Rorate Caeli

Cardinal Ranjith on the sense of mystery in the liturgy
For the record: the Cardinal's interview with Zenit

(Video originally posted at 6:00 AM of 6/28)


Sacra Liturgia Conference Under Way in Rome

Rome, June 27, 2013 ( Edward Pentin

The faithful must be taught the true meaning of the sacred liturgy: that it is “an instrument of communion with the Lord, allowing the Lord to take hold of you, and the Lord absorbing you into his divine mission, and making you experience what a great and privileged moment of communion this is.”

These are the words of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, in an exclusive interview with ZENIT on the sidelines of Sacra Liturgia 2013, a major international conference in Rome this week. The cardinal, who was previously Secretary at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, also discussed the importance of formation, Pope Francis’ approach to the sacred liturgy, and the crucial role it plays in the New Evangelisation.

The June 25-28th conference, convened by Bishop Dominique Rey of the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, has been oversubscribed, drawing more than 300 participants from 35 countries to study, promote, and renew the appreciation of liturgical formation and celebration.

ZENIT: Your Eminence, what are your hopes for this conference?

Cardinal Ranjith: These conferences have been going on for the last several years organised by Bishop [Dominique] Rey. To get a proper idea of the liturgy, we need such conferences and a diffusion of these ideas of the true nature of liturgy, which becomes important for the Church for its life in the future. Because a lot of misunderstandings have come from experimentations that have been going on and they have damaged the liturgical life of the Church. The effort of this conference is also part of this process of formation which is very important and it is why it [the conference] is important.

ZENIT: How important is a sound understanding of the liturgy for today’s Church and how can it help the New Evangelization?

Cardinal Ranjith: People have misconceptions about evangelization as if it is something we ourselves, with human effort, can achieve. This is a basic misunderstanding. What the Lord wanted us to do was to join him and his mission. The mission is His mission. If we think we are the ones to be finding grandiose plans to achieve that, we are on the wrong track. The missionary life of the Church is the realization of our union with Him, and this union is achieved in the most tangible way through the liturgy. Therefore, the more the Church is united with the Lord in the celebration of the liturgy, the more fruitful the mission of the Church will become. That is why this is very important.

ZENIT: Are you saying that without a sound liturgy, it becomes merely a human enterprise?

Yes, a human enterprise, and it ends up being a boring exercise. It doesn’t change, it doesn’t transform. Transformation is very necessary for the faithful.

ZENIT: Some argue that the liturgy is mostly about aesthetics and not as important as, say, good works carried out with faith? What would you say to that argument?

Aesthetics are also important because human life is also conditioned by aesthetics - settings and symbols in aesthetics which help man lift his heart to God. Therefore, aesthetics have a relative role; they’re important but not the most important; that is the inner communion achieved in the liturgy, inner communion of the faithful with the Lord, and the community with the Lord. That is what is most important.

ZENIT: Pope Benedict XVI put a lot of emphasis on the liturgy in his Pontificate, and called you collaborate with him in this work. Can you offer us some insights into the liturgical initiatives of Benedict XVI?

I think even before he became Pope, he had been writing on this subject and was much more theologian than a liturgist. But eventually, any theologian becomes a liturgist because, you know, lex orandi is lex credendi. The foundational experience of the Church in its faith is the liturgy, because it’s prayer that leads us to God, prayer that opens up our horizons in understanding God in His actions. So the importance of the liturgy must have been understood by Pope Benedict so much that while he was prefect of the Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith], he started writing articles and books on the liturgy. And he has made a great contribution to the liturgy in the sense that the revival of liturgical thought in the Church is thanks to him.

ZENIT: But his rehabilitation of the pre-conciliar liturgy was controversial in some quarters. Why did he think this was important? Does the older liturgy have a role to play in the New Evangelisation?

Yes, because the older liturgy has some elements in it that can enrich the new liturgy, which can sort of act like a mirror into which you look. You look at yourself, and you understand what you are. The old liturgy helps us to understand what is good in the new liturgy and what is not perfect in the new liturgy. So by creating that kind of confrontation in the Church, he has helped us to make a proper evaluation, purify the new liturgy and make it stronger. He sort of guides us into a process of thinking and working towards a reform of the reform, because the reform of the liturgy had some flaws in the way it started off, in the way it worked. There had been a lot of arbitrary actions, misunderstandings, misconceptions, which need to be purified and which can happen in the light of the old liturgy. By understanding the beauty of the old liturgy, one can gain from the new liturgy also some elements of that beauty. The new liturgy has some of its own positive points, such as better use of the scriptures, more participation by the people, room for greater singing and other things, which can also be integrated into the old liturgy. Old elements like genuflection and some of the beautiful prayers, some of the repetitions, can enrich the new liturgy also. So it’s a two way process. That’s why the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, thought of allowing the old liturgy more freely, in order to affect this third way, the way of the reform. 

