass, as a relict of a epoch now “outdated”, was the result of this mentality. Many saw things in this way, but thank God, not everyone.

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Liturgy, offers no justification for such an attitude. Both in the general principles and in the norms proposed, the Document is moderate and faithful to the significance of the liturgical life of the Church. It suffices to read paragraph 23 of the document to be convinced of this spirit of moderation.

Some of the reforms have abandoned important elements of the Liturgy with the relative theological considerations: now it is necessary and important to retrieve these elements. The Pope, who considers the rite of Saint Pius V, revised by Blessed John XXIII , a way to retrieve elements obscured by the reform, must have certainly reflected at length before making his decision; we know he consulted different sectors of the Church on the matter and, despite contrary positions, decide to allow the old Rite to be freely celebrated. Rather than a return to the past, as some say, this move indicates the need to restore an integral balance between the eternal, transcendent and heavenly aspects of the liturgy and the earthly and community aspects. It will also help eventually to establish a balance between a sense of the sacred and the mystery on the one hand and on the other the external gestures and social-cultural attitudes and commitments deriving from the liturgy.

While still a Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger insisted that the Second Vatican Council should be understood beginning from its first document, precisely, the Sacrosanctum Concilium. Archbishop Ranjith, in your opinion, why did the Council Fathers choose to concentrate first of all on the Liturgy?

First, this decision was surely prompted by a profound awareness that the Liturgy for the Church is of vital importance. The Liturgy we might say is the hub of the matter, because we celebrate what we believe and live: this is the famous axiom, Lex orandi, lex credendi. Hence all authentic reform must involve the Liturgy. The Fathers realised this. Moreover the process of liturgical reform started long before the Council and was spurred on by the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini by Saint Pius X and Mediator Dei by Pius XII.

It was Saint Pius X who attributed to the Liturgy the expression “primary source” of authentic Christian spirit. Perhaps the existence of structures and experience of persons engaged in the study and introduction of a few liturgical changes, prompted the Council Father to choose the Liturgy as the first matter to be discussed at the Council meetings. Pope Paul VI expressed the thought of the Council Fathers on the matter when he said: “we remind you to respect the scale of values and duties: first place to God; first obligation prayer; first source of divine life communicated to us, first school of spiritual life, and the first gift we can offer the Christian people, the Liturgy …” (Paul VI, discourse to close the 2nd session of the Council, 4 December 1963).

Many saw the publication of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum as a move by the Pope to bring schismatic followers of Lefebvre closer to the Church. Do you agree?

Yes, but this was not the only reason. The Holy Father explains his decision in the Motu Proprio and in the Letter with which he presents the document to the Bishops and gives other important reasons. Of course he will have taken into account the growing request from various sides especially the Society of Saint Pius X [FSSPX / SSPX] and the Fraternita Sacerdotale of San Pietro [Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter - FSSP] and certain Associations of lay Catholics, to make the Mass of Saint Pius V more available. It was important to ensure total integration of the Lefebvrians also because, errors of judgement committed in the past which caused unnecessary divisions in the Church, threaten to become almost impossible to heal. The Pope says this in the above mentioned Letter.

What in your opinion are the most urgent issues for a worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy? Which instances must be emphasized most?

I believe that in the growing request for the more frequent celebration of the Mass of Saint Pius V, the Pope saw signs of a loss of spiritual depth caused by the way in which the Liturgical moments have so far been celebrated in the Church. These difficulties arise from certain orientations of the post Council liturgical reform which tended to reduce, or better, to obscure essential aspects of the faith, and also from adventurous attitudes, not in keeping with the liturgical discipline of the Reform; this is seen everywhere.

I believe that one of the reasons why certain important elements of the Tridentine Rite were abandoned by certain liturgical sectors in the implementation of the post-conciliar reform is that what is said to have happened in the second millennium of the history of the Liturgy was underestimated and abandoned. Some liturgists saw the developments of that period, negatively. This opinion is mistaken because when we speak of the living Tradition of the Church, we cannot pick and choose to suit our preconceived ideas. Tradition, considered in a general sense also in the areas of science, philosophy or theology, is something living which continues to develop and progress, at high and low moments of history. For the Church, living Tradition is a source of divine revelation and the fruit of a continual process of unfolding. This is true also for liturgical tradition, - small t. Liturgical developments in the second millennium have their value. Sacrosanctum Concilium does not speak of a new Rite, or a break with the past. Instead it says "new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing". This is why the Pope writes: “ In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” (Letter to Bishop, 7 July 2007). To idolize what happened in the first millennium to the expense of what happened in the second is hardly a scientific attitude. This was not the attitude of the Council Fathers.

