Rorate Caeli

Francis speaks to the Liturgy Dicastery about liturgical reform - by Michael Charlier

This week, the Roman liturgical authority held its annual plenary assembly, which was held under the theme "Liturgical formation from Sacrosanctum Concilium to Desiderio desideravi". Concrete decisions have not yet been made public. But we have learned of a speech that Francis gave to the participants on Thursday, February 8, which provides some insight into the pontiff's understanding of the liturgy. The source of all the reports is an article written by CNA's Roman correspondent Matthew Santucci, from which we also take our quotes from the speech.

According to the information available so far, the speech ties in directly with the line presented in Desiderio desideravi, which - as the theme of the dicastery meeting already suggests - attempts to place this apostolic exhortation in continuity with the Council Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. However, unlike in DD, Francis made no effort in his current speech - as far as can be gathered from the reports - to establish, at least declamatorily, the connection between the post-conciliar liturgy and the Church's understanding of the liturgy dating back to apostolic times. His speech to the members of the Curia entrusted with the administration of liturgical matters reveals an essentially functional, if not instrumental, understanding of liturgy: according to this, the liturgy and its reform, as well as liturgical education, would primarily have the task of advancing the Church reform presented as a permanent obligation. "Without liturgical reform, there can be no reform at all in the Church".

Under certain circumstances, one could even agree with this if one considers the current miserable state of the Church, which goes back not least to the liturgical reform of Paul VI and which undoubtedly cannot be improved if the Church does not return more strongly to its liturgical tradition and the teachings expressed therein. For the latter would be the decisive factor - but this is precisely what Francis does not want to know. For him, the invocation of Sacrosanctum Concilium serves above all to justify the extreme form of the "spirit of the Council" that he advocates, which in some cases slides into heresy, and to enshrine his highly personal "reform" ideas as the only legitimate view of the Council documents. And so the Assembly sees itself called upon to propose to the bishops of the universal Church pastoral projects for their dioceses that put Desiderio Desideravi's guidelines into practice.

[Concerning the numerous dangerous errors in that document, see this José Antonio Ureta's "A Brief Study of Certain Theological Deviations in Desiderio Desideravi."--PAK]

An article offered (curiously, exclusively in English) on the website of the German bishops combines this very appropriately with a report concerning the papal address, not found anywhere else, according to which Francis emphasizes the achievements and great successes of the liturgical reform of 1969 and celebrates his decree Traditionis Custodes as the sealing of this great leap forward, which, as is well known, heralded the "New Springtime" in the Church.

Where Francis' address makes any attempt at all to think beyond the reformist function of liturgy and take up theological aspects, his remarks leave the reader -- at least those with a traditional background -- somewhat perplexed. Isn't there something missing when he says: "The liturgy is an excellent place to encounter the living Christ, who constantly revitalizes and renews life from baptism"? What are we to make of this when he states -- explicitly "as a theological perspective" -- that "a church that does not feel the passion for spiritual growth, that does not try to speak in an understandable way to the men and women of its time, that does not suffer from the pain of divisions among Christians and that does not tremble with zeal to proclaim Christ to people -- that is a sick church."

As a description of the current situation, this may not be wrong -- but where is the theological view of the liturgy, of Christ's redemptive sacrifice, which is the only thing that opens the way for fallen humanity out of its entanglement in sin? And how does the claimed "suffering under the divisions of Christendom" reconcile with a brutally enforced concept of liturgy that differs worldwide from that of the Orthodox brother churches? And how does it fit in with the current approaches to watering down moral teaching, which not only makes the hair stand on end for the Orthodox of the East, but also for all those faithful to the Bible in the West?

What is said here about the nature of the liturgy are only phrases that conceal the fact that the Bergoglians are moving further and further away from the apostolic foundations of Christ's Church in order to pander to the spirit of the times. According to the available reports, the speech also contains a revealing example of this. Somewhat abruptly, Francis jumped from the topic of the liturgy to the current discussion on "gender justice": "The Church is a woman, the Church is a mother, the Church is embodied in Mary and the Church-woman. The Church is more than Peter -- you can't reduce everything to the ministry. In the Church, which is a woman, the woman finds her great expression as a woman -- without being reduced to a ministry. And that is the reason why I have said that every reform in the Church is always a question of spousal fidelity, because the Church is a woman."

So far, so unclear. Some commentators see this as yet another announcement of a women's diaconate that will oscillate somewhere between lay vocation and ordained ministry. The fact that Francis recently appointed a female Anglican bishop as an advisor on these matters could point to this. Others are more cautious. Who knows what this Pope means when he says something. It will be interesting to see what conclusions the assembled members of the supreme administration of the faith will draw from these curly thoughts.

Note on the photo: The considerable number of cardinals and prelates gathered in this picture gives an inaccurate impression of the number of actual "working" members. It has long been a common practice in Rome to appoint the leading members of congregations, especially cardinals and bishops, not just to one, but to many congregations -- at least nominally. The actual work under the guidance of the prefect, secretary and substitute is often carried out by a surprisingly small staff -- if it is not taken over by the pope's personal kitchen cabinet, as is usual under Francis.