ZENIT: There are a number of former Anglicans who have joined the Ordinariates established by Benedict XVI, present here at Sacra Liturgia 2013. What role does the liturgy play in furthering Christian Unity?

Already the liturgical life of the Orthodox communities, the Orthodox churches, is very much more indicative of the devotional and mystical dimensions of, for example, the Eucharist. When they celebrate the Eucharist, they see that happening - in a more mystical fashion it happens. Therefore union with the Orthodox Churches becomes easier for us when we become more authentic in our liturgy. It’s the same thing in churches like the Anglican Communion. It’s helpful for us to draw closer to them and them to us, and be enriched by this process. That’s why it’s important.

ZENIT: What role does the liturgy have now in the pontificate of Pope Francis? Some people talk as if everything has changed because there is a new Pope. Is this the case?

No I don’t think Pope Francis is like that – I don’t believe that. He is a serious person and he thinks seriously about the liturgy. He has told me a number of times liturgical rules and regulations have to be followed because he understands the seriousness of the liturgical life of the Church and the practice of the faith by the people. It influences us certainly. He is a very pastoral-minded person and he understands the people’s spiritual needs. I don’t think he will permit any sort of adventurism in liturgical practice. He will continue [with regards to the liturgy] and I think he’s serious about that too.

ZENIT: You have been the Archbishop of a large Archdiocese in Asia for the past four years. What liturgical initiatives have you introduced? Why were these priorities?

When I arrived I found much liturgical disorder so I started from the very beginning, insisting on certain things. We have declared a Year of the Eucharist in order to put everything in order. Now all the priests are using the vestments because, before, they were not using all of them when they celebrated Mass. Now everybody’s following that, showing that the celebration of the Eucharist is something special, not like any other activity. And there is greater devotion in the celebration of the Eucharist. Communion is given on the tongue and kneeling. This has become common practice everywhere and more and more people are returning to the Church. Those who have resorted to fundamentalism, for example, are returning to the Church because they find that the liturgy is something formative, enriching. It’s not this “show” that they had been used to. So we’ve changed the liturgical life of the diocese a lot.

ZENIT: Sacra Liturgia 2013 is meeting in the Year of Faith, 50 years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Its Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, was its first fruit. Would you care to comment on some of the successes and some of the problems of its implementation in the post-conciliar Church?

Sacrosanctum Concilium is a natural development, for example, of Mediator Dei [the encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy] of Pius XII, and the process of reform which had been going on from the time of [Dom] Prosper Guéranger [author of The Liturgical Year in the 19th century]. It’s a process that started in the late 1800s and it’s going on in the Church. Sacrosanctum Concilium is another step in that direction.

But in order to make true reform, to make the liturgy a touching experience that converts people and strengthens them in faith. It’s not just an exotic celebration, one that makes you hysterical and forget yourself and go into some kind of emotional hysteria. [The reform] is to turn the liturgy into that to which it has to become – to be an instrument of communion with the Lord, allowing the Lord to take hold of you, and the Lord absorbing you into his divine mission, and making you experience what a great and privileged moment of communion this is. And it enriches the Church and every single individual. The liturgy of the Catholic Church is unique and special. I go around the parishes in my diocese and explain to them what the beauty of the liturgy is and say: “What are you people trying to do? Why go to the sects to look for something? You have the treasure here. You have the Eucharist. The Lord is there, present for you. He’s inviting you into communion with him, divine communion, eternal communion. Why are you leaving this and going away?” That is what is important for us to show. And the reforms of the Second Vatican Council have, in some instances, got out of control. It has caused harm to the inner life of our people. But the Second Vatican Council itself didn’t say that and didn’t want that. It wanted a true renewal, but renewal means deepening. But it didn’t happen because unfortunately we made everything look like cosmetic changes here and there. Some people said the Council changes were to take the candle from the left side of the Mass and put it on the right side of the altar. That’s [taken to be] the reform, but that’s not the reform. The reform should be more profound, more spiritual. From the celebration of the Eucharist, for example, comes a transforming experience of union with the Lord. That is what the reform should achieve.

ZENIT: Fifty years later, what do we need to do in order to be faithful to the liturgical vision the Council set out in Sacrosanctum Concilium? Do we need a reform of the reform?