A second problem would be a crisis of obedience to the Holy Father noted in some circles. This attitude of autonomy, visible among certain ecclesiastics, also in the highest ranks of the Church, is of no benefit to the noble mission which Christ entrusted to his Vicar.

There are voices that in some countries or dioceses bishops have issued regulations which attempt to practically annul or completely change the Pope's intentions. Such behaviour is contrary to the dignity and nobility of the vocation of a bishop of the Church. I am not saying this for everyone. Most bishops and ecclesiastics have accepted the Pope's decision with due reverence and obedience. This is praiseworthy. But sad to say there have been some protests.

At the same time we cannot deny that the decision was necessary because as the Pope writes: “…in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.” (Letter to the Bishops). The result of this abuse has been a growing spirit of nostalgia for the Mass of S. Pius V. Moreover a general lack of interest in reading and respecting the norms issued by the Holy See, and even of the Introduction to the liturgical books, made the situation worse. Liturgy is still not on the list of priorities for courses of ongoing formation for ecclesiastics. It is necessary to make a clear distinction. The post council reform is not all negative; indeed there are many positive aspects in what has been achieved. But there are also changes and abuses which continue despite their bad effect on the faith and the liturgical life of the Church.

I mention for example, a change not proposed by the Council Fathers or by Sacrosanctum Concilium, Holy Communion received in the hand. This has contributed to some extent to a weakening of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This, and the removal of altar rails and kneelers in church and the introduction of practices which oblige the faithful to sit or stand at the elevation of the Sacred Host, weakens the genuine significance of the Eucharist and the Church's profound sense of adoration for the Lord, the Only Son of God. Moreover in many places, the church the 'house of God', is used for meetings, concerts or interreligious celebrations. In some churches the Blessed Sacrament is almost hidden away in a little chapel, hardly seen and little decorated. All this obscures a belief so central in the Church, belief in the real presence of Christ. The church, for Catholics, is the 'home' of the Eternal One.

Another serious mistake is to confuse specific roles of the clergy and the laity at the altar making the sanctuary a place of disorder, too much movement and certainly not the 'place' where the Christian is filled with a sense of wonder and awe in front of the Lord's presence and His act of redemption. The use of dancing, musical instruments and singing which have little to do with liturgy, is not in keeping with the sacredness of a church and liturgical celebrations; I would also add, certain homilies of a political-social character, often badly prepared. All this distorts the celebration of Mass, making it a choreographic, theatrical event, instead of an event of faith.

There exist other aspects not in keeping with the beauty and wonder of what is celebrated on the altar. The implementation of the Novus Ordo is not all wrong, but much remains to be put in order, to avoid further harm to the life of the Church. I believe our attitude to the Pope and his expressions of concern for the good of the Church must be that of St Paul who writes to the Corinthians “Let all these things be done in a way that will build up the community” (1Cor 14, 26). (P.L.R.)


  1. Anonymous7:39 PM

    I really like and respect Archbishop Ranjith. I hope he's the next head of the Congregation for Liturgy. He's a perfect complement to the wishes of the Holy Father.


  2. I am stunned. This, coming from Rome? I thought we would never this day. The Holy Mother Church is about to rise from the ashes!

  3. Anonymous10:22 PM

    All i can say is the Holy Spirit knows what he's doing!

  4. The following is an excerpt from John Allan's column who 'gets it', as he comments about Cardinal George's astute insertion in a Press Conference at the USCCB Conference. What is more 'in but not of this world' than the Extraordinary Rite? This directly speaks to why the Pope knows Catholicism needs to recover her identiy, and what is at stake.

    Just as the session was drawing to a close, George, unprompted, signaled that he wanted to add something. Here is what he said, in full:

    "May I do something that the media people tell me never to do, which is to speculate? On the question of the reporting of the sexual abuse crisis, it seems to me that it's only common sense to recognize that the media not only report, but they also select, and in that sense they create a reality. So that's a question: Is what has been created here adequate to the reality itself? There are many different aspects to that, because there are many different media instruments, and they're very different from place to place.

