Yesterday Pope Francis sent a message to the symposium recently concluded in Rome, entitled “Sacrosanctum Concilium: Gratitude and Commitment to a Great Ecclesial Movement”, and held at the Pontifical Lateran University. So far there seems to be no English translation of the Italian text, but we can still delve into it a little. There are a couple of interesting moments. Acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the publication of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council’s first document and its manifesto for liturgical renewal, Pope Francis declares that the anniversary,
…inspires gratitude for the profound and widespread renewal of liturgical life, enabled by the teaching of the Council, for the glory of God and the building up of the Church; and at the same time urges a revived commitment to accept and implement this teaching more fully.
This might sound like the beginning of another paean of praise for the post-conciliar liturgy: we’ve heard the formula before. However, maybe all is not quite as it might seem. “More fully” might imply in the eyes of some a desire for even more changes and modernizations. Yet it could also mean that the full meaning of the text of the document itself is yet to be implemented. The Missal of 1969/70 has but a tenuous link with what the Council Fathers actually wrote.
The Holy Father continues a little later by affirming the crucial truth that “Christ is the true protagonist at every celebration”. Neither the people, nor the priest, are the subject of the Mass: it is Christ, gathering His people together and leading them, through the priest, in His perfect worship of the Father.
It gets better. Pope Francis restates the truth expressed by St Paul in Romans 12:1 that “to celebrate true spiritual worship is to offer oneself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. A liturgy without this element of spiritual worship risks being empty of true sacredness and becoming “quasi-magical and an empty aestheticism”. That might sound like a shot across the bows of those who value the old Mass or more solemn worship, the Reformers of the Reform for example. No doubt the pope has little time for those who obsess about lace or the depth of bows (if such still exist in any numbers). Yet aestheticism works in more than one direction. It is also a type of aestheticism that seeks to manufacture an atmosphere of community, an emotive and artificial sense of togetherness, mutual-affirmation and acceptance. The rainbow stole is just as affected as an obsessive use of lace.
He goes on to say that “being the action of Christ, the liturgy from its innermost moves us to put on Christ, and in that dynamic all reality is transformed”. The liturgy should transform us into Christ, and since we are the salt of the earth and the yeast that leavens the bread, through us Christ transforms the world. It brings to mind Fr Z’s tag line, “Save the liturgy, save the world”. What Pope Francis is pushing here again is the centrality of Christ, not ourselves, in the liturgy. He elaborates this dynamic of transformation by quoting Benedict XVI, which is surely significant. More on that in a bit.
His conclusion is also worthy of noting carefully:
To render thanks to God for that which has been possible to carry out, it is necessary to unite in a renewed willingness to move forward along the path set by the Council Fathers, because much remains to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy on the part of the baptized and of ecclesial communities. I refer in particular to the commitment to a strong and organic initiation and liturgical formation, as much in the faithful laity as in clergy and consecrated persons.
Pope Francis, so fond of the off-the-cuff, is here using very well measured words indeed. In fact, it takes no great stretch at all to see this encouragement for those who yearn for a renovation of the liturgy along the lines discussed in a previous post, one more obviously in line with the 1965 Missal. That certainly is closer to a “correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”. Correct (in the Italian, corretta) – not normally a word we might hear from this pope. But here he uses it, in relation to worship. He emphasizes the need for a “strong and organic… liturgical formation” for both laity and clergy. As Arhcbishop Gänswein said of Pope Francis, he seeks to change not the Faith but the faithful; or here, by transference, he locates the more urgent need as in the faithful and clergy to understand, correctly, the Council teaching on the liturgy, rather than to change the liturgy at will.
And as if to provide a lens, or a hermeneutic, by which to view and interpret his short teaching, he quotes only scripture and Benedict XVI. It is hard not to see this as an implicit affirmation of the liturgical theology and praxis of the Pontiff Emeritus.
Given that Pope Francis is not overly concerned with liturgy, having other fish more urgently in need of frying, his message can reasonably be read as an encouragement, indeed a mandate, to the Church to recover the “correct and complete” understanding of the conciliar teaching on the liturgy – not least that it is the work of Christ not man; that the people’s most essential role is to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice in union with Christ’s – our spiritual worship; that all the faithful might be actively engaged in the mystery of worship so that the mystery of worship might permeate their lives (the nub of Pope Francis’ quotation Benedict XVI). This is wholly consistent with Francis’ repeated emphasis on a faith that is expressed in daily living; that putting on Christ in the liturgy our whole life might be transformed.
Pope Francis clearly wants doers of God’s word, and here he affirms that we must first hear God’s word, or Word, and that we hear Him in the most privileged way when we turn from ourselves to Him in the liturgy. This is the timeless teaching of the Church, and not least of the Second Vatican Council. If the current liturgy as very often celebrated does not correctly express that teaching, we need urgently to embrace a liturgy that does before our churches are totally empty. The 1962 liturgy has the centuries of proven achievement; and the 1965 Missal enhances that liturgy, correctly interpreting the Council Fathers’ express desire. Is it too late to give it another go?
Revive ’65. It is not such a silly hope. This pope has shown himself adept at breaking moulds, and surprising us in our complacency. It could well be, for example, that the Vatican bank, or IOR, might not be around in its current form for much longer. Is it impossible that Pope Francis might do something bold and dramatic with the liturgy? He might if he hears enough of us clamouring for it, especially the young. Moreover, he seems to surf the net and read papers for himself. To quote Pope Francis, go out and make a noise!
On the matter of the interim liturgy, between Sacrosanctum Concilium and 1969, Michael at St Bede Studio plans to do a series on this process of imposed liturgical change and acceptance, which he introduced briefly today. It should prove very interesting indeed.
**Caveat: my Italian is not brilliant so when the official translation comes out it might not be in precise agreement with my rough and ready one. However, mine hopefully captures the essential meaning of Pope Francis’ message.**