We need to be very much involved in the formation process of our people. Most people don’t understand what the liturgy is all about. We’ve got to tell what it is. We’ve got to educate them, to prepare the materials necessary to educate them in that. Then we have to reform the reforms, we have got to also tell our priests how serious they should become when they go to the altar. It’s not a day-to-day eating and drinking exercise. It’s something very special. If you are a priest, you’re placed in the noble company of Jesus. You become another Christ at the altar. Are you aware of this? So you’ve got to educate and form them, and tell the people what is happening at the altar, and make the full part of the sacrament take hold of these people. That is what is necessary.

ZENIT: People talk about a widespread loss of the sacred in society – would you say that is the main problem?

Yes, because we have kind of converted it [the sacred liturgy] into a social gathering, like the assemblies they had in Russia, for example, where they sang songs of heroism, of ideas, and had parades. It’s like a liturgy but it doesn’t bring any transformation in the inner life of our people. 


  1. It is my hope that Cardinal Ranjith spoke forcefully at the Conference. Today, Mass is all about what people make it. It no longer speaks to us in a Mystical sense. The Novus Ordo either must be reformed to the core or be scrapped. When will the modernists realize that they're way does not work. Never! As they are hard headed, stubborn and foolish. For over 40 years they have tried to tame God the Holy Ghost.

  2. I believe that the time is ripe for a new Council. It should be called the Council of Trent ll. Or if not, then Pope Francis should grant us a Parallel Church. One in union with Rome with our Catholic Faith preserved. Many of us are tired of modernism as the rule of faith.

  3. Just get rid of the Novus Ordo. Abrogate very Missale Romanum since 1962 and start worshipping as Catholics again, not as proddies.

    As to another Council, Angelo, you must be joking. The liberal-progressive-Satanic is still the most powerful group by far.

  4. Anonymous11:12 AM

    To refine even that, annul Sacrosancttum Concilium. Restore the pre-1951 books, but allow celebration in hierarchic vernacular.

    The Reform of the Reform, sadly, for so many reasons, is a fool's errand.

  5. 3 things could greatly change the N.O. Mass for the better overnight.
    1. Ad Orientum celebration.
    2. Kneel at the rail, and communion on the tongue.
    3. Decent music and hymns, even in the common language.
    I know all 3 things are permitted. But if they were implemented
    wholesale in the Church, it would be a huge step in the right direction.

  6. Jon, I agree. Vatican II has to go in its entirety. The first session of the Council of Constance was declared heretical and annulled - why not Vatican II?

  7. God bless Cardinal Ranjith, and those who love Jesus Christ through their advocacy of proper liturgy.

    I hope and pray the liturgy of St. Gregory be restored in all its sacred glory, and Bugnini's liturgy be abolished and forgotten!

  8. One of the great Churchmen of our times.

    H.E. is right on the money.

    What I cannot believe is that the NO is offered, in most cases "ad populem"!

    This was never called for by the Church and really drastically turns the feeling of the Mass, for most laymen, into an enclosed circle, where priest and people face each other like a "liberated" 3rd grade classroom, where we all no longer face God and are led to him Eastward by the Sacrificer.

    It is not "pastorally healthy" to deceive the layman at Mass by the Sacrificer to face them and not the Divine Godhead, who the Mass is ALL about.
    It is uncharitable.


  9. If Pope Francis is serious about any reforms, Cardinal Burke and this man will be on the front lines.

  10. Lovely to see glimmers of light in these Dark Ages.

  11. In addition to overhaul of NO or return to EF, priority should be on restoration of Catholic artwork and beauty being restored to all churches. Any new church construction must be approved under strict oversight and be constructed according to traditional architectural styles befitting of a Catholic Church.

  12. Cardinal Ranjith is a gift to the Church. I prayed he would be elected Pope, but at least he remains is a position to speak sense about the state of our Liturgy. Unlike the majority of the Cardinals, he understands the best way to save the faith is to rescue and repair the way we celebrate our faith.

    His words that our current form has become boring were so right, but I disagree with him that NO must be reformed. Changes would help, but they would also show NO is fungible. The TLM, on the other hand, is timeless and essentially unchanged for 1600 years. That's why it has such a hold on so many people.

  13. Would that he were Pope!

  14. Everybody saying that the no has to be reformed, it can never be reformed, it's the way it was designed. It's not organically catholic.

  15. "Everybody saying that the no has to be reformed, it can never be reformed, it's the way it was designed. It's not organically catholic"

    Back to the future,

    Most of us know that to be the fact, but we have no authority to do anything about that.

    We have to pray the Holy Father, at some point, recognizes the damage to souls it has done and abolish it.

  16. His words that our current form has become boring were so right, but I disagree with him that NO must be reformed. Changes would help, but they would also show NO is fungible.