    "The more interesting question, though, is whether or not the church herself, and particularly the priests and bishops, should be held to a moral standard that is higher than that of the general populace. That was raised by one bishop very astutely, saying that we should not be relieved to find out that our own standards just conform to what is the normal behavior, what has become so in the last several decades.

    "Speculatively, and I'm not sure whether you're interested in the question or not, but [the results of the study] point to a sociological thesis or question: Is religion an independent variable? Or is it simply reduced to a cultural reality that can be explained in terms of something other than religion itself? If that's the case, then the secularists shouldn't be disturbed about religion, because it has nothing original to say anyway, and it's not going to impose itself on anybody's behavior. That's a very important question. It's not going to be decided here, and I don't know the answer to it. I have different answers depending upon which sociologist I talk to. I think that however this thing finally turns out, it will inform the larger issues that are now before us in this country about secularism, the influence of religion in society, and all those good questions that we're not going to discuss directly here."

    Under the impact of deadlines and, perhaps, the sheer vastness of the subject, nobody pursued George's point, but it would be a serious miscalculation to take it as idle musing.

    On my list of ten "mega-trends" shaping global Catholicism, a current that I call "evangelical Catholicism" figures prominently, referring to a strong public reassertion of traditional Catholic identity, premised on the need to defend the church against assimilation to secular society and what Benedict XVI refers to as a "dictatorship of relativism." Evangelical Catholicism is the most important mega-trend shaping the official policy of Catholicism, with consequences in every area of the life of the church, from liturgical practice to doctrinal teaching, to the vision and operations of church-run schools, hospitals and social service centers. The core objective across the board is to recover a "thick" sense of Catholic distinctiveness.

    In that light, and assuming the preliminary findings are confirmed, the impact of the new John Jay study seems destined to extend far beyond analysis of the crisis itself. At least in some circles, the results will be taken as a reductio ad absurdum on a diminished sense of Catholic identity, adding to the perceived urgency of forming a generation of Catholics, beginning with priests and bishops, who are more clearly in but not of the world.

  5. Reading between the lines I think that Ranjith is a traditionalist. He thinks most of the changes of the last 40 years were mistakes (as do I). Look at the quote form him below - the implications are clear:

    "The post-Conciliar reform is not entirely negative"

  6. Anonymous3:29 AM

    His Grace wrote:
    On the other hand, we must never forget that for the Catholic Church, Divine Revelation is not something which comes solely from Sacred Scripture, but also from the living Tradition of the Church. This faith is clearly distinct from other manifestations of the Christian faith. Truth for us is what emerges, as it were, from both these poles, that is Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

    This position is to me quite richer than others because it respects the liberty of the Lord to guide us to a more adequate understanding of revealed truth, even through what may take place in the future."

    In general, I have great sympathy with this man, and I do think he's about the best Newchurch has to offer. On the other hand, all this talk about "living" tradition and "more adequate the future" makes me uneasy. It can be understood properly, but, given the reality in the Church at present, it strikes me as a recipe for canonizing novelties, whether he intends it/understands it as such or not.

  7. Anonymous3:50 AM

    "Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." Jaroslav Pelikan

    Ranjith "gets" it all right. We can't respond to modernists by fossilizing ourselves. Of course Tradition is "living." We must reclaim that understanding rather than abandon it.

  8. This Archbishop does not appear to be saying anything with great certainty. He sounds like a politician who doesn’t want to offend anyone. So what is it? Is progress good? Is progress consistent with tradition? Is the modern church consistent with scripture or tradition? These are the questions.

    As St. Athanathius stated: “they have THE BUILDINGS but we have the faith”

  9. Anonymous9:06 AM

    The one thing that always troubles me is this: If there were people in the VII Council who were clearly, adamantly,
    and absolutely against the Catholic Church, then how can Rome claim that everything from the Council -- especially the NO rite -- is actually "valid?"

    When pressed, I've read statements from important folks which say that efforts towards ecumenism may have caused some to go too far in some circumstances; but there is "no question" that everything from VII is "valid."

    How can the NO rite be valid if some of it clearly came out of minds that are from outside the Church, and was done in clear antipathy towards the Church?