    I still recall what a culture shock it was when I encountered my first TLM (at an FSSP parish). It was so different from anything I had ever experienced before. Vastly different from typical Masses according to the new missal. Even setting aside the question of Latin, the barriers to entry seemed a little forbidding at first. But I persevered, because I so craved the reverence and mystery that was not on offer anywhere else.

    I think many of us can see what the ideal needs to be: the TLM restored (perhaps with pre-1955 options) as normative, with indults, if we must, for translation of parts into hieratic vernacular, and dialogue format (things that rankle many of us, but may be necessary and tolerable accommodations to the modern age). But we are a long way off from that. And thinking back to my own experience, I do think there is a tactical case to be made for "reform of the reform" as a way of making easier the journey of many Catholics back to Tradition. A reformed NO is still an impoverished thing, but the closer it comes to look like the TLM, the less alien the TLM will seem when these Catholics finally encounter it for the first time.

    Not all here may agree with that. There may be dangers lurking in such a strategy. But given that the NO is the Mass that 99%+ of Catholics experience, and that resources for expanding the reach of the TLM will be limited for the foreseeable future (f steadily growing), I think only good can come from more bishops like Cdl. Ranjith pushing their dioceses into reforms like reception of Communion on the tongue.

  17. I am looking around my diocese for who is going to teach this and I see only two groups without much love from the powers that be,

    Miles Christi
    on occassion the Norbatines only when FSSP invites em to supliment their own priests

    Phmmmmnnn.. This bishop wants to go to war, but he has no army.

  18. Thank goodness the good Cardinal is still relatively young!!!

  19. How do we get Pope Francis to read this interview or watch the video clip?

  20. We have a serious communication gap here. On another site I see where Francis is saying "Rubrics, Laws and Regulations don't matter" and see on a site where a polar bear skin was used for the Bishop to lay on (in Canada) On the other hand we have the Cardinal from Sri Lanka telling us that it is important. Yet he says Francis does care about the Liturgy. Than why does he not follow at least the rubrics himself? It tells others I can follow the Pope;s example and do whatever I want too.

  21. But for those looking for reason for pessimism, an alarming report about the Vatican curial reforms courtesy of CNA:

    A new prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments should soon be appointed, as well.

    The current prefect, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, would be appointed as the successor to Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela as the Archbishop of Madrid, Spain.

    To cover his post, Pope Francis would call Archbishop Piero Marini, who was Pontifical Master of Ceremonies during Bl. John Paul II’s Pontificate and now heads the Vatican’s commission for Eucharistic Congresses.

    No, this won't make Summorum Pontificum go away, and it won't remove the growing wave of decent bishops and young clergy we're getting in the USA. But it would put a pretty solid torpedo into the reform of the reform project, at least insofar as Rome is involved with it.

    You might as well put Bugnini in charge at CDW.

  22. To UnamSanctam,

    The decree Haec Sancta was not declared heretical and annulled. It was basically just later ignored, the heretical decree never formally acknowledged accept in positive ways, although its doctrine was later condemned without reference to it.

    For example, Pope Pius II explicitly condemned conciliarism, and yet, in the very Bull where he retracted his own past errors, especially that of conciliarism, he said of Constance (In Minoribus):

    "With these authorities, we recognize the power and the authority of a General Council as it was declared and defined in our age at Constance when the Ecumenical Council was assembled there. For we revere the Council of Constance and all Councils that were approved by our predecessors."

    The only place where the Council of Constance teaches about the authority of an ecumenical Council is in Haec Sancta. If you believe Vatican II to truly be in error, I think that's the most you can realistically hope--ie the erros being condemned, by the the Council will not be directly impugned.

  23. Wasn't Piero Marini Annibale Bugnini's main deputy back in the 1970's? I believe he was. If this is true, then get ready for guitars, drums, tambourines, and all other sorts of nonsense. It's really depressing.

    Given the way Francis has spoken about how wonderful VCII was, it seems like we're headed back to the dark ages of the 1970's. I wonder how long it will take the Bishop of Rome to once again is forced to reaffirm that "the smoke of Satan has entered the Church"?

    News like this makes this conference nothing more than window dressing. It's yet more proof Benedict was wrong to retire because his enemies have gained complete control. It's likely Pope Francis and those who elected him see this as a grand chance to fully and completely implement VCII.


  24. The answer lies somewhere in the vincitity of the reform of the reform, with a radically re-enchanted Novus Ordo, and many more TLMs.

    Look: most Catholics today see the TLM as practically another religion. This is going to happen by steps--and yes, some of those steps can and should be papal decree, and be big steps indeed.