    This question deserves an answer from Rome. I'm not a sedevacantist, and I'm not a trouble-maker. I just want an answer -- to a question that I believe *must* be answered. This can't continue to be swept under the rug.

    So, I've read Davies' books, and I understand the 'form' and 'Zeitgeist' arguments, and how they differ between the times of Cranmer and our own times. So to whittle nits down to their core, here's what I'm questioning about the NO rite: If it was merely given a circumstantial blessing by the Holy Father, and not perused and weighed and carefully considered down to its finest details and arguments (like, say, the question of the Anglican Orders was given by Holy Father Pope Leo XIII), then the NO rite can NOT be said to be, in complete essence, from the Pope and the Catholic Church, but from Bugnini, and those from Protestant faith communities.



  10. Anonymous9:37 AM

    The Archbishop wants an aggiornomento without novelty, but the whole concept of an aggiornamento is condemned by St. Paul who taught infallibly that we ought not "conform ourselves to this age".


    Anyone can write a formula for to confect a sacrament; it that formula contains all that is necessary to be essentially equivalent or the same as what Christ intended to be signified, then it is capable of being used to validly confect the sacrament, omnibus paribus.

    Even if a formula was written by a heretic or an atheist or a satanist.

    However, the Mass is more than the confection of the Sacrament. It is essentially the worship of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit by the reoffering of the Sacrifice of the Cross. The confection is instrumental because one needs Jesus Christ really, truly and substantiall present to offer such worship.

    The words of the ritual however, to offer an acceptable act of worship, must be sacred. Any intrusion of the false, vicious, offends the Father and makes the Mass unacceptable. Thus even a perfectly orthodox ritual, written by a heretic, would not be acceptable to the Father, because the mere historical fact that it was written by someone who rejected His Son, would be as a stain and foul odor before His Face every time it was offered.

    That is why the Novus Ordo can have a valid consecration, while not offering acceptable (or valid in the fullest sense of the word "valid") worship to the Father.

    True Disciple of St. Peter

  11. Anonymous12:44 AM

    'True Disciple of Peter':

    Thank you VERY much. I think I understand now how the NO is 'valid'. The NO hardly becomes the Catholic Church; and it is a clear attempt to destroy the priesthood and the Mass; but it is still, in a definitional sense, 'valid'. Thank you for giving me such a clear, solid, succinct, and logically-
    acceptable answer.


    This has bothered me for some time, too. Years have gone by while I've asked that question in various forums, and have not received an acceptable answer. In reply to this question I never quite received an answer that was as logical as yours.

    And all those years I've attended both TLM and NO Masses for some time, and sat on the fence whilst doing so, not knowing how to answer this question. But this time I think that I'm off the fence for good -- I can't imagine myself ever going to an NO Mass again. My attendance would be to hurt the Church itself.

    Thank you once again, and may God Bless you and your family with many graces!


  12. "..........Therefore, no one whosoever is permitted to alter this notice of Our permission, statute, ordinance, command, precept, grant, indult, declaration, will, decree, and prohibition. Should know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul." ["Quo Primum"]

    Given at St. Peter's in the year of the Lord's Incarnation, 1570, on the 14th of July of the Fifth year of Our Pontificate.

    "...The chief stimulus of the evolution of worship consists in the need of accommodation to the manners and customs of peoples, as well as the need of availing itself of the value which certain acts have acquired by usage. Finally, evolution in the Church itself is fed by the need of adapting itself to historical conditions and of harmonizing itself with existing forms of society.............Although evolution is urged on by needs or necessities, yet, if controlled by these alone, it would easily overstep the boundaries of tradition, and thus, separated from its primitive vital principle, would make for ruin instead of progress....................From all that has preceded, it is abundantly clear how great and how eager is the passion of such men [modernists] for innovation."

    Given at St. Peter's, Rome, September 8, 1907, in the fifth year of Our Pontificate. PIUS X, POPE

    The admonitions of the saintly Holy Fathers reveal to the modern church all she needs to understand about tampering with the sacred liturgy. The neo-modernists would like us all to believe that The Church began in the 1960s and not with The Christ at Matthew 16:18. These must certainly be a fundamental part of this rather elastic-sounding notion of "living" tradition.

    Neither doctrine nor liturgical orientation should be reduced to the level of variables or the subject of speculative sociological theses. These are necessarily constants. Secular sociology is significantly incapable of embracing such a concept.


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