    Vatican II is never going to be scrapped, at leadt officially. Get over it.

    Pray for the current Holy Father. Pray that someone like Randjith is elected next conclave.

  25. His Holiness Pope Francis has a treasure in Cardinal Ranjith. The Pope should open a new Congregation, a Congregation of the "Reform of the Reforms". Cardinal Ranjith should be made the exclusive head of this Congregation. It would be a great service to Christ and his people. Its sad that I have lost even the little trust I had in most leaders of the Church, my only hope are the words of Christ, "And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it".

  26. UnamSanctam, I am not joking about a new Council. The title, Council of Trent ll, for obvious reasons. My thoughts of such a Council would be for the sake of a Formal battleground. With the inclusion of the Bishops of the SSPX, Card. Ranjith and Burke and priests from Traditional Orders. A battle for the True Church. A final showdown against the modernist heresy. Thanks for that information on the Council of Constance. I thought V2 could not be touched in any way. I would like to see the idea of the vernacular in the Mass abolished. Only because of all the trouble it has caused in the Sacred Liturgy. At the Council Ven. Paul Vl was in favor of SOME vernacular as was Lefebvre. Paul Vl said to the Council Fathers concerning this, "In allowing some vernacular we must proceed with great caution and prudence", neither was done.


  27. Angelo,

    Wake up.

    Sorry, but you are dreaming. Real hope looks to the real--

  28. It is not a dream. The gates of hell will never prevail against the Church, Christ promised it and he will never break any of his promises. One day and I hope it was today, the modernist heresy will be crushed. As long as we Traditionalists live we will uphold the teachings of the Church. Like the miraculous fall of Communism, so will the modernist heresy overnight will be crushed. Deo Gratias!

  29. @Bwangi Kilonzo

    Re: The Norbertines - their promotion of the TLM far exceeds their subbing for the FSSP. They provide essentially all the TLMs in Orange County, CA (at least 3 sites) and at their parishes (one in Orange Diocese, one in LA Archdiocese) they provide a weekly TLM. If you want to see a NO Mass that looks as close to a TLM as possible, visit St. Michael's Abbey any Sunday or Solemnity. The only thing they need to do is turn their altar back around ad orientem. I'm praying they will do that when they build their new Abbey.

  30. What a stellar example Cardinal Burke is. Watching him celebrate the High Mass was such a powerful manifestation of the traditional understanding of true humility and service, unlike those who eschew silk for sandals and lace for lavender. Bring back the Cappa Magna!

  31. And to think that on March 13th, at least 77 Cardinals could be found to elect Bergoglio and not this man.


  32. Well, if Francis proves to be an interim Pope, and many years from now, another conclave looks at the wreckage...maybe then they will get it!

  33. I was excited to read this article on Zenit, but hit the following speed bump:
    "Yes, because the older liturgy has some elements in it that can enrich the new liturgy, which can sort of act like a mirror into which you look. You look at yourself, and you understand what you are. The old liturgy helps us to understand what is good in the new liturgy and what is not perfect in the new liturgy. So by creating that kind of confrontation in the Church, he has helped us to make a proper evaluation, purify the new liturgy and make it stronger."

    To me, this sounds like putting both rites into play, and see what happens. Almost like the Hegelian dialectic.

    Has this strengthening of the new rite happened? He himself took some steps in his archdiocese, but much of it was to restore that which was typical under the TLM. I fail to see that the new rite has been strengthened, except perhaps in the "new" translation, which was decreed prior to SP, if I recall correctly.

    Is "renewal" supposed to happen quasi-magically, or does someone in charge truly understand what God wants from those who worship Him?

  34. Watcher said,

    "To me, this sounds like putting both rites into play, and see what happens. Almost like the Hegelian dialectic."

    "putting both rites into play" - well, actually rifling from one (Tridentine) in order desperately to dress up the other (novus ordo).

    "Almost like the Hegelian dialectic." Bingo! you've got the thesis (Tridentine) and the antithesis (novus ordo), but in my view synthesis will never be reached. Explanation: Oil (Tridentine) and Water (novus ordo)...

    One (Tridentine) will have been defrauded by unscrupulous thieves. The other (novus ordo) will still exhibit every sorrowful mark of the ecclesiology that bore it.

  35. I truly believe that a new Universal Council, like Trent is needed to clarify the teachings of the Church and Her Holy Lituries and how they should be celebrated.
    Also, I see the use of Parish Administrators who are not clergy. I think this causes much confution with the People of God and the Clergy. For example,when there is not priest present for Sunday Mass, the Parish Administrator Presides and gives the Homily and the deacon assigned to the parish sits